Artist Sheds Light on Home and Garden
Oakvile Beaver
December 2, 2002
By Craig MacBride

A series of stunning photographs is the centerpiece of the newest Oakville Galleries exhibition at Gairloch Gardens.

Andrew Wright, the artist behind Home & Garden, has put together a show that utilizes the Gairloch house to pass through time with photographic technology.

In the southern-most room of the gallery, framed on the wall, large pieces of white paper with small, precise drawings pull viewers close, where they find that the small, detailed pictures are of the Gairloch house.

In the middle of that room, there stands a beautiful wooden desk with an odd appendage: a camera lucida.

During the artist's talk that he gave on Tuesday night, Wright told the audience three things about the camera lucida, an instrument that looks like two magnifying glasses attached to a tiny box extending from a long twig.

Firstly, it was invented in 1826. Secondly, translated from Italian, camera lucida means light room. And finally, Wright described how to use it. The drawer stares into the prism in that tiny box and angles the lenses correctly. Once the tool has been set up, the drawer should be able to see both, simultaneously, what is in front of him to be drawn and what is beneath him, the drawing. This leaves the artist to simply trace the picture.

Using this technology, Wright drew several pictures of the Gairloch gallery and its surroundings, often duplicating and overlapping an image to illustrate that the camera lucida is photographic technology and not a drawing tool.

The pieces in the next room, following with Wright's theme of "photographic technologies' greatest hits," are photographs. Taken at night in Gairloch Gardens, floodlights illuminating the foreground, Wright separates small garden scenes from their surroundings.

The effect that these lights have on the photographs is astounding.

Everything looks fake, like a mock-up of camping that you'd find at the Great Outdoors Show.

The bushes look plastic. The rocks look hollow and smooth. And the colour green seems more green than it has ever been before. Wright said he wanted to "give a sense of the artificialness," reminding the audience of his earlier statements about the unnatural aspects of landscaped gardens. 

Not only are the pictures beautiful, they are also smart. Treating these vignettes as scenes or sets, Wright has, in three of the four photographs, shown the lights.

The two tall lights interact with the scene on more than a utilitarian level. The lights seem to have emotions. They look up admiringly at two tall trees in one photograph and, in another, they look down, somewhat voyeuristically, on a bench on the shore of a pond, as if waiting for a young couple to arrive and start necking. 

 Showing the lights as part of the photograph, Wright said, "changes our relationship with nature."

He added, "I am much more fascinated by how movies are made than by the movies themselves."

The lights echo his statement. They admit how the pictures are made, and they say that the landscaped gardens of Gairloch are scenes, set up for your purpose and constantly showing which path you must take. Wright's photographs, as well as the next track on this greatest hits collection, mock this idea.

Through thick, black curtains, in a dark room, a small projected circle, the only light other than the exit sign, moves slowly along the wall, over the fireplace and the window.

Projected are a series of nine videos, taken from the nine benches in Gairloch Gardens. Filmed at night, using lights, the camera panned the area around the benches, as a visitor could if sitting there.

Being alone inside the room, watching Lighthouse, you begin to feel as if you're floating. The projector in the room moves one way while the image inside the circle moves the other. You feel spun around, your eyes confused.

Along with the projected images in the room, there is an audio element.

With the help of Sheridan students, he took snippets of sound from the same places he took the video. The sound of crickets is a constant, sporadically interrupted by a dog's late-night barking.

Wright said that the audio is more important than the video. "The image is limited," he said, "and provides you with less information than the sound."

Wright currently teaches at Sheridan College, and has taught at several universities in the past, giving him comfort and a sense of humour in his lecture that eased the audience along.

Standing near six feet tall, with a goatee and crew cut, Wright looks too young for the amount and quality of work that he put forth during his slideshow that preceded the gallery tour.

The camera obscura, 'dark room' in English, is, essentially, a pinhole camera. This is only one of Wright's ongoing obsessions. At Gallery 101 in Ottawa, he cut a hole through the roof, allowing light onto the gallery floor, where he had placed photography paper, thereby blurring the line between an installation and a photography exhibit. The title of the piece was The Plausible Implausibility of the Here and Now (Moving Picture). He once did a similar thing, on a wall instead of the ceiling, to show a street scene outside of a gallery.

To counter the clouds-on-the-floor piece he did in Ottawa, Wright began sending small rockets with cameras mounted on them into the sky. From 400 feet in the air, he took pictures down at the Earth.

Also, he seems to love working in series. He once took nearly 100 pictures of the same spot in the sky, watching a cloud grow, dissipate, and then grow again.

The result was a stunning look at the sky.

Of all the slideshow images, however, the most fascinating was one picture that was 60 feet high, made specifically for a gallery with an archway.

At the bottom of one wall was a truck passing on a country highway. The picture went up from there, showing an impossible expanse of blue sky that carried up along the archway and down the opposite wall where, at the bottom, another truck was driving.

Among the slides were his first experimentations with floodlit trees at night. While an artist-in-residence in England, Wright began taking pictures of a doomed garden.

Unable to capture the personality of the decrepit trees during the day, Wright photographed them at night under light. Each struggling branch, he found, was brought out by the light and added to the character of the shrubbery.

He later pulled back and began taking these pictures with the lights visible within the frame. Back in Canada, he took similar pictures in Banff, this time with healthy Douglas Firs surrounded by snow.

He has now perfected this. Or, rather, he found the perfect place to execute it, in Gairloch Gardens.

The settings look as if Wright manipulated the garden, planted his own garden to fit the pictures, but he did no such thing.

The only impact he had on the area was with his lights and his camera, wires running across the bottom of his pictures and a marble of red light telling us all that the power is on.

Oakville Galleries in Gairloch Gardens is located at 1306 Lakeshore Rd. E. The gallery is open from 1-5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.