A Garden of Illuminated Delights
Saturday, January 11, 2003
By Elaine Hujer
As any artist knows, our attitudes about any subject can be shaped and manipulated by how it is visually represented.
In Home and Garden, an exhibition currently on view at Oakville Galleries' Gairloch Gardens, Kitchener-based artist Andrew Wright has investigated this perceptual/conceptua1 conundrum by representing the gallery and its formal gardens with the aid of three different means: an antique camera lucida, an ordinary camera and a video camera. The resulting representations are so profoundly distinctive that viewers may be inspired to review, reinvestigate and reinterpret their own ideas about Oakville's stately lakeside manor.
Wright did his research for the show during the summer months. In the daytime, clad in the broad-brimmed straw hat of the 19th century artist, he sat at a table in the gardens and traced the outlines of his surroundings using a camera lucida. This antique aid to drawing forms part of the exhibition and viewers can take a look through it, to get some idea of what Wright was working with.
The first camera lucida was patented in 1807 by a scientist, William Hyde Wollaston. The device is related to the camera obscura, an apparatus that consists of a shuttered box or dark room, with a small hole in one side through which light from a brightly lit scene enters and forms an inverted image on a scren placed opposite the hole. The camera obscura was known to artists since the 10th century. Vermeer was probably the most famous painter to use the camera obscura.
The camera lucida is a simpler version that does away with the need for a darkened room and performs the same function using a prism. The artist sets the prism between the eye and the paper so that light from the object is reflected into his eye at the same time as light from the paper. Thus, he sees the illusion of the image on the paper and can trace its outline.
Wright's tracings, called Aided Drawings, are graphite-on-paper views of Gairloch's outdoor space. What is immediately noticeable is that the emphasis is on linear forms -- foliage, for instance, is very difficult to trace -- and so the drawings are architectural renderings of the exterior of the Gairloch home and accoutrements such as park benches. The architecture is rendered with a great deal of attention to details and decoration, a reminder of how our brain often clouds our memory of visual detail. The tiny drawings float on large sheets of paper rather like disembodied fragments of memory, skeletal, ghostly images made more so by the paleness of the paper, the silvery tones of the graphite.
During the summer evenings, Wright was also busy making photographs of the gardens using a conventional camera. The large scale, brightly coloured photographs resemble romantic paintings mediated by a 21st century lens. The nighttime vignettes have been strongly illuminated by large theatrical lights, which Wright has not attempted to hide. Standing amid the picturesque gardens, the lights remind us not only of the contrived nature of the photographs, but of the equally contrived nature of the formal gardens. With the harsh and dramatic lighting, colours attain a lurid, neon-like intensity, space is flattened and backgrounds disappear. Like a spot-lighted theatrical backdrop, the manmade and the artificial is counterpoised to the supposedly natural setting.
In Lighthouse, Wright's audio and video installation, the artist mounted a video camera onto a slow, panning unit, using the nine benches located throughout the gardens as a base. Shot at night with artificial lighting, the resulting video is projected like a circular, moving spotlight that swoops in an elliptical orbit around the walls of the gallery's darkened living room. The viewer, standing in the centre of the room, sees a sort of panoramic vista of what he would see sitting on the park benches. Added to this is recorded ambient sound: crickets chirp, children laugh and shout, a dog barks ceaselessly, geese honk. One is immersed in the light and sound and movement, yet removed completely from the outdoor space and, paradoxically, the elaboration of the representation actually emphasizes our realization of its fictional character.
Over the years, artists have used a number of optical tools and technologies to help them capture an image. Wright seems to be asking us to reflect upon how reality is shaped through the use of these tools.
As the artist says, "My work is becoming less and less about faithful representations ofthe world and more about the nature of that representation itself."