Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Offering, Adrian Cooke, Harcourt House, August 31 - September 29, 2007

Image credit: Adrian Cooke, 2007. Courtesy of Harcourt House Gallery.

As the central and title piece in The Offering, Adrian Cooke’s multidisciplinary piece (pictured) offers little insight into the contemplative and contemporary nature of the land. Fabric-covered lights, human sized and sitting at the four posts of a wooden altar, Cooke’s first foray using internal lighting or fabric drew a strange contrast to the mostly small-scale lathed works, sketches and cardboard dioramas of a former era.

Citing British sculptor Henry Moore as an early influence, Cooke’s smaller works continue to have a soft tactile friendliness. The fabric of the lights, however, were too soft and light to hold their own against the sculptures, but on their own they could possibly have been haunting.

The small scale sculptures themselves are objects you feel you want to touch, resembling solid crafted vases, but that have been set in grain and left teetering and unreachable.

It is no coincidence that many handcrafted pieces sitting atop of the altar within The Offering resemble the traditional shapes and silhouettes looming over the prairies, including miniature lathed grain bins from old bowling balls. (It’s an interesting footnote on the materials list, but in relation to a larger context to the work and exhibition, there is a detachment between inspiration and execution.)

As a peace offering to the land or environment, The Offering as a whole greatly idealizes the vast openness of the prairie land.

“Driving for three or four hours you cover a lot of land and you see a lot of things and that certainly has become source material,” Cooke explains of his pieces. “This is an accumulation of a lot of information and this is what comes out.”
With sculptures dating back to as early as 1983 on display, the pieces accumulated seem to work best collectively, contrasting colours, shapes, levels and surfaces that each represent a memory and an afterthought. In re-creating the bygone era of man-made intrusions upon the land, perhaps Cooke is attempting to find a sense of peace about a slowly fading vista.

The one other installation sculpture envisions the horizon as three dimensional, offsetting a photograph of a sunset with a sculpture at its forefront. Only the sculpture alone can stand for the flat vicissitude of a big red sun hanging over the land, but reinforced with a photograph, the paleness of the sculpture’s natural wood is lost and redundant.
Not that Cooke has not experienced the land he treads on. As an international artist who has continued to live and work in Lethbridge for the past 26 years, there is a heavy folk aesthetic to Cooke’s pieces that ties him to the land.
“I’ve lived in a prairie-like setting since 1950. It’s become for thirty years or more a source material,” he said during his opening reception last Thursday. “When you have that kind of openness, any structure, a tree or a barn or a fence, it runs at odds with the landscape.”

In his artist statement, Cooke explains that his work “draws its inspiration from considerations of how man-made structures and ingrained patters of human activity impose and intrude on the landscape and alter what was once austere open space.”

What strikes as a disconnect is the interchangeable use of landscape with horizon. A tree once grown becomes one with a landscape, as does a grain tower, or fence, in the way that it collectively forms as a unified image in vision as in memory

(First published in Vue Weekly, September 12 - 18, 2007. Print and Online)

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