Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Oil, Science and Oil, Sherri Chaba & Lyndal Osborne, Capital Arts Building, Aug 14 - 28, 2008

Austere and still, the new exhibition by Lyndal Osborne and Sherri Chaba permeate a meticulousness unparalleled in sublime elegance. As mixed media artists with a close affinity to the land and its rhythms, their collaborative effort, Experimental Distinction, combines their distinction aesthetics together into a playful gesture with apocalyptic undertones. Five cocoon-like sacks from Chaba are filled with accumulated bundles of wonder courtesy of Osborne, from a horse’s spine to clusters of skin-like tumours, each hang listlessly over rubber oil puddles of taxidermied wildlife. The animals, most of them taxidermied by Chaba’s father, inject a dose of life and humour into the overall somber tone of the piece; but as they remain arrested in a state of displaced action within their little toxic islands, we are aware that their natural habitats face a looming threat, and that the simple rustic pulley system anchoring each cocoon can just as easily be released, crashing down to meet the inevitable fate with a destroyed environment.

Image credit: "Experimental Extinction" Sherri Chaba and Lyndal Osborne, 2008. Courtesy of the artists.

Their message is not one of doom or idealism, but one that goes beyond the spectrum of opinions and just exists as a state of being. In hearing each artist speak about their work, which is inextricably linked to their lives, Osborne living out in an acreage just southwest of Edmonton, and Chaba still living on the family farmland near Redwater, you can hear that they are very aware of their environment, from the land’s natural rhythms to the development and legal implications. Surveying Osborne’s tremendous garden, and the wall of miniature cubicles and window sills lined with jars and cases of organic materials gathered, there remains an undeniable awe in a mixture of fascination and sympathy.

Image credit: Lyndal Osborne, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

Osborne has been consumed with the affects of genetically modified foods, researching for her work and interest and accumulating a breadth of knowledge on the modern state of food production. Her individual contribution to the Capital Art Gallery exhibit is Endless Forms Most Beautiful, a two year old work that’s been traveling across the country and ends its tour here. As a majestic offering of ritual and presence, tens of thousands of organic and inorganic materials come together in an orchestrated cacophony of colours and textures. Only beauty is unable to resist Osborne’s grasp of decay and tragedy as under the soft halogen glow of an otherwise cold scientific lab setting, the individual pods of genetically modified seeds becomes one of the most arresting situations we as a modern society have to face. Osborne also lines up several oversized bell jars, filled with non treated shells and skins of organic material, from avocados and lemon gourds, pale and muted in colour in contrast to the hyperbolized seed pods that catch your eye with their estranged colours and excessive offerings.

Image credit: Sherri Chaba, Detail from The Remains of the Day, 2008. Courtesy of the artist.

Around the corner from Osborne is Chaba’s solo work, The Remains of the Day, a new work that develops further the nature of the human physiology with that of nature’s life and death cycles. Working with thin, dark wires that connote a hard strength with frail tenderness, the tenderlings hanging create volume, shadows, and density. You could be walking amongst the skeletal remains of a destroyed forest, burned down through chemicals, as you encounter the frays above you and the black silhouetted woodlanders below. There is a sense of mourning, but set along a path guided to take the viewer through an experience, the same experience Chaba feels as she continues to fight for her legal rights as a land owner in rural Alberta at the dawn of the 21st century, there are also hints of regrowth, but one that will be altered forever.

Paired with choice pieces from the AFA collection including two works by Walter May, a charred essay by Peter von Tiesenhausen, and some older works from Osborne, the overall affect is nothing short of an enlightening experience in the heart of a concrete city.

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