Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monograph for National Portrait Gallery exhibition, Latitude 53, June 11 - July 17, 2010*

Just to clarify: The Portrait Gallery of Canada has not slipped off the face of this earth. When Edmonton bitterly lost both its bids to host a permanent site for the National Portrait Gallery, the city in typical defeatist fashion took it personally. The brooding resentment resulted in this contemporary exhibition reconfiguring the very medium of portraiture, but before we get ahead of ourselves, there very much remains an official Portrait Gallery of Canada.

A tiny fraction of its four million plus collection of historically deemed important faces remain accessible to the public via the wonders of the internet through Library and Archives Canada. Existing virtually as a series of highlights on a bare bones site, where by bare bones I mean under attended and barely designed, the official Portrait Gallery of Canada is alive, though not particularly so well.

Appearing to any dedicated viewer the resemblance of a site under construction, or perhaps more generously, as an internal filing system mistakenly made public, the Portrait Gallery certainly exists in a way that makes you wonder why they even bother. From international researchers to Canadian school children, those who do their homework can only assume Canada is comprised of soulless, serious, and anxiously displaced Europeans, and based on the resources made available by the current Canadian government, those assumptions are not wrong. 

The medium of portraiture is as old as humanity itself, and its execution and exhibition are crucial
steps toward identity forming. In a country such as Canada where we are simultaneously nationalists, separatists, regionalists, and more often than not, one generation or less into this sparsely populated landscape, portraiture functions as a means to literally show each other who we are.

The official Portrait Gallery of Canada does not show me. It does not show me anyone I know.  Fortunately, there is this ulterior exhibition of a Portrait Gallery project as organized by a humble group of Edmonton-based artists collectively legitimizing the voice of a Canadian art culture. Appropriately enough the intention may have brewed from rejection, exclusion, and a burning desire to stake a claim, as naturally the misfits of society have convened here in one way shape or form. In its first reincarnation, The Portrait Gallery project features Canadian artists exploring who we are, who we think we are, our communities comprised of friends, strangers, and icons in states of real and imaginary being. As a growing collection of works that will hopefully tour across this country and beyond, this Portrait Gallery does show me individuals I know, and in so doing prompts the necessary myth making and subsequent archiving of stories and identities that will carry this country along.

*Commissioned by organizers of the Portrait Gallery of Canada

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