As the sun disappears and the shadows descend from the mountaintop
January 27—May 7, 2023
January 27—May 7, 2023
As visitors enter the first gallery of Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG), they see a gigantic tapestry of a lake view on a beautiful afternoon blocked by a large boulder. Compelled to look up and gaze at the monumental piece, which takes up almost an entire wall, they encounter an acute assemblage of image-making, philosophical meditation, and material tactility that envelops all senses and suspends them in a delicate balance of the extraordinary.
The experience doesn’t come as a surprise, as the Vancouver-based artist Kathy Slade has provided them with a preview: the exhibition’s poetic title, As the sun disappears and the shadows descend from the mountaintop. Like a transition scene in a Lars Von Trier movie in which nature represents an imminent complete system collapse, the sun in Slade’s show descends quickly, drawing back its warmth and giving way to something haunting that might arrive with the darkness.
In this new body of work developed from her research trip to Sils Maria, Switzerland, the protagonist is a large boulder sitting beside Lake Silvaplana. This pyramid-shaped rock had an impact on the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche when he visited the lake in 1881.1 1 - Lisa Robert and Kathy Slade, Reading the Rock: Kathy Slade and Lisa Robertson in Conversation (Vancouver: Contemporary Art Gallery, 2022), 17. Reconstructing the image of the rock at a one-to-one scale in the tapestry Sinking in the West (2022), Slade transposes the experience that both Nietzsche and she had when confronted with such a natural sublime. Across from the tapestry is a round obsidian mirror, Scrying Mirror (2022), referencing an eighteenth-century tourist apparatus – a tinted compact mirror that was used to capture and appreciate the mighty wilderness of the Alps, similar to the black mirrors that artists once used to draw landscapes.
Slade’s exhibition occupies two galleries at the CAG, each with a unique curatorial strategy. Contrary to the minimal and decisive display in the first room, the second room, across the hall, is wrapped from end to end by a series of graphite-on-paper drawings, The Heaviest Weight (2022). Staying true to the actual size of the subject, these grey monochrome works are rubbings of the rock’s surface, deconstructed and flattened onto comprehensible units of paper. The long horizontal sequence not only illustrates the boulder’s immensity but also makes clear the human physical constraints on fully appreciating nature.
At the foundation of the exhibition is Nietzsche’s philosophy of the “eternal recurrence” in which, instead of being definitive, life is a series of iterations, repeatedly reincarnated – precisely repeating each moment, each “speck of dust.”2 2 - Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1974), 273. In both the reasoning in Nietzsche’s philosophy and the visual experience in Slade’s show, reruns of time are registered in every line of warps and wefts, every doubling in the obsidian reflection, and every capture of rock texture. We seem to have gone through a portal to where these iterations take a pause, and where we can examine the marks of passing time that help us visualize the haunting sensation that keeps trying to pull us back to the black hole of habitualness.
Associate curator at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Treaty 4 Territory, Tak Pham holds a BA (Hons.) in history and theory of architecture from Carleton University and an MFA in criticism and curatorial practices from OCAD University.