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September 23, 2021

Ecologies: A Song for Our Planet

Kim Dorland (born in 1974), Nature Painting II, 2008, oil and acrylic on plywood, 182.2 x 243 x 4.8 cm. MMFA, gift of Pierre and Anne Marie Trahan, Majudia Collection. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

New presentation featuring recently installed artworks!

On view until April 3, 2022, this exhibition brings together close to 90 works from the Museum’s collection, encompassing installations, videos, sculptures, paintings, drawings and photographs by Canadian and international artists, each presenting a unique interpretation of ecology. A recent rotation of selected artworks now gives viewers a fresh opportunity to discover new acquisitions and rarely or never before seen works as well as revisit cherished favourites.

Iris Amizlev. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

Iris Amizlev

Curator – Community Engagement and Projects

The subject of ecology conjures up a broad spectrum of emotions and thoughts. On the one hand, we may rejoice in images of verdant forests lush with ferns, moss, and fungi, teeming oceans with thriving coral reefs, or flourishing wildlife throughout the Earth’s diverse habitats. Conversely, the worldwide environmental ravages triggered by human activities can ruin such romanticized visions of our planet. The climate crisis endangering our world and the life it harbours is propelling global efforts to curb this escalating damage before it is too late.

Ecologies showcases a multiplicity of distinctive approaches and formal vocabularies used by artists from diverse backgrounds. Their expressions of warnings, criticisms, tributes and delights, as well as portrayals of worlds and entities in various settings provoke reflection and dialogues about our planet. The exhibition at once confronts topics like humanity’s impact on the land, air and water, global warming and natural resource depletion, and presents images of vibrant biospheres and possible solutions such as upcycling and collaborating with nature.

Ce sont les populations qui vivent en symbiose avec la nature qui subissent les plus grands contrecoups des changements climatiques. Dans les pays qui ont connu la colonisation, l’occupation des terres ancestrales et l’exploitation abusive des ressources ont eu et continuent d’avoir des répercussions désastreuses : elles ont forcé certains groupes à s’adapter à de nouvelles situations et à des modes de vie altérés. La force destructrice des humains est un thème récurrent dans l’œuvre de plusieurs des artistes exposés. Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, descendant des Premières Nations Salish et de l’Okanagan, est un acteur engagé dans les enjeux environnementaux. Il dénonce les effets de la colonisation sur les territoires non cédés, de même que sur la faune et la flore des terres autochtones. Sa représentation de la contamination causée par une catastrophe minière, en Colombie-Britannique, en est un exemple éloquent.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun (born in 1957), Pollycolour, 2014
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Artworks by Inuit artists portray ecology in the Arctic, where temperatures are climbing twice as fast as elsewhere on Earth and the ice cover is shrinking dramatically. Few and Far Between from the series “Global Warming Awareness Polar Bears” by Alec Lawson Tuckatuck, is a stark reminder of the crisis’s ramifications on ice-dependent populations. Animal sculptures like this one are interspersed throughout the exhibition against a horizon line. This juxtaposition highlights the fact that rising water levels caused by the accelerated melting of land-based ice from global warming are changing animals’ migration patterns and endangering their survival. Moreover, this phenomenon is wreaking havoc on weather patterns, which is severely impacting traditional Inuit ways of life.

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In gestures of great reverence, several works celebrate and honour natural treasures and cherished co-inhabitants of the land. Adrian Stimson’s Beyond Redemption embodies survival and cultural regeneration. For Stimson, a member of the Siksika Nation, the plight of the bison symbolizes the destruction of Indigenous ways of life. Here, he equates the current status of bison populations with that of his people: resiliently resisting and enduring despite the forces that pushed them to near extinction.

Adrian Stimson (born in 1964), Beyond Redemption
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The barren environment in Barbara Steinman’s Grace Note inspires awe and contemplation while foreshadowing a bleak future. Composed of sky, waves and ice foregrounded by clothes chillingly absent of body, the haunting scene is timeless, hovering anywhere between the past and an unknown destiny. Similarly, Holly King’s construction of a miniature landscape, which she then photographs and enlarges, evokes feelings of foreboding, its ominous sky looming over an eerie forest. In his photograph, Edward Burtynsky documents the largest oil spill disaster in the history of offshore drilling, in which countless fish, marine mammals, sea turtles and birds perished in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, Andreas Feininger’s close-ups of shells and coral make us think of habitat and biodiversity loss and how fragile ecosystems are becoming endangered as they suffer from pollution, rising water temperatures, acidification, agricultural runoff and other damaging consequences of human intervention.

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Charles Stankievech’s film installation The Soniferous Aether of the Land Beyond the Land Beyond, shot during the perpetual darkness of winter at the northernmost settlement on Earth, in Nunavut, displays the immensity and desolateness of its location. Yet the untouched space is pierced by signs of human presence at the Canadian Forces Station Alert, a signals intelligence outpost. In Mirrors of the Cosmos, Marie-Jeanne Musiol uses electromagnetic photography to record the light coronas of plants. These explorations of energy emissions and magnetic fields in close-up range produce cosmic landscapes within which the artist believes are embedded patterns of information about evolution that could help reinstate nature's equilibrium. In the series “Calibrated Landscapes,” Denis Farley inserts himself into industrial or natural settings. Wearing a red and white checkered costume, he acts like a scale, measuring himself in relation to the surroundings, perhaps alluding to how such a small figure can generate such drastic changes.

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To offer a counterpoint to the alarms sounded in the exhibition, Ecologies showcases depictions of nature in all its intricate details. These works convey hope and entice viewers to revel in the beauty, majesty and power of the natural world. Lorraine Gilbert proposes a new human-enriched realm in her cityscape manufactured from composite images, titled LeBreton Flats, Ottawa. Here, wildflowers in the foreground dominate over the artificial constructions.

Lorraine Gilbert (born in 1955), LeBreton Flats, Ottawa, from the series “Once Upon a Forest,” 2010, ink‑jet print on polypropylene, 2/5, 152.6 x 492.7 cm. MMFA, anonymous gift

Were it not for its title, viewers would never guess that Robert Walker’s photograph was taken in an urban setting. The image captures nature’s glory at the Montreal Botanical Garden within an orchestrated combination of plants, its dazzling array of colours and composition so sharp it appears surreal – not unlike the construct that it is.

In Ecologies, the artists’ representations of nature, whether in its pristine state or altered by the destructive forces of human intervention, invariably stir our reflections about the urgent need to restore balance. The exhibition also stimulates contemplation on sustainable development and alternatives for a safer world, achieved through a more harmonious relationship between humankind and nature.

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Ecologies: A Song for our Planet
Until April 3, 2022
Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion – level S2

Credits and curatorial team
This exhibition is organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Iris Amizlev, Curator - Community Engagement and Projects, MMFA. Ecologies is presented by Hydro-Québec. The Museum acknowledges the vital contribution of its official sponsor Denalt Paints. It would like to thank the Young Philanthropists’ Circle of the MMFA, proud supporter of its contemporary art program, and extend its appreciation to the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications, the Conseil des arts de Montréal and the Canada Council for the Arts for their ongoing support.

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