There are certain spaces that echo lost time, spaces that receive memories but offer few clues. Such spaces offer up hidden treasures, lost secrets—they act as keyholes into meaning-laden pasts. At the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, Jason de Haan, the 2012 Sobey Art Award finalist for the Prairies and the North, is currently presenting a collection of work addressing these types of spaces.
New finds old here in a quiet presence that requires all the time left in the world to tease out the layered secrets and memories these seemingly abandoned pieces hold. Titled “Nowhere Bodily is Everywhere Ghostly,” the show presents a nostalgia that befits a generation looking to overturn the present in favour of something brighter and better, all while romanticizing days far past. Although De Haan is highly conceptual in his practice, the end result is characterized by a certain lack of control during process. His process allows other forces to play into the result, whether it be gravity on his Salt Beard pieces (2009–2011) or the growth of a tree in Future Age (2010).
The cyanotype print Moon (2010), an image of a single coin printed onto a sheet of paper during a partial lunar eclipse in June 2010, forges something that is and something that isn’t. In Spirits Looking at Themselves (2010) and Untitled Cube (2008), mirrors are presented that have “captured” ephemeral phenomena like northern lights and ghosts; these works manifest unexplainable moments.
The simplicity of Zeus at Olympus (2011)—a carved beach stone from Beirut in the shape of a watchful eye, set on a small marble platform—refuses to give an explanation. The mythology presented through the title lures the viewer into looking closely, only to have the eye look right back. This and the other more grounded pieces seem like orphans. Without the platforms they rest upon, they could be mistaken for forgotten relics. They could be missed and overlooked.
Pie Powder (2008–2010) is a large piano sitting in the centre of the room, and if it didn’t look so derelict, it could easily be from any bar, saloon or pub. The piece looks destroyed, aged, thick with ghosts and memories. It quietly asks for trust and promises that it won’t be misplaced. This particular piano was placed in a field and left for 763 days. Throughout this time, horses and many other natural elements left their mark in a process that surrendered control to greater powers.
Much like an old relative’s attic filled with personal mythologies, deeply buried skeletons and numerous unexplained artifacts, Jason de Haan’s exhibition transports the viewer into a more secret place—a place where ghosts live among us in everyday circumstances, and where these seemingly orphaned pieces latch onto consciousness. Jason de Haan’s show fills the SAAG’s upstairs gallery with a ghostly presence grounded in apocalyptic endings and brighter futures.