The idea of “the great white north” has long shaped Canadian identity. And one thing contemporary art in our nation has often helpfully done is to identify this (among other issues) as problematic. Now, “Untrue North” at the Yukon Arts Centre gathers works by nine Canadian artists in order to ask whether the north can ever be fully represented in art.
In a catalog essay, the curator of the show, Toronto’s Earl Miller, argues that the image of Canada’s north as a pure, unspoiled Eden is a fiction both old and new, seen in Group of Seven paintings and current Yukon tourism ads alike.
The works in this show play with these types of representations in many ways. In her well-known Souvenirs of the Self (Lake Louise) photo series, created between 1991 and 2000, South Korean–born, Vancouver-based artist Jin-me Yoon poses against the iconic backdrop of the Rockies in manners that question whose cultural identity the north actually speaks to. Mark Lewis’ Algonquin Park, Early March, made in 2002, suggests how cinematic effects can alter a viewer’s interpretation of place; instead of sweeping panoramas of age-old trees or rapid-fire shots of exhilarating ski adventures, his film offers a slow zoom out of a frozen, snow-covered lake. Kevin Schmidt’s 2007 film Wild Signals shows multi-coloured concert lights flashing in the drifting snow and darkness, creating an effect similar to that of the aurora borealis. Inspired by the soundtrack of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schmidt’s work seems to poke fun at the “otherworldly” aura Canadian city-dwellers imagine places like the Yukon to have.
Rounded out with works from Martha Louise Black, Brian Jungen, Joseph Tisiga, Toni Hafkenscheid, Vikky Alexander and Marten Berkman, “Untrue North” promises to have a lot of fun intervening with one of our dearest cultural inventions.