Adad Hannah

Sympathetic Magic

June 27 to September 14, 2014

Opening Reception: Friday, June 27 at 8 p.m.
Talk/Tour: Saturday, September 13 at 1 p.m. with curator Troy Gronsdahl

Canada has cultivated and maintained a strong symbolic connection with the northern landscape. The artistic production of Canada’s renowned early painters, the Group of Seven and their ilk, has both defined artistic practice at home and Canada abroad. As art historian John O’Brian observes in Wild Art History, “The land and its representations are knotted together, not unlike two other words with an affinity to landscape in contemporary thought — nation and nationalism.” The country as depicted by the progenitors of the Canadian landscape tradition is a pristine, untamed, and unpeopled place. A history of colonization and the development of the modern Canadian state are registered on countless paintings and postcards. Popular depictions of the landscape are telling: Canada is rich in natural beauty, abundant in resources, and open for business.

Despite seismic environmental and social changes, the Canadian wilderness trope persists. Sympathetic Magic, curated by Troy Gronsdahl, is an exhibition of contemporary Canadian art that pulls at the loose threads of the fabric of the national myth. Bringing together text and photo-based works by Raymond Boisjoly, Adad Hannah, Ken Lum, and Kevin Schmidt, the exhibition explores the complex relationships between nationhood, culture, and the environment through the real and imaginative terrain of “the north.”

The exhibition title is derived from a term used by anthropologist James George Frazer in his seminal treatise on magic and religion, first published in 1890. The Golden Bough had a profound influence on then-emerging fields of anthropology and sociology, and enduring influences on psychology and literature. Under the umbrella of Sympathetic Magic, Frazer identified two foundational principles: the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contact or Contagion. The latter stipulates that “Things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.” He makes another compelling statement: “Things can physically affect each other through a space which appears to be empty.” There is a poetic resonance in his text that lends itself to this particular exploration of nationhood, culture and identity in Canada.