Playing with the Group of Seven

By Becky Rynor on March 21, 2014

Diana Thorneycroft, Group of Seven Awkward Moments: Summer (Grey Owl and Anahareo at Beaver Swamp), 2007, chromogenic print on paper, 25 x 34 cm. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Gift of Michael Boss. Photo: courtesy of the artist

Canadiana is a show of firsts—not only for the MacKenzie Art Gallery, but also for artist Diana Thorneycroft, curator Hilary Knutson, and the viewing public.

The exhibition was inspired by Thorneycroft’s series of photographs Group of Seven Awkward Moments, a playful spin on the famous Group of Seven works that depict and define the Canadian landscape. Twenty of Thorneycroft’s cheeky photographs are paired with historical landscape paintings from the MacKenzie’s permanent collection by Canadian artists such as Augustus Kenderdine, Dorothy Knowles and Cornelius Krieghoff, whose works are also part of the National Gallery of Canada’s permanent collection.

Dorothy Knowles, Blue Reverie, 1992, acrylic on paper, 576 x 767 cm. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Gift of the artist. Photo: Don Hall

“We have these beautiful works in our collection by Canadian artists who have been inspired by the landscape,” Knutson says. “It’s easy to be captivated by the beauty of the land, but Diana’s images remind us of the complexity of that. What I’m hoping to do is not just look at a beautiful landscape show, but to dig a little bit deeper. Her photographs really set off the paintings in a new and exciting way.”

To give visitors a unique experience, Knutson invites them to explore what it means to be Canadian by creating their own dioramas in response to Thorneycroft’s work.

“People will be able to build their own scenes using figures that may relate to their own identity, a point in history, or a specific person in history,” she says. “Two scenes are set up, then you choose the props, toys or figurines to create a sculptural scene, and take a photo of it, mimicking the process Diana goes through in her own practice.”

Ed Fletcher, Elk, no date, watercolour on paper, 30 x 45 cm. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Gift of Veronica and David Thauberger. Photo: Don Hall

Two historical paintings from the MacKenzie collection—Settler’s Farm near Vancouver, circa 1911 by Harold Copping, and In the Rockies, 1898 by Thomas Mower Martin—have been reproduced and enlarged as backdrops for the dioramas.

“I’ve never participated in a show in which people get to make their own dioramas,” Thorneycroft says. “This is just great. I arrived with a suitcase full of my toys, put them on a table, and the staff started playing with them. I’m hoping that visitors will have as much fun.”

The props all have a “Canadian connection,” according to Thorneycroft. “The animals are elk, beaver, moose, howling wolves and bears, and First Nations dolls that I purchased at airports, so they are kind of cliché. There are also a lot of RCMP figures, including a female Barbie RCMP. I think that, when people come into this exhibition, they will recognize that the selection of props is very specific, and they will then be able to play within that paradigm.”

Diana Thorneycroft, Group of Seven Awkward Moments: Summer (Jack Pine), 2007, chromogenic print on paper, 26.5 x 33 cm. Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery. Gift of Michael Boss. Photo: courtesy of the artist

Knutson admits that adding the exhibition’s interactive component involved going out on a limb. “This is the first time that the MacKenzie has created a space directly in the gallery for viewers to actively participate and be a part of the exhibition, to delve deeper in the collection. I wanted to leave it up to the audience to build their own dioramas, and think about their own identity and their connection to the land.”

Thorneycroft also says it is “pretty great” to be presented alongside the other artists in the show. “It’s so much fun, because my work is so contemporary and their work is more historical,” she says. “But I think I make their work more contemporary, and they make my work fit into the history of Canadian art-making.”

Canadiana is on display at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina until June 14, 2014.

By Becky Rynor| March 21, 2014
Categories:  Correspondents

About the Author

Becky Rynor

Becky Rynor

Becky Rynor is a journalist and editor based in Ottawa.

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