photo: christine clark

I haven’t been to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (capital AGGV) for a very long time. Can’t remember the last time. I think I thought that 12 dollars was too arduous. I know I know, but I used to be a pack and a half a day smoker. That pretty much uses up all your fun money, you know? On Friday past I actually had to go. To the gallery that is. I had to pay up for the VCA alumni show fees and the lady in charge of the money was hosting the Small Works show (currently on at the gallery), so I was there, I had 12 bucks, I was in!

To be honest the whole artgalleryofgreatervictoria thing always strikes me as slightly boring. That permanent Asian art section. I don’t know. It’s beautiful stuff, there’s no doubt, but it’s really not electric, is it? It’s kind of stodgy and colonial and old. I usually enjoy looking at the rice paper paintings, because I do love painting, but all in all it’s a bit dreary. And that holds true for the “western” collection as well. Yes yes, Emily is a great painter. But jesus, the work itself is brittle looking. It’s all dried up. Dry, brittle, old, stodgy. Not very inspiring. And that, more than the 12 dollars, was what kept me away. Even Andy Warhol couldn’t pull me in. The place is just too bloody beige.

But as I said, I was there and I sacrificed the money and I went in.

First I looked at the Small Works show and that was nice. It was salon style in the truest sense. The walls were plastered in painting and drawing and photography. A couple of the artists were there, feeling proud and serving dark chocolate coated cookies. I can’t remember any names really but it doesn’t matter. It was really nice.

Next I went to the Lab 9.1. The Lab is a charming idea. I love the little gallery within the big gallery, but strangely enough it is also beige. I swear to god, the walls are a beige colour. It’s funny really. But ok. Anyway, an artist named Mike Mclean is showing Range:Rocky Mountain National Park Photographs in the Lab until nearly the end of September. Normally the cumulative affect of the 12 dollars, the unstoppable beige, the soon to be seen Emily and an art show having to do with the Rocky Mountain National Park, would just stupify me and I mean literally with boooordumb. However, these photographs were actually quite loveable.

I know from what I’ve been reading recently that the AGGV has been driving the idea of social practice in art and I suppose that this exhibit runs along the same lines. As Mr. Mclean states, his intentions are “to better understand the historical complexities and provide a contemporary perspective on these mountain landscapes, and to examine the value in protecting them for the future”. Commendable, yes, but not exactly stunningly creative. Thank you Mr. Mclean for your care and attention to our beautiful environment, but is it art?

I grew up in BC. I’ve spent a lot of hours driving through mountains and mountain towns. I’ve been to lots of small town museums. I’ve seen a lot of photographs, just like these, in those places. I hate to harp on the dreary point, but….but. I suppose that being in a gallery, inviting people to come see these banal photos within an art gallery setting, is an interesting twist. Actually it is the twist. After all, even those of us who dread the heavy heavy weight of the “big” gallery cannot help but adjust to the potential of experiencing art in any gallery, ever. By this I mean that a gallery, even one painted beige, is a magic place. A place to be raw and open and vulnerable. A place to feel the colour, the tone, the intellectual vibe of other men and women.

What I liked about Mike’s work was the delicacy. In my ready state, my gallery state, the photograph of a metal route marker standing on a rocky ledge above a glorious valley scape, brought me to a visceral memory of my own history in those places. I could remember the heat, the dust, the dry emptiness. The cigarette smoke, some old photographs my parents took of elk before I was born, the rest stop restaurants. And that’s just the beginning. What about my Scottish grandfather who died working on the railroad? And what about the gold rush and the native people? And how about the grizzly bears and the long long history of glaciers and climate change?

There’s a great song that the Fugees do. It goes, “strumming my pain with his finger, singing my life with his words”. It doesn’t take much, does it? Just a touch. That’s where the art is. That delicate understanding. It’s lovely, isn’t it?

Thanks Mike Mclean. I mean it.