The exhibition begins with a pair of future deaths. Two jean jackets hang on the wall, showing their backs. On the left is the artist’s father’s, on which he delicately, patiently hand-embroidered (back in his mid-twenties) an intricate domestic scene: a self-portrait reading the paper in a comfortable chair, a dog at his feet. This is the jacket he wishes to be buried in, with the further proviso that he be laid out in the coffin face down, such that during the visitation his family and friends will only see the back of the jacket with its cozy scene. He is at peace. On the right is the artist’s own version. His shows the magnificent head of a snowy owl in flight, the wings coming down the arms of the jacket. The blackened, piercing eyes suggest a memento mori skull but the feathers, so detailed and resplendent, seem to send the jacket skyborne, far from any grave. The work is called When My Father’s Last Earth-Tie Is Sundered.
An adjacent figurative sculpture of a young woman stands on a high pedestal, the feet at the viewer’s eye level. Her pose is that of a dancer, bringing to mind all that Degas loved about them, though here her head is encased in salt, with crystalline strands hanging down her chin like stalactites in a cavern. This is one of the artist’s small series of Salt Beards, wherein an object that already exists in the world, such as an old bronze bust, a marble head, a ceramic torso, is given new life by the repeated application of saturated salt water. The artist’s actions remind me of how Isek Dinesen famously said that The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea. This figure, swirling upward in languid contrapposto, was birthed from a 3D file, printed into life and now frozen in polyester. Its title is Eth Yrtanny Fo Istdance, which is also the title of the exhibition, a glitch version of The Tyranny Of Distance. The artist has often spoken of his interest in being a catalyst for objects, or situations, or phenomena, that already exist, and then bringing them together to novel ends. The timelines in the artist’s work are often geological, as is suggested in three large collages in the exhibition. Images of bog people, of horseshoe crabs (a prehistoric creature) being drained of their blood for the antibody used in heart medication, of corpses from Pompeii, of mud bath treatments and coal barges sinking, of the grisly severed feet that keep washing up along the coast of British Columbia, of baby bats and strings of sausages, all float over a background of ancient shells.
Across from these is a series of 18 photographs, each with handmade custom frame matched to the feel of the image. In this series, Lizard Wine, the artist has documented an unorthodox nocturnal encounter: a neighbour emerging from his basement apartment to begin working, as an amateur taxidermist, with the various specimens he has retrieved as roadkill – a skunk, a racoon, an owl – and to change the embalming fluids in the jars that contain the many reptiles he once kept as pets and has preserved as they’ve passed on, over the last quarter century.