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Nomads: Inward Bound

Globetrotting is a matter of fact for many contemporary artists with working practices, artist residencies and international exhibitions regularly taking them across continents and cultures. That goes for art audiences too, as the many returnees from the opening days at the Venice Biennale last week and attendees at this week’s Art Basel can attest. But itinerancy doesn’t always mean racking up carbon miles: Travel is also a territory of the imagination.

That’s the premise behind the National Gallery of Canada’s exhibition “Nomads,” which gathers recent works dealing in the concept of outward and inward journeys by artists based in Vancouver, elsewhere, or both: Myfanwy MacLeod, Gareth Moore, Hadley + Maxwell, Althea Thauberger and Geoffrey Farmer.

As exhibition curator Josée Drouin-Brisebois points out in her catalogue essay, nomadism is a deceptively complex and open-ended notion with perpetually shifting contexts that can depend not only on site or situation, but also on historical points of reference and interpretation. Given that elusiveness, “How,” as Drouin-Brisebois writes, “to capture the essence of practices that are so much about flux, that continue to transform in ideas, contexts, meanings and forms?”

Works in the show touch on all of these angles, travelling as much in time and the imagination as they do in location. Moore’s ongoing sculptural travelogue Uncertain Pilgrimage takes up the faux-iconic aspects of heroic journey-making; Thauberger’s video work La mort e la miseria tests cultural memory with an ancient morality tale played out in an isolated Italian community; MacLeod’s installation Sullivan’s Travels offers an historical mapping of the ironic myths of a modernist “drunk narrative”; Hadley + Maxwell’s installation 1+1-1 challenges the authenticity of cultural landmarks in a multimedia “unfinishing” of Jean-Luc Godard’s contentious 1967 film Sympathy for the Devil; and Geoffrey Farmer’s monumental installation of collaged puppets and darkly magisterial puppet masters, The Surgeon and the Photographer, presents, as he writes, “a kind of inward journey, a physiological trip, and nomadism of thought.” (380 Sussex Dr, Ottawa ON)

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