The image of an isolated lighthouse set on a rocky outcrop above a perilous coastline, not to mention the lonely existence of its keeper, is bound to conjure fantastic narratives of shipwrecks and solitude. Lighthouses are both a warning and a guide—a signal of ever-present danger even at journey’s end—and as such their history is rife with tales of tragedy and triumph. While that history still fuels our collective imagination, the modern-day story of these seaside beacons is increasingly uncertain. With automation and GPS technologies, and lighthouse sites being redeveloped as restaurants among other unlikely new enterprises, the iconic image of the lighthouse and its keeper has in many respects become another chapter in a classical romance of the sea.
Curator Cate Rimmer delves into these myths and histories with “The Voyage, or Three Years at Sea Part 1,” the first in a three-part exhibition series on the sea, this time featuring lighthouse-related conceptual works by Rodney Graham and Tacita Dean complemented by a selection of photos and artifacts gathered from the Vancouver Maritime Museum among other historical sources. In his wry self-portrait as a lighthouse keeper biding time in his solitary confine, Graham mixes his signature historically precise, stage-set humour with the overarching edge of ennui attached to having nothing to do but think and wait, wait and think. Dean’s film installation Disappearance at Sea takes an equal measure of isolation and infinity. Loosely based on the bizarre story of British yachtsman Donald Crowhurst and his 1968 attempt to sail solo around the world, the film depicts the mesmerizing turns of a lighthouse beacon at dusk as a metaphor for Crowhurst’s gradual loss of a sense of time, place and reality to the void of the sea. Alternatively, artifacts in the exhibition—from a foghorn and other vintage lighthouse instruments to a painting of a Vancouver shipwreck rendered on wood salvaged from the wreck itself—offer a concrete perspective on lighthouse existentialism. (1399 Johnston St, Vancouver BC)