As with many younger artists these days, Jason de Haan’s practice takes a multiplicity of forms, including sculpture, drawing, photography, performance and bookworks. Rather than adhering to a single style or direction, the Calgary-based artist has developed what seems to be a reverent, though free-flowing, relationship with the discourses of art history and pop culture. Consider his solo exhibition “Where the Ocean Meets This Guy,” held in the basement project room of Stride Gallery. The installation draws connections among a hodgepodge of influences, from Bas Jan Ader’s ill-fated 1975 performance In Search of the Miraculous to Buster Keaton’s 1924 silent film The Navigator to Captain Morgan (a toss-up between the 17th-century privateer and the rum).
Upon descending a set of stairs, the viewer enters the subterranean world of a fictive character (played by the artist) who’s been pulled together from a variety of sources. In the gallery-turned-handyman’s shop one finds a work-in-progress—a rudimentary, partially constructed one-person boat—among a scattering of materials, electrical cords and tools. Over the course of a month (the run of the exhibition) this wooden vessel takes a more certain shape as its builder logs time here and there to complete the project.
A not-so-modest stack of second-hand books rests against the wall. Titles from this meandering yet somewhat homogeneous collection include Scurvy, A Brief History of Mutiny, Loner, Prairie Boys Afloat, Rescue Boats of the World, Maritime Folk Songs, Cruising as a Way of Life, The Tyranny of Distance, Sailors & Sauerkraut and Gulliver’s Travels (the Coles Notes version), to name but a few. Though this makeshift library informs the underlying obsession and do-it-yourself spirit that has set this work in motion, one selection in particular, Ships in Bottles, calls attention to its probable conclusion.
As one continues to navigate the cluttered space, it becomes painfully clear that despite evidence of preparation—the aforementioned reading material, some nautical maps, a length of rope and anchor in wait—the craft will certainly be much too big to ever make its way out of the room. While this major oversight in planning will inevitably sink the venture and, in turn, bring one guy’s dream to a sudden end, it’s this poignantly ironic turn that ultimately sets this work afloat in the mind and imagination of the viewer.
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