It won’t exactly be Night at the Museum, but a new photo-based exhibition at the Vernon Public Art Gallery, showing the authenticity of nature versus the fabricated, is coming to life.
The exhibition, entitled About Looking, features photographic montages created by Kelowna-based artist Fern Helfand. Her work explores the relationship of artificially created natural environments found in museums, and the visitors who opt to visit these facilities in order to experience nature.
“My current research and upcoming exhibition makes observations on taxidermy in museum and private collections and its relationship to the people who come to view the displays or who are collectors themselves,” said Helfand. “In addition, my work underscores a strong tie between photography and taxidermy.”
An associate professor in the faculty of creative and critical studies at UBC Okanagan, Helfand examines the relationship between humans and animals, both wild and domesticated, through constructed images composed from multiple photographs she took while visiting actual museums. The photographs have been combined into montages, which embody the sense of believable artificial environments.
“When I encounter a mounted animal I see it as captured in time just as I would see a photograph that has frozen a moment that can never be relived,” she said. “I wonder about the story of how the animal came to be displayed and the circumstances of its life and death, in the same way as I would think about a person, or animal caught in a photograph from some mysterious time in the past.”
In her exhibition, Helfand also examines the ethical legitimacy of taxidermy collections, specifically how the specimens were obtained and why and how they are presented for public display.
“In recent decades the ethical legitimacy of taxidermy collecting and collections have increasingly come under scrutiny and re-evaluation in museums around the world, in terms of how the specimens were acquired and in terms of how and why they are displayed for contemporary public consumption,” she said.
Helfand will give a talk on About Looking at the VPAG Nov. 19 at 1 p.m.
Also opening at the gallery is Wayne LaRiviere’s Shadow Seeker.
The Vernon-based Cree/Métis artist will present paintings and sculptural elements based on traditional iconography of Canada’s First Nations.
LaRiviere is one of the mentors in the fine arts program administered by the Sookinchoot Centre for Aboriginal Youth, who will also present a group exhibition entitled Made from Memory in the education room at the gallery.
The exhibition features two- and three-dimensional artwork, photography, video works, and a contemporary interpretation of traditional crafts.
“The Vernon Public Art Gallery is pleased to have the Sookinchoot Centre participate in our exhibition programming for a third year in a row,” said VPAG executive director Dauna Grant. “The artwork presented in Made from Memory includes traditional materials and contemporary art practices. The work created by aboriginal youth in our community continues to educate and inspire us all.”
All three new exhibitions open with an artists’ reception Thursday at the VPAG, located at 3228-31st Ave., from 6 to 8 p.m.
The exhibitions are available for viewing until Dec. 21. Hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.