Two University of Ottawa professors — Andrew Wright and Celina Jeffery — are taking part in Preternatural, an exhibition of contemporary art that explores the themes of nature, wonder and the extraordinary.
Celina Jeffery, associate professor of art history and theory, and chair of the University of Ottawa’s Department of Visual Arts, is the exhibition curator. She has been planning the event for two years. In the hopes of attracting a non-traditional arts audience, she selected three unique venues: a natural history museum (the Canadian Museum of Nature), a deconsecrated church (St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts) and a commercial gallery (the Patrick Mikhail Gallery).
University of Ottawa associate professor Andrew Wright is among the Museum of Nature artists. According to Wright, his two stark dioramas of the Arctic are meant to “challenge photographic conventions and provoke our perceptions of the world.” His works accomplish exactly that by presenting a disorienting perspective on the tundra landscape on Baffin Island. At first glance, the landscapes somewhat resemble the surface of the moon viewed from orbit, and Wright has dedicated a significant portion of his display to black space.
“In the blackness, there is nothing really, but if you spend some time with the piece, you come to realize that there is also everything,” says Wright, who spent three days in a canvas tent in minus-thirty-degree weather this May and found it hard at times to see where the sky ended and the snow began. “You come to realize how full ‘nothing’ is. Yes, it’s somewhat disorienting and disconcerting, but in a way it’s also comforting.”
Celina Jeffery explains the exhibition theme: “The concept of preternature is more than nature as science or nature as art — it exceeds the boundaries of these classificatory systems and opens up a space where the species of things conjure wonder and curiosity, as well as fear of the unknowable.”
The exhibit showcases the work of eight artists from South Korea, Norway, India, Canada, the U.S. and Germany. The majority of the pieces were created exclusively for the show, taking into account the venue in which they are being presented. An accompanying catalogue published by punctum books features essays by curator Celina Jeffery and American philosopher Levi R. Bryant.
Preternatural runs until February 17. For more information, visit the Preternatural website.