When St. Albert painter Brenda Kim Christiansen visited Fort McMurray a few years ago, she wasn’t interested in the tarsands or tailings ponds, the immense factories or other large pieces of machinery or equipment.
She wanted to explore the other environmental effects of oil production and the resulting population growth inside the boomtown itself.
“I got very drawn to a friend’s property that was having pipelines put through up by Redwater and that’s how it all got started,” she explained, recalling the impetus for this project.
“I started to look around at different areas of Alberta that had been impacted by the oil industry. It just seemed like a natural progression to move up to Fort McMurray. Living in Alberta, we always hear about the tar sands. I thought I should see for myself.”
As she ventured north to the energy centre, she went on a series of walkabouts to discover how the pastoral landscape has turned into more of an urban wasteland.
“I became very enamoured with those traces within the townsite where people had claimed nature for their own through housing or leisure activities … just staking our claim on the environment.”
Her discoveries were too good to not document through her work. The skies in this series might be pristine and serene but the new landscapes are covered in construction debris, oil drums, and unused culvert pipes with only a smattering of nature about.
Christiansen’s oil paintings, while difficult to discern exactly what you’re looking at, provide a strong and foreboding image of a world eviscerated and left to decay. There’s no sign of human life, just the remnants of a careless species’ activities.
She is only one of the four artists exhibiting for ARTificial, the new show at the Art Gallery of St. Albert. Paul Bernhardt is another and his large-scale paintings are comparable to Christiansen’s, although his streetscapes are far more chaotic and frenetic.
At one point, you see random campfires burning, but the sign on the side of the road seems to be untouched by whatever combustion is occurring. Another image shows arrows pointing to what looks like a walk-in money machine surrounded by streetlights and cold, grey concrete.
Jordan Rule’s photographs are one man’s views of demolition and construction sites late at night. He has a good eye for finding the beauty in the strange geometry of scaffolding or the snow-covered lumber piles. It seems like he’s trying to follow the cowpath started by Edward Burtynsky in his Oil series, and he’s not that far off the mark.
Eveline Kolijn has an eclectic contribution to the show with some fine details. She has carefully carved out some delicate designs on styrofoam take-out containers. These sit on a pedestal amid her woodcuts and screen prints. These pictures — part-photograph and part drawing — show a wild and fantastical world. A cowboy that looks like Don Quixote rides a horse that seems to be made of the inner workings of a clock. An all-terrain vehicle appears to have the front end of a bull. We are left to contemplate humankind’s indelible fingerprint on nature.
ARTificial runs for two months as opposed to the gallery’s usual month-long policy.
Frances Gagnon, director of art, explained that things are changing now that the ArtWalk season is over.
“It’s so we can do more programming with a longer period of time. In the fall and winter, we can spread them out a little bit more.”
artworks by Jordan Rule, Paul Bernhardt, Eveline Kolijn and Brenda Kim Christiansen
Opening reception tomorrow from 6 to 9 p.m. during the last ArtWalk of the year
Artists will be in attendance
Art Gallery of St. Albert
19 Perron Street
Call 780-460-4310 or visit www.artgalleryofstalbert.com for more information.