September 20 – November 2
humynatur3 explores the dissolution of Nature/Culture distinctions as emergent in the Anthropocene, a new geological era wherein human activity has influenced the course of all non-human systems, towards unprecedented outcomes.
In this context, hierarchical classifications distinguishing between biological organisms, environmental processes and ‘animal’ vs. human pursuits are dissolved, creating the ‘Terra Incognita’ of a radically unknowable future.Utilizing the gallery space as a laboratory, sculptural assemblages and 2D works explore themes of mutation, acceleration, extinction and evolution. These real-time material investigations acknowledge the contemporary event horizon of radical change while seeking to build conceptual frameworks for responsive reckoning and strategies of collective world-building.
Based between Toronto and Heffley-Creek BC, Holly Ward is an interdisciplinary artist working with sculpture, multi-media installation, architecture, video and drawing as a means to examine the role of aesthetics in the formation of new social realities. Stemming from research of various visionary practices such as utopian philosophy, science fiction literature, Visionary Architecture, counter-cultural practices and urban planning, her work investigates the arbitrary nature of symbolic designation and the use-value of form in a social context.
Ward has produced solo shows exhibitions at Artspeak, the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery, the Or Gallery (all Vancouver), YYZ Gallery (Toronto), Volta 6 (Basel), and others. She has participated in group exhibitions in Canada, Chile, England, Mexico, the US, Norway and South Korea. humynatur3 is on view in the Alternator’s main space from September 20 – November 2, 2019.
Essay by Bree Apperley
Artist Holly Ward makes work that has run a course through a retro optimism towards a darker, more anxious meditation on our collective future. Ward’s pieces are constructed across mediums, using sculpture, multi-media installation, architecture, video and drawing. Her work produces material investigations as tools for an audience to more deeply analyze late-stage capitalism.
Ward’s earlier works were focused around ideas concerning utopian idealism popularly expressed through such forms as science fiction, visionary architecture, and social and political manifestos. The work maintained a hesitating effervescence toward what looked like a new era full of potential, imbued with confidence that accessing the utopian imaginary would increase the connectedness and tolerance of society. In one of her first pieces, a free-standing sculpture from 2003 titled The Future is Now, embedded microphones picked up ambient sounds and transmitted them back to the viewer via speakers, creating an interactive echo-response unit made to look like a section of a science-fiction movie set. The possibilities of profound change in the future that science fiction allows us to imagine also appeared in Ward’s 2005 piece, Radical Rupture. Viewers in a darkened room, leaning back on beanbag chairs, feet caressed by a shag rag, could contemplate the starry sky —a video projection where twinkling stars lit up one by one, and burnt out in the same fashion. While viewing our ever expanding and contracting universe, audio of a 1967 recorded lecture by political theorist, sociologist and philosopher Herbet Marcuse played. The lecture, “On Liberation from the Affluent Society” implored the audience to accept new ideas that are utopian, idealistic and metaphysical and to, “…take a leap into the realm of freedom…”, by examining relationships between repression and aggression.
A cloud of apprehension appears on this bright horizon in The Shape of Things to Come (2007), where small modular grids on a series of plexiglass sculptures flash in a flickering pattern. Audio files converted to electrical signals triggered LED lights, translating human speech into visual patterns. The audio files were taken from public lectures available on the internet and included various topics such as microbiology, economics, ecology, anthropology and critical theory. Each lecture stressed the need for a fundamental shift in thinking to prepare for the rapidly approaching, and possibly unlivable, future. The Shape of Things to Come is also the title of a 1933 novel by H.G. Wells in the genre of ‘Future History’ that describes an alternate course of 20th century history resulting in world peace. Ward sets up a dichotomy between the perfect world as described by Wells and the uneasiness sensed in the writings of the scholars. This measure of uncertainty is elaborated on in Listening Post. In 2008, Ward set up a scaffold that brought the viewer up to a suspended speaker playing a recitation of “A Definition of Evolution”, a 1974 poem about entropy and progress by visionary architect, engineer and poet R. Buckminster Fuller. The poem was originally recorded being read by Ward in a geodesic dome in Germany (built by the US as an aid to monitor the former East German Republic). In this piece tentacles of paranoia intertwine with Bucky’s frustrations at having his forward thinking generally ignored by mainstream culture.
Ward’s solo exhibition Here and There was installed at the Republic Gallery (Vancouver, BC) in 2009. This show included hypothetical diagrams and objects in the vein of visionary architecture: a dimension of imaginary built possibilities. Holly created a series of drawings with pencil crayon, graphite and mineral oil on vellum, mounted in freestanding plexiglass and steel displays. Alongside these structures with their illustrations of fictional domiciles sat a strange creature made of concrete, crystal and resin; a small satellite to keep you company on your journey. The floor was gridded with foil tape in the fashion of Tron. Ward was perhaps at her most playful here, exploring the limitless potential that fantasy cultivates —the freedom of utopic visions untainted by pragmatism and reality.
Rounding out the last decade, The Pavilion, a functioning symbol of utopia securely positioned in the real world, continues to be Holly Ward’s most ambitious project. Beginning in 2009 an artist-in-residence project at Langara College, The Pavilion hosted art events, music concerts and DIY workshops conceived and curated by Ward. After the residency was complete, The Pavilion was packed up and moved to a rural property north of Kamloops, BC, to be rebuilt and expanded upon. The Pavilion is now being developed in collaboration with artist Kevin Schmidt as a permanent facility that will function as an artist’s live/work space and host for free-school activities, curated open-air cinema events, and land-based collaborations. Ward sees this ongoing project as one that functions as a holistic experiment in self-reliance and community building which, while referencing 60’s countercultural ideals, seeks to develop new models for artistic agency in the face of increasing economic and environmental pressures. The Pavilion project symbolically expresses the need for dynamic thinking, non-conformity and change.
2010 brought the Winter Olympics to Vancouver, and with it much controversy. Ward’s pieces Safe Assembly Area and Operation Podium from the same year reflect this antagonism. Both projects were designed in direct response to the control that the Olympics committee tried to wield over the public and its own corporate sponsorship. Safe Assembly Area was created by installing a large metal fence within the gallery, restricting access from one side of the space to the other. The fence was the same used by the committee to construct “Free Speech Zones” —cage-like sites allocated for protest on the outskirts of the city —which were later renamed “Safe Assembly Areas” to appease the negative response from the public. Operation Podium was built from stacked cases of Pepsi (the official sponsor of the 2010 Winter Olympics was Coke), whose contents were free to gallery visitors. The cases were arranged in the configuration of the medal stand of the 1968 Summer Olympic games where two Olympic athletes raised their fists in the Black Power salute. Operation Podium was also the name of the six billion dollar Olympic security operation. These pieces reflect on the agency of individuals against what is essentially a rigidly controlled mega-event, promoted to raise the profile of an aspirational city and organization at the expense of citizens and athletes.
Ward’s exhibition House of Light and Entropy, from early 2016, was born from investigations of the material byproducts of resource-extraction and agricultural industries together with the local flora, fauna and geology around the rebuilt Pavilion. A presentation of fieldwork, the show featured a slice of the Geo-dome, propped by a steel pole and overlaid with a piece of dung-fired clay, a richly textured and soft-looking fragment of felt hanging from a green steel support, and pock-marked chunks of fired aggregate on slender iron legs resting atop rubber floor matting. On the wall were sa series of mushroom spore prints and three triangular wall works consisting of more dome parts and plant-dyed cotton. Upon reflection, the show becomes a peaceful pause before the paradigm shift ushered in by Trump’s America later that same year.
Kamloops Art Gallery (Kamloops, BC) presented Planned Peasanthood in 2017, in a new world of revelation and mounting angst. The artworks that Ward created for this show were expressions that reflected the cultural bad turn. The most noxious composition (literally), was a trio of fruiting mushroom specimens under individual protective plastic tents and black lights that had to be removed after a staff member fell ill on exposure to the piece. The exhibition also included blue salt-lick cubes upon which sat an even larger round cast foam puffball mushroom and a cow femur rendered space-age by rainbow metallic car paint. On the wall hung a print of a weathered farmer wearing an anti-facial recognition mask while holding up a primitive oxen harness, seemingly cut-out and stuck on a rainbow-rolled background of blue fading to white and to pink. On another wall was a cast resin pitchfork, glowing phosphorescent blue under the black light. In this show, Holly’s work has morphed into signals of warning, urging us to learn to live off the land, create new tools and rely only on ourselves for survival.
Much in the same vein is Holly Ward’s exhibition humynatur3 which was originally presented at Republic Gallery in 2018 and is rehung in the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art this September. In humynatur3 several of the fatalistic threads explored in Planned Peasanthood are picked up and expanded upon. Liquid Assets is a sculpture that questions the ethics of resource extraction and how we prize raw materials. A sheet of wood is balanced on four plastic tanks of potable water. On top of the wood sit short stands of neon plexiglass which display fired sheets of terracotta clay roughly coated with a oily rainbow black glaze —an abstract model of the earth’s surface with crude bubbling through. The piece becomes like a three-dimensional illustration of an economic hierarchy; the precious drinking water sits below the earth’s crust and layer of oil, so essential and yet debased by a culture that assigns value only through an economic lens.
Leaning against a wall is the piece Realms of the Soil which includes three cyanotype prints of native grass species cultivated at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage herbarium collection at the University of Lethbridge. The Coutts herbarium aids research groups from the university in re-indigenizing and hence revitalizing the regional soil after decades of top-soil erosion from mono culture farming. The classic beauty of nature fixed and framed is belied by the industrial-grade anti-stress mats beneath, like a dandelion blooming from a crack in the asphalt. Realms of the Soil shares its name with a chapter title from Rachel Carson’s epoch defining book, Silent Spring, from 1962. Silent Spring was inspired by reports of songbirds dying from aerial spraying of DDT and subsequently exposed the detrimental environmental effects caused by extensive use of pesticides.
Another Green World is a wall print where the paradox inherent in chroma key green is highlighted. A gradient fade silkscreen on dibond framed with plexiglass and steel grommets, Another Green World starts a conversation investigating what is real versus artificial. The colour green in most cases signifies what is natural and wholesome, an idea that is contradicted in this piece by chroma key green, which is a technological innovation used in the film and animation industries (a green screen), to produce something which becomes, in essence, hyper-real. On the green background are placed ominous images in black and white, appropriated from a book titled Evolution. The scanned photographs of skeletons, including the chilling image of a human riding atop a horse, all contribute to a sense of the apocalyptic, as though we are all galloping too fast toward possible oblivion.
The headlining piece, Event Horizon, is a thin steel scaffold on which are showcased various ready-made objects forming an index that refers to human labour: the activities that take place when we are engaging with our environment. Here we have a skull formed by the newest 3D printer technology hanging above a seventies-era pot glazed in what looks like molten lava —as though it was born from the earth. To the right is a plaster filled rubber work glove, to the left a sickle denoting agriculture and old-school communism yet painted in chroma key green. The apparatus also displays a conch shell with a sawn-off tip to be blown through —the original long-distance communication device, and the cow bone reprised with its pearlescent sheen contrasting surface and symbol while also pointing towards the absurdities of our food industry. The title Event Horizon is a term borrowed from astrophysics which refers to a theoretical boundary around a black hole beyond which no light or other radiation can escape. The boundary surrounding the black hole becomes a point of no return, the horizon beyond which one cannot see, the last opportunity to act as witness. The black hole can only be our future, unknown and unseeable past this point. The vulnerability of the systems of our labours, our appetites, and our desires are increasingly pulling us towards it.
Ward acquired an MFA (Studio) from the University of Guelph in 2006, a BFA (Interdisciplinary Studio) from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, and a BA (English Major, Fine Arts Minor), from the University of New Brunswick. Ward has had solo exhibitions in Vancouver at Artspeak, the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery, and the Or Gallery, as well as YYZ Gallery (Toronto), Volta 6 (Basel), and others. She has participated in group exhibitions in Canada, Chile, England, Mexico, the US, Norway and South Korea. Her recent publications include “Volumes” (Blackwoods Gallery, 2015), “Every Force Evolves a Form” (Artspeak, 2012), and “For Now, on Holly Ward’s Persistence of Vision”, a critical essay in Jeff Derksen’s After Euphoria (JRP Ringier Press, 2013). Her work is in the collections of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Fogo Island Arts, and Scotiabank.