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In Geoffrey Farmer’s Mirror

The Vancouver-based artist turned the Canadian pavilion, currently being dismantled for restoration, into a celebration of personal, artistic and national resilience

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Text by Rab Messina

It’s been 150 years since the foundation of Canada, and along with the nation’s capacity to accept, include and expand, its history has also found a flowing way out of violence —in other words, reconciliation.

That the deteriorating, birdhouse-like Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is in the middle of a costly restoration was an opportunity for artist Geoffrey Farmer to confirm that constant, albeit also on a personal level.

A Way out of the Mirror, this year’s national exhibition, uses what is left of the spiral-shaped structure BBPR built in 1957, entwining the architectural history of the building with the installation itself. Under the pieced-apart wooden roof —much of it gone— lies the central element of the exhibition: a powerful geyser-like fountain, seemingly obstructed by haphazardly fallen pieces of lumber.

They’re not: the 71 large, wooden-like pieces, printed using a lithographic process, are a reference to an image of Farmer’s grandfather in 1955, his truck having been hit by a train, lumber scattered everywhere. “At first, I thought they were exclamation marks, and then later, peacock feathers,” states the artist. Through several 3D-printed sculptures in aluminium and bronze, the artist connects this personal discombobulation to the postwar relationship of Italy and Canada.

Right outside, a seemingly hidden push pedal below the gravel activates a drinking water fountain —used mostly by the cast and crew of the German pavilion next door, probably exhausted by the Faustian routines. The whole thing is quite easy to miss and dismiss —even the “Canada” sign is gone from the structure, mostly under Farmer’s request—, but it pays to listen: the installation is a quiet testament to the ways destruction can reward the resilient by reshaping personal and national histories.

A Way out of the Mirror is open until November 26, 2017

At the pavilion, with the fountain in the background
Individual waterways in each lumber-like piece --what Farmer called "feathers"
The hidden drinking fountain under the gravel
The 1955 image that started it all
Farmer in a portrait by Iacopo Seri

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