From afar, the shifting phenomenon of magnetic north provides guidance not unlike Polaris, but as one draws close to the shadowy realm of the Arctic, navigation and communication begin to go awry, forcing the nomad to experiment within a no-man’s land. Military and religious colonization, hazardous testing, and a disregard for a fragile ecosystem mark the past of the Arctic, but so do inventive and sensitive histories. Within the White Cube of the gallery — here posited as a substitute for the minimalist landscape of the Arctic Sublime — the exhibition takes as its starting point Mercator’s imaginative speculation of dual magnetic north poles from 1595, and ends with recent geomatic renderings by an indigenous government. Between these visual landmarks, a constellation of documents, photographs, sculptures, radio broadcasts, film screenings and installations weave together the overlapping territories of utilitarian artifacts and conceptual artwork. The survey of work starts with techno/military enterprises such as those of Thomas Edison, R. Buckminster Fuller, Canada’s NFB, and the US Air Force; revisits conceptual art from the 1960s and '70s by Glenn Gould, N.E. Thing Co., Lawrence Weiner, Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland and others; and includes a selection of contemporary artists whose work combines both axes. Far from being an empty terra incognita, the Arctic, and like it, Magnetic Norths, functions both as a historical repository and as a fantasy projection space that generates electro-magnetic distortions, pay dirt, pissing contests, sci-fi warfare, psychedelic skies, conspiracy theories, critical confections, shamanistic loss and shattered cartographies.
Until April 17th, 2010, at Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal