Canada Pavilion
Venice, Italy
13 – 26 November 2017

Geoffrey Farmer will install his exhibition titled A way out of the mirror in the Canada Pavilion and its surrounding gardens. Farmer is known internationally for his laboriously crafted projects of epic proportions combining theatrical techniques with historically sourced material.

The story of my project for Venice begins with these unpublished press photographs from 1955. They depict a collision between a train and a lumber truck halted by a railway crossing sign. There are planks scattered across the foreground and in one of the images, an unidentified boy poses with a half-eaten apple looking stiffly towards the horizon.

I was holding a copy of Howl, the epic poem by Allen Ginsberg, at the time I received the photographs. I was in my studio reading about the San Francisco Art Institute students who had organized the poem’s first reading on 7 October 1955. I had been an SFAI student myself in 1991. I was 24 years old and I heard Ginsberg sing Father Death Blues, which rattled me. It was also when I first learned about the Venice Biennale. I discovered a copy of a 1970 artscanada magazine about Michael Snow in the school’s library. I somehow thought that if I went back to that moment of discovery I might find something. I found Allen Ginsberg and the memory of a poem he recited.

I mention all of this because the absent figure in the photographs, beside the photographer, is my grandfather Victor, who walked away from the accident only to die a few months later. But I never knew that, or anything about the accident, or anything about him, until these images arrived in my inbox, sent to me by my sister Elizabeth, on 14 April 2016 at 6:24PM.

But this isn’t entirely true. I somehow knew the photographs intimately; the impact of the collision had been passed down through my family without us being aware of it. A shape created by absence, by rage, by unspoken trauma and grief. They have been waiting patiently for 62 years, for the opportunity to fulfill their destiny, to break a spell, to open a space and to help me find a way out of the mirror. – Geoffrey Farmer, February 2017

Farmer’s exhibition, which will be on view from May 13 to November 26, 2017, occupies both the Giardini and the Canada Pavilion. Water now erupts violently from a central source in the pavilion and flows around objects and forms shaped as much from conflict and violence as contemplation and reflection.

Kitty Scott, the Carol and Morton Rapp Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, was selected by Farmer to be the curator for the 2017 Canada Pavilion.

“Personal memory and familial history flow into a broader stream of reflections on inheritance, trauma, and desire” explained Ms. Scott. “The pavilion itself, colliding with the artwork, is transformed, opening to the outside as its architecture is reimagined in the guise of a fountain.”

Scott is working with Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada, who is the Project Director for the exhibition at the Canada Pavilion.

Considered among the most prestigious contemporary art events in the world, the International Art Exhibition organized by La Biennale di Venezia is the only visual art exhibition to which Canada sends official representation. For more than 60 years, the Canada Pavilion, located in the Giardini di Castello, has featured the work of the most accomplished Canadian artists. This participation has successfully highlighted the quality of contemporary Canadian art in international circles.

“Geoffrey Farmer is one of our most original artists,” said Marc Mayer, Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada. “Over the past 20 years he has created rich and layered works that are open to multiple interpretations. He is also known for engaging creatively with his exhibition space. His project in Venice takes full advantage of the Canada Pavilion renovation schedule, making it unique in the history of the building.”

The Geoffrey Farmer exhibition was commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and produced in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts. The Canadian representation at Biennale Arte 2017 is made possible through the generous financial support of Presenting Sponsor Royal Bank of Canada, Major Sponsor Aimia, and through the philanthropic support of more than 50 Canadian families through the National Gallery of Canada Foundation. In particular, the Gallery acknowledges the visionary support of Reesa Greenberg during the initial stages of the renovation of the Canada Pavilion and its surrounding landscape, and the Donald R. Sobey family and the Michael and Sonja Koerner family for their launch of the Canadian Artists in Venice Endowment.