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Paved Arts Proudly Presents:
The 2nd Edition of Toon’s Kitchen: The Saskatoon Screening Room

Clark Ferguson’s
Tales From the Deep
July 06 – 19, 2012

In the spirit of full disclosure I feel it necessary to begin by stating that I have known Clark since high school some twenty odd years ago and participated in the shooting of this video. He had me pull his little stuffed fish across the mermaid scenes.

Clark Ferguson is a funny guy. Anyone who has had the pleasure of his company knows this. When I was asked to write this short essay on Clark’s work, and this new video in particular, my thoughts immediately went to questions of Canadian content and to the comedic history of regional art and performance television programming in Canada such as SCTV, Kids in the Hall, CODCO, and Corner Gas. Iconic, regional and funny folklore, thanks to informed and principled people like Clark, are subjects which remains not only open to critique and a constant re-framing, but are also subjects which thankfully never go away. What I did not initially suspect to find buried deep within the work was the way in which multiple histories are invoked and reworked to include ideas of absence, antiquity, settler history and abject loneliness. Perhaps I should have expected the latter after Clark spent several months one summer not long ago renting my empty basement apartment and feverishly sewing the fish and other inhabitants of his undersea world. During that summer Clark himself became a character in his work and a projection of the displaced inhabitants of the prairie past. Through his own personal geography and a little bit of fantasy, he found humour, satire and a sense of the macabre as a strategy to question the dominant and official histories present within the working relationships and the inclusion/exclusion of the local and historical narratives that make up the province of Saskatchewan. These tensions between the iconic and the domestic nation that one encounters in Ferguson’s work become the embodiment of the settler narrative that has become Canada’s dominant national identity. And while the work does not specifically address Canada’s east/west urban versus rural tensions, it does remind us of the historic us and them solitudes and realities at play within regional identity politics.

For many Canadians, the prairies represent a “sublime” landscape, one that is protected by those from within and without. This identity allows for a sense of self which paradoxically has the effect of negatively representing economic expansion (greed), settlement (tourism and development), and civil order (bureaucratic rationality). This irony is not lost on those who dabble in regional politics and identity and so the desire for a “sublime” nature, with its pure, authentic moments within that space represent the heart and soul of prairie identity and the desire to connect through a collective origin and memory. As such, the re-imagining of the original prairie landscape as an undersea world offers us the spirit of a timeless region, from a mythic past all the way to its glorious future. Simply put, the feel good narrative that is created within Clark’s small town caper allows that part of our history that caused the collapse of this earlier, simpler way of life to escape scrutiny as the success and progress of the region moves us beyond the past and into a promising future. And so thinking about Ferguson’s call to re-imagine the prairie landscape, and the profound loss so well hidden behind sight gags and sophomoric humour, we begin to see the space where one can challenge the historic framing of a certain kind of white European masculinity inherent in this country’s history and search for the domestic, female and Indigenous voice that is also at the heart of this province’s actual history.

Ferguson is interested in these stories of cultural reconstruction for what they tell us about life in rural Saskatchewan, of the place new world settlers hold in the ever changing landscape and the development of Canadian identity. Saskatchewan history and its ever changing present is in fact not that easy to reconcile. When Clark first started on this video, Saskatchewan and in particular rural Saskatchewan had gone in a span of about fifty years from that of boom times to a reality that has any rural town within a commute of the larger centres to be either thriving or if beyond commute distance, quiet and, at times, vacant. And while this is a reality that is again in flux with the advent of oil and gas exploration, Clark’s story reminds us that a sense of place connects us to our communities, to our stories and most importantly, to our sense of self. Clark’s work forces us to take into account the relationships individuals have with each other and the spaces we assign meaning to, spaces formed through history, ideology and circumstance. He plays within the tropes of difference, identity and a stereotyped depiction of prairie inhabitants as ‘backwards’ in order to move us past the universal framing of the regions imaginative geographies. He does this by looking past the politics of difference, past the colonial framing of the settler narrative, to a land free of predetermination, to monsters and magic, wonder and transformation. In doing so, he confronts the abject loneliness many feel in the vastness that is the prairies, the loss of love and life, and reminds us of our connection to the the history of the land and its peoples. We become suspended in an animation between the past and the present. And in doing so, Ferguson asks us to contemplate how history is represented, how stories about place and the past circulate in contemporary culture, how social memory informs regional transformation and in turn how a re-imagination of the landscape effects the social relations contained within. Thanks Clark, nice work.

Michael Farnan, 2012

 Clark Ferguson is a film/video maker but also works in photography, sculpture, print-media, and performance. His work takes on multiple concerns regarding issues of gender, sexuality, identity, existential quandaries regarding consciousness and has recently been talking more about his ‘place’ within his work. For example, he is becoming more interested in place as a defining element of all of the above rooted issues. And as such, he has become more interested in developing work about Saskatchewan and making it both interesting and accessible to those within and outside these borders. Much of Ferguson’s work has been presented within art gallery and festival contexts and has been to broadcast.