by Michael Farnan
November 2nd-17th, 2012
Michael Farnan’s work explores themes of colonial encroachment in ways that are at once critical and humorous. The beaver motif invoked in this video work refers to Canadian symbolism, as much as such emblems come to stand for national “pride,” but with a decidedly absurdist treatment that begs critical reflection. An accompanying text will be written by Clark Ferguson.
The Beaver Goes Logging
If Michael Farnan were born a century ago, and the Group of Seven were accepting memberships for an eighth member, they might have asked Farnan to be amongst them. But upon whatever steely eyed camp-fire initiation that were to transpire, Farnan would probably instead be best remembered, in Canadian art history, as the guy whom invented that fake handshake hand-in-hair move that uncles terrorize their nieces and nephews with. That is to say, Farnan has a bone to pick with the ‘wilderness/nature narrative’ that acts as the over-arching Canadian identifier. And though his painting/drawing work aesthetically could be perceived as a ‘hats off’ to that genre and period, the wolf doth wear the skin of sheep.
The Beaver goes Logging is part of Michael’s New Canadian Naturalist project – which is series of staged performances questioning issues related to nature, gender, race, and nation.The Beaver goes Logging is a doc-styled story of a very adept logger dressed in a handmade beaver suit and carved wooden mask. The beaver chainsaws a tree across a back-woods British Columbian mountain road and with incredible skill, chops, splits and bucks the wood into fireplace sized chunks. Afterwards, the viewer is left to consider intense masculine salvos of ax swings and their own inadequacies in fulfilling the mythologies of Canadian identity. The furious, focused, eroticized industrial labourer demands the viewer to critique his or her own relationship with the outdoors and our own participation within the framework of a universalized Canadian identity. Farnan falls the tree right through the pastoral autumn landscape of our ‘official’ Canadian histories and demands us to reconsider our imaginary relationship with the Canadian wilderness and entrusted National identity.
But that’s not the only ‘Ax’ Michael has to ‘grind’: the character asks one to consider the issues of social class. As the working-class beaver falls a tree with such frightful, intimidating intent across our scenic vista, we are forced to consider our relationship to affluence and the nostalgia it affords. The price a Tom Thomson painting fetches at auction is testament to that. In fact, the preservation and even institutionalization of the Group of Seven serves to romanticize nature as a sublime artifact of our past great nation – empty, wild, smelling of campfire and crisp something or other.
Farnan has spent upwards of twenty years himself within the forestry industry in some of the most beautiful idyllic, though industrially altered, landscapes in Western Canada. I imagine, or, well, would like to imagine, that Farnan was once the fascinated eager beaver whom left a forestry bush camp, Group of Seven’s Greatest Hits firmly in arms, only to find himself wet, cold and terrified, burning the pages for warmth – resenting those images that brought him forth into the wet British Columbia interior and away from his prairie roots. This history of being in the Wilderness as a ‘worker’ uniquely informs his practice and places him at odds with the Canadian wilderness narrative as a leisure/tourist experience.
Importantly for Farnan, one of the key issues within this wilderness narrative is the enduring denial of a colonial present and past. We seemingly have an endless appetite for, in Farnan’s words, perpetuating the ‘restrictive and exclusive forms of Canadian nationalism, nature tourism and an apparent tolerance to romantic and anthropomorphic appropriations of nature religions and Indigenous mythologies’. And as such, the ‘Haida-style’ beaver mask our logger wears is of the ‘two-hats’ nature, demanding the viewer to reconsider borrowed identities not our own, and asks us to contemplate the white wash of cultural mélange we now stake as our own shared ‘Canadian-ness’.
And so Farnan argues this point from the perspective of complicity. He, like most of us, celebrated the sublimely constructed nature narrative he currently critiques. And as such, puts himself or a performer into the pudgy, awkward costume with it’s bulky, hand carved mask. And he doesn’t celebrate the costume with slickness, but allows the straps to be shown, the zippers to be seen, and shows you who’s in the suit It’s Farnan in the suit. It’s all of us in the suit. Farnan is an artist and a satirist. And as such, he provides us with an alternate set of potential Canadian national Identifiers through his New Canadian Naturalist project. Farnan is calling us out. He doesn’t trust us to reconsider our own collective identity alone so he’s given us a head start with The Beaver goes Logging.
I feel my scout training turning to sand between my fingers.
~Text written by Clark Ferguson
Please join us for the premiere screening of Michael Farnan’s The Beaver Goes Logging
November 2nd at 8:30PM in the PAVED Arts Media Gallery.
This presentation will coincide with the opening reception of The Shaman Exterminator: On the Trail of the Woodcraft Indians with the Buffalo Boy Scouts of America by Saskatoon-based artist Adrian Stimson
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Friday, Noon – 6 pm; Saturdays Noon – 4pm.
PAVED Arts acknowledges the support of our members, volunteers and partners, and of our principal funders: Canada Council for the Arts, Saskatchewan Arts Board, SaskCulture, SaskLotteries, the City of Saskatoon and the National Film Board of Canada.
Free admission to the public with barrier-free accessibility.