chosen to represent canada at the venice art biennale 2017, artist geoffrey farmer installed his exhibition within the canada pavilion and its surrounding gardens. farmer – best known for his laboriously crafted installations that blend theatrical techniques with historically sourced material – presents ‘a way out of the mirror’ surrounding themes of personal memory and family history. water erupts violently from a central source in the pavilion and flows around objects and forms, forming a distinct dialogue with the site itself. 


geoffrey farmer, a way out of the mirror, 2017.
installation view at the canada pavilion for the 57th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia, 2017.
© geoffrey farmer, courtesy of the artist. photo : francesco barasciutti

 

 

farmer explains the theme and influences of his contribution to the venice art biennale in further detail:

 

the story of my project for venice begins with these unpublished press photographs from 1955.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.


geoffrey farmer, a way out of the mirror, 2017.
installation view at the canada pavilion for the 57th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia, 2017.
© geoffrey farmer, courtesy of the artist. photo : francesco barasciutti

 

 

(farmer, continued) 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.


geoffrey farmer, a way out of the mirror, 2017.
installation view at the canada pavilion for the 57th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia, 2017.
© geoffrey farmer, courtesy of the artist. photo : francesco barasciutti

 

 

 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, a way out of the mirror, 2017.
installation view at the canada pavilion for the 57th international art exhibition – la biennale di venezia, 2017.
© geoffrey farmer, courtesy of the artist. photo : francesco barasciutti

geoffrey farmer canada
unknown photographer (collision), 1955, archives of the artist

geoffrey farmer canada
unknown photographer (collision), 1955, archives of the artist

geoffrey farmer canada
mold transport, venice, italy | photo by karl rühle

geoffrey farmer canada
acid etching test plank, kunstgiesserei st. gallen | photo by geoffrey farmer

geoffrey farmer canada
plank water tests, kunstgiesserei st. gallen | photo by iacopo seri

geoffrey farmer canada
plank water tests, kunstgiesserei st. gallen | photo by iacopo seri

geoffrey farmer canada
acid etching test plank, kunstgiesserei st. gallen | photo by iacopo seri

geoffrey-farmer-canada-pavilion-venice-art-biennale-designboom-02
1939 water trough, st. gallen, switzerland | photo by karl rühle

geoffrey-farmer-canada-pavilion-venice-art-biennale-designboom-02
planks, 2017
photo by iacopo seri, courtesy of the artist and kunstgiesserei st gallen

geoffrey-farmer-canada-pavilion-venice-art-biennale-designboom-02
pieces of peter pitseolak school, 2017
photo by iacopo seri, courtesy of the artist and peter pitseolak school, cape dorset

 

 

[main image] duvet, 2017 | photo by iacopo seri, courtesy of the artist and kunstgiesserei st gallen

 

 

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