2020 began with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which quickly took the global centre stage. The curators and artists of Harcourt House in Edmonton explored the effects of COVID-19 on our society and the place of art within it and came up with two noteworthy exhibits and accompanying mini-documentaries Absence of Presence and Art in Isolation.
The pandemic brought lasting ramifications on all facets of our life—our work, our families, our community, our health—and has led us to question and reassess all that we took for granted. Among the effected lies the world of art, culture, and creativity.
“Both shows and films oscillate around the clever conceptual resolve of the curatorial staff of Harcourt House to continue with its exhibition program despite the pandemic,” Harcourt House executive director, Jacek Malec says.
While Absence of Presence confronts the sudden and brutal disappearance of what Malec dubs the three key As—Art, Artists, and Audiences—Art in Isolation draws on the vital role of art in our life through the works of eight talented Harcourt House tenant artists.
Absence of Presence is curated by Malec, and presents viewers with a palpably empty exhibit that features empty white frames and plinths displayed in an empty white gallery. The exhibit is an alarming metaphor for the vacuum that the pandemic has created in the world of art, and its isolating effect on our society. The stark whiteness illustrates the void this lack of creation has caused, and it implores viewers to preserve the arts.
Complementing this exhibit is Art in Isolation, curated by Harcourt House’s Darren Kooyman. This exhibit displays the unique and vibrant works of eight Harcourt House artists: Bonnie Bigley, Yvonne DuBourdieu, Julian Forrest, Robert Harpin, Deirdre McCleneghan, Tammy Salzl, Ben Sures, and Mary Whale. Showcasing the diverse works of these artists, the exhibit calls attention to their dedication and defiance against the pandemic as they continued to create despite the difficult times. Their work is a reminder that art is a “vital source of comfort, creativity, and inspiration” to us all.
Both of these exhibits, though vastly different, are two sides of the same coin, reminding us once again that art is just a reflection of reality. Like most challenging chapters in life, COVID-19 has brought with it an opportunity for positive change. As artist Ben Sures explains in the Art in Isolation documentary, due to the abrupt change in our world “a lot of people are coming to terms with [their] priorities and what really matters, because their very existence has been shifted.”