Last summer, University of Lethbridge fine arts students –Arianna Richardson (BFA ’13), a Lethbridge artist, and David Smith, an emerging curator and intern in Art History/Museum Studies – worked together to create a travelling exhibition titled The Canada Collection.
This show was mounted at both the Forestburg and District Museum in Forestburg, Alta., as well as the Mountain View Museum and Archives in Olds, Alta. The exhibit examined the constructed nature of Canadian identity through the tourism industry, and how symbols of Canada have been produced in popular culture.
The exhibition featured a photographic series titled Frontier that had been created upon Richardson’s receipt of the Roloff Beny Foundation Fellowship in Photography Award in 2012. This series documented the presence of “Frontier” brand motor homes across the Prairies in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.
As a visible example of how Canadian identity has been marketed in relation to the wild and untamed landscape, the repeated encounters represent a reminder of a changing idea about what it means to be Canadian.
Also present in the exhibition were Richardson’s custom-made craft kits. Paralleling commercial sales in the tourism industry, her kits reflected the notion of a supply-and-demand model for the definition of “Canadian.” A custom pennant and make-your-own pennant kit were each created for the Forestburg installation with a portion of the proceeds going to the host museum. Similarly a finished lunch bag and self-assembled lunch-bag kit were produced for the Mountain View Museum and Archives in Olds. At both venues, her works and items from the collection generated plenty of conversation with the artist and among the visitors.
The exhibition derives its name from a third component that is the collected artifacts of Canadiana. Assembled from Richardson’s visits to thrift shops, yard sales and antique shops, the collection reflects both the serious and playful way that Canadian identity has been merchandised over many years.
Like moulted feathers found as traces of a bird, these objects represent ideas that may not be useful anymore and demonstrate the ever-changing nature of Canadian imagery.
Drawing inspiration from historic Canadian artists with a shared interest in the relationship between Canadian identity and landscape as well as more contemporary artists evaluating its shortcomings in a variety of media, Richardson’s work has precedent in the canon of Canadian art.
Presenting this exhibition in the museum (which is a key player in the tourism industry and the proliferation of regional identity) inspired viewers to witness the ideologies at work around them. In The Canada Collection, visitors were able to see the ways in which Canadian identity has been constructed through the variety of different approaches envisioned by Richardson.