Sympathetic Magic

Left to right:  Adad Hannah: The Russians, 2011  HD video (Courtesy of Pierre-FranÁois Ouellette art contemporain, Montreal and Equinox Gallery, Vancouver);  Kevin Schmidt: A Sign in the Northwest Passage, 2010 LightJet print, cedar frame (Courtesy of Catriona Jefferies); Raymond Boisjoly: a relative position and direction, 2014 Acrylic vinyl (Courtesy of Catriona Jefferies) Photo: Troy Mamer

Sympathetic Magic
June 27 to September 14, 2014
Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Canada

Canada has cultivated and maintained a strong symbolic connection with the northern landscape. The production of the Group of Seven and their progeny has both defined artistic practice at home and Canada abroad. As art historian John O’Brian observes in Wild Art History, “The land and its representations are knotted together, not unlike two other words with an affinity to landscape in contemporary thought – nation and nationalism.” The country as promoted by the authors of the Canadian landscape tradition is a pristine, untamed, and unpeopled place. Popular depictions of the landscape are telling: Canada is rich in natural beauty, abundant in resources, and ripe for development.

In recent years, changes to Canadian domestic and foreign policy have reconfigured the political landscape. Aggressive resource development has radically altered the physical environment. Yet Canadian landscape tropes of northern wilderness are incredibly difficult to displace. Why is it so?

Sympathetic Magic is an exhibition about the Canadian landscape that does not strictly operate in the recognizable idioms of the genre. Visitors to the gallery will not see the familiar snow-capped peaks of Lawren Harris’ iconic work*, but it’s most certainly present. There are no pristine vistas painted en plein air, nor will anyone see a twisted pine, a rocky outcropping, or a lake. Yet they never seem far away. The exhibition seeks to maneuver through the complex terrain of “the north” through the work of four contemporary Canadian artists – Raymond Boisjoly, Adad Hannah, Ken Lum, and Kevin Schmidt – to expand on concepts of territory, nationhood, and identity.

The exhibition title is derived from a term used by anthropologist James George Frazer in his seminal treatise on magic and religion. First published in 1890, The Golden Bough had a profound influence on then-emerging fields of anthropology and sociology, and enduring influences on psychology and literature. Under the umbrella of Sympathetic Magic, Frazer identified two foundational principles: the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contact or Contagion. The latter stipulates that “things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.” He makes another compelling statement: “things can physically affect each other through a space which appears to be empty.” There is poetry in this text that resonates throughout the exhibition.



List of works:

Raymond Boisjoly
a relative position and direction, 2014
Acrylic vinyl
Courtesy of Catriona Jefferies

Adad Hannah
The Russians, 2011
HD video
Courtesy of Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain, Montreal and Equinox Gallery, Vancouver.

Boy Sitting on a Tire | 4 min 17s
Russian Woman at Home | 8 min 57s
Cyclist Stopped on a Path | 5 min 09s

Soldiers Resting | 5 min 41s
Two Russian Couples | 5 min 57s
Six Russians Eating Ice Cream | 4 min 27s

Ken Lum
Cheeseburger, 2011
Chromogenic print on archival paper
Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery. Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program 2012.


Kevin Schmidt
Wild Signals, 2007
HD video
9 min 42 s
Courtesy of Catriona Jefferies

A Sign in the Northwest Passage, 2010
LightJet print, cedar frame
Courtesy of Catriona Jefferies