Rural art project intended for Blyth finds new life in P.E.I. gallery
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Stratford-based video artist Simon Brothers and four other artists who, together, are known as Common Collective, recently opened “40-Tonne Viewfinder” at the Confederation Centre for the Arts in Prince Edward Island, but the project’s roots were laid in Blyth.
The multimedia art installation opened at the gallery earlier this year and remains on view at the centre until Feb. 24, 2024. The project is the third in a trilogy by the collective that looks at the changing rural landscape and food production in rural Ontario.
“40-Tonne Viewfinder” begins with a 40-tonne grain bin, sourced from a farm near Listowel over five years ago. The bin has been modified slightly to be off-kilter to a degree, though many of its natural features remain as part of the exhibition.
Brothers, in an interview with The Citizen, said the choice of the bin in question itself is part of the art. Because of the move to large-scale, industrialized farm operations, a 40-tonne grain bin, he said, is obsolete in a way.
The collective - comprised of Brothers, Jeremy Cox, Nick Kuepfer, Luke Mistruzzi and Mark Preston - then worked to dismantle and move the bin to a factory storage space in Stratford before moving to the next phases of the project, which were to create a video and audio component for the bin that would be broadcast within for the 10 or so people who can fit in it to sit and take it all in.
“Part of a trilogy of installations that combine video and sculptural elements, ‘40-Tonne Viewfinder’ features a looped projection inside a grain silo of a type and scale that has become mostly obsolete in the current context of industrialized agriculture,” said Pan Wendt, curator of the show. “The work responds to the changing patterns of life and land use in the region of Stratford, Ontario, where all five artists were raised.”
Brothers, a filmmaker and artist, was responsible for creating the video that is projected in a large circle by two co-operating projectors on the top of the bin, so viewers look up to the top of the bin when sitting within to view the film.
Brothers said there are a lot of macro and micro photographic elements to the film, much of which was captured at the farm from which the bin came. It includes how the landscape has changed from being an operational farm to being overgrown and naturalized, as well as some very close-up photography of elements of the farm, such as algae as it’s seen under a microscope, for example.
Back in 2016, Brothers was one of four members of a panel entitled “The Rural Voice” at the first-ever Rural Talks to Rural conference held in Blyth by the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity. He was joined by Blyth Festival Artistic Director Gil Garratt, The Citizen Editor Shawn Loughlin and Bojan Fürst and it was through this experience that Brothers first connected with Peter Smith, who was leading the centre.
At the time, there were plans to create a centre for the arts in Blyth and one of the branches was to be media arts. Initially, the “40-Tonne Viewfinder” was developed as a way to kick off media arts programming at the centre, Brothers said.
As those plans changed and the concept of the centre shifted, Brothers stuck with the project, but knew it needed a home and that it would take time.
After years in storage, the collective returned to the project as part of a trilogy of art installations. Initially it was to be the first piece released, but, as it turns out, it has been the last after “Landline” was exhibited in Guelph and “Controlled Burn” was produced in Woodstock.
Brothers worked on the video component, while another member worked on the audio and others worked on the installation of the bin itself. Then, they had to find a home for the project - both in an artistic sense and a practical sense, as the bin is large and can’t fit in the majority of the country’s art galleries.
The gallery sent a truck to Stratford for the bin and, when the members of the collective arrived in Prince Edward Island, it was there waiting for them, ready to be set up. As they arrived, Brothers said, he was taken with how similar the landscapes of Prince Edward Island and Huron and Perth Counties were, so he felt they had found the perfect home for the project.
Brothers said that, within the space, the bin itself is quite stunning. It surprised people when it opened, as they thought of the bin as a piece of art in its own right, but then, when they discovered the audio and visual components within the bin, which includes bench seating for 10, it takes the project to a new level. There is even an aspect of the project that makes its way beyond the bin, he said, as small, natural pin holes emit light into the rest of the gallery and a short documentary film is played outside of the bin to tell the story of the project and the farm that housed the bin for many years. (The short documentary can be found at https://vimeo.com/889347146/4e5651f302?share=copy while a walk-in to the “40-Tonne Viewfinder” can be found at https://vimeo.com/877550299?share=copy)
As for first impressions, Brothers said, “It really worked out.” He added that the project really connected with people on a number of levels and there are preliminary plans to tour it with hopes of bringing it “home” to Huron County.
The project will remain on view at the Confederation Centre for the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island until Feb. 24, 2024. There is a special event scheduled for that month with Prince Edward Island Poet Laureate Tanya Davis that will include Davis performing original, written prose at the gallery that has been inspired by “40-Tonne Viewfinder”. Originally scheduled for Feb. 1, it has been rescheduled. Brothers believes it may take place on Feb. 8, but that has not been finalized.
Common Collective is now hard at work on its next project, which will tackle rural land development in the face of the current housing crisis. It’s not yet complete and Brothers isn’t sure when or where it will be exhibited, but the group is working on its next creation.