April 17-May 13
Opening Reception April 27 6pm-pm
For his first exhibition as part of Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, St John’s based artist Will Gill travelled to wildfire locations in Canada to capture the aftermath of the events. Through staged photography, using props and the charred remains of the environment as backdrop, Gill explores aspects of darkness and hope, transcendence and the human condition.
Q: Tell me about this new body of work, that you will be exhibiting for the first time as part of Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.
A: Part of my interest as an artist is exploring alien environments that are stark and somehow “in between”. In other words, places where it is uncertain to know what has happened before or what is going to happen after. When I heard about the forest fire in Fort McMurray in May of 2016, I decided that a post-wildfire landscape was such a place. I bought my plane ticket and travelled there in early july 2016, two months after the fire.
I wanted to explore the fires’ impact on the environment in physical terms and somehow synthesize that vision of a new landscape into something that talked about things on another level. I was not interested so much in making a statement about the damage to the city itself (as grave and calamitous as it was) but I wanted to use the remains of the forest as metaphor to talk about the some of the things that fascinate me most in life: death, renewal, community, wonder, beauty ephemerality and transcendence. As you will see in the photographs, there are staged elements – props I brought with me to use at the various sites I travelled to. These are castings of my body that I cast myself, painted and packed up in my luggage, to experiment with on site. After my trip to Fort McMurray I travelled to a location just outside of Kejimkujik Park in NS that had burned only a month earlier.
Q: Could you talk about the title of the exhibition?
A: I chose the title “A Foundation of Ash” because of its obvious reference to fire. It can also be read two ways, as a support structure that has been destroyed and therefore an ending in and of itself, or in a more positive vein – as a new beginning; a place to start over. Like so many things in life it depends on your perspective as to how you interpret it. I like to think there is always hope. Im an optimist in that way.
Q: What are some of the benefits and challenges of living and working in Newfoundland, which is a relatively remote region of the country?
A: I think Newfoundland is one of the most extraordinary places to live in the world. It’s a place with a very strong culture, striking landscape and small but vibrant arts community. In some respects it’s the perfect place for an artist to settle. There are many things to be inspired by in the environment not the least of which is the ocean that surrounds us. The challenges are also plentiful. Being a visual artist here is certainly harder on the pocket book due to travel, shipping costs, supplies etc but making work away from the big art centres in the country is liberating.
Will Gill earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Mount Allison University in 1991, with a focus on sculpture.
Gill has maintained a studio practice since graduation, evolving from solely sculptural exploration, to a practice that encompasses painting, sculpture, photography and video work. He was named to the long-list of the Canadian Sobey Art Award in the 2004 and 2006 competitions. Career highlights include a commission for a large-scale water installation at Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche (2012), participation in a two-person collateral exhibition at The 55th Venice Biennale (2013) and a three-week residency aboard a three masted barquentine out of Svalbard Norway in 2014. He will be participating in a month-long residency on Fogo Island in the fall of 2017.
He lives and works in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.