With text presented in both French and English, and full-colour imagery packed between its soft covers, “Bonavista Biennale 2021” provides a glossy-paged tour of last summer’s intriguing and alluring exhibits.
It opens with a “Foreword/Avant-Propos” from Chair Susan Sherk, and “The Tonic of Wildness/Le Tonique de la Nature” (a quote from Thoreau) from curators Patricia Gratton and Matthew Hills; the latter note the task of gathering work from “twenty-six internationally practicing artists,” no cakewalk at any time, represented a “small miracle” as assembled in the midst of a global pandemic.
Following this are the “Artists” (organized alphabetically) and their creations, with “Biographies,” “Public Programming” and “Works in Exhibition.”
Much of the work featured in the Biennale was site-specific and environmentally attuned with a built-in impermanent lifespan.
They were installed in Bonavista and surrounding communities, ensuring encounters both cultivated and happenstance.
Christina Battle’s “FORECAST: Learning the Signals/Change is Coming” was set in Pat Murphy’s Meadow, King’s Cove.
Battle surveyed Newfoundlanders and Labradorians about their weather experiences, and conducted her own botanical research, then raised a flag emblazoned “The Air Will Smell Like Flowers” and provided visitors with hand-made satchels of yarrow and harebell seeds to sow in the meadow or wherever they liked.
As with all the entries, there’s a nice spread of imagery here.
Gerald Beaulieu’s “When the Rubber Meets the Road” was a huge (five-meter, 386-kilo) crow composed of recycled tires, and his “Extinction 2021” a kinetic “Albertosaurus” dinosaur skeleton of wood, steel and tar, in Port Rexton and Upper Amherst Cove, respectively.
Together they made a duet of strikingly executed works with an ethos embedded in their very bones.
In Hodderville, Will Gill’s “Camper,” rendered from a scrapyard, formed “a vintage truck and truck bed camper,” built and painted in a manner “typical yet mysteriously altered — locked, unused, all coated in white.”
In Duntara, in Marcia Huyer’s “strata,” of remnant patterns of layered wallpaper painted on the exterior façade of The Matthews House, composed a filigree of delicate floral ephemera.
Logan MacDonald’s “Bodies on the Beach” consisted of a series of hand fabricated red and white words and quotations mounted atop the wooden fencing around Bonavista’s Long Beach, sourced from Bristol merchant John Day’s contemporary account of John Cabot’s 1497 voyage and translated into Beothuk.
Other works were in galleries, or equivalent repurposed interiors.
Jonathan S. Green’s “To Build a Fire” filled Port Rexton’s Union House Arts with two- and three-dimensional pieces, “a dazzling array of print techniques to undermine conventional notions of humans’ mastery of nature.”
In Philippa Jones’s “Out of Time,” the Alexander Mortuary Chapel of All Souls in Bonavista shimmered and glinted with suspended multi-colored and multi-patterned glass balls, an array with both fragility and heft.
Caroline Monnet and Ludovic Boney’s “Hydro,” dated 2019 and one of the few pre-existing works here (on loan from the National Film Board of Canada and placed in the Union Electric Building, Port Rexton), “with only three elements, 180 electric light bulbs, sound (a recorded speech by Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come), and mirror-polished aluminum,” made a sensational statement in myriad, manifold form.
Because so much of the work was outdoors, the photographs generally give an impression of breath, expansiveness, and dynamism.
But the enclosed pieces too are vividly configured, startlingly unique, and visually sumptuous. Digest this catalogue, or view it online, and then mark your calendars for August-September 2023.
“It’s not a chewy chocolate cake. It’s not a warm pair of socks. It’s not a big bowl of oatmeal cookies.”
A sweet-flavoured dilemma of a boy’s unexpected gift from his beloved Nanny — and from an author who’s first made her mark in Gothic misadventure.
“Each night, beneath the whoosh of the waves, Finn drifted off to sleep listening to Dad’s distant song. ‘My mom and dad are the biggest in the world,’ he whispered. But sometimes, there were much bigger things…”
All manner of aquatic fauna co-operate to reunite a lost whale with his pod.
“Why don’t we form a new rock band? We’ll play it in the surf and sand. I’ll use my shell to blow some tunes and Sam the squid will play the spoons.”
The sea chums harmonize playfully, but what happens when a different type of creature asks to chime in?
Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.