Nicole Kelly Westman at the Glenbow Museum, Calgary
As I walk into Pastoral | Calamity at the Glenbow Museum, I am instantly reminded of the first time I encountered Nicole Kelly Westman’s work. It was in the exhibition Rose, Dear at the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff. The same unusual orange glow invades the gallery space here – a light that is memory-laced and strange, a light the viewer may not be certain how to place. This light tumbles onto the work cuculoris, a time machine for shadows, while the piece itself drops reflections of shapes and shadows on the floor. Light is filtered through trees and flowers, traced and transferred. The orange hue replicates the light emitted by street lamps – a colouration called sodium vapour. Now within the space of Pastoral | Calamity, the viewer is given a moment to linger beneath the soft glow, to reflect on time lost.
The exhibition brings together themes, objects, and ideas that have been central to Westman’s practice for some years, yet it also allows the work to move in new directions. The films, for every sunset, we haven’t seen and for nights bathed in sodium vapour, are loose narratives, beginning with the same opening scene of a window; its curtains closed on the world. Each tells a story through the poetry of images and sound, a story based around loss. Both day and night are evoked, suggesting a pairing: the film titles bring us to times of day devolving into night, of the loss of time, of its presence and absence. Brought together with the cuculoris – a device used in lighting for theatre, film, and photography to create shadow and light play – the exhibition provides a framework for Westman’s interests: the possibilities of what can be learned from observing the changes in light over time, and the story of time passing and its loss – literal and metaphorical.
The title of the exhibition suggests a disaster that involves irreversible change to the romanticized understanding of the land and world around us. Through the opportunity to reflect on what we may be losing, what is already lost, and the potentialities of future loss, Pastoral | Calamity gently asks the viewer to engage with place more directly, while casting the future in an industrial hued light, an unnatural tinge reminding the viewer of what’s possible for tomorrow.
Maeve Hanna is a writer and curator who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours in Visual Art and Literature from York University and the University of Leeds and a Master of Arts in Art History and Icelandic Studies from Université du Québec à Montréal and the University of Manitoba on location in Iceland. She has previously written for Black Flash, C Magazine, Canadian Art, esse arts + opinions, Frieze, Sculpture Magazine and the Senses and Society. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @maeve_hanna.