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Malaspina Printmakers presents AJ, an exhibition of new drawings and etchings by Vancouver artist Kim Kennedy Austin. Austin draws inspiration for her works on paper directly from outdated technologies, do-it-yourself aesthetics, and defunct artistic practices. The printed word is often depicted in her work as transcriptions and quotes from a wide range of historical texts. This exhibition is a result of Austin’s research surrounding the manhunt of Albert Johnson: The Mad Trapper of Rat River, a mysterious fugitive who was killed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police near Eagle River in the Yukon on February 17, 1932. This is Malaspina’s second exhibition in a series investigating text-based prints.
Not much is known of Albert Johnson and how he ended up in Northern Canada. When he was accused of tampering with hunting traps, the RCMP trekked sixty miles from Aklavik to his cabin to ask him some questions, but he refused to talk. When they returned five days later with a search warrant and forced entry, they were met with a gunshot. They quickly left and returned again with nine men, forty-two dogs, and twenty pounds of dynamite. Johnson survived the explosion as he had built a dugout below his cabin, which he then used to fight off the RCMP after a fifteen hour firefight. The RCMP retreated, at which point a full manhunt was recruited. When he was eventually tracked and killed, the RCMP estimated that Johnson had traveled over eighty-five miles on foot in less than three days in subzero temperatures.
Throughout December of 2011 at Malaspina’s studio, Austin traced images and texts from historical books about Johnson by scratching into transparent Plexiglas with an etching needle. Ink was then used to transfer the images from the Plexiglas onto paper. This allowed her to expand her practice into the realm of printmaking while still maintaining a link to her familiar mode of drawing with a fine metal barreled technical pen. Tracing and printmaking were chosen as methods for the production of this work as they reflect the story of Johnson and the events that led to his death.
Austin initially discovered Johnson while reading about the history of Canada as a fur trading nation and the resourcefulness demonstrated by many who were able to survive in remote arctic areas. Johnson built and lived in an eighty square foot log cabin on the banks of the Rat River. He skinned his own hides and wove his own snowshoes. Although we don’t know why he chose to live in the wild, the artifacts and stories that he left behind suggest that he derived much value in self-reliance, skill, labour, and survival. In the end, it was the unique prints from Johnson’s handmade snowshoes that allowed the RCMP to trace his whereabouts.
The repetitive tracing and scratching apparent within the work in this exhibition may be interpreted as a tribute to the resilience that Johnson demonstrated. He lived a simple life that was off the grid, so to speak. While referring to her artistic practice, Austin states that she is interested in old technology and labour because she wants to be self-sufficient and be able to control as much of the artistic process as possible. This is also why functional crafts are often a subject matter for her work. By embodying or replicating processes inherent within the creation of the very functional craft-works that she pictures, she heightens an appreciation for the meditation, contemplation, and ritual that often goes into their production.
Curated by Justin Muir, Executive Director, Malaspina Printmakers
Since receiving her BFA from the Emily Carr Institute in 2001, Kim Kennedy Austin has exhibited regularly and extensively, including solo shows at Lawrence Eng Gallery and State Gallery, and group exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Or Gallery, and Belkin Satellite Gallery, as well as at Neon Gallery in Sweden. In October 2011, she was included in an exhibition titled On the Nature of Things at the Kamloops Art Gallery curated by Patrik Andersson.
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