AX Arts and Culture Centre, Sussex, Canada
Featured Artists: Ned Bear, Christian Demmings, John Dougan, Gillian Dykeman, Steve Jones, Timothy Jones, Brock Jorgensen, Justin Sappier, Phil Savage, Ralph Simpson, Jack Symonds
Each artist in the exhibition adopted an individual process and perspective to pay homage to the dynamic material of wood and the roles it has sustained in the lives of New Brunswick residents. With varied approaches, that ranged from traditional craft practices to conceptual exploration, the works depicted histories, communities, lifestyles, and concerns related to this vital natural resource.
Inhabitants of the land now identified as New Brunswick have been making use of the region’s natural materials since time immemorial. Wood has been used for transportation, warmth, and protection as well as for creative and spiritual expression. Artists Ned Bear and Justin Sappier provide contemporary interpretations of traditional Indigenous mask-making practices, connecting themselves and their audiences to the spirituality rooted in the land and the resources it provides. Timothy ‘Bjorn’ Jones and Jack Symonds also explore the human form by engaging European creation mythologies in their explorations of the Norse god Odin and Greco-Roman sculpture respectively. Odin, the subject of Jones’ piece, is credited as the creator of human life and poetry, while Symonds’ work encourages the audience to manipulate the sculpture, transferring agency and creativity back to human hands.
In John Dougan’s piece, the artist’s hand is particularly evident. His lighthouse, with live birch at its base, demonstrates the human influence in the process from raw material to a product of the built environment. Steve Jones’ works, composed of untreated wood and recycled skateboards, exude a similarly distinctive human element. The urban sport of skateboarding sees wood collide with the built environment to its breaking point until such time as Jones provides it with a new life through wood-turning.
Wood is an evocative symbol of death and rebirth. Christian Demmings’ woodblock prints reflect the diminishing sustainable lifestyle that was once typical of rural life in New Brunswick. Natural decay in the form of insect tracks is visible in silhouettes depicting tools—a fishing lure and a dock cleat—that, to Demmings, symbolize an era or lifestyle void of mass production, when people were inclined to live within their means and take only what they needed. Brock Jorgensen also reflects on this nostalgia of provision—. his photographs, in which viewers witness a humbling dense forest as well as a wood pile, instill an appreciation for a resource now often taken for granted.
This gratitude for the landscape is pervasive in the work of Ralph Simpson, who has created baskets that reflect the shape of spruce cones. Simpson honours the natural phenomena of the spruce cone by recreating its form meticulously through his manipulation of natural materials—identifying it further as a man-made object by assigning it a functional purpose. Similarly, the flat surface of Phil Savage’s piece suggests practical use, yet its interior space, encapsulated by organic forms, suggests it is intended for the natural world—as shelter or protection. The viewer must then reject the instinct to use it and simply allow it to exist. Gillian Dykeman’s works refer to the extraction capacity of humans of the natural environment and the procedures and politics associated with woodlot operations—she references stewardship and protection in her exploration and application of the processes of resource collection, use, and reuse. When shown together, these works are a testament to the long history of survival, labour, exploitation, and appreciation that wood has had in a province that remains largely forested. As a material that is practical and precious, sturdy and vulnerable, ubiquitous and unique, it is certainly worthy of consideration.
Exhibition Documentation: Brock Jorgensen