By Marlee Robinson
Special to The Voice
The current art installation at the Thames Art Gallery is as much an experience as it is an exhibition. Legends Are The Rivers That Take Us Home engages visitors the moment they enter the gallery, thanks to meticulous research and selection by Toronto-based curator Cara Eastcott.
Storytelling binds together what is, in essence, six different exhibitions. To Eastcott, the oral tradition is an act of preservation, saving the identity of communities while unifying and protecting them.
On the left wall of the gallery, the 1987 documentary by Roger McTair and Claire Prieto “Home to Buxton” plays at double life-size scale. The film “brings the town’s culture to life and captures the storytelling inherent to the Buxton residents and the celebration of freedom and family.”
On the opposite wall “The Chemical Valley Project” – a multi-media collaboration between Aamjiwnaang members Vanessa and Beze Gray with theatre makers Julia Howman and Kevin Matthew Wong from Toronto – issues a challenge to take a role in combating the endless air, land and water pollution in the Sarnia area.
After absorbing these two dramatic transformational stories through cinematic sound and motion, move ahead to three vibrant ceiling-to-floor tapestries. Created by acclaimed Toronto-based interdisciplinary artist Nep Sichu, these giant works represent a portrait of the life and legacy of Malcolm X – his past, present and future. As Eastcott asserts in the exhibition catalogue, the work “illuminates a call for the collective awakening of communities combating opposing forces.”
If you are at the stage of sensory overload at this point, visit the sound collage “Resurget Cinerbus” by Sterling Toles plays. This is the story of Detroit rising from the ashes of the 1967 burnings of that racially tumultuous city. Toles builds the city’s transformation in an almost zen-like atmosphere, surrounding the viewer with calming beige rectangular sound baffles while archival news reports blend with comments by the artist’s father Dennis Edward Toles.
In the upper mezzanine a display by grade 11 students from Chatham-Kent Secondary School and Great Lakes Secondary School of Sarnia expands on their First Nations, Métis and Inuit Studies course through paintings and writing, inspired by their community, their history and historic storytelling. Their contribution to the show entitled “Cultural Transmission” was facilitated by teacher Denise Helmer-Johnson and The Chemical Valley Project team.
There is one more element to this exhibition in the upper mezzanine – “Cold Waters” by sound artist Zoe Gordon from Thunder Bay. Absorb the reflective sound bath inspired by the orchestration of ice cracking as it melts and moves. Let nature have the final word.
Legends Are The Rivers That Take Us Home remains at the Thames Art Gallery, 75 William St. N. in Chatham until March 15. Admission is by donation.
The Thames Art Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday.
For further information, call 519-360-1998 or visit www.chatham-kent.ca/TAG.
Special public programming for the exhibition includes a “Home to Buxton” post-screening talk with Shannon and Bryan Prince, Feb. 29 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. with a gallery reception following the latter showing; a Khari Wendell McClelland music performance in Studio One, Feb. 29 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and a curator’s tour and chat with Cara Eastcott, March 1 from 11 a.m. to noon.