Peter von Tiesenhausen: Experience of the Precisely Sublime

January 18 - May 11, 2014

Opening Reception: January 17, 6-10pm

The title of this exhibition draws from Donald Judd’s idea of an integrated utopia, where art, architecture, and place come together. For Judd, art could only be realized in an ideal location, and as such could only be experienced in this “precisely sublime” setting – an environmental, social, and political model that seems apt for Peter von Tiesenhausen.

Although there is little in common between Judd’s ideal setting of Marfa, Texas and von Tiesenhausen’s home of Demmitt, Alberta, what can be said is that both are remote, both have landscapes that captivate, and both allow for an interconnection between art and life – where the line between living and working dissolves. In the case of Judd, he escaped New York to find this place, for von Tiesenhausen, he never left it.

Von Tiesenhausen’s respect for his land is indisputable. In 1995 he independently copyrighted his property as a work of art: a last defense against a proposed pipeline that would have run through his property, a defiant act that in hindsight was a gamble that paid off. As an ongoing artwork, all 800 acres are protected; any change made to the land constitutes a copyright infringement. Politics aside, this perfectly illustrates the artist’s commitment to a life and practice that is holistic. Von Tiesenhausen does not set out to make art for his land; his daily rituals of living on this land makes the art: walking a path repeatedly, carving an eye in a tree, or adding another 8 feet of white picket to a fence he has continued to build for the last 24 years.

The works in this exhibition represent a shift from a state of harmony with nature to an examination of materials that reflects our problematic relation to them. A wall made from left-over pine beetle wood from the Demmitt community centre, a cube of reclaimed toxic MDF destroyed by water, an enormous ball of aluminum power line, a city made from the angry cuts of a skill saw, a table of seemingly useless objects displayed as museum artifacts – are these materials in process, finished works of art, or just waste? Each piece speaks to its own history of production: trees are trees, but they are also wood, pulp, sawdust, paper, and ash.

The easy way into von Tiesenhausen’s work is to label it “land art”. It is true the marks he makes on his land are subtle and the sculptures he builds are made of the stuff he finds around him, but to limit a definition of his practice would miss a more complicated reading. For years he considered himself an outsider, never accepted into the inner circles of the urban elite, yet this rural isolation has given him a cradle-to-grave vision now focused on the ethics of material use in urban development and suburban sprawl. In past work there was a focus on materials subtly referencing their natural state, but now the work examines the dirty end of this relationship – our production, consumption, and waste of material derived from nature.

Naomi Potter | Exhibition Curator

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