(an old English word meaning “to be able”)
The roots of this project come from the writings of the Canadian writer, Joyce Nelson, who has re-established a vital link between culture and agriculture.
These words “both stem from the same Latin root: colere , meaning ‘to care for.' In the case of the word 'agriculture', that caring is directly related towards the ager , meaning ‘field,' while the word ‘culture' leaves the caring open-ended, implying an attitude towards living.”
For me, the hand is a visual metaphor, a physical manifestation of that caring, that concern, the need to address and rectify the current imbalance within our systems of food production.
Magan is a site–specific installation with three elements. The first element is monumental images of hands on the gallery floor and the outside courtyard. The second element is seven pairs of classically modelled hands on plinths presented with four accompanying shelf works. Finally, there are painted renderings of symbolic hands on the exterior walls of the gallery.
Materially, the large floor hands are bas-reliefs constructed in organic matter. One is made of grains, seeds, earth, spruce needles and other natural materials displayed on the gallery floor, while the other hand in the easterly courtyard is drawn simply in red crushed brick. The hands are a pair. The larger than life sculpted studies of hands represent agricultural labour. They are modelled in victory brown wax, a by-product of the fossil fuel industry -the transformation of ancient organic matter into a modelling material. Each pair of hands is presented with found objects on plinths, which mimic the dimensions of the pillars of the building. Six shelves also make reference to this architecture, holding objects of meaning backed by scrolls of text. The exterior wall works are symbolic paintings to advertise and animate the interior space and to tie certain elements together. As is my practice, all of the materials will be recycled into future installations.
The choice of three different processes and materiality in relationship to the subject is to emphasis threefold the labour intensive endeavours of growing food, the fragility of current agricultural practices, and the problematics of global agribusiness.
Current global agricultural practices are untenable. Secure food production is too closely tied to the unstable fossil fuel wars. Local food quality and security is threatened by corporate biotechnology and agribusiness. Global and local access to basic food crops has been hijacked to service debt reduction by the production of cash crops through the structure adjustment policies of the IMF and WB (International Monetary Fund and the World Bank). Soil and water have been dangerously depleted by overproduction and compromised by chemical contamination through the overuse of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Farm labourers and consumers are being poisoned by blatant overuse of these chemical compounds derived from fossil fuels.
The list of problems seems unending, they has been well documented in the public media since the early sixties (The Hunger Machine, Diet for a Small Planet ) but where is the will to change? To be able to say that there is another way, to be able to make it happen, to be able to find the will to change is what Magan attempts to prompt. We citizens and our governments must find sustainable solutions before the consequences of our ignorance and neglect become irreversible ( Short History of Progress by R. Wright).
Magan is dedicated to the tireless work of women like Vandana Shiva, Susan George, Starhawk , Frances Moore Lappé, and the many others who have brought the food issue to the political table. To Vandana Shiva, a physicist who champions the rights of indigenous farmers who would be devastated by the introduction of terminator seeds in The Future of Food and Biopiracy : The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. To Susan George, a economist with the Transnational Institute who wrote How the Other Half Dies , Food for Beginners , Ill Fares the Land: Essays on Food Hunger and Power and A Fate Worse than Debt and Another World is Possible IF... . To Starhawk, who dares to write of another way to vision the world and the principles and pleasures of permaculture in The Earth Path . And to Frances Moore Lappé who wrote Diet for a Small Planet , the book that first set me on the path of food politics. And to Rachel Carson who started it all with the brave book, Silent Spring .
I would like to thank the City of Ottawa Art Program and Julie Dupont for the opportunity to present this body of work in the way it is presented - as on ongoing transforming dialogue over the term of the exhibition. To Yves Meunier and Anna Dale-Meunier for their enduring love, help and support. To Paul-André Robert and the assistance of Alain Gaudreau at Rona ( Aylmer ) for the custom wood cuts. To my mother, Frances Williams, who nurtured me the best she could. And, to Justin Wonnacott for his professional expertise in the development of the web site for this exhibition. I chose a web site over an exhibition catalogue because of my interest in extending the dialogue as far as possible. The page of links represents only a small number of the efforts that are trying to turn the tide. I would be happy to add ones sent to me.
Nelson, Joyce, Sign Crimes/Road Kill: From Mediascape to Landscape , Between the Lines Press, Toronto 1992 Culture and Agriculture: The Ultimate Simulacrum