The ODD Gallery is pleased to present a commissioned text by Dawson-based writer Dan Dowhal to accompany the DCAS Biennial Member’s Exhibition, Mining the Archives.
A PDF version of the exhibition brochure is available at kiac.ca and paper copies are currently available at the ODD Gallery.
Congratulations and thanks are due to all the artists who contributed to this project!
POST EXHIBITION ESSAY
by Dan Dowhal
Right-brained artists and left-brained scientists are alike in one respect. They routinely delve beyond the superficial in search of hidden patterns and deeper meaning. With so much variety (35 artists working in a dozen different media) perhaps the first temptation for any visitor to the ODD Gallery’s Mining the Archives: The Biennial DCAS Member’s Exhibition, regardless of which neural hemisphere they subscribe to, is to seek out some underlying commonality among the works.
Certainly, the thematic Mining the Archives title itself was specifically intended to comment on “the influence of time and place upon the arts in this small northern community.” So, not surprisingly for a town that ultimately is just a tiny pixel on the vista of boreal wilderness, you can instantly see the predominance of nature themes, be it in much of the subject matter (birds, insects, mammals, fish, plants, fungi, earth, wind, and water) or in some of the choice of media (wood cuts and carvings, mushroom ink, birch twigs). Mind you, the ultimate blank canvas — the deep winter snow that blankets the streets outside the gallery — has induced a few of the artists to depict nature from warmer, more tropical climes.
Beyond this noticeable connection to the natural world, however, any attempt to pigeon-hole the content of the exhibit is misguided. Art, by its very nature, defies conformity, and that has never been truer than here in a place that defends individuality and personal freedom with the ferocity of a mother bear protecting her cubs. From cave-dwelling agronomists to retired dance-hall girls to wired millennial social butterflies, the roll call of artists from the Dawson City Arts Society who have contributed some creative DNA to the biennial exhibit’s make-up is preternaturally diverse. The ODD Gallery’s Call for Submissions also specifically encouraged past DCAS members (the society has been around for over two decades) to contribute along with current ones, so the exhibit furthermore scrutinizes the past within the perspective of the present, in the process striving to bridge these divides and form a coherent — and therefore more complex — vision.
If, from a distance, a few of the works seem coarse and rough-hewn, on closer inspection you can glean the spirituality and warmth that burns beneath, much like that you will find layered under the flannel-lined, down-filled, and fur-covered exteriors of all the various artists themselves. Their age, choice of medium, style, personality, and experience may vary wildly, as does the time taken to complete the submissions (from a day to a decade), but they all share the same passion for their art. For many, the freedom to revel in their creativity is fully integrated into their choice of lifestyle, and therefore indubitably into where they have opted to live.
Perhaps, that is the real underlying commonality, not just for this exhibit, but for the community that supports it. In a place that has traditionally sustained itself through mining, fishing, and trapping, plus an annual run of summer tourism, the arts have come to represent the new pulsing heart of Dawson City. DCAS itself redefines what an arts society is, and the rampant volunteerism that consistently fuels the non-profit organization is far-ranging and deep rooted. Art here is not some abstraction, nor some by-the-way leisurely distraction. It is part of Dawson life. Like the local gold, it may lie on the surface, or exist in rich veins far below the surface, but is precious either way.
So if you visit the ODD Gallery and look long and hard at these works, you’ll perhaps see the real bigger picture — a glimpse into the very soul of Dawson City.
Dan Dowhal is a Toronto-born writer and digital media producer. His novels include Skyfisher and Flam Grub. A former Berton House Writer-In-Residence, Dan now makes his home in Dawson City.