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Landon Mackenzie is a 2017 winner of the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts.
Directed by Anthony Grieco
Presentation of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Independent Media Arts Alliance
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Artists are really privileged to have a studio. It’s not a domestic space. When you come back in, it’s got all the things, the habits that you left behind the day before. You turn on the lights, it wakes up, and you can re-enter where you were in your work before.
When I was a teenager, I had a chance to go to Harold Town’s Studio. He was a good family friend. I had known him since I was small and he was in the Severn Street Studio in Toronto where the Group of Seven had worked. And I didn’t know at the time if I could become an artist, but I did know that I wanted this life, this place called the studio to be in my life.
The idea that you sort of enter a space, and you could physically change it day by day, not really knowing where you were going, but really building some sort of narrative. That was the part of conceptual art that I really grabbed onto. The idea that you could sort of set the rules to a game and then you follow the game and then you implement it, you accept it and you see where it leads.
I’m in a great group studio with other artists. A big space, and I began to do these dark paintings reflecting on my memories of the North living in the Yukon, and eventually those turned into the Lost River paintings.
Some people have written about them as wolves, I have written about them as a kind of a wolf/caribou hybrid creature.
They are creatures and they are stand-ins for humans.
I raised three children here in East Vancouver. I had one in Montreal, one in Toronto and one in Vancouver. Each child changed perhaps some of the working methods that I had. The pregnancy meant that I just was having more and more trouble getting up and down the ladder. Finally I just took it down, I put it on the floor and I became really excited about the idea of living and working inside the painting. If the landscape is a painting, I am within the landscape.
Typically the big works will start on the floor for about half their life, until I have this kind of nest of a puzzle.
As a little girl, there had been a very important map, which was the pull-out part of Lands Forlorn, a book that was written about the 1911 expedition of a relative. The little map with its little red lines going up into the Arctic was a very key moment in imagery for me. I remapped Canada over 21 enormous paintings. It was about a 15-year long project. These maps had alternate layers of true maps which we would call The Record and Fiction. My preposition really was that the early maps from the late 19th century and early 20th century were fiction. They themselves were just government documents or the railway-scheduled documents in order to call into function a colonial possibility.
It appears to most people to be abstract, but actually its representational. I just have removed things, like horizon lines, that make it simple for the viewer to kind of identify with a Group of Seven landscape. It’s just trying to represent something that we don’t have a picture of yet in the world.
The idea of the conceptual practice of a never-ending story actually could have a different kind of resolution, being a painting, and the fixed ending is one where I know that it’s just one many endings that’s possible, but it’s a poignant moment where everything sort of seems to gel for that painting.