/JOHNSTON FALLS is based on a promotional image of the popular tourist destination and is built using more than 80,000 plastic craft beads. The beads, neither precious nor rare, are strung together to create a glittering image of the raging waterfall. Strands of beads spill out of the picture plane and pool onto the gallery floor. Johnston Falls, examines representations of the natural environment in terms of its relationships to local economies, national identities and global consumers. Central to this work is the interface between processes of production, representations of communities, and aesthetic vocabularies.
/SHELLEY OUELLET is a multi-disciplinary artist whose career has included active participation in Calgary’s cultural community. She is a Board Member at TRUCK Gallery and an instructor at the Alberta College of Art & Design. Her work has been exhibited across Canada and, more recently, in the UK.
/A TRAVELLER’S NOTES ON JOHNSTON FALLS
JASON E. BOWMAN
Having an essay to write about Shelley Ouellet’s sculpture, Johnston Falls, I assume, of course, my hike towards writing should begin with thinking about waterfalls: at a steady pace a first base camp would be established and from there I would equip myself and spy my prey. Over the course of time you and I would come to gnaw on something that may be said about what might be behind a waterfall.
Having entrusted my journey to this worn ground I had disregarded what was important and now before your eyes. Shelley Ouellet asks that we think neither about nor behind waterfalls but through.
And so . . . to Johnston Falls – through the waterfall.
The spectacular is premised on the possibility that pleasure lay in the desire for the individualized experience of what is possibly already seen and known. The anticipative journey towards being overwhelmed is transitional and the baggage of previous disappointment provides us with the courage and comfort to take the risk. We may not see what others see, or experience what others have experienced, and yet we arrive before the same phenomena.
A waterfall may be stopped by known interruptions such as winter’s petrifying breath or summer’s dehydration of its source, through the impact of climate change or the intervention of man and other animals. Why do we seek to capture in frozen, representative moments something that once was wonderful because it was, like us, alive?
Waterfalls coil into twisty, liquid braids that merge without a seam; and then disloyally disentangle and re-arrange their wants and make unexpected unions. These momentary occurrences of extrication result in shards of openness, like a winking, auditory drape providing a glimpse of what lies behind, like a wet and watery skin.
When loose and live, a waterfall will just keep falling over itself. And so . . . if its stops falling - how does it stand up for itself again?
Once discovered and deemed worthy of persistent visitation, a waterfall, whilst leisurely stripping away at the physical mass from which it pours, becomes the star of the show. The limelight fallsbecause of its fluidity, but somehow it’s fame results in turning off its tap and stopping it in its flow.
A waterfall may be held at standstill as the political stun-gun enforces its coiled union with notions of nation, nationality and nationhood. The water may continue to flow and fall but in being given a name its wateriness becomes the necklace of a place.
Celebrity is predicated on both knowingness and the unachievable – and therefore has a correlative in the notion of exposure, an essential factor of how celebrity comes into being. It is both recognizable but unavailable, ever present but also intermittent in its appearance. Witnessed and yet hidden – fully outstretched before us but unquantifiable in its mysteriousness. Hundreds and thousands and millions of tiny little images are taken, trying to make it real by capturing its dazzling visibility.
The point of view of any single image-maker, capturing one of so many different, but essentially similar images of the same waterfall, is not the only element that makes their image distinctive; regardless of how many other photographers have stood and shot their picture from those same limited viewpoints. We know that every moment of a waterfall is different. In its remaining relatively consistent from one scenic photo to the next, a waterfall may remain not just spectacularly but also intangibly aloof.
The waterfall, as the distant subject of this experience remains, in itself, unaltered.
For Shelley Ouellet on the occasion of her exhibition, JOHNSTON FALLS.
/JASON E. BOWMAN occasionally makes artworks, curates intermittently and writes under duress. He curated the Official Presentation of Contemporary Art from Scotland at the Venice Biennale, and the first ever European career survey and solo exhibition of Yvonne Rainer, Untitled (On a Day Unknown), commissioned by The Whitworth Art Gallery. He directs the MFA program at The University of Gothenburg.