Weather Amnesia at Jackman Humanities Institute

Weather Amnesia, curated by Yuluo Wei, is on display at the University of Toronto’s Jackman Humanities Institute at 107 St. George Street. The Jackman Humanities Institute (JHI) chooses an annual theme to explore and the 2019-2020 theme is ‘Strange Weather’ which focuses on the environment.

The exhibit is comprised of various artists, both classical and modern, with works surrounding the increasingly unavoidable issue of global climate change. The exhibition essay states that weather is becoming more extreme and unpredictable around the globe. Tradition is being threatened and new ways of living must be developed in order to restore the environment; demanding changes from local farmers, industrial giants and people in their homes.

Florence Vale, Pregnant bird, 1961, watercolour and collage, 15.2 x 12.1 cm.
Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy of JHI

While change is required to restore order, ‘strangeness [is becoming] the new normal’ as unpredictable weather is perceived as what is expected rather than what is feared. As a result of the ‘urban nature’ of the 20th century people became detached from the changes in nature, feeling safe in their artificial world. The climate-controlled atmosphere in homes and the easy accessibility of goods and services from around the globe allow us to ignore climate change and the result is a kind of ‘amnesia’. Humans have, therefore, become ‘insulated’ from the natural world, allowing the declining health of the Earth to continue.

Lisa Hirmer, Watching, White Ibis, 2019, archival pigment print on aluminium panel, 60.96 x 91.44 cm, triptych. Courtesy of the artist

The gallery space is untraditional, with the art being incorporated into an office environment. The works are placed on coffee tables in seating areas, hung on the walls of conference rooms and installations are fit around books in bookcases. There is a subtle intrusion of the exhibit’s content in the daily corporate lives of those who work in, and visit, the office, conveying a meaning within a functional space. The exhibit’s strategic placement forces the viewer to think about the state of the natural environment in the very place that the issue of insulation, leading to denial, permeates daily life.

Office interior with installation. Photo: Olivia Musselwhite

Occupy, 2012,by Tania Kitchell is an installation that occupies the empty sections of an existing book shelf. Kitchell creates models of wild flowers sculpted with 3D-printed ABS plastic. The structures are pure, bleached white contrasting with their true colors. The pieces are contradictory to nature, as the plants have been created with synthetic materials, made possible by technology.

Installation views of Tania Kitchell, Occupy. Photo: Olivia Musselwhite

Lisa Hirmer’s Watching, Dull Edges (the northern hemisphere of a 23°27’ tilt), 2017, is a photographic series which depicts the stages of snow melting in sealed, horizontal test tubes which are set floating against a black background. The progression in the photographs, as the snow reaches its fully melted state within the controlled atmosphere of test tubes, reflects the environmental change that is happening on a larger scale.

Lisa Hirmer’s Watching, Dull Edges (the northern hemisphere of a 23°27’ tilt). Photo: Olivia Musselwhite

Only one wall in the space holds a classic painting among the contemporary works of the exhibit. Birches, Rockcliffe, 1922, by Graham Noble Norwell is a classic oil painting of a calm Canadian landscape that is covered in fresh snowfall. This type of scene will become a part of history, encapsulated for new generations as untraditional weather becomes what is expected.

Installation view with Birches, Rockcliffe, 1922, by Graham Noble Norwell. Photo: Olivia Musselwhite

People of the 21st century are now facing ‘newness’ at an increasingly rapid rate as the climate continues to become less recognizable on the other side of our windows. Reality is changing and this exhibit pushes the viewer to face the issue of the declining environment, which has been so easily ignored.

Olivia Musselwhite

*Exhibition information: Weather Amnesia / Works by Lisa Hirmer, Tania Kitchell, Doris McCarthy, Rick McCarthy, David Milne, Graham Noble Norwell, Walter Phillips, Florence Vale, Mass Timber Institute with Fiona Lu, a Live Bird Migration Map, and a hygrothermograph, September 18, 2019 – June 26, 2020, University of Toronto’s Jackman Humanities Institute at 107 St. George Street. 10th floor. Gallery hours: Mon – Fri 9 am – 4 pm.

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