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Two new exhibits opening on March 2 at YAC

Artist Michel Gignac installs his latest collaboration with Alia Shahab titled Trailing. Mike Thomas photo

By Amy Kenny

Intimidated. That’s how Michel Gignac felt when he and Alia Shahab were commissioned by the City of Calgary to collaborate on their latest installation.

“Hugely intimidated,” he says over the phone from his home in Whitehorse. The piece represented the biggest project the pair had ever worked on. “But it’s amazing how quickly you can burn through cash when you’re working on a technological project like this.”

“This” is Trailing. Not only did it require 1,500 fibre-optic cables, it also meant hiring the services of electrical and structural engineers. In the end, it’s an interactive sculpture that invites viewers to move through a dense forest of fibre-optic cables attached to hexagonal plates that are suspended from the ceiling. As you come in contact with them, the cables act like bioluminescence, illuminating in what Gignac calls a kind of sci-fi aqua green glow.

Trailing involves 1500 fibre-optic cables. Caitlind RC Brown photo.

“As you walk through it, it’s kind of almost the opposite of a shadow. Where it’s actually creating a trail of light instead of a trail of an absence of light,” he says.

At one point, it seemed like it might not happen. The piece was commissioned for a Calgary New Year’s Eve Festival that was cancelled due to COVID. However, the delay only led to Trailing becoming bigger.

Gignac says he and Shahab kept adding to it, until it blossomed into the massive modular piece it is now. Altogether, 1,500 fiber-optic cables hang from nine hexagonal-shaped bases that house the electronics required to make the piece work. If you arranged all the hexagons in a straight line, Trailing would measure 27 feet long.

Instead, Gignac and long-time collaborator Shahab (the pair met at art school) arrange it in different clusters, depending on where it’s showing. Right now, it’s at the Yukon Arts Centre, with another of Gignac’s works, Neighbourly.

Neighbourly is a nod to Gignac’s home on Squatters Road. Two images are projected onto the façades of what look like makeshift Yukon homes. Two sets of curtains are mechanically controlled, so one ominous, older-looking man peers from his window and disappears, only for the other to appear and take stock.

“It’s totally this humorous kind of play on, you know, ‘what’s he doing over there?’ Like peeking over the fence kind of thing with a Yukon kind of individualism kind of vibe to it. You know? Like, we’re doing our own thing and just don’t mess with what I got going on.”

Both of Gignac’s pieces are in the main gallery.

Showing simultaneously is Whitehorse-based artist, Rosemary Scanlon.

Her work is like a dark, surrealist dream of the north. Water colour paintings thread together fantasy, religious iconography and historical allusion.

With her new show, Springtime Premonitions, Scanlon is interested in the boom-and-bust cycles of the lynx and the hare. In a time of climate crisis, she says the delicate balance between these two animals is threatened. The 11 pieces in the show play with the idea of hindsight and foretelling.

Springtime Premonitions by Rosemary Scanlon.

“Apocalyptic imagery prompts the following questions,” she says. “In what sense are we human and in what sense animal? How does place and environment contain us? How does myth and story help us make meaning of our searching? In what forms does the interplay between external and internal worlds take shape?”

Despite the urgency of those questions, Scanlon says hers is a show that suggests promise and rebirth.

“Bloom,” for example, features an owl. Around her are the markings of human activity, both construction and devastation, in the form of burnt forest, chain-link fencing and flagging tape—all of it jeopardizing the owl’s nest.

Still, beneath a manhole cover is a slice of sky, something celestial, where a flower grows. There are mushrooms and butterflies, moths and growth.

In “Hare Icon,” hands birth a hare. Both are surrounded by dandelions in bloom and going to seed. It speaks to fertility, even at a time of disruptive environmental stress, says Scanlon’s statement for the painting. It’s meant to hold out hope in an uncertain time.

Both shows open Thursday, March 2. The reception is from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the Yukon Arts Centre. The exhibits will be on display until May 27.