‘Synthetic Seasons’, Mia Feuer’s solo exhibition at the Esker Foundation in Calgary, is fundamentally about landscapes: natural and man-made, living and destroyed. Feuer’s practice critiques the cycle of oil production and consumption by engaging on a visceral level with the materials that are created by this process and the systems and landscapes that are affected by it. Many of her works stem directly from specific places that she has visited, often reconstituting in manifold layers the stark truths of the fossil-fuel industry.
A tangle of cages is randomly pierced by rebar. Feathers, slick and black, hang down, held precariously from the ceiling, like a wasteland hovering over the ground. The structure, titled An Unkindness (2013), exudes a sense of destruction and defilement. Directly below this is Rink (2013), a skating oval fitted with waist-high walls, reminiscent of the neighbourhood ice rinks found across the country. However, the rink is not ice. Rather, it is a black substance: the kind of plastic found in kitchen cutting boards. Strap on a pair of hockey skates and a helmet, found adjacent to the rink, and you too can carve out a little piece of childhood bliss, a few moments of solitude with your thoughts, as you glide around. The novelty only lasts a minute, though. Once you look up to meet the eyes of other visitors, the fact that it is not winter, that this is not ice and that you are skating in an art gallery becomes inescapable: the sinking feeling is accentuated by the sculpture that hangs above, like an ominous cloud.
Tumbling into the room and butting up against Rink and An Unkindness is a heap of logs, jutting out in random directions, blocking the entryway into the next gallery. The logs sprawl across the space, towering above the visitor and engulfing the room. Eerie blue light drifts down from above. The pile is topped by a mangled wire archway that is pierced down the centre by a tarred and feathered tree. Boreal (2013) refers to the majesty Canada’s vast Boreal forest as well as the growing forestry industry that is destroying it. For, while the Government claims deforestation, forest fires and insects are beneficial for the regeneration of the Boreal forest, the true impact of this desecration can be seen from coast to coast.
On display in the heartland of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, ‘Synthetic Seasons’ is timely as well as critical, referencing specific areas that have been severely affected by industry and human presence. Across Alberta, amongst the rolling hills of the prairies and the sweeping Rocky Mountains, we found the telltale marks of the oil industry – reminders of what is fuelling the economy. Feuer’s work looms above us menacingly; it overtakes entire gallery rooms, it pierces and wounds. There is no subtlety in ‘Synthetic Seasons’. Feuer cuts to the core of the issue, reminding us – from the jovial interjection of Rink to the ominous clouds of An Unkindness – that our actions puncture the very ground we rely upon to bear us.