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Snapshot of Canadian Art: Red Rover about conflict, interrelation, resolution

Titled Red Rover, the artwork is the centrepiece of a solo exhibition by Mary Anne Barkhouse on now at the Koffler Centre of the Arts.

The Red Rover installation by Mary Anne Barkhouse at the Koffler Centre of the Arts.

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Rafael Goldchain / Koffler Gallery

The Red Rover installation by Mary Anne Barkhouse at the Koffler Centre of the Arts.

On one side, arranged in tactical formation, are five bubblegum-coloured poodle pull toys. Opposite them, in a looser group, stand five oily black wolves. They square off over a map of Alberta, B.C. and the now-cancelled Northern Gateway Pipelines built from foam playground tiles. Titled Red Rover, the artwork is the centrepiece of a solo exhibition by Mary Anne Barkhouse on now at the Koffler Centre of the Arts.

The piece came from a memory.

“My mother’s from a reserve off the north coast of Vancouver Island,” Barkhouse says. “In the early '70s, there was an oil spill there. I wasn’t around at its worst, but I remember the cleanup and the aftermath.”

When she made the work in 2012, the newly proposed pipelines struck her as a “particularly terrible idea.”

Barkhouse drives a car herself and acknowledges the oil needed doesn’t just magically appear at the pump. That figures deeply into the piece.

On one side of the oil debate, you have market demand and the concerns of the economy. On the other side, there’s resource depletion, species at risk and the destruction of the land. In Red Rover, the wolves and the poodles read as opposites or enemies, but really, they’re closely related — genetically speaking, 99% identical.

“I wanted to portray elements of the land as playthings,” Barkhouse says. “Sometimes we move them in considered ways and sometimes in very cavalier ways.”

The work, therefore, casts energy policy and eco-politics as child’s play.

“And I think to the average person who’s not involved in that bureaucracy, it does seem like a game,” she explained.

But, "when we’re talking about the destruction of habitats,” she says, “that’s a very dangerous game.”

Ultimately, the piece is about conflict but also interrelation and resolution.

“It is a play area, after all. Hopefully no one gets hurt.”

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