Anna Williams "Canada House" on view at the new Ottawa Art Gallery as part of the inaugural exhibition Àdisòkàmagan / Nous connaître un peu nous-mêmes / We’ll all become stories
Canada House offers the viewer a moment of pause to investigate what we have lost in our passage from nature to culture, and the perceived notion of permanence in contemporary society. This installation is comprised of three life-sized cast bronze beavers constructing a beaver lodge made out of individually cast clear resin tree branches. The lodge will be lit from within to create a ethereal and alluring yet foreboding presence in a darkened gallery, while an audio recording periodically loops the sudden warning of a beaver’s tail crashing down on the surface of a lake, silencing the scene.
The iconic and industrious beaver—of all the creatures of the natural world it is the one who most relates to the human tendency to alter our environment to suit our own, not ecology’s, needs. The beaver understands our desire to build, dominate, and exploit our habitat for short-term gain, but also the sanctity of home and family. The contrast of materials in this installation is integral, the strength and permanence of the bronze beavers in opposition to the fragility and delicacy of the resin lodge. The beavers stand in for us—so confident in their permanence that they build their home out of glass, unhindered by the warnings echoing in the distance.
The thunderous clap of a beaver’s tail on the surface of a lake alerts the viewer that they have disturbed the peace of their surroundings, asking the viewer to heed the warning and alter their course. The reverberations echo through the space, to remind us of a time when our relationship with nature was one of a balanced partnership. When there was a revered wisdom held in the natural world that humans acknowledged and depended upon for guidance and survival. We are now completely at the mercy of our changing environment and yet it is a narrative of our own creation—that our modern blueprint of progress is coming at a steep price, a price that we can’t afford for much longer.
Canada House explores the boundaries of presence and loss. As a society we’ve lost our connectivity to nature and in doing so our ability to hear and acknowledge warnings. The slap of a beaver’s tail – so crisp and clear in its message, yet the listener has to be present to grasp the intent. This disconnection has resulted in a disassociation from our natural selves, and as a result we have lost the most primal and potent aspects of human experience, inhibiting our ability to survive emotionally and physically in a shifting environment.