Ottawa Art Gallery: A Visit to the OAG

The video and photos are from a trip to the Ottawa Art Gallery ( in the summer of 2018.

The full set of photos can be viewed here:

The Ottawa Art Gallery

As Ottawa is Canada’s capital, it is already home to large museums such as the National Gallery of Canada. To set itself apart, the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) focuses on artwork with a local or regional connection—works by local artists, works inspired by the city or region and works donated by local collectors.

The Ottawa Art Gallery is a small, non-profit organization founded in 1988 by a group of local artists and community leaders. It moved to new, greatly-expanded premises in April, 2018. The artwork is arranged thematically, so you can often find works with wildly contrasting styles next to each other. Here are some of the works featured in the video.

Max Deen (Waiting for the Toothfairy)

The video opens with British artist Max Deen’s mixed-media work Waiting for the Tooth Fairy.

Max Deen: Waiting for the Toothfairy (2009, mixed media)

This piece was inspired the artist’s experiences with brutal ice storm that hit Ottawa in 1998. While driving during the storm, he came across a fallen tree. He connected this image to memories of his relationship with his late mother, with the fallen tree on the mattress representing her absence and the area below the mattress (a space filled with toy trucks) representing childhood, a bright and playful place where one may be unaware of things going on outside that safe little zone.He discusses this piece in this video from the OAG

Next to Deen’s work was a portrait by Montreal-based artist and former Ottawa resident Eliza Griffiths;

Eliza Griffiths: Incitement (Kirk Douglas Pose) (2003, oil on canvas)


Isah Qumalu Sivurapi: Ijitualik

Scattered throughout the gallery are works by indigenous artists. This soapstone sculpture entitled Ijitualik (meaning One-Eyed Figure) is particularly striking.

Isah Qumalu Sivurapi: Ijitualik (1969, soapstone)

The artist, Isah Qumalu Sivurapi, is from the  community of Puvirnituq, on the northeast coast of Hudson Bay in Nunavik (Northern Quebec). Members of this small community of around 1200 people were encouraged to develop their artistic talents and are now well known for their Inuit sculptures and prints. The above artwork focuses on a mythological being, something that falls into the category of takushurnaituk—meaning ‘things never seen before’.

Another work dealing with the theme of mythological beings is Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau’s painting of Thunderbird, a powerful spirit capable of controlling the weather and influencing the destinies of people

Norval Morrisseu: Thunderbird (c. 1962, enamel and ink on paper)


The Group of Seven

The paintings in the next section of the video are from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art. These works were donated by the descendants of an avid art collector in the city—Otto Jack Firestone.

Lawren Harris: Mount Thule, Bylot Island (oil on canvas)

Among the paintings on display were works by Group of Seven members such as A. Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris and A. J. Casson as well as their contemporaries such as Yvonne McKague Housser and Carl Schaefer. These highly influential Canadian landscape artists were inspired by Ontario’s rugged wilderness and rural tranquility and by the icy majesty of the Far North. Together, the artists helped establish an identifiably Canadian painting style during the 1920s and 1930s.

A. Y. Jackson: Hills, Lake Superior (1922, oil on canvas). Ottawa Art Gallery
Franklin Carmichael: The Nickel Belt (1928, oil on canvas)
A. J. Casson: Parry Sound (1927, oil on canvas)
Yvonne McKague Housser: High Water, Bancroft (1933, oil on canvas)


Jack Shadbolt (Mountain Summer) & Alfred Pellan (Automne)

I love the vibrant colors and energetic composition of these paintings by Vancouver-based artist Jack Shadbolt and Alfred Pellan, an important figure in Quebecois art. In Shabolt’s painting Mountain Summer, the brownish hues of the mountain rocks are nearly lost amidst the riotous colors of flowers and butterflies—an explosion of life during the short, but intense Canadian summer.

Jack Shadbolt: Mountain Summer (1974, latex, ink, wax crayon on rag paper)

Alfred Pellan’s ode to fall is more abstract, evoking the colors and energy of the harvest season and its autumn leaves.

Alfred Pellan: Automne (1959, oil on panel)


Representations of Geography by Leslie Reid, Meredith Snider,  Barry Ace, Jenny McMaster, Alexander Laquerre & Jason St-Laurent

Many Canadian artists are inspired by the country’s landscapes and geography. Perhaps this is because the country is so massive and much of the national identity is tied to the land—the coasts, the prairies, the Rockies, the Arctic, the Canadian Shield and other prominent geographical features.

Leslie Reid’s photo collage Flight Line: Erasure pays homage to her father and to the land. The work is composed of images of the Ottawa region and of the Far North that were taken from the air and on the ground between 1930 and 2017. Many of the aerial photos were taken by the artist’s father, whose work with the Royal Canadian Air Force. involved mapping northern regions of the country as part of government plans to develop those regions. All these things are in the photos—aerial mapping, Northern communities, government offices and views of the city.

Leslie Reid: Flight Line: Erasure (2017, digital prints on aluminum)
Leslie Reid: Flight Line: Erasure (detail view, 2017, digital prints on aluminum)

Meredith Snider’s painting Mind Map Ottawa: Five Cardinal Points represents the artist’s memories of the routes she took during a series of drives from downtown Ottawa. She traveled approximately 100 kilometers in each direction (North, South, East and West).

Meredith Snider: Mind Map Ottawa: Five Cardinal Points (2013, graphite and ink on paper, Stonehenge paper hand-sewn with thread).

Barry Ace’s mixed media works are honor blankets for each of the five Great Lakes (only three are shown in the photo).

Barry Ace: three of a series of five artworks depicting the great lakes: Gichi-zaaga’igan (Big Lake: Lake Ontario), Gichi-aazhoogami-gichigami (Great Crosswater Sea: Lake Huron) and Anishinaabewi-gichigami (Anishinaabeg Sea: Lake Superior). (2016, mixed media)

The works are created from Hudson’s Bay blankets, which have a long history in Canada and were often used by the Hudson’s Bay Company when trading with indigenous fur trappers. Thus, as heritage symbols, they are complicated—they are associated with the settling of the nation as well as with 19th century colonialism and capitalism. You can read this Mental Floss article for more information: A Brief History of Canada’s Iconic Hudson’s Bay Blanket

The decorations on the blanket are made from things like:

  • traditional materials like horse hair;
  • silver dollars (the design of the coins honor indigenous people, but the coins can also represent commercial power and nation-building, things which helped marginalize these same people )
  • electronic components like diodes, resistors and and microchips, which represent technology—technology that can help preserve indigenous cultures and can also erode them.
Barry Ace: detail view of Anishinaabewi-gichigami (Anishinaabeg Sea: Lake Superior) (2016, mixed media: Hudson’s Bay blanket, velvet beads, capacitors, resistors, LEDs, microchips, horse hair, silver dollars, pewter, copper wire, mountain climbing rope).

Thus, the blankets not only represent the Great Lakes, but also the forces (trade, colonialism, capitalism, nation-building and technology) that have buffeted indigenous cultures in Canada. Barry Ace discusses his work and creative processes in this video from the OAG:

Local artist Jenny McMaster has produced a series of mixed-media maps of nearby areas. The map below shows the town of Almonte. You can see more of her work at her website:

Jenny McMaster: In the Neighbourhood (2016, mixed media: handmade paper, pulp painting and emboidery)

In the silkscreen print shown below, Alexander Laquerre has created the shape of each local Ottawa-Gatineau neighborhood from its name.

Alexander Laquerre: Ottawa-Gatineau Neighbourhoods Map, 3rd edition (silkscreen print). Ottawa Art Gallery

Laquerre also creates drawings celebrating Ottawa’s iconic architecture, and his drawings of the Parliament Buildings, Alexandra Bridge and the Chateau Laurier appear near the end of the video.

Jason St-Laurent’s sculpture 196 Nations in Order of Size is exactly what the title says. Blocks representing each member country in the United Nations are stacked on top of one another from the floor to the ceiling.

Jason St-Laurent: 196 Nations in Order of Size (2018, mixed media). Ottawa Art Gallery

Interestingly, the blocks can be removed and re-arranged just in case countries break apart, grow or cease to exist.

Jason St-Laurent: 196 Nations in Order of Size (2018, mixed media)


World War II

On this wall is a selection of paintings from the Second World War, a significant event in the development of Canada’s national identity.

Paintings of the Second World War by (clockwise from top left) Robert Hyndman, Tom Wood, Pegi Nicol Macleod, Charles Anthony Law, Harold Beament and Elizabeth Harrison
Robert Hyndman: Flight Lieutenant C.F. Schaefer (1945, oil on canvas)
Harold Beament: Embarking Casualties on D-Day, HMCS Pince David (1944, oil on canvas)


Darker Themes: Works by Carl Stewart, Janet Kaponicin & Bozica Radjenovic

Some of the works in the Ottawa Art Gallery have darker stories behind them. Carl Stewart’s ,mixed media work Nice Shoes, F***** (the asterisks are mine) is a memorial for Alain Brousseau, a  man who was killed in a homophobic hate crime when he was thrown off the Alexandra Bridge, which spans the Ottawa River. The length of the textile—80 metres—is the distance he fell. The case is described in this article: Death by hate: The life, power and symbolism of Alain Brosseau

Carl Stewart: Nice Shoes Fa**** (1996, woven wool thread and lurex). Ottawa Art Gallery

Janet Kaponicin’s Tragic History behind the Parliament Building deals with a similar kind of senseless murder, with the events of the two cases being around 150 years and several hundred meters apart.  This artwork is about a the story of a teen Algonquin girl murdered by British soldiers behind Parliament Hill.

Janet Kaponicin: Tragic History behind the Parliament Building (2004, acrylic and birchbark collage on canvas)

The story is described in this article: Death on the Hill: An Algonquin artist’s 30-year struggle to preserve the memory of a Parliament Hill tragedy

Bozica Radjenovic’s mixed media piece Included/Excluded looks quite playful, but the red knitted wearable sculpture represents conflict and bloodshed, likely inspired by the artist’s experiences during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. To me, the red balls of yarn spilling out from the suit emphasize the frailty of the human body..

Bozica Radjenovic: Included/Excluded (2018, red knitted wearable sculpture with balls of wool)


The Queen

Let’s end with Stefan St-Laurent’s not-quite-life-sized sculpted caricature of Queen Elizabeth II, which is situated at the entrance to the Ottawa Art Gallery. It strikes a wonderful balance between being respectful and being fun.

Sculpture of Queen Elizabeth by Stefan St-Laurent

The gallery is relatively small but is conveniently located behind the Rideau Centre and the admission is free. If you are in town and are interested in art, be sure to check it out.

About the Video

The video footage and photos were shot with a FUJIFILM X100T camera. The two songs features in the video are from my free background music series:

he lovely first song is Somewhere Deep in the Sea by Jessica Yip, I recorded that and the song is part of my Free Background music series (a collection of songs that you can use for free for non-commercial purposes). Information about the song and download links are on my website:

The short jazz outro is my own work and can be found on this page:


Go Further: Website

Three Questions

  1. Which of the paintings or sculptures are most attractive to you? Why?
  2. How can art serve to help create a feeling of belonging to a particular city, region or country?
  3. Who would you say are the artists who best represent your country? Explain your answer.

Art Challenge

Create a work  painting, drawing, sketch, sculpture or mixed media piece   that represents your city or neighborhood.

~video, photos and text by


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Living Sculptures at Mosaïculture Gatineau 2018

I shot the above video during a visit to the MosaicCulture Gatineau exhibition in Quebec, Canada. The giant living sculptures featured at the exhibition were created by growing thousands of annual bedding plants on steel armatures. The steel from provides the basic form of the sculpture. Like topiary, mosaiculture is a kind of horticultural art (i.e., art made from living plants), but it is this use of metal frames that makes mosaiculture unique.

The themes of the exhibition were heritage (with a focus on indigenous culture) and nature. The 45 sculptures at the exhibition were made made using 5.5 million plants.

Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: Polar bear and howling wolf

One of the centerpieces of the exhibit was this stunning sculpture: Mother Earth — The Legend of Aataentsic.

Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: Mother Earth, the Legend of Aataensic

The goddess Aataensic is the most important figure in the creation myth of the Huron people, but she is quite a dark deity. It was one of her two sons, Iouskeha, who sought to aid and nurture humans, making rivers and lakes and teaching humans to grow crops, hunt and use fire. Aataentsic, in contrast, brings death and disease, and she and controls the souls of the dead.

Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: Mother Earth, the Legend of Aataensic
Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: Mother Earth, the Legend of Aataensic

The following two sculptures present traditional trades.

Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: The Lobster Fisherman
Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: The Prospector

Two large sculptures celebrated Chinese culture. One, of a lion dance, is shown below (this photo only shows one part of it).

Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: Joyful Celebration of Nine Lions

The sculptures are surprisingly heavy. For example, each of the 56 birds in the Bird Tree sculpture, another centerpiece of the exhibition, weighs between one and three tons (unfortunately, I didn’t get any great shots of the whole tree).

Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: The Bird Tree
Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: The Bird Tree
Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: The Bird Tree
Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: The Bird Tree

The living sculptures were created by teams of landscape architects, engineers, horticultural mosaic artists and sculptor-welders. As many of the plants are seasonal, the appearance of some of the sculptures will change according to the season.

Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: The Raven Mask
Click on the image to view a higher resolution version on Flickr
MosaiCulture Gatineau 2018: The Canadian Horse

The event was organized by Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal and was was held in Jacques-Carter Park (just across the river from Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings) from 25 July to 15 October 2018. The sculptures featured in the video are, in order of appearance:

  • Mother Earth — The Legend of Aataentsic
  • Wisakedjak and the Creation of the World
  • Born with the Sun
  • The Raven and Moon Masks
  • Bison (part of the Mother Earth display)
  • The Voyageur
  • Cellist and Ballerina
  • Jos Montferrand: A Giant from Gatineau
  • The Bird Tree
  • The Man Who Planted Trees
  • Canadian Horses
  • Chief of the Undersea World — Bill Reid’s Killer Whale
  • Polar Bear and Howling Wolf
  • The Lobster Fisherman
  • Three Ships from France
  • The Prospector
  • The Muskoxen
  • The Puffins
  • Joyful Celebration of Nine Lions
  • All Aboard! Engine CPR 374
  • The Winning Goal, Summit Series of 72
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police Horse and Rider
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • The Muskoxen
  • Snowy Owls
  • The Drum Dancer

Go Further: Website

Go Further: Video

  • Imaginary Worlds: Once Upon a Time: What’s Mosaiculture? A short video from the Atlanta Botanical Garden that shows shows how mosaiculture sculptures are made.

Three Questions

  1. Which of the sculptures is most attractive to you? Why?
  2. What are some advantages of creating art from living plants?
  3. What are the disadvantages?

Art Challenge

Create a mini-mosaiculture!

~video, photos and text by


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teamlab Planets (Tokyo): An Amazing Interactive Art Experience

I shot the above video during a recent visit to the teamLab Planets TOKYO exhibition. Planets TOKYO is an interactive exhibition put together by teamLab, a Japanese art collective who combine digital art, music and technology to create interactive installations that encourage visitors to explore relationships between humans and nature and between the individual and the world. The Planets TOKYO exhibition runs from the summer of 2018 to autumn in 2020.

The members of teamLab include artists, programmers, animators, musicians, mathematicians and architects. Regarding the group’s aims, teamLab’s website states:

Digital technology has allowed art to liberate itself from the physical and transcend boundaries. teamLab sees no boundary between humans and nature, and between oneself and the world; one is in the other and the other in one. Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous, borderless continuity of life.  (

I first came upon the collective’s contemporary art at an event held in Kyoto a couple of years ago: Resonating Spheres and Resonating Trees. That event was magical and inspiring, so I was excited to see their latest exhibition.

The teamLab Planets TOKYO exhibition consists of seven installations.

1. Waterfall of Light Particles at the Top of an Incline

In this first installation, you walk up a ramp against the flow of the water that is cascading down from a small waterfall illuminated by light (there are a couple of installations that require you to walk through water, so you walk barefoot though the whole exhibition). This initial installation serves as a kind of preparation. As you walk up the incline in a very dark corridor with water flowing down over your feet, there is a sense of mystery and you start to excitedly  anticipate what is ahead.

2. Soft Black Hole – Your Body Becomes a Space that Influences Another Body

teamLab Planets TOKYO: Soft Black Hole – Your Body Becomes a Space that Influences Another Body

When you enter the Soft Black Hole room, you sink into a cushioned floor, your weight changing the shape of the environment, which in turn impacts other visitors.

In modern life we are surrounded by flat hard surfaces, so that in our daily lives we we have lost consciousness of our bodies, we have forgotten them. In natural forests flat ground does not exist. This installation is a space to remind us of the body that we have forgotten in everyday life, and to make us more conscious of our body mass. (

This was a fun experience that also served as a kind of mood-setter for the exhibition. As you stumble, crawl and sink into the surface, you become aware not only of your ‘body mass’ but also that this exhibition is interactive and participatory, that you are not only a viewer, but also a kind of co-creator of the experience.

3. The Infinite Crystal Universe

teamLab Planets TOKYO: The Infinite Crystal Universe

This installation is one of the highlights of the exhibition. The room features mirrored walls, floor and ceiling. Suspended from the ceiling are thin plastic tubes that contain over 300,000 light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These LEDs change color and brightness, producing three-dimensional patterns of light and movement.

Jade standing on the mirrored floor of the Infinite Crystal Universe

The mirrors create an illusion of infinite space—with the points of light spreading out in all directions representing the universe.

Looking up towards the mirrored ceiling: The Infinite Crystal Universe

The LEDS respond to music and the movement of visitors as well as a special smart phone app that you can use to introduce elements into this universe.

Staff (far left) and visitors

According to founder teamLab’s founder, Toshiyuki Inoko, The Infinite Crystal Universe took five years to create. It is wonderful union of art, imagination and technology

Jade silhouetted against the LEDs at the Infinite Crystal Universe

4. Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity

teamLab Planets TOKYO: Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity

In this room visitors, wade through knee-deep water onto which is projected digital images of swimming koi that leave behind trails of light. The work is rendered in real-time, with the movement of koi being influenced by the presence of people. When the fish collide with people, they turn into flowers and scatter.

Light projections of Koi
Jade wading through the koi pool (Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity)

5. Cold Life

teamLab Planets TOKYO: Cold Life

In an alcove beside the pool of digital koi is a seven-minute 3D animation. The animation starts with calligraphy representing the Japanese word for life (生). The calligraphy transforms into a tree from which a variety of lifeforms slowly emerge as the seasons change. This work deals with the cycle of life and death and the cycle of the seasons.

teamLab:  Cold Life


6. Expanding Three-dimensional Existence in Intentionally Transforming Space – Free Floating, 12 Colors

teamLab Planets TOKYO: Expanding Three-dimensional Existence in Intentionally Transforming Space – Free Floating, 12 Colors (photo by longzijun)

In this room, large spheres lit from within fill the room. They change color when people come into contact with them or when they collide with other spheres.

When they change color, this change resonates out in three dimensions and affects the colors of the other spheres. This  effect was also used in the Resonating Spheres installation in Kyoto.

teamLab Planets TOKYO: Staff member re-arranging spheres

The twelve colors are based on traditional Japanese concept of Kasane no Irome (襲の色目(literally meaning “layers of color”). This was the system of color schemes that dictated the layering, colors and order of robes worn at court during the Heian period.

The 12 colors of the spheres in this room are: the basic colors of blue, red and green as well the colors of light in water, sunlight on water plants, plum, iris, sky at twilight, morning sky, morning glow, peach and spring maple.

7. Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers

teamLab Planets TOKYO: Floating in the Falling Universe of Flowers (photo by longzijun)

In the final room, you sit or lie back on a mirrored floor as digital projections of flowers and butterflies sweep past on the dome overhead. As with the Koi projection, the images are rendered in real-time and are affected by the presence of visitors.

Flowers grow, bud, bloom, and in time, the petals fall, and the flowers wither and die. The cycle of birth and death continues for perpetuity. The universe at this moment in time can never be seen again. (


About the Experience

Three of the main installations—the crystal universe, the koi pool, the room of spheres— evoke feelings of wonder and joy. When in these rooms, adults and children tend to react to the art in the same way—gazing spellbound at shifting patterns of light, giddily chasing after the digital fish projections, leaping up off the ground to head spheres to bounce spheres. The installations bring out the child in everyone.

The way the installations were sequenced was very effective, with the first two smaller works setting the tone. In the final room—the room of falling flowers—people just collapsed on the floor and chilled out, letting the music and digital images wash over them until they were ready to get up, put their shoes back on and re-enter the world outside.

The teamLab group does a good job of managing visitor numbers. You enter as part of a large group and have enough time to fully experience each of the installations.  Of course, you won’t get an entire large room to yourself (as in the promotional photos), but you won’t get a crowded feeling. In the larger rooms, crowds tend to gather at first before people disperse to explore the different parts of the installation.

For this exhibition, it is better to book in at least a week in advance to ensure you can get in.

Unlike most artwork, teamLab projects work better when there are people ‘in the way’.  This is because other visitors are not obstacles; instead, they are your co-participants, your collaborators in an amazing experience.

Go Further

  • Video: How TeamLab Builds Incredible Techno Art Exhibits (by Bloomberg)

Three Questions

  1. Which of the installations is most attractive to you? Why?
  2. What are some of the benefits of creating art that is affected by the viewer’s actions or movements?
  3. What technical difficulties do you think teamLab faced in producing works like the pool of digital koi. For example, what would be required to make the fish turn into flowers when they collide with people? You can watch the Bloomberg video in the Go Further section to find the answer to that specific question.

Art Challenge

Create an artwork that is affected by the movements and/or actions of the viewer.

~video, photos and text by


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