Some objects, by virtue of their shape, perhaps, or colour, seem to glimmer with life. A kettle, inherited and accustomed to campfires. A ring. A vase with the chubby profile of a baby. Certain materials, too, exude such a force that to call them inanimate seems unfair. Marble, patterned with swirls and eddies like river rapids, wood, glass.
In Milan, a city clad in marble and glass, the newest Canada Goose store explores the relationship between landscapes, objects, and the people who inhabit them. The work of two Canadian artists, Qavavau Manumie and Alex Fischer, flank the entrance and extend the conversation. The two pieces hang opposite each other, in dialogue like guests at a party. Both works express the strange quality of some landscapes and materials, the way lifeless objects and spaces can, nonetheless, speak.
In Dreams of a Natural World, Qavavau Manumie’s trio of drawings, human figures are dwarfed by the elements. Men ride birds as if they are horses or are carried aloft on a hunting knife and a cloud of feathers. With each drawing, the artist presents us with an image of humble acquiescence to the natural world. Yet, as the title suggests, this is a dreamscape—what is more dreamlike and strange than a world in which human figures are integrated within their environment, not as observers or destroyers but as elements, like rain or wind? In this vision, interconnection is made visible, with hybrid human creatures and networks of lines drawn in vital red. A cluster of branches seems no less alive than an animal or a human being.
Born in Brandon, Manitoba, Manumie lives and works in Cape Dorset, Nunavut. His unique, deftly funny, vision combines the mythological with the mundane: film cameras, polar bears, caribou, and stacks of bills all appear in his whimsical drawings and prints. The vast landscape of the Arctic is raw material for the artist’s imagination, generating images and archetypes: “I like to draw animals, and images of people, sometimes combined. I enjoy the animals and the land, and I take what I see there to my drawings.”
Alex Fischer is similarly concerned with Canada’s diverse landscape. In Proscenium, a digital artwork commissioned in response to Dreams of a Natural World, a jumble of distinctly Canadian landscapes blend together, creating an otherworldly, idealised portrait of scenery that does not exist. Fischer’s uncanny portraits and prints are developed using artificial intelligence, a futuristic mode of collaboration. Proscenium evokes historical landscape paintings, images that were as much about myth-making and imagination as any AI-assisted digital painting.
Both Manumie and Fischer’s pieces echo each other in their vertical composition, and Fischer also cites the influence of 14th-Century Milanese painter Bernardino Luini, a fittingly local reference point for a work that was always bound for Italy. It’s hard not to feel reverent standing before works of art that extend skywards, the way towering trees or church spires evoke the heavenly. In this Milanese store, a landscape of its own, expanses of wood, marble, and glass create a sense of wildness, albeit lacquered and tamed. Yet, marble, in addition to making even the softest footsteps sound dramatic, retains its strange, unruly qualities. The same is true of the wood and stone that add texture to the space. The works of art here complement that confusion and remind us of the ways landscapes, materials, and space can come alive. Inanimate, they are not.