Geoffrey Farmer Will Face His Family Ghosts at the Venice Biennale

For his exhibition at the Canadian pavilion, the artist takes on a very personal project.

Geoffrey Farmer. Photo Iacopo Seri, courtesy Canadian Pavilion.
Geoffrey Farmer. Photo Iacopo Seri, courtesy Canadian Pavilion.

Geoffrey Farmer’s project for the Canadian Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale will be called “A way out of the mirror” and will deal with issues of personal memory, familial history, inheritance, trauma, and desire.

Best known for his sprawling, self-built installations often featuring kinetic anthropomorphic elements—including his widely praised Leaves of Grass shown at Documenta 13—the artist is using two photographs from his family archive as a starting point for his Venice outing.

Unknown Photographer (Collision), 1955, Archives of the artist.

Unknown Photographer, Collision (1955). Archives of the artist.

“The story of my project for Venice begins with these unpublished press photographs from 1955,” Farmer writes in a statement. “They depict a collision between a train and a lumber truck halted by a railway crossing sign. There are planks scattered across the foreground and in one of the images, an unidentified boy poses with a half-eaten apple looking stiffly towards the horizon.

[…] the absent figure in the photographs, beside the photographer, is my grandfather Victor, who walked away from the accident only to die a few months later. But I never knew that, or anything about the accident, or anything about him, until these images arrived in my inbox, sent to me by my sister Elizabeth, on 14 April 2016 at 6:24PM.”

“The pavilion itself, colliding with the artwork, is transformed, opening to the outside as its architecture is reimagined in the guise of the fountain,” added Kitty Scott, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, who was selected by Farmer to organize the pavilion.

Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass (2012), installation view at Neue Galerie Kassel, commissioned and co-produced by dOCUMENTA (13). Photo Anders Sune Berg, courtesy the artist and Catriona Jeffries.

Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass (2012), installation view at Neue Galerie Kassel, commissioned and co-produced by dOCUMENTA (13). Photo Anders Sune Berg, courtesy the artist and Catriona Jeffries.

Farmer’s practice combines theatrical techniques with historically sourced material to create intricate and multi-layered installations that he painstakingly develops and revisits over extended periods of time.

The work for the pavilion promises to be simultaneously epic and delicate, and to beguile not only the hordes of art instagrammers but also discerning art critics.


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