Thursday, June 10, 2004 to Saturday, July 31, 2004

    • Thursday, June 10, 2004
    Mary Anne Barkhouse's exhibition, Friend of Beavers, Foe of Evil brings to mind news headlines over the last year on technological failures, wildlife attacks, and natural disasters: At 4:11 p.m. ET on Aug. 14, 2003, Ontario and much of the northeastern U.S. were hit by the largest blackout in North America's history. Electricity was cut to 50 million people, bringing darkness to customers from New York to Toronto to North Bay. (CBC News, August 20, 2003) January 9, 2004: two female mountain bikers were attacked by a cougar Thursday afternoon in Orange County's Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, California. A third presumed victim was found dead and half-buried nearby. (

    April 5, 2004: A proposed bear hunt in the state of New Jersey, the last one being in 1971. The reason is a bear population of 1,300 to 2,000, with an increase in bear-related complaints. ( article/0,13285,459642,00.html)

    British Columbia's "summer of fire", the hottest, driest summer on record in the southern interior, left forests tinder-dry and vulnerable to 2,500 wildfires, including eight "interface" blazes where deep forests met populated areas. (CBC News, December 29, 2003) Friend of Beavers, Foe of Evil is composed of three recent installations: Gifts Guns Snack Bar, Petition, and Focus. This work explores the effects of consumerism, technology and industry, which after centuries of exploration, conquest, and domestication, have pushed human society's close relationship with nature to the limits. Barkhouse takes on the role of ambassador between the human and natural worlds; she employs imagery of animals, such as the wolf and the beaver, that are usually perceived as existing on the periphery of human desire. Barkhouse considers the negative attitude towards these animals and explores in more detail the associations and stereotypes assigned by humans. Focus looks at our own cycle of human conflict, referencing current battles over land and its resources. Barkhouse uses the vulture and raven, which are usually associated with war, death and famine, as tongue-in-cheek trophies to celebrate, glorify, and reward this human adversarial impulse. These trophies sit atop a mantel adorned with F-22 fighter jets, representing humans' ingenuity and continued growth in technology. Above the mantel are five deer antlers made of clear resin. Instead of trophy rack antlers, the originals were naturally shed deer antlers reminding us of nature's own cycle of renewal. In front lies a wolf made of wood that has been seared black, as if petrified by fire; the wolf is always nearby to question our own security. Barkhouse first came across the sign that reads Gifts Guns Snack Bar, on the side of a corner store in Norland, Ontario. Barkhouse recreates the sign in bright pink neon, surrounded by thin frosted acrylic shelves which house tiny white beaver sculptures. Through the presentation of these small trinkets or impulse items such as one might find in a souvenir shop, this installation speaks of the destruction of wildlife as an afterthought, all in the name of commercial endeavours. Historically, Canada was founded on the very back of the beaver, which was hunted and trapped to near extinction for its fur. Life's simple pleasures come with simple solutions, but brutal consequences. Petition features a mahogany chair reminiscent of the hall chairs that were prevalent in the 1700's. The chair reflects the grandeur and richness of European reception rooms; and it used to project the status of the household. But the 1700's was also a time when the fur trade was at its height in North America. In the chair sits a sleeping beaver waiting patiently as if to converse with us. The beaver's ability to change its habitat to suit its own needs is second only to humans; and in doing so the beaver creates wetlands that are beneficial to other animals, and purifies waters. Ecologists suggest that when conflicts arise with the beaver, over things such as flooding, tree cutting, and nuisance, working with the beaver is most often the best solution. Here we have an opportunity to change our ways by reflecting on our own history and influence on the environment. Barkhouse's work demands that we think of the importance of animals, their perseverance and actual everyday presence in our lives, whether we live in urban or rural areas. Barkhouse is direct about her belief in conserving nature and saving the environment but she is also poetic, creative, and humorous about the potential for improvement and betterment of our future. It is through a continuous understanding of the ecosystems we occupy and share that our future will be assured. -- Frank Shebageget, Curator