Carleton University Art Gallery CUAG

“Awkward and Atrocious”: Photographs by Diana Thorneycroft

Curated by Diana Nemiroff

09 May – 22 August 2010

In the two series of photographs featured in this exhibition – Group of Seven Awkward Moments and A People’s History – Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft takes on the mythologized view of Canada as a vast nation of unspoiled natural splendor, a country that views itself, and is viewed by others, as inherently good and reasonable. By focusing on real and imagined episodes in Canada’s history that fail to fit the stereotype, the awkward or atrocious moments that individual and collective memory represses, she challenges these myths of Canadian identity.

Thorneycroft’s Group of Seven Awkward Moments offers an irreverent update of the Group’s vision of our country. Using as backdrops paintings by members of the Group or their associates Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, she constructs dioramas composed of dolls and dime-store accessories to explore the relationship between the landscape and national identity. Each of her photographed dioramas tells a story that has gone hilariously, sometimes ominously, awry. Underneath the humour, Thorneycroft delivers an awkward truth: the hedonistic consumerism that governs our everyday lives has estranged us from the natural world and the landscape that once symbolized what it meant to be Canadian.

While she was mining Canadian history for awkward incidents, Thorneycroft’s research turned up events that were far from funny. Her new series, A People’s History, depicts atrocities that are sadly and shamefully familiar: the forced acculturation of Aboriginal children in residential schools, the sexual abuse of children at Mount Cashel and elsewhere, and the dozens of women who disappeared and were murdered at Robert William Picton’s pig farm. Crimes like these challenge the image of Canada as a just society, and our instinct is to see them as moments of error that can be erased. By using childhood toys to provide a glimpse into the world of abuse, Thorneycroft blurs the boundaries between victim and perpetrator, allowing us for a moment to experience the evil humanity is capable of when the ‘good’ avert their eyes.

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