Carleton University Art Gallery CUAG

Justin Wonnacott: I Remember and I Forget

Curated by Sandra Dyck

06 September – 07 November 2010

Justin Wonnacott’s new series of photographs, I Remember and I Forget, depict fish caught and farmed around the world, but purchased at his neighbourhood grocery store. Wonnacott shoots his portraits at close range and in the studio, taking great care with staging, lighting and props. The simplest images isolate a fish or two against a monochrome background. Other fish are set upon a decorative plate or arranged with objects – lemon, salt cellar, knife, drinking glass, cutting board – in genre pictures that draw on traditions of Dutch still-life painting of the 17th century. Wonnacott’s luminous photographs focus our attention on creatures by turns beautiful, exotic, sensual, wondrous, and alien. As Jonathan Swift famously quipped, “It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.”

I Remember and I Forget raises complex questions about the food we eat. In an era where everything is processed and packaged for our convenience, Wonnacott’s photographs remind us where our food comes from, and what fish actually look like. They speak to our decadent consumerism - we expect a year-round selection of fish at local stores - while considering its impact: today it’s easier to buy salmon farmed in China than a cod caught in Atlantic Canada. They are also deeply personal: the artist eats most everything he photographs and cops to guilt over being an “inlander” who relishes a fish-heavy diet. Wonnacott’s photographs of fish have a subtly elegiac quality, but they’re far from sentimental: all the fish have died for our pleasure, whether visual or gustatory.

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