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"Memory, History and Loss"

An exhibition of paintings by Noel Hodnett at the Teck Gallery, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC

October 20, 2007 - March 1, 2008

Opened by Dr. Michael Stevenson, President of Simon Fraser University

Click here to read opening speech by Dr. Stevenson

Curated by Bill Jefferies, Director, SFU Art Galleries

The following essay was written by Bill Jefferies:

"Every landscape bares some imprint of those who have passed through it or dwelled in it for longer.  The notion of ‘sense of place’, which is much used to describe both the memories we have of places, as well as the memories that the places have imprinted upon them, can be nostalgic or horrific depending on what ‘history’ one looks at.  Noel Hodnett works in both of these areas and this exhibition shows us two aspects of his practice: landscapes that have their own memories incorporated into them as a system of signs, and portraits in which the body represents the humanity of the persons pictured, and their surfaces as the site on which the state inflicts pain and suffering on the individual. In the landscape, the wounds perpetrated by history’s bulldozer will heal; on the body the result is usually the death of the individual. History is selectively kind to individuals, even though its treatment of the earth is nothing ‘to write home about.’"

"In Vancouver art it is not unusual for photographers to take the plight of the individual, either under the thumb of the state, or as a micro-unit within the ever-expanding maw of the state and everything that it allows, as their subject.  Images of individuals in a seemingly benign cityscape, as we’ve seen in Ian Wallace’s work, depict the built environment as an extension of capital and the state.  Jeff Wall and Roy Arden have also distinctively mined the fate of the individual in their work.  Noel Hodnett’s approaches are varied and not so easily categorized.  He shares with those photographers an engagement with the artist’s role as a social conscience to societies that seem to learn little from memory, history or loss.  He will sometimes show us the direct result of state-sponsored brutality (the Abu Ghraib prison portraits) and at others a much more allusive depiction that references the results and activities of authoritarian regimes (Kiva, Big Brother)."

"Big Brother is a mountain of sensors, but one has to wonder if the sensing devices are themselves mounted on a mound of slain humans who disagreed with the regime.  In Kiva we see a pit – it is perhaps the pit of history - and more importantly, false history.  Hodnett’s text records the whitewashing of the account of the history of the Mesa Verde National Park in the US, where certain authority figures within the Parks Service decided to purge all mention of violence among the original inhabitants of the area.  This whitewash(ed) history remains to this day." 

"If Hodnett’s paintings track the plight of the individual in repressive societies, the governmental alteration of historical narratives and the fate of specific persons unlucky enough to have been caught in wars, government repression, and factional revenge, he is also aware that the artist’s problem is not the same as the journalist’s.  His reports are not news reports, rather they are about paint speaking to us as a medium that can still capture inhumanity as well as humanity and perhaps have an impact of how we treat each other.   His paintings may not be what everyone wishes to have above their sofa, but his painting is as profoundly worked up, and as organically developed as that of any painter in this city."

Bill Jeffries - Director, SFU Galleries, Vancouver and Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.

Noel Hodnett donated this exhibition in its entirety to Simon Fraser University.

Click here for a review of this exhibition by Megan Lau.

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