2012 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts. National Gallery of Canada exhibition celebrates recipients

Ottawa - March 28, 2012

Through their innovative, daring work, the recipients of the 2012 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts, have each made their mark on the Contemporary visual arts scene. Recently, their rich and influential careers were honoured with this prestigious award and from 30 March to 17 June 2012, these great Canadian artistic talents will have some of their most important works shown at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC), in the Contemporary Galleries (B108).

Significant pieces by performance artist Margaret Dragu, photographer Geoffrey James, visual artist Ron Martin, visual artist – media and installation Jan Peacock, sculptor Royden Rabinowitch, visual artist Jana Sterbak, and artist-goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain, recipient of the Saidye Bronfman Award, will be showcased in the exhibition, as will the outstanding contribution of Diana Nemiroff, director of the Carleton University Art Gallery.

“We are proud to pay tribute to the exceptional careers of these outstanding artists by showing their work in the context of this celebration,” said NGC director Marc Mayer. “The National Gallery salutes each one of them for their remarkable contribution to the advancement of Canadian art, both at home and abroad.”

The Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts 2012 exhibition, organized along with the Canada Council for the Arts and His Excellency David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, is comprised primarily of works from the NGC Collection. It's a wonderful opportunity for the public to witness the vitality of Canadian culture. 

The Awards, funded and administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, were awarded for the 13th year last February 28 during a press conference held in Toronto. They recognize distinguished career achievements in the visual and media arts by Canadian artists, as well as outstanding contributions through voluntarism, philanthropy, board governance, community outreach or professional activities.

Exhibition Highlights

Collaboration is the basis of multi-disciplinary performance artist Margaret Dragu’s practice. After studying dance in New York City in the early 1970s, she returned to Canada and worked with such artists as Tom Dean, Elizabeth Chitty and Kate Craig. Using burlesque and cabaret dance styles, she sought new ways of incorpor-ating the politics of spirituality and sexuality into her performance by producing interactive pieces for non-dancers intended to es¬tablish vernacular expressions of movement within the domain of high art. She has since continued develop her distinct relational and community-based practice. Dragu strives to produce work that undermines isolation, blurs the boundaries of art and life and creates extraordinary experiences from the seemingly mundane, most recently through her per¬sonas Lady Justice, a politically active rapper and frequent inter¬net blogger, and Verb Woman, a lis¬tener, healer and collector of actions that are at risk of being forgotten.

Geoffrey James investigates Western society through his photographs. His ability to locate human aspirations within constructed environments, coupled with his keen sense of pictorial structure, has allowed him to discover poetry and irony in both planned and landscaped gardens from the past, as well as in the visual complexities of our contemporary urban environments. His series Running Fence (1997) documents the results of Operation Gatekeeper, an initiative under Bill Clinton’s government to erect a twenty-three-kilometre wall of corrugated metal between Mexico and California to fortify a frequent point of entry for illegal immigrants. Working with a large-format camera, the tool of historical record for mapping frontiers, James chose viewpoints on both sides of the border to contrast the desolate security zone of the US side with the haphazard development of Tijuana and its environs.

Ron Martin began his painting career amidst the boisterous art scene of the sixties in London, Ontario and has become known for his systematic and conceptually driven abstractions that exploit the materiality of his medium. Contrary to prevalent modes of modernist abstraction, Martin’s work emphasizes the relationship between each work and the viewer – rather than the artist and the canvas – and the resulting tactile experience. Despite aesthetic variances within his work, all of his paintings retain a tangible physicality and sensuous quality. Lovedeath–Deathlove No. 15 (1975) and Untitled No. 39, January 1 to January 3 (1981) are volcanic, hand-worked surfaces, which serve as antitheses in his exploration of the perceptual and visceral properties of black paint, while Untitled (1973) challenges the possibility of the purest white.

Video artist, writer, curator and teacher Jan Peacock has been redefining new media since the 1970s. Her single channel videos and multi-channel installations propose complex, often poetic investigations of the politics and structure of language. Collecting notes or sketches with her camera, she mixes personal footage with stock images or those pulled from the mass media – often layering them with grating soundtracks and hypnotic voiceovers – to activate the allusive threads of temporal and subjective experience. Juxtaposing landscape and language, Reader by the Window (1993) reflects the complex ways we construct memory and identity in relation to place. Here, the viewer is invited to “read” the fractured travel-log she has created. The sound component collapses the possibility of a narrative or sequential logic while the images of vistas that are simultaneously no place and any place evoke the viewer’s own memories.

Royden Rabinowitch approaches minimalism with a conviction that our experience of reality – defined by the rationality of science and the sensuality of physical knowledge – can be expressed in sculptural form. Taking cues from both the natural world and the study of music, he choreographs the viewer’s movement around his pieces, thus encouraging active participation with the work. His series After Kharakorum (1972) synthesizes several of his past sculptural explorations of height, width, and volume, which speak to the human body’s orientation in space. The sculpture on view references the ancient city established by Genghis Khan within the vast and rugged geology of the Himalayas in the thirteenth century. With its multiple layered surfaces, it conjures the idea of the area’s colliding tectonic plates and inspires a sense of great distance, as though viewed from atop a mountain.

Jana Sterbak’s practice focuses on the human body and addresses themes of power, control, desire and sexuality. Her vast body of work – from performance and sculpture to photography, video and installations – oscillates be¬tween seduction and aggression, and interrogates the physical and emotional fragility of the human state. Taking her cues from the physicality of her materials, she is famous for using meat, metal, ice, glass, fire and chocolate to challenge traditional female iconography. Seduction Couch (1986–87) suggests the presence of a female body that channels her alluring sexual energy through intimidating electrical currents, while The Real Princess (2012), based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm, further invokes notions of disturbance as it unravels the legend of the young woman whose social worth was determined by her physical sensitivity.

Jeweller Charles Lewton-Brain pushes the sculptural, material and conceptual boundaries of wearable art. His geometric constructions range from oversized, architectonic structures that attach to or envelop the body, to delicately welded and beaded accessories. Lewton-Brain views his works as drawings in space that express the social, cultural and political systems we impose on ourselves. Works in his Cage series (1997–present) create a tension between structured order and organic form, and as of late, have been inspired by the artist’s travels through Thailand. An avid educator and prolific writer and publisher, Lewton-Brain also advocates for the rights of jewellers and craftspeople. A pioneer in his field, he invented a distinct metalworking method known as fold-forming, the first new metal-smithing technique in more than 100 years, now widely used by sculptors and jewellers around the world.

A former senior curator at the National Gallery of Canada, and the current Director of the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG), Diana Nemiroff is widely acknowl¬edged for her contribution to the world of Canadian contemporary art. Her distinguished career is marked by her advocacy for the inclusion of women and Aboriginal artists, and by her ambitious national and international exhib-itions of contemporary art. She has also served numerous arts organi¬zations, and is currently president of the University and College Art Galleries Association of Canada, and a vice-president of the Cana¬dian Museums Association. Since her appointment to CUAG in 2005, Nemiroff has been a mentor to young curators and students inter¬ested in a museum career, and has expanded the program to include such nationally recognized artists as Edward Burtynsky, Jocelyne Alloucherie, Diana Thorneycroft, and Damian Moppett.

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art. The Gallery also maintains Canada's premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. To do so, it maintains the largest touring art exhibition programme in the world. For more information, visit gallery.ca.

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For more information on the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, please contact:

Josée-Britanie Mallet
Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
National Gallery of Canada

Canada Council for the Arts Media Kits
An electronic press kit complete with video interviews, nomination statements and event listings as well as images of the artists and their works is available on the Canada Council for the Arts’ website at: http://ggavma.canadacouncil.ca/

To arrange interviews with the GGAVMA winners, please contact:
Diane Chaperon-Lor, Canada Council National Publicist
416-653-0849/Cell.: 416-788-8271