Self-proclaimed as a Mad Artist, Rick Miller explores personal history and ancestry through documentary photography and video in his current show “Ancestral Mindscapes,” in collaboration with Jules Koostachin and Geneviève Thibault, at the downtown Toronto art gallery Tangled Art + Disability.
To begin the exhibition, gallery visitors are invited to touch sand from Penouille Beach in a wooden box made by Miller’s cousin; and to feel the physical matter that is represented in the photographs: nature and family structures. While all three artists take turns taking photographs and documenting the journey, Miller is the main protagonist in this rediscovery of his childhood and homeland. We see him literally lean into his past. There is a suite of framed photographs hung low* in the gallery that show quiet and contemplated moments where cool white grays, greens, and saturated dark tones dominate the landscapes.
The images that captured my attention most included: “Childhood revisited 2 (pareidolia) / Murdochville, Québec” Miller in repose, laying in the grass outside of his family home; “Childhood revisited 5 (suicidal ideation) / Sunny Bank, Gaspé, Québec” where only Miller’s lower legs show at the top of the stairway capture from an uncanny angle; and “Childhood revisited 4 (teenage depression) / Gaspé, Québec” where Miller is leaning with his forehead against a row of school lockers. While being snapshots of unsettling and painful memories, they are also images that document controlled re-enactments. This directorial approach creates a major shift from past to present intentions. The artworks become way less threatening than the acts and emotions they recall. The depictions become doubly loaded as they move towards a self-reflective reckoning and acknowledgement of past experience that includes trauma such as isolation, depression, and suicidal ideation.
Another suite of images that complement the majority of the show’s framed singular moments, are a series of 6 beautiful panoramic photographs of expansive Gaspé landscape. These images present us with a way to feel enveloped by the nurturing and meaningful grand landscapes that represent the setting that Miller, Koostachin, and Thibault are diligently documenting. By tracing his roots, through 300 years of ancestry that includes Quakers, English Loyalists, and some indigenous Mi’kmaq heritage, Miller is able to ground his spirit and soul in the knowledge of who he is and where he comes from. A palpable feeling of the personal and creative liberation derived from the acknowledgement and acceptance of madness is the backbone of the entire exhibition.
“Ancestral Mindscape” is on view September 13 – October 25, 2019 Tangled Art + Disability gallery located at Suite 122, 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto, Ontario tangledarts.org
The centrally displayed 18 minute video “Ancestral Mindscapes” documenting the process and insights gained from this project, was also being presented in the Rendezvous with Madness Film Screening at the AGO’s Jackman Hall.
*Tangled Art + Disability is an art gallery that makes their exhibitions more accessible by hanging the works at levels viewable from a wheelchair and having ASL video interpretation of the exhibition text, and maintaining their website in a way that is customizable to various vision needs.
Featured image: “Miller kitchen (September 2014) / Sunny Bank, Gaspé, Québec” 2018 Giclée print 13 x 19″ by Geneviève Thibault
Written by Katerina Lanfranco