Since the 1960s, Montreal-based artist Bill Vazan has been making large-scale interventions in the landscape. Originally a painter, Vazan began working in 1963, in his own words, “on the surface of the earth,” with his piece Rock Alignments and Pilings in Saint-Jean-de-Matha, Quebec. His most well-known early work was actually made in Prince Edward Island. Low Tide Sand Forms #5 and #3, 1967-69, shown here, was made quickly, documented, and then washed away. Much of Vazan’s work addresses the fragility and ephemerality of human presence in the landscape, and at times mimics in its forms the often indecipherable traces left on the land by ancient cultures. Outlikan Meskina (Map for Caribou Hunt), 1979-80, a vast arrangement of stones in Parc urbain de Chicoutimi, recreates the shape of a caribou shoulder plate bone. A sign only legible when viewed from great height, it recalls the Nazca Lines in Peru, or the Uffington White Horse from ancient England, giant land drawings that address a mysterious, possibly divine or futuristic audience.
Cross-Canada Line, 1969-70, further explores this tension between an immediate and ultimately ephemeral and variable experience of the visible world, and our longstanding belief in the fixity of signs. To create the work, the artist symbolically “drew” a segmented line between Canada’s coasts, each point on the temporary line marked in black tape on the floor of one of eight public art galleries, including the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, each location standing both for a geographic point and a repository of culture. The result is a work that overlays different temporalities on the landscape. These range from the act of marking, to the capturing of a moment in a durable but ultimately mortal photograph, from the treatment of land as information in a map, to the “acquisition” of an immaterial sign by a public collection. This exhibition presents a selection of the the artist’s work acquired by the gallery since that time, demonstrating the richness and breadth of this singular artist’s practice.
-Pan Wendt, Curator