For his Canadian Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, Geoffrey Farmer will once again return to his interest in the relationship between people and their pictures. In an installation titled A way out of the mirror, he will draw inspiration from a 1955 group of photographs showing a lumber truck that collided with a moving train.
Farmer has a personal connection to the photographs: his grandfather, who would himself later die in an accident, was present when they were taken. The Vancouver-based artist never knew that, however, until his sister emailed him the images last year.
The installation takes its name from an Allen Ginsberg poem—Farmer recalls holding a copy of Howl, Ginsberg’s 1955 epic poem, when he opened his sister’s email. Farmer also remembers listening to Ginsberg sing when, as a student at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1991, he first learned about the Venice Biennale.
“In his Venice project, Geoffrey once again finds a world enclosed inside an image and an image giving rise to a world,” Kitty Scott, a curator of modern and contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the organizer of the pavilion, said in a statement. (Scott worked with Josée Drouin-Brisebois, a curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery of Canada and the pavilion’s project director.) “Personal memory and familial history flow into a broader stream of reflections on inheritance, trauma, and desire. The pavilion itself, colliding with the artwork, is transformed, opening to the outside as its architecture is reimagined in the guise of a fountain.”
Farmer’s past work has involved creating dense histories of the world using images. For Documenta 13 in 2012, he showed Leaves of Grass, a work that offered an exhaustive picture of nearly the whole 20th century in the form of clippings from Life magazine. His work was recently surveyed at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.