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Artist explores the many faces of darkness in latest art installation

“The piece is very much about caring for the land and having empathy for the plants and animals that are affected by developments and extraction."
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Rita McKeough, dig as deep as the darkness (2019) – video still. RITA MCKEOUGH PHOTO

BANFF – An immersive art installation coming to the Walter Phillips Gallery hopes to inspire audiences to unpack their place on Earth and think about how their actions affect the unseen world.

Artist Rita McKeogh describes her exhibit darkness is as deep as the darkness is as an immersive and interactive art installation that imagines what takes place just below the ground’s surface. She hopes visitors come to the show with an open mind ready to have a dialogue with the emotions they feel while exploring her work.

“The piece is very much about caring for the land and having empathy for the plants and animals that are affected by developments and extraction,” McKeough said.

“Their [guests] hearts will be full of concern and empathy and connection to the plants and animals and just thinking about what we’re all doing – I’m implicated as well in all this.”

The art installation combines video, audio, electronics, performance and sculptures to create an immersive journey for guests, McKeough said, allowing visitors to critically examine a possible future world she has envisioned.

She said exploring the concept of darkness is a deep and multi-faceted subject because in her piece darkness serves as the Earth itself shrouded in an overwhelming immensity and mystery while brimming with life and history.

“It’s this incredible place where everything comes together,” McKeough said. “It’s dense and it’s wet and it’s layered, its history is immense. There’s something so beautiful about it.”

At the same time, the darkness is home to resources like coal, oil and gold that humans desperately seek – often taking more than the Earth is able to supply, leading to darkness serving as a metaphor for greed.

“It’s the things we desire, but it’s also the darkness of wanting too much … it’s the darkness of trying to extract everything that isn’t us. We want it all, we all have that desire.”

A gallery is an incredible place for social dialogue, McKeough added, explaining that she hopes her show will serve as an opportunity to bring people together in conversation.

“That dialogue can create such a change,” she said. “For me, whenever I go into an art installation and I come out of the gallery, I always find that I’m different, that I felt something. When I come out, the world is not the same and I think that is what really interests me bringing all those things together.”

McKeough said she was inspired to create an immersive environment as an art installation because she wanted to create a space where guests could “live within a narrative and imagine a situation or future that is a result of what is going on now and react and do something in response to it.

“I want to create an imagined place – I imagine a place that is either positive or negative in the future and the piece allows you to go there and inhabit it. You can feel it and think about it by being in it as a proposition.”

Providing brief moments of light in the darkness, McKeough said she tries to inject humour into the installation as a way to inspire hope, connect with people and form communities that can search for solutions.

"I think that it’s an opportunity to jump out of living the everyday experience," she said. "It’s something very, very different and I've shared a lived image in my mind of what this environment would be and I’m sharing it.”

The art installation holds special meaning for McKeough, as many of the set pieces and ideas were created while participating in the Banff Centre Artist in Residency program.

“It’s been such an important part of my practice,” McKeough said. “This piece [darkness is as deep as the darkness is] started by being here [The Banff Centre].”

Key structures in the installation were created while McKeough was in residency, she said, and she was able to collaborate with a fellow artist to create the precise electronics she needed for her installation.

Jacqueline Bell, curator of the Walter Phillips Gallery, said she appreciates the “richness” of McKeough's work that combines layers of sounds, videos and performances to create an engaging art installation.

“It speaks to the depth of what there is to experience in that space,” Bell said. “It’s really such a gift to be able to work with Rita [McKeough].”

Bell added the exhibit also serves as an important opportunity to highlight McKeough's legacy of working with the Banff Centre for more than four decades.

The artist had her first show at the centre in 1983. McKeough said darkness is as deep as the darkness is marks her first solo show at the Walter Phillips Gallery.

Bell said she is excited for visitors to interact with McKeough’s large-scale art installation and gain a deeper understanding of her collection of work from the past four decades.

“It’s [darkness is a deep as the darkness is] a really unique kind of way of approaching not only a new body of work, but also to open up access to a larger history of making and production,” Bell said. “I’m really excited about that element.”

The Walter Phillips Gallery will be hosting an opening reception for darkness is as deep as the darkness is on Jan. 31 from 5-8 p.m.

The exhibit will be available for viewing from Feb. 1 to May 31. Exhibition tours discussing the show with McKeough take place on Feb. 5 and March. 25 and will be part of Art Break on March 3.



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Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019 as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes provincial politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories. She also contributes photo stand-ups, multi-pics and essays.
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