I search aimlessly around Concordia’s FOFA (Faculty of Fine Arts) gallery; “if he’s not in the vitrine, I don’t know where he is,” the receptionist tells me. The vitrine? Was he the man covered in paint, trapped inside a narrow glass hallway? Yes, I discovered.
Jim Holyoak, a Concordia Fine Arts Masters student, is working on his thesis project. The show is entitled “Holocene” and his artist’s statement defines the term as “of, relating to, or denoting the present epoch. The Holocene is now. It quite literally means ‘completely recent.’ It began 12,000 years ago, and in geologic time it is scarcely worth mentioning – a blink.” It is, most importantly, an era that is characterized by “the impact of humans on the rest of the biosphere.”
For Holyoak and his artwork, the politics of the environment and mass extinction are vital aspects of human impact. “The thematics in this show are kind of heavy…Thinking about contemporary extinction is important to me.” Holyoak is using drawing as a medium to begin or continue a conversation about such ideas with the public. The scale of the work is huge, in keeping with the size of his ideas. He has covered a 115-foot long, 11-foot tall wall with paper and plans to draw over all of it. There are also five pillars dividing the canvas – he will seek to both get around them and use their protruding shape to add to the drawing’s individuality. The work is thus overtly site-specific, which is apt considering Holyoak’s aim to understand the development of life in certain environmental conditions.
With such a large task ahead, he plans to basically live inside the vitrine for a month. Since January 13, until February 11, he will be enclosed within it for at least nine hours a day. Usually more, he hopes. Holyoak’s artist statement explains his intention: “Thinking of myself as an amateur paleoecologist, and of the FOFA vitrine as a large terrarium, I will volunteer myself as a semi-captive specimen, and grow a paper forest. This indoor forest will be not only a timescape, but also a mindscape – a realm of fact and fantasy, inhabited by monsters and other animals, extinct and endangered, throughout the span of life on Earth.”
Holyoak’s concern is not only for the extinct creatures, but also for “everyone who will have to deal with the consequences of what happens now.” Whilst his statements express such political motivations, the exhibition itself is still welcoming and approachable. It is an act of discovery to walk up and down the drawing, searching for animal life, seeking connections, following what Holyoak is working on and trying to trace his thought process. As Holyoak said, “I’m not trying to be didactic. But I’m not shying away from the political aspect. I’m dead serious about it.”
It will be interesting to see, as the drawing grows, how Holyoak can convey the seriousness of his politics; there is a danger that the show lacks a tragic message required to provoke serious reflection or even action. To accommodate for the need to engage the audience, Holyoak has devised a unique postcard submission process: “What I’m hoping for most are postcards that depict real or make-believe places, or pictures of endangered, extinct, or imaginary beings. They could be descriptions of, or reflections on, your experience of wherever or however you are, or your perception of the state of the Earth. Subject matter could also be memories, daydreams, fantasies, or ideas.”
He has received a few already, which are also there for the viewer to look at and relate to the drawing; they are stuck onto the glass case of the vitrine. He is even open to receiving criticism: anything which can help him learn and can potentially change his ideas about the drawing. There is no strict plan; it is really a work in progress right up until the finissage (February 11). We, as the viewing, participating public, have the opportunity to alter the drawing and thus alter the construction of environmental history. As a result, Holyoak hopes, we may also have a chance to think about altering the environmental future.