Complex exhibit depicts paradox

A teacher once told Rita McKeough not to expect fame or fortune if she was to pursue art past high school.

‘Just do it ‘cuz you love it,’ the teacher told the Grade 11 student.

It was sound advice. Over the years, McKeough evolved into an award-winning artist, exhibiting throughout Canada and parts of the U.S. In 2009, she received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.

McKeough is an inter-disciplinary artist, and a musician, having drummed with several bands since the late-70s. She is the artist-in-residence for the Comox Valley Art Gallery’s 2017 summer programming. Her exhibition, Veins, opens Thursday, July 13 at 7 p.m.

Veins is a complex installation depicting lands with pipelines that run like veins throughout the landscape, which contains human and non-human life — a paradox between the natural and human worlds.

“Everybody is torn between it being a positive thing and a negative thing,” said McKeough, a Calgary resident. “I like that idea of going from here to there, and it’s desire to move forward through the landscape to get places.”

The exhibit shows a train pulling an oil tanker along a road. At the sides are oil pumpers, black sandbags, giant leaves and snakes. On the walls are projections of a leaf with owl eyes, an elk with its tongue sticking out, and other “pissed off” hybrid plant/animal creations.

The giant, undulating snakes are “the pipeline in my mind,” McKeough said. “They’re snaking across the landscape, and they’re very unnerving. And I have the train undulating in a similar way. Everything is linear.”

There is a musical element to the exhibit. A motorized stick beats a drum, creating a rhythmic, almost chanting, soundtrack where McKeough says, ‘Slow, slow, leaking.’

“There’s thousands of holes in the ground. If you think of how porous the earth is, and if there is a leak, all of those holes are just receiving that oil.”

Visitors will walk down the road, from where they can see the pipeline on the landscape. They are asked to remove shoes before stepping into the exhibit.

“It’s a different kind of respect,” McKeough said.

She has also developed two new installations. Listen will be installed in the window at CVAG to support and extend Veins, while Cul-de-sac will be displayed in the George Sawchuk Room. The latter shows a clearcut and houses under construction.

“I learned as a young artist that if things concern you, your voice is important. Everybody’s voice is important. You can’t sit back and be apathetic,” McKeough said. “My way to express myself is not to convince people about my way of thinking, it’s about sharing a moment of thinking about these things. It’s more about experiencing this from a different perspective.”

McKeough will be giving an artist’s talk at the July 13 opening of Veins.

The North Island College fine arts department and the McLoughlin Gardens Society is supporting CVAG’s summer creative residency intensive program.

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