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Patrick Bernatchez, 180°, from Lost in Time, 2011. 35mm colour film transferred to digital video, sound 9 min 55 sec. Courtesy of Artist. Illustrated: Patrick Bernatchez.
Gordon Monahan standing on piano, Gibbet’s Hill, St. John’s, NF, 1988. Photo by Thaddeus Holownia.
From the 1960s on, the piano has become a subject of great interest to artists, who have approached it in unconventional and often surprising ways. A part of the social unrest and political upheaval of the time, many questioned the models of culture that had come to be associated with the piano, with the canons of European classical music, the idea of expressive subjectivity and the role that the piano played for a middle class aspiring to high culture.
The works in this exhibition, The Piano, can be seen to continue the experimental and iconoclastic tendencies of the post war avant-garde, with projects that interrogate the piano and its cultural and social associations. Some of the artists seek to produce new and innovative sounds, increasing the piano’s sonic capacity in unusual ways, while others transform it into a mute sculptural object, thereby negating its function as an instrument of music and popular entertainment altogether. The image of a silenced or even destroyed piano, may speak to the recent history of the piano and its loss of status over the latter part of the 20th century. Once a fixture of many middle and upper class living rooms, today, the piano, as an instrument made of wood and iron, is in great decline. It has been displaced by successive technological innovations including the phonograph, radio, electric keyboard and most recently the computer synthesizer and iPad keyboard.
The Piano features work by 13 contemporary artists, which take the form of video projections, performances and sculptural installations, and examine the image of the pianist, from the virtuoso to the DIY amateur, and the role of the piano, from a hub of bar room entertainment to an instrument of reverie and personal salvation.
Artists include: Dean Baldwin, Patrick Bernatchez, Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, Carole Itter, Tim Lee, George Maciunas, Gordon Monahan, Katie Paterson, Rober Racine, Michael Snow, Charles Stankievech, Euan Macdonald.
The Piano is organized by the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Hart House and curated by Barbara Fischer and Catherine Crowston.