Thursday night’s $5,000 BMW Exhibition Prize for photography was awarded at Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art to the senior Newfoundland artist Marlene Creates, an event capping off the month-long Contact festival. It was a gratifying win. The award celebrates an exhibition of distinction in the Contact lineup, and Creates’s 30-year survey show at Paul Petro Contemporary might duly have been considered the sleeper, in more ways than one.
First, her work has a modesty and conceptual restraint – it doesn’t shout to be heard. Second, the show is organized around a signal body of her work from the eighties, titled Sleeping Places, in which Creates documented the places where she slept out of doors in various expeditions in the wild, both in Canada and abroad, her camera capturing the subtle impress of human weight on grasses, moss and heath.
The series, a classic in Canadian art, suggests our mammal kinship, underscoring the weighty, material facts of our being. As well, the series has a place in the story of international art, allied in vision to the performative art works of British artist Richard Long, as well as the landmark feminist photography of Cuban-born Ana Mendieta.
More recent works in Creates’s show explore indigenous experiences of place, aging, and the infusion of memory into landscape. Closing at the end of Saturday, the show gently invites us to think about how we belong to the land, and how we leave our touch upon it.