03.08.17 – Artifacts of Eternity: Rebuilding Oblivion

“Artifacts of Eternity” was a sequence of 16 mystic paintings created in Guanajuato, Mexico in the Spring of 2017 while I was pursuing a studio residency in the city.

compilation

The series grew out of my own extended philosophical struggles with the concept of Death and Eternity and were given a physical context through some intensive ethnographic explorations of selected Christian cathedrals located in Guanajuato.

My own philosophical struggles with the concept of Death and Eternity have long consumed me. Whereas I now understand the former as the annihilation of consciousness, I want to believe that the latter is the ultimate extension of consciousness. Eternity is the ultimate mystic promise of the extension of one’s identity. I am interested in ideologies which are designed to offer this reward to its participants. Whether Eternity signifies endless time, or merely the absence of time is not important. It implies that the consciousness of the person has extension, is alive, and continues to exist. I have long sought to find a visual language capable of expressing these thoughts and feelings. The work in this series is but a small step towards that desire.

While researching the content for this series, thoughts of this sort found a physical dimension in the ethnographic explorations of selected Christian cathedrals circling the central part of the city of Guanajuato.

cathedrals

I found I could enter these cathedrals and experience the pure energy of believers, those whose faith in this promise of destined salvation is immutable. On weekly journeys, I would walk around these great engines of faith and seek for evidence of eternity, artifacts of the annihilation of oblivion, objects that promoted a sense of the conquest of mortality. When I discovered objects whose appearance hinted at these things, I would study and memorize them, their presence making appearances as mementos of symbolism in the surfaces comprising the work in this series.

artifacts

This series has focused on religious psychology and the the use of voluntary ideological practice as expressed through historical Christianity. It takes as its aesthetic foundation, medieval and Baroque expressions of Christianity and uses the art, architecture, writings, and practice of these periods as sources of inspiration and artistic expression. The narratives related in the theatrical sets of this visual series are not orthodox in their presentation. I myself am not a religious person nor do I practice a structured religion. I was raised a Lutheran, but became an apostate in my early teens. I engage in this theme not as a believer, but as an aficionado of religious belief and faith. Even though I no longer believe or possess faith, there is a large part of me that admires and envies those who do. It is through respect of the ideological structures which form the envelope of this belief system, that I explore them in creative detail. The artworks I invent are restatements of the old stories, and more importantly, they are meditations upon which anyone who thinks deeply about existence should find, if not answers, at least new directions for reflection. As an example of that metaphoric meditation, we can briefly analyze two of the images in the series.

examples

The first image above is called, “Redemption,” and was a study in simplicity of form and composition representing potential complexity in thought. The general presentation focused on a central word concept. The word we translate in English as “sin” from the original New Testament, is the Greek word, “Hamartia.” This was an ancient archery term which meant the slight missing of the center of the target. The work also used the lamb as symbolic representation of enlightenment. As we gaze in the opposite direction of our purpose, we may sometimes feel the exit of mortality that opens between our conscious awakening and that broken point of immediacy that represents our distance from eternity.

The second image, called “Penance,” also used the same lamb figure as a symbolic icon but placed it within the furniture of the traditional church confessional. In this piece we are invited to visually experience the invented mechanisms of confession that are offered within a system of ordained salvation, and watch on as this penitent discovers in the immediate moment of reality, a reconciliation with the change of consciousness required for entry into the Eternal.

When people look at this series, I want them to feel their own mortality whispering over their shoulder. I want them to question the narratives they have adopted for their own endings.

others

I want them to question the stories they have built that provide meaning for their own existence.

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02.23.17 – Guanajuato Studio Residency

Whenever I want the ability to focus entirely on studio activity, I move to Mexico and engage in a customized Studio Residency. Within this Residency, I work on creative problems and challenges that arise in my regular studio life. Being far away in a new culture helps me escape the work life and administrative routines that occupy me in my home city of Victoria, BC, Canada. In a distant culture, I’m able to situate my studio and practice so as to more fully engage in solitary, focused creative production, away from the distractions of regular life.

For the Spring of 2017, I chose to live and work in Guanajuato City, Mexico as my creative research Residency. This is a very unique historical city with ancient narrow streets, and buildings situated on hills accessible only by very steep narrow stairways.

city

My wife and I have leased a casa situated on the hill overlooking the city. I’ve set up my digital studio in the largest room and work here about 6-8 hours a day on creative visual issues, projects, and images based on the research themes I’ve set for myself.

studio

In order to best take advantage of the time I spend here, I’ve set up a basic schedule for myself. Each month, I try to create 12 paintings and also participate in 2 international juried exhibitions. My goal for the entire Residency is to create at least 36 new artworks and participate in at least a dozen international juried exhibitions. So far, I’ve been able to maintain this schedule. Although this basic work takes up a large part of my studio activity, the bigger research journey down here is to solve major aesthetic issues dealing with my personal visual style and learn better how to create images that have significant philosophical impact. Daily studio activity on focused themes in my artwork helps me to work through the philosophical issues that my practice involves.

My journey to Guanajuato has a research purpose. The city itself contains a number of historical cathedrals which I intend on using as sources for my current studio theme. This theme focuses on the psychology of religion, the use of voluntary ideology through religious practice as expressed through historical Christianity and especially through its medieval and Baroque expressions. I am not a religious person and practice no structured religion. But I am intrigued with the visual aspects of historical Christianity. The city of Guanajuato is a perfect center for this thematic interest. The city itself has four large historical cathedrals which offer me the possibility of ethnographic research inside these great engines of religious spirituality.

cathedrals

I try to do ethnographic study inside these cathedrals for a few hours each day. I enter them, investigate their great interiors and try to find what I call, “artifacts of eternity.” I take photographs and do drawings of particular visual structures that interest me. I take these back to my studio and reflect on these as sources for my images. As I work to develop new techniques, methodologies, and visual practises, I’ll try to document and articulate in more detail how this visual study affects the studio issues dealing with the creation of images that have significant philosophical impact.

Based on this cathedral ethnography, I have started a series which I call, “Eternity.” The visual themes that have started to emerge from this ethnographic study are strangely complex, but have given birth to some oddly enigmatic artwork.

eternity02

These artworks have arisen out of my ethnographic study inside the cathedrals and deal with the psychology and practice of religion in complex and philosophical ways. It will take me some time to understand this entire phenomenon and to document it in an article which helps explain it in an articulate way.

Guanajuato has proven to be a most interesting place for an art research Residency and has resulted in the production of work from my studio which I think has some degree of significance. I will continue to use the resources of Guanajuato as well as its position of exile from my home country as a place for further studio exploration.

02.17.17 – Don Bergland – The Artist

PHILOSOPHY

My art is an alchemical adventure into the mysteries of my own philosophy, beliefs, and values. For me, studio practice is an intellectual activity, both on my part as the creator, and on the part of the viewer as translator of the experience. As a result, I try to place mental inquiry at the heart of each image I create. Each work is to be studied, pondered, and deciphered by the viewer. I consciously place symbolic interactions and connections within the objects populating my theatrical sets, and encourage viewers to build their own narrative interpretations of these connections.

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I construct my artwork like theatrical presentations. The actors in each visual set interact with and perform for the viewer. Through the stylistic use of realism, exaggeration, subdued colors, and strong lighting and shadow, I attempt to arrange the actors in a way that connects a pivotal object or theme with object association, symbolism, and metaphor, drawing background technique from Baroque and Victorian art. For me, the enclosed space of the visual image is a dramatic cerebral theater populated by realistic sets, objects, and figures which when combined with intention, offer challenging mental enigmas.

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Walking a thin tightrope between the obvious and the absurd, I construct sets which host small dynamic dramas based on the mind’s ability to build meaningful narratives from enigmatic sources. The resulting images are to be seen for what they are, and then for what they may not be. Although I arrange my objects in specific ways to express my own ideas, I am fully aware that the way the imagery is designed will lead to a multitude of different interpretations. For the careful observer, directional maps are suggested in each image. These maps are woven into the location, pictorial relationship, and surface appearance of the actors in each composition. I intend that the viewer will engage with the work, note surfaces, relationships, symbols, and metaphors, and will then construct personal meaning from the engagement. Like all studio-based languages of imaginative possibility, I have merely begun the journey of building and refining my own visual syntax and grammar of cerebral imagination. Each of my works is a record of that journey.

CAREER & ACCOMPLISHMENTS

I am currently an Associate Professor of Art Education at the University of Victoria and have been an active exhibiting artist for over 50 years. During that time, I have worked through a variety of professional media, from oil on canvas to my current studio use of digital tools and techniques. I maintain an active international exhibiting career and have featured my artwork in over 160 major exhibitions throughout the world.

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I have won over 70 creative & professional awards for my work which is represented in major corporate and private collections such as the Gulf Oil Corporate Collection (Alberta), the Madrona Centre Permanent Collection (B.C.), the Canadian Utilities Corporate Collection (Alberta), the Timothy Eaton Foundation Collection (Canada), the Chevron Standard Corporate Collection (Alberta), as well as in private collections in Canada, the United States, and Europe. I have published 8 books dealing with art and creative activity, as well as published dozens of articles in scholarly and academic journals. My current studio focus is in using 3D modeling environments to create surrealistic imagery for international exhibitions. I currently live and teach in Victoria, BC, Canada.

Further explorations of professional activity can be found at my website (see link below):

Don Bergland Portfolio

Or as documented daily studio activity on my Facebook Page (see link below):

Don Bergland Facebook Project

STATEMENT

I describe my current work as a version of Neosurrealism with the objective of eliciting questioning attitudes in the mind of viewers. I create my work using both traditional and digital tools, focusing on an integration of 3D modeling software and various graphic processing programs. Each of my artworks features a theatrical set defined by a stage with actors, props, and a backdrop. The actors in the set consist of everyday objects brought into combinations and interactions that attempt to elicit inquiry. The content of the artwork focuses on themes such as time, aging, nostalgia, the footless pursuit of Utopia, and the conditions of ideology which disable our rational minds.

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Each image is constructed using conventions of visual realism, but with alterations that offer dreamlike possibilities. Themes and objects appear and re-appear from image to image. Each artwork becomes a framed snapshot of a moment in theatrical space, noticed briefly, and then forgotten once more, a fraction of time when reality is breached and a frozen glimpse into the mental theater of Eternity is experienced, an opening when the viewer can catch the faint hint of cotton candy breezing in from the sideshow midway, the pastel moment of a lost memory, a slight reminder that the past is never absent, and that the future is always in front of us.