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Can a machine come alive?

December 12th, 2016

The AGO’s curator of Canadian art confronts the real-life inspiration for recent AGO acquisition Canadrill (at -25 degrees Celsius)

One of the AGO’s most exciting acquisitions this year was a large scale drawing by contemporary Inuit artist Tim Pitsiulak (born March 10, 1967, Kimmirut, Baffin Island), called Canadrill. It depicts – what else – the Canadrill, a huge machine used to dig secure foundations into Arctic rock. During the winter of 2015, Pitsiulak had observed the machine moving about the settlement of Cape Dorset, sometimes noisily active, sometimes at rest. The artist came to think of the machine as a living being that had come to inhabit the town, actively working to transform the settlement, and decided to capture it in ink and coloured pencil.

Tim Pitsiulak, Canadrill (2015).  Ink and coloured pencil on paper. 124.5 x 274.3 cm. Courtesy of the artist, 2016 © Tim Pitsiulak

During a recent trip to the Canadian Arctic, our curator of Canadian Art, Andrew Hunter, had the opportunity to come face-to-face with the real-life Canadrill. The video below was shot by Andrew on his iPhone, at night, in minus 25-degree weather. We asked Andrew to tell us in his own words what that experience was like.

“I returned to Cape Dorset this October and was again privileged to observe Tim at work in the Kinngait Studio. Outside, a construction crew was rushing to finish foundation work on the Kenojuak Cultural Centre before the full onset of winter, using the Canadrill to drill a series of post holes and setting the steel pilings in place. It is the embodiment of a changing Arctic. The idea of permanent dwellings carries significant political weight within Inuit culture, a culture that was traditionally migratory. Permanent settlements were introduced and imposed during the forced settlement of Inuit peoples after World War II. Settlement and the machines of construction and resource extraction have become a distinct species in this new landscape, and they have been a focus of Pitsiulak’s drawings since he was a child.

Watching the Canadrill at work, from early morning through late evening, lurching and jerking its way across the site, trailing hoses and cables, it was easy to see it as a living, sentient creature moving and probing its way across the frozen ground. Bathed in the cold beam of a harsh spot light, enveloped in clouds of rock dust and steam, it lingers, an extraterrestrial beast reminiscent of so many sci-fi characters, menacing and aggressive.

Tim Pitsiulak has emerged as one of the leading contemporary artists working in the Canadian Arctic. Now based in Cape Dorset, he has developed a signature approach, depicting a dynamic contemporary Arctic where the rich narrative traditions of Inuit culture remain intact. The great strength of his work is that it is a truly contemporary expression of lived experience and a world view that is culturally specific yet accessible. The Kenojuak Cultural Centre, which the Canadrill is working on here, is named for Tim’s aunt, Kenojuak Ashevak. She is the creator of such iconic images as Enchanted Owl and The Woman Who Lives in the Sun.”

Stay tuned for updates about when the Canadrill will go on display, and in the meantime, discover more works by contemporary Inuit artists including an installation of works by sculptor Manasie Akpaliapik on view now in the AGO’s Canadian Collection.  AGO members see it all for free.  Not a member yet? Check out our website for more information.

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