The Power Plant

Geoffrey Farmer: Pale Fire Freedom Machine

Geoffrey Farmer

Past Exhibition

Sep 23 – Nov 19 2005

Geoffrey Farmer: Pale Fire Freedom Machine 24 September - 20 November, 2005 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Curated by Reid Shier

Vancouver-based artist Geoffrey Farmer's installations combine video, film, performance, drawing, sculptural elements, found objects, and texts, and join provocative readings of popular culture with highly imaginative uses of gallery architecture. Farmer’s interest in the latent potential of the gallery as a site for social engagement has led to the development of a number of works in the form of installation kits. These ongoing, process-based pieces combine the artist’s meticulous historical research with diverse and provocative sculptural applications. In Hunchback Kit (2000), for example, Farmer collected a variety of cultural artifacts whose interpretation and adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris lent them a unique rationale. The collection is housed in a custom built shipping case that can be opened like a book. Dime store novels, comic books, stills from old movies, and foreign language translations are combined with found objects, theatrical make up, crude stage materials, and other ephemera to provide visitors and curators with an imaginative variety of resources with which to "stage" a production or installation of the novel. In Wash House (2004), Farmer created a working laundry facility for students inside the Charles H. Scott Gallery, an exhibition space within Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Based on an amalgamation of buildings used in Ukrainian/Japanese Canadian internment camps, the shack within the gallery contained a washing machine, a dryer and soap, which were available free for anyone to use during the exhibition.

This careful staging of disparate social and cultural histories will also be the focus of Farmer’s new project at The Power Plant, the artist’s most ambitious installation work to date. Pale Fire Freedom Machine makes direct reference to the writing structure and ideas of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1962 novel Pale Fire, in a project that revolves around a fireplace created in 1968 by Dominique Imbert. Manufactured in black steel and hanging from the ceiling by its exposed flue, this iconic object embodies the design ideals of the 1960s and tangentially, the history of its maker. Imbert received his Ph.D. in sociology from the Sorbonne and in 1967 dropped out of academia, moving to a small medieval village in the Cévennes to take up the anvil. In 1968, Imbert created his revolutionary Gyrofocus, the first fireplace with the ability to rotate 360 degrees, and which also returned the hearth to its typical medieval location in the middle of a room.

By using Pale Fire as a conceptual framework, Farmer imposes a structure that allows for multiple readings. The unique structure of Nabakov’s novel revolves around themes of translation, adaptation and artistic appropriation. The title is taken from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens: "The moon's an arrant thief / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun" (Act IV, scene 3). In Nabakov’s narrative a poet working on a 999 line poem titled Pale Fire is assassinated in a case of mistaken identity. His poem is left with one line to finish, and an obsessed neighbour subsequently takes it upon himself to oversee its publication. However, the neighbour’s foreword, commentary and extensive index to the poem has little to do with the work itself, telling another story entirely, and one begins to question who the author of the novel is. Similarly, in Farmer’s installation one discovers that French artist Xavier Veilhan has employed Imbert’s fireplace in a work titled Le Feu (1996). In Veilhan’s installation viewers are invited to sit around the fire and engage in conversation. In Farmer’s application the work is advertised as a political action – a sit-in. Here, rather than burning logs in Imbert’s fireplace, furniture is used as fuel. The furniture is amassed in an installation that is slowly transformed through the progressive dismantling and combustion of its individual pieces. Each day these pieces of furniture are set alight using a broadsheet with politically related texts and manifestos.

This exhibition is a proud recipient of the 2006 OAAG Awards in the Exhibition Design and Installation category.

Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.

Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rafael Goldchain.