Geoffrey Farmer: The Art of Installation

Geoffrey Farmer is a Canadian installation artist that makes avant-garde and minimalist works that interact with the viewer.

Farmer works with a broad range of elements including drawing, sculpture, performance, video, and found materials. He uses them to create pieces that are self-reflective and engaging to the audience.

Let’s Make The Water Turn Black, 2013

“When I was very young, my teacher asked us each to bring a leaf to class. She then got us to place the leaf on a piece of paper. Above the paper was a metal screen stretched over a wooden frame,” reminisces Farmer. “She lowered the frame, and then she gave us a toothbrush dipped in gouache paint to rub on the screen. When I rubbed the toothbrush over the screen, it sent out a fine spray of paint over the leaf and the paper. Then she lifted the screen, and then lifted the leaf off of the paper. Even though she was holding the leaf in her hand, it still appeared on the paper. This deeply shocked me.”

Since then Farmer has honed his love for the magic and complexity of art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and the San Francisco Art Institute.

He has held over 50 solo exhibitions, and become an art scene darling winning a number of accolades, including 2011 Hnatyshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award for outstanding achievement by a Canadian artist.

The Surgeon and the Photographer, 2009–2013

Farmer’s work has been described as being a subtle take on minimalist and post-minimalist tradition. Minimalist work instills in its viewer a sense of their own presence. Farmer’s work mimics this by using the art gallery space as a site of phenomenological experience. Many of his works are also research based, and speak to popular culture and societal current events.

“I am not really conceptual. I don’t think up a concept and then execute it. I learn through discovery and from direct contact with the material I am using,” explains Geoffrey. Even though the work might emanate out of an idea or interest and may have a horizon; I don’t really know exactly what I am doing.”

One of Geoffrey’s most recent and most famous works was Leaves of Grass, which he initially exhibited at Documenta 13. This giant installation is made entirely of LIFE magazine cutouts and is currently on display at the National Art Gallery of Ontario. The work fills a huge space and is made of chronologically placed images from LIFE magazines published between 1935 and 1985.

Leaves of Grass, 2012

“I knew from the beginning that it was important the figures be placed in chronological order, and that their arrangement was important,” explains Farmer. “It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be a strange kind of history lesson. It was like a slow-motion flip-book.”

The cut-outs are double sided, feature over 22, 000 images and can be viewed from all angles.

“It was a gruelling project, but I wanted to be transformed by the experience. In the last few months, we had about 90 volunteers helping us. We had quotas to keep. We worked in shifts. There was a small group of us who, in the end, I think, were working 20-hour days,” explains Farmer.  “I was amazed at the generosity of everyone working on the piece. It was a communal experience. A lot of conversation happens when you are sitting together working around a table. If someone didn’t agree with the image selection or strongly felt an image should be included, they would hold the image up for a vote. We had meals together; a fantastic cook and friend came in to make lunches and dinners. I wasn’t expecting the piece to grow in the way that it did.”

To find out more about Geoffrey Farrmer and his works, please visit his representative gallery, Catriona Jeffries Art Gallery.

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