The Canadian Museum of Nature, St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts, and Patrick Mikhail Gallery
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The exhibition "Preternatural" dealt with a liminal conceptual space, between objectivity and the metaphysical, and made palpable in several contemporary art forms. Though not organized as such, several themes permeated the exhibition; science invoked to show the extraordinary; the spiritual made manifest and sensual; and subtleties that delivered surprising multivalance. Curator Celina Jeffery tested epistemological limits and even offered compelling counterexamples to James Elkins's observed disconnection between spirituality and contemporary art. It was fitting to frame a show about unconventional perceptions in three idiosyncratic spaces: a deconsecrated Catholic basilica, a white-box gallery in a strip mall, and a natural history museum.
The former St. Brigid's Cathedral, now St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts, is the most obvious space to evoke the spiritual. In a site-specific performative intervention in the basilica, Anne Katrine Senstad transformed the structure's east and west ends with a light-and-sound installation, "The Kinesthesia of Saint Brigid" (2011). The references to light organs were unmistakable as Senstad projected colors near the church's architecturally scaled pipe organ, comprised of shifting luminous fields that caused retinal apparitions. At this size, the saturated projections were an attempt to impress upon viewers something of the numinous grandeur evoked in color-field paintings the ineffable claimed by Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. among many others. The accompanying music by J.G. Thirlwell added cinematic majesty through its modulated, meditative monotones.