John Dickson is a Toronto-based artist whose mixed-media sculptures and installations explore humanity’s tenuous relationship with the natural world. Early works investigated water as a sculptural medium, developing themes with underlying environmental concerns. His interest in working with water led naturally to out-door projects, and to exhibiting in non-gallery situations, with artist collectives such as NetherMind and Persona Volare. Recent work uses models and live-feed video to re-construct and explore our mediated view of the world. Past projects include Frontier, a public commission for the West Toronto Railpath, Music Box for Toronto’s Nuit Blanche and COLD WAR at the AGO’s Young Gallery. He has shown internationally in the USA, France, the Czech Republic and Denmark, and is represented by Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects.
The seven partially mirrored model houses float quietly in the Oxbow river, appearing and disappearing as they drift, or as the viewer moves past them. Their mirrored surfaces reflect the surrounding trees, water and sky, causing them to visually dissolve into their environment.
The houses are all identical in form, a stripped down archetypal idea of house-ness. A house protects us from the elements, but these dwellings seem vulnerable, affected by small changes in wind and weather. They are similar to the two historical homes on the Todmorden site. The Don Valley was once densely populated, polluted and heavily industrialized. Now much of the evidence of that has disappeared as the valley has become more naturalized. This is a cycle that has continually repeated itself as communities move and settlements are abandoned. Once people have left, nature quickly reclaims the space. These mirrored houses speak of the temporary condition of human habitation as their rectilinear structures appear and disappear amongst their watery, natural surroundings.
This work is the result of an evolutionary process that began with the making of my daughter’s doll house in 2001. I have been working with models since the mid 1990’s finding that they allowed me to talk about large global issues, especially environmental ones, in a non-didactic and accessible way. The doll house was an idealized and simplified model of our idea of home. The first house piece, Drowning House (2002), was a larger, stripped down version of my daughter’s toy, and is the template for the houses in this installation (it is included here, the one without any mirror). It was made to float on the Saugeen River in Durham, Ontario. Every few minutes it would sink to the bottom of the river, then re-emerge, repositioning itself. This piece spoke of vulnerability, and how our sense of home can be suddenly disrupted or destroyed. This feeling of vulnerability is something I experienced as a parent with a young child.
In 2012 I was asked to create an installation for the reflecting pool at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo. My initial idea of creating a series of black hole vortexes proved financially impossible so I had to come up with a new idea very quickly. I went back to past work, and combined Drowning House with another work, Out-House (2007) , a mirror clad (non-functioning) latrine that almost completely vanished into its Muskoka surroundings. In the new work, I made two replicas of the original Drowning House model and clad them with laser cut, mirrored plexi-glass. They floated in a linear formation with the bare plywood original in front. The replica in the middle was only partially clad, while the last was completely mirrored. My idea was that the three models represented one house that was undergoing a transformation, a linear progression from something physical to something dematerialized, made up of light. Because it was reflecting the surrounding architecture the mirrored houses didn’t disappear or blend in to their surroundings as much as I had hoped. My invitation to participate in this exhibition has allowed me to work back into this piece, adding more houses and showing them in a natural setting which is more conducive to the creation of the illusion I have been striving for.
To view images and video of my work please visit johndickson.ca
I An image from a postcard someone gave me showing a Newfoundland house knocked off its foundations by a tsunami in 1929.
The artist gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council