Representing the World: On the art of Scott McFarland

In his monumental photographs, McFarland does not only represent repatriation, he enacts it, returning photography to its fundamental task of representing the world.

May 17, 2016 | BY: Kitty Scott
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Ontario

Trove image by Scott McFarland. Nail Fetish, Congo, and Kota, Bakota Reliquary Figure, Gabon. Private Collection.

Scott McFarland’s recent large-scale, wide-format photographs are ambitious, technically complex documentary-style pictures that embody multiple moments and hold a passage of time within a single composite image. Underlying this approach is the artist’s desire to slow down time and invite viewers to linger in a building, a garden, a street, an urban park or the countryside in order to capture a completely original and often contradictory realism. Where traditional analog photographs are often seen as the representation of a single, decisive moment, McFarland’s pictures are constructed from many exposures; they collage together different moments under similar conditions or the appearance of a single time. Nevertheless, his work often has the appearance of a decisive moment, or what he calls a “singular super moment” — a layered multiplicity of times and an extended spatial quality that belie a single exposure. 

It would seem that the artist’s way of making pictures has greatly informed Trove, the show of photographs that he has produced, working in a new partnership with his studio, PARTISANS and Luminato. Bringing together three different space-time configurations — one emanating from the object photographed, be it an antique African sculpture, a Blue Jays ring or a white rhino; another from the fictional Kunsthaus that houses the object; and finally that of the very real Hearn Power Station — it is as if McFarland beckons us to imagine a new dimension, a future time in the city of Toronto. In this not-so-far-out science fiction, the Hearn has been transformed from a derelict power station into a state of the art gallery framing a multiplicity of objects seen together for the very first time. 

McFarland works in a moment of transition, between two worlds of technological representation. He does so less in order to insist on the priority of one over the other — whether digital or analog — than to draw us ever closer to the visual surface of things, a drive that we could say lies at the very heart of the photographic project. In this way, at a moment when so many theorists and practitioners of photography are declaring a fundamental break from the past, he enacts a suture, a stitch that links disparate epochs and geographies. In his monumental photographs, McFarland does not only represent repatriation, he enacts it, returning photography to its fundamental task of representing the world.

Trove will be on display at the Hearn in the Jackman Gallery and across the city from June 10–26. The project, conceived by Jorn Weisbrodt, is a collaboration with Scott McFarland, PARTISANS, and Luminato.

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