APRIL 14 – MAY 2, 1998




TANGENT revolves around the relationship between the natural world and the world mediated by human involvement. Consisting of three sculptural elements, the piece looks at how we overlay “unnatural” systems of measurement and representation on the natural world to realize such things as standardization practicality.



GLEN MACKINNON was born in Edmonton, AB, and resides in Calgary. He has taught, lectured and presented workshops at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Alberta College of Art and Design, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge. Educated in Fine Arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (graduated in 1983), MacKinnon received a number of awards between 1983-1992. MacKinnon has exhibited nationally since 1983. His work belongs to public and corporate collections and a number of articles have been written about his practice.



The objects and images assembled for the exhibition TANGENT engage in a complex and somewhat contradictory conversation. The word tangent itself can mean both to touch and to diverge. As the title suggests, these are ambiguous objects, seemingly incongruous, somewhat irrational, and deliberately obscure. A simple pen drawing, a copper plate blasted with buckshot, a twenty-four foot log-shaped painting and a fifteen pound machine-tooled spray can: a motley assortment that holds out the possibility that, with patient observation, the will offer up points of contact and affinities where the material and the conceptual merge.

The term tangent, in addition to its other meanings, refers to the physical qualities of plywood through the manner in which it is made. To create plywood, a tree is stripped of its wood in a thin continuous payer, which brings to mind the process of unraveling a roll of paper towels. The grain that we see is the axial grain of the wood; the concentric rings of the tree are peeled away tangentially and the rings and the grain are the prominent features in a number of the works in the exhibition.

Glen MacKinnon’s work has more often then not been fabricated from plywood. His sculptural works and woodblock prints have always acknowledged the particular material attributes of the medium in their unfinished state. By scraping or sandblasting the softer wood in a sheet of plywood, the physical characteristics of the wood are emphasized, revealing their associative and poetic qualities.

With this process, the grain is released to become water, or fire or the veins of a leaf.

By foregrounding the grain and highlighting its presence, attention is drawn to relationship that exist between the natural and the manmade environment, how we take organic materials and standardize them for instrumental ends. MacKinnon’s work seeks to return these materials to their non-instrumental state. “Log”, the twenty-four foot log-shaped painting is a case in point. A tree is taken full circle from natural objet to utilitarian plywood sheet and back to an non-utile thing, the presentation of a felled tree. This is a perverse alchemy where the unique is made common and transformed back again.

Alchemy is at work throughout the exhibition. 30 degrees take the standard ellipse template that an engineer might use and uses it to fashion an object that can conjure up any number of natural forms (a beehive, a foreshortened log, a mountain). It also makes reference to science fiction imagery, resembling as it does the blast of a spaceman’s ray gun. Science fiction and astronomical references abound in the exhibition. “Log” looks like a felled log and like a comet streaking across the heavens. In “Blast”, we see a depiction of the night sky in a damaged copper plate, and in “Lilies”, a band of invading spaceships seems to hover in the distance while at the same time resembling water lilies on a pond. Even the “Spray Can and coffee cup” (Short) exist in an atmosphere that makes them extraordinarily heavy, occupying their own field of gravity.

Although all the pieces in this exhibition seem to exist on their own terms, they also relate to each other in a compatible way. The drawing “R – 73” (the title being the deisnation on a store-bought ellipse template) is accomplished by simply filling in all the holes of this template. The result is a capable and clever minimalist drawing which reiterates MacKinnon’s preoccupation with the push and pull between the depiction of two and three dimensions. Yet the pattern, in the context of the nearby “Spray Can”, also strongly suggest a representation of spray. A pattern repeated or hinted at in “Blast” and “Log”. The ambiguity of what is actually depicted in these pieces give them an inconclusive, inane poetry.

A spray pattern, like the grain of wood, is the trace of a capricious force. MacKinnon takes these patterns and transforms them, finding randomness in the patterned and the diagrammatic in the erratic. It is a recalcitrant voice telling you that up is down and black is white (and black, too). It finds contradictory forces existing in the same objects, where a felled tree at second glance becomes a comet. It does so in belief that this complex push and pull of even the simplest elements will occasion new meanings. At work is a faith that base materials can transmute into that which is rare and valuable.

Guest Curator
Brian Meehan

BRIAN MEEHAN is a writer and curator who is currently the Director/Curator of the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario.