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This article was published 18/1/2011 (3289 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Most people envision the Bible's four horses of the apocalypse as thundering creatures with frightening riders who herald war, pestilence and the total destruction of the Earth.
In Mary Anne Barkhouse's absurd take on the Book of Revelation, the dreaded white, red, black and pale horses are coin-operated mechanical steeds, like the ones kids used to ride at grocery stores all over North America.
The horsemen? Drop in a quarter, and you can be one.
In Barkhouse's 2008 installation The Four Horses of the Apocalypse and the Donkey of Eternal Salvation, four vintage fibreglass horses have been restored so they actually "gallop." (The quarters are donated to a donkey sanctuary.)
"I'm expecting the viewer to insert themselves as the rider," says Barkhouse, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design who lives near Haliburton, Ont., and has been widely exhibited across Canada. The installation, part of a larger work called The Reins of Chaos, has been shown twice in Ontario.
"I was prepared for very negative feedback from people from a hard-core Christian background," Barkhouse cheerfully says. "I've had quite a thoughtful reaction from most people. A few people have said I'm going to burn in hell."
The installation is one of about 60 contemporary works by more than 30 indigenous artists in a major international exhibition that opens Saturday night in Winnipeg.
Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, a project of Winnipeg's Cultural Capital program, is spread across five venues. The theme of the show is imagining the future for both indigenous and non-indigenous people. Barkhouse's work will be at the main venue, 109 Pacific Ave. (the former Costume Museum of Canada).
The 49-year-old Barkhouse, the offspring of a mother from the salmon-fishing Kwakitul First Nation on Vancouver Island and a non-aboriginal father, often addresses environmental concerns through animal imagery in ironic installations.
Curator Emily Falvey's interpretation is that gallery-goers who ride Barkhouse's apocalyptic horses are "taking an adventure in carnival-grotesque humiliation."
Barkhouse wants people to draw their own conclusions. The piece includes four "heraldic" banners that refer to environmental destruction, with images of industry, mining, farming and fishing practices.
"I'm hoping to get the viewer to consider: How are we going to ride this horse, which is technology, from here on in? Are we going to go to Armageddon one quarter at a time . . . or take this ride to a better place?"
The Donkey of Eternal Salvation is a wooden ass on wheels. "The horses are kind of flashy, but ultimately they're stationary," the artist says. "I was thinking of the cycles of violence and destruction that human society invariably seems to go through. Now, the donkey, he's small. He's kind of humble. He looks like an old-fashioned pull toy, but he's mobile.
"Maybe how we go forward in a better way is a very simple thing, as opposed to being technology-reliant."
Barkhouse, who will be in Winnipeg for the show's opening, originally assumed that vintage coin-operated horses would be widely available as antiques or forgotten junk. But she discovered they are very hard to come by.
She eventually bought all four on eBay, scrounging a 1970s mount from Toronto, a 1940s one from Maryland, and 1960s relics from Indiana and California. Fittingly, she says, "they came from the four corners of North America."
In part, they evoke racist Hollywood westerns and kids' games of cowboys and Indians. One meaning of apocalypse suggested here is the colonizing destruction of the indigenous way of life.
When Barkhouse was searching for the horses on the Internet, she found a type in the U.S. that she had never seen in Canada. It had a panel in front of the horse depicting aboriginals, and a toy gun.
"You could shoot Indians," she says. "That was just too horrifying — and funny, all at the same time."
Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years
109 Pacific Ave.
Opens Saturday at 7 p.m., to May 8