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Scrolling through history

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The sun is finishing its daily arc through the sky as the doors open on the Mennonite Heritage Museum for viewers to come witness local artist Christopher Friesen’s new exhibit. This exhibit originally debuted at the Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford under the title “Search by Image,” and has now been moved to the Mennonite Heritage Museum as a tribute to Friesen’s heritage.

“This is a different venue, and my job as an artist and as a leader in the community is educating people … One of the reasons I want to show here is my connection to my family,” said Friesen.

Christopher Friesen is a University of the Fraser Valley professor in the visual arts department. His work has been shown throughout Western Canada, and he has worked in public, private, and corporate collections. He is also represented by the Elissa Cristall Gallery in Vancouver. Work on this latest series began three years ago during his sabbatical.

“In 2015, I was on sabbatical. I had also moved from Abbotsford to Langley. I changed studios.  In Langley, I am on septic, so I can’t clean my brushes in the sink, because the worst thing you can do with a septic field is put paint in it. So I switched to oils. I’ve never really painted large scale oils before, so it took me a long time to learn what I wanted the material to do,” said Friesen.

“Scroll Through History” is a series of paintings done by Friesen using oil and acrylic on canvas on a larger scale. Friesen uses “iconic and obscure works by French artist Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796 – 1875) to explore legacies, tendencies of modern painting, and to consider notions of influence, quotation, authorship, knowledge, and the ‘real’ in the age of digital reproduction.”

“I’ve always been interested in the role technology takes in painting, which is why you see the invitation for people to photograph and post on social media. If art is about engagement … that’s what I want people to have permission to do,” said Friesen.

The idea of offering, unlike many other art exhibitions, such an invitation is part of Friesen’s larger project.

“People Google a lot of art information, and there is a lot of misinformation that comes up,” he said. “So I am also kind of exploiting just how that works … you can’t trust it, because I can show you how to fool Google, so my paintings come up alongside Corot. But that becomes the dialogue, the loophole, of how we are not critical.”

Friesen uses Corot’s original titles in his paintings. Therefore, when posted online, he uses online algorithms against themselves by eliminating any separation between Corot’s work and his own. This would cause the innocent viewer to be lost, questioning which is real and which is a copy, bringing up issues of epistemology.

Friesen also stated: “One of the things about being a university professor is that you teach critically. You teach how to ask questions and hopefully how to think. But we’re not in a thinking world. So this becomes the moment you have the back door into the seductive imagery, and it raises more questions. So, you can enjoy it as a painting, but I think there is more to it.”

“Scroll Through History” will be on display at the Mennonite Heritage Museum until June 6.

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