wildflowers in manitoba

published: outwords inc., issue #148, january 2008

noam gonick and luis jacob. wildflowers of manitoba. 2007.

noam gonick and luis jacob. wildflowers of manitoba. 2007.

Noam Gonick’s and Luis Jacob’s film installation Wildflowers of Manitoba is an artistic experience that is intimate and captivatingly insightful. Returning to the centre of its inspiration, the installation is on display at PLUG IN, Institute of Contemporary Art until January 26th. With a celebrated premiere at the 2007 Montreal Biennale and showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, Wildflowers is next set to take on the Berlin International Film Festival after it leaves Winnipeg. Prior to its opening, I had the opportunity to sit down with Gonick and Jacob to discuss the artwork’s creative development, local origin, and thematic expression of queer transgression.

Visual, audial, and performative, the installation captures the idyllic world of a young man who inhabits the interior framework of a geodesic dome. Under dim lighting, the boy’s literal and figurative reality is illuminated by a colourful array of filmic images that span across four geometric screens. Set against a mystical prairie backdrop (shot at Beaconia Beach on Lake Winnipeg) the films loosely follow the bucolic lives of a tribe of nude boy-folk. As the boy’s blissful experience manifests itself inside the dome, the smell of incense burns and a record player plays the instrumental sound of a progressive Quebecois rock group.

“One of the wonderful things about installation art…” Jacob says “[is that] you can kind of walk into the artwork.” Born in Lima, Peru Jacob has received national and international recognition for his work as a writer, curator, and visual artist. Wildflowers is his first collaborative work with Winnipeg-born artist Noam Gonick. Noam’s influential work as filmmaker and screenwriter is critically-acclaimed and includes film credits such as Hey, Happy! (2001) and Stryker (2004).

"Wildflowers…” Noam remarks, “touches on themes that have been percolating in both [Jacob and I’s] works for a long time.” Exploring issues pertaining to radical alternative living and societal arrangements, Noam says the installation’s creative development had a natural organic gestation. Working together, the two artists were able to bring their own unique creative strengths to the project. “I like to think,” Jacob says, “[Wildflowers is] more than either of us could’ve come up with alone.”

The geography and history of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the prairies were catalysts that factored in to the artist’s initial inspiration. From an arts perspective, Noam describes Winnipeg as “a good muse… palette and template to overlay what you want to put on it.” The warm prairie landscape provided the perfect setting in the films for Noam and Luis to portray a radically alternative queer lifestyle. Transgressing the traditional view of queer life as being stereotypically urban, Wildflowers envisions a pastoral and communal existence. “It’s not about middle class aspirations” says Noam, “but [rather] completely separating from Western [civilization]… in that sense it’s really idealistic, but we’re both really in that kind of lifestyle being out there.”

Transcending the idyllic world of the dome, the notion of living such a radically different queer lifestyle provokes questions about what that existence truly means. “That possibility of real liberation and real freedom” remarks Luis “is very exciting to us and so we want to make this crystal that…” Noam interjects “is like a looking glass, or a globe crystal ball: that you can shake, and look into different possibilities, shards, facets, of [a] different possible future.”

With their creation of Wildflowers, Gonick and Jacob have given us the chance to peer into reality reflected in the dome. And once you lose yourself within the sight, smell, and sound of the installation you realize for a moment that: the possibility of that reality is actually much closer than it first appears to be.

For more information on the exhibit or the gallery hours at PLUG IN, you can visit the Institute’s website at http://www.plugin.org. The live male attendant will be inside in the dome every Saturday of the show from 12:00 – 5:00 pm.