Loses something in the translation

By Christine Cheung

In a recent interview, about her latest show An Act of Reverence, Shannon Mackinnon said, "Nobody’s going to learn about how you perceive the world unless you vocalize it." Unfortunately, Mackinnon’s message becomes lost along the way. Mackinnon’s pieces are only partially successful at conveying her intentions.

Mackinnon explores aspects of the reclamation of self and a denunciation of modern ways in her latest show at the Centre Gallery. Working intuitively, Mackinnon incorporates natural objects with figurative paintings and draws on iconography from the earth-based religions of Druidism and Wicca. Why in the world would religions that she studied in a "book" be relevant in today’s hectic, technologically dependent world?

Mackinnon cited spirituality and connection to the land as values desperately missing from modern life.

"The world has changed so much because we’re so mechanized." Unfortunately, her insights into the alienation of an increasingly technologically inclined society somehow became lost during the process.

Granted, the tedious line between too obscure and too obvious is not a easy one to negotiate, but because her work is so personal, the symbolism she uses will fall into either category when viewed by most. For instance, in "Awen," we find a birch tree inside a gothic arch. She explains that the tree is a birch tree, so chosen because of its Druidic implication of the learning tree, a beginning tree.

Unfortunately, although her usage is specific to Druid belief, a tree representing growth is almost cliché. Ditto, a mirror representing the claiming of the self.

If she was trying to express herself, then using iconography from a culture she only "learned from books" only serves to detract from the very unity and harmony she celebrates in her works.

Mackinnon’s works try to express too many ideas at once and as a result, convey half developed ideas without any unifying concept. She tackles both self-realization and the dehumanizing effect of technology. Instead of trying to meld her current life experience in a dozen pieces, her work would be much stronger if she focused on one topic.

In addition, by unconsciously adding fragmented Christian imagery in her works, her intentions are further diluted. Her use of the triptych, colored windowpanes, dove wings and gothic arches for aesthetic reasons bring up interesting questions, but only distract the viewer.

Aesthetically, the most successful piece by far is "Exhaltation." It engages the audience with a direct, confident nude self portrait. It is also the most technically well rendered piece in the show.

The least successful pieces in the show are "Observance," "Calm," and "Trial," which are more like experiments than fully realized pieces. The transition from three dimensional bird bones to two dimensional is visually jarring and clumsily blunt.

Also, had Mackinnon chosen any other composition than a central one, her show would be much stronger. Instead of achieving unity through a central idea in her paintings, it is mainly established through a central composition. As a result, the compositions become static and not dynamic, boring and not engaging.

On the other hand, as Mackinnon points out, differing perspectives on a piece of artwork is one of the integral aspects of art itself.

"I think that tells a lot about who they are," she said and added, "As long as they know where I’m coming from." Now you do. Sort of. An Act of Reverence is showing at the Centre Gallery until Oct. 2, 1999.