Fine Arts department head and visual artist Thaddeus Holownia has just had what he describes as the “biggest week of his professional life.”
Holownia launched a 180-piece photographic exhibition of his work on Feb. 3 at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax, NS — The Nature of Nature: The photographs of Thaddeus Holownia, 1976-2016. The exhibition is described as the most comprehensive critical analysis of his practice to date.
“This exhibition is a reflection of my interest in the natural world,” he says. “Interestingly the time period also parallels my Mount Allison years.”
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia curators David Diviney and Sarah Fillmore initiated this project with Holownia two years ago. What began as a discussion about showcasing his Paris work quickly expanded.
“Thaddeus is no stranger to any of us at the gallery and I was really excited about the possibility of showcasing his Paris work,” says Fillmore. “But sometimes three heads are better than one and organically it came about that it would be a bigger exhibition that thematically looked at many bodies of his work.”
The exhibition includes major bodies of Holownia’s work, such as: The Rockland Bridge 1981-2003 and Jolicure Pond 1996-2004, where Holownia took a photo from the same vantage point for an extended period of time, and Anatomy Lesson of a Moose, which is 100 photos of different moose bones hung together as one unit. One of his newest pieces, Icarus, Falling of Birds, was created specifically for the largest wall in the gallery and is 17 feet long. It is made up of individual photos of birds from a bird kill in Saint John, New Brunswick and is part of a book in collaboration with poet Harry Thurston and designer Robert Tombs (BFA ’81) that was launched at the exhibition.
Through the process of collaboratively choosing the pieces for this exhibition, Holownia says he learned a lot about himself.
“There were images I found that I forgot about that play major roles in the exhibition,” he says. “It was interesting to do something like this with other eyes involved and see the thread of things that connect that I didn’t even realize. Artists don’t tend to work in a way that looks back, artists tend to look forward.”
The installation is made up of bodies of work that stand alone, but also work together to tell a story that spans four decades as you walk through the gallery.
Fillmore says the beautiful thing about this exhibition is looking at Holownia’s work as a whole.
“There are incredible strengths that hold throughout those 40 years,” she says. “Maybe 20 years ago it wouldn’t have been clear how his process drives the vision and the work.”
Holownia believes the theme of his work has stemmed from his childhood and the encouragement of his parents.
“You grow up doing things and being somebody,” he says. “And my parents encouraged my interest in natural history. I was outside a lot and you develop a certain aesthetic and sensibility as a young person. When I started photographing the landscape, that is where I went with it.”
The content of Holownia’s work reflects his concerns for nature.
“I like to think that I am making work that makes people think about their place and their responsibility within the natural world and how we treat it,” he says.
The exhibition launched on February 3 at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia to a packed crowd of nearly 400 people, including Holownia’s former students and colleagues from across the country, and many members of the Mount Allison community, past and present.
Holownia says the response he received was overwhelming.
“It’s a raw thing to put yourself out there like that,” he says. “That’s me, that’s my life.”
After two years of work on this project, Fillmore says the launch of the exhibition was a special night for all involved.
“The response Thaddeus received was like a rock star leaving the stage,” she says. “It was so wonderful and well deserved. What he had that night was something everyone deserves, which is to see how his work has left an imprint. It has helped to introduce his work, but also to gratify the dedication of his life to what is often solitary work and see how it resonates and impacts a bigger community.”
Although Holownia says this is the biggest exhibition he will probably ever do, Fillmore believes this is just another act in his career.
“Thaddeus’s work has only gotten richer over the years and more chancy,” she says. “He is willing to engage with and confront the viewer and himself. He looks at the hard things in the world and the beauty, which are often the same. I hope this is just another affirmation for him and starts a whole new conversation about his work.”
The Nature of Nature: The photographs of Thaddeus Holownia 1976-2016 will be showcased at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia until May 28, 2017. A book of the work will also be available.