"Canadiana: and all places in between" (2004-05):


A huge pink blob on one of those large blackboard scroll-down maps, this is my first memory of Canada. I was in a kindergarten class in Schleching, a small Bavarian town in Germany, and my teacher was showing all my classmates where I was moving. I remember feeling a sense of relief and pride that my new country was pink and also much bigger than the one all my friends were staying behind in.

As a child I quickly denounced my German heritage: there was nothing I wanted more than to be assimilated and to belong to this place of camping, tree climbing and huge ice-cream cones. Oh, the embarrassment of being picked up from school by a kerchief-donning mom yelling, "Lislein!" (my German pet name) across the feathered and baseball-hatted heads of the Eighties schoolyard. However, childhood love often turns stale, and I soon began looking elsewhere for adventure and inspiration.

As Canadians we often dismiss our own unique imagery and culture for more established or exotic ones, such as European or Asian, and I was no exception. It was upon flying back from South-East Asia in my mid-twenties, over the usual expanse of empty, monochromatic green and grey of the West Coast, that I decided I wanted to re-examine Canada through new eyes - revisiting my lost childhood passion. Surely there was something as intriguing and beguiling as the East and Europe here amidst the strip malls where I had sold my soul to weathered plasticity. I set out to discover what and where Canada was.

Following in the footsteps of Canada's seven landscape Greats, I set out into the wilds with an outdoor easel and handcrafted oil panel box - and Mom. My initial lofty goal of exploring the full expanse of our country got whittled down to BC, Alberta and, most recently, the Yukon. The plein d'air sketches created along the way form the backdrop for the painted performances in "Canadiana: and all places in between". Stereotypes, symbols and images both historical and contemporary play out a truly Canuckian dance of cultural commentary that drops the viewer into a vaguely uneasy pool of recognition, nostalgia and pride. As in all things Canadian, this is mingled with a pinch of profound irony and a good dose of humour as we examine our own part in the great outdoor, yet highly commercial, cabaret that is Canada.

So let me join the moose, the mosquitoes and the beavers in saying to you: O Canada!

all content © Lisa Birke 2015