Cape Breton University Art Gallery‘s newest exhibit, Doing Our Own Thing: Back-to-the-Land in Eastern Canada during the 1970s, opens this Friday, June 13, with a reception from 6 to 8pm.
The exhibit looks to the utopian imagination of the back-to-the-land movement, and considers both its ambitions and its failures, to see what we might recuperate from this history almost forty years later. Doing Our Own Thing consists of documentary photographs of back-to-the-land families from western Cape Breton Island that were taken throughout the 1970s by George Thomas, a reading room housing The Whole Earth Catalog Library, and a fully functional build-your-own grain threshing machine by Cape Breton-born artist and second-generation back-to-the-lander, Fenn Martin.
An afternoon of programming associated with the exhibit is planned for Saturday, including a threshing demonstration by Martin, a talk on the Whole Earth Catalog delivered by David Senior, and a panel discussion moderated by Amish Morrell featuring Ron Caplan, Andrew Terris, Johanna Padelt and David Martin which considers some of the key ideas and influences behind the back-to-the-land movement.
Fenn Martin will conduct a live demonstration of Thrasher 002, a build-your-own threshing machine specially commissioned for the exhibition. Designed for aspiring back-to-the-landers, Thrasher 002 is scaled to ensure an ample supply of grains for all human and animal occupants of your farm and home.
Following the thresher demonstration, The Museum of Modern Art Library bibliographer David Senior will give a talk on the Whole Earth Catalog Library. For a 2010 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Senior surveyed publications that were listed in the Whole Earth Catalog and summarized the history of the catalogue project over the course of the years 1968-1974. Senior’s talk will describe some highlights from his research, reflect on the WEC‘s focus on experimental ideas in design and technology as well as its importance within an historical lineage of self-publishing/DIY art and design projects.
The afternoon will wrap up with “Doing Our Own Thing: On the Ideas Behind the Back-to-the-Land Movement”, a panel discussion with Ron Caplan, Andrew Terris, Johanna Padelt and David Martin.
Caplan is founder of Cape Breton’s Magazine and Publisher of Breton Books. Terris and Rejene Stowe homesteaded on 55 acres in northern Cape Breton from 1971 to 1982. There they built their own house, grew their own food, cut their own firewood, and established a successful stained glass business. Padelt is a silversmith who moved to Cape North in 1971. Soon thereafter she established her business, The Jewellery at Cape North, and later became co-owner of Arts North. David Martin went back-the-land in Port Hood in 1970, where he worked as a potter, cabinet maker and carpenter.
Consisting of people who were part of the movement in Cape Breton, the panel will explore the role of information networks and alternative publications that linked local communities to an international counterculture. Panelists will also reflect on the idea of self-sufficient living as aesthetic practice and how aspects of the back-to-the-land phenomena paralleled broader trends in art and culture.
Panel Moderator is Amish Morrell, Editor at C Magazine and Co-Curator, with Pam Wendt, of Doing Our Own Thing: Back-to-the-Land in Eastern Canada during the 1970s.
Co-presented by Cape Breton University Art Gallery (Sydney, NS) and Confederation Centre Art Gallery (Charlottetown, PEI), the exhibit runs until August 15, 2014.