What would Halifax, Saskatoon or Montreal look like as a ghost-town? We don’t have to answer that question about those cities, but the fear of one’s home ceasing to exist is very real for many people living in rural Canada, people who are watching their towns wither before their eyes. In Woodrow, an exhibition of sculpture and video by Saskatchewan-based artist Graeme Patterson, we are treated to an imaginative recreation of the real-life village of Woodrow, Saskatchewan as a ghost town.
The title of the exhibition is taken from the name of the small town in Saskatchewan where the artist’s family lived and worked and where the artist constructed the exhibition’s sculptural pieces. Like many small towns across that province, and across the country, it is rapidly becoming a shadow of its former self as its economy dies, its inhabitants move away, or age and die. Woodrow was a thriving farming community, and it still hangs on, but the writing is on the wall – it will soon join many other small towns and villages as a virtual ghost town.
Woodrow consists of nine large sculptural works incorporating video and animatronic elements. The exhibition also features a video by the artist, Monkey and Deer, presented in a theatrical setting. The sculptures in Woodrow reflect the key elements of local culture, the sites that define the town: a farmhouse, a barn, grain bins, a workshop, the church, the hockey rink, the grain elevator, and finally, the road into (and perhaps more importantly, out of) town. The buildings represented are run-down and neglected, some virtually ruined, though none are actually abandoned: they are inhabited by a series of “ghosts”, presences that hark back to the histories of the sites and their importance to what was once a thriving community. Through his use of stop-motion animation and robotic figure, Patterson infuses new life into what at first glance is a dead town. Patterson’s world is peopled by figments of his imagination, people and animals drawn from town lore, family history and the natural world. It is a dreamlike world, marked by a consistent vision and a remarkably honest and generous look at time, memory and the notion of “home