Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
February 16 – May 26, 2024
Braxton Garneau’s solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Pay Dirt, folds together space and time to present the geographically distant locations of Alberta and Trinidad side by side. This immersive landscape is an interpretation of both an Albertan tailings pond and Pitch Lake, an asphalt deposit in Trinidad. Within Pay Dirt visitors act to further bridge the divide between these places. The result is an indoor earthwork that readily shifts between a natural history diorama, a fictional topographical survey, and a scene from a sci-fi movie. It is at once a tranquil spot for introspection and a site of environmental critique.
Asphalt, also sometimes referred to as pitch, bitumen, tar or oil, is as mutable as these many names suggest and it easily shifts between viscous liquid and impenetrable solid. Garneau uses this as a metaphor for many things, including the diasporic, immigrant and expat experiences of his family, the story of Alberta, and the relationship between people and place. Pay Dirt is both Alberta and Trinidad, while at the same time it is neither. Garneau is interested in the being and absence of many things at once.
Alberta and Trinidad are economically and culturally linked by the oil and gas industry. It was an expertise in extraction that brought Braxton Garneau’s family, and many other Caribbean families, to Alberta. For Garneau, Pitch Lake—just one of Trinidad’s many on and off-shore mining operations—and the tailings ponds of Alberta’s oil fields offer dichotomous entry points to consider where the social and industrial cultures of Trinidad and Alberta converge and oppose. Pay Dirt illustrates these dual histories by dipping a toe into two disparate “ponds.” It is a place to consider how economic drivers might swallow you up in one place and shoot you out in unexpected and foreign lands.
Pay Dirt is organized by the Art Gallery of Alberta and curated by Lindsey Sharman. The RBC New Works Gallery features new artworks by Alberta artists and continues the Art Gallery of Alberta’s tradition of supporting and promoting Alberta artists. Press release text courtesy of exhibition essay by Lindsey Sharman.
The artist would like to thank the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for support of Pay Dirt.
Water trapped in an asphalt fissure at the La Brea Pitch Lake, Trinidad, 2023.
(L) Garneau’s grandmother's family visiting the La Brea Pitch Lake, Trinidad in the early 2000s.
(R) Garneau’s grandfather driving a new car in Fort McMurray, Alberta in the mid-70s.