Derek Michael Besant: Fifteen Restless Nights

August 2 – November 2, 2008

Beginning in mid-summer the Treadgold/Bullock Gallery space will be transformed by means of images and sound into a place that will take visitors to a land of pure imagination. Calgary-based artist Derek Michael Besant has created an installation based on the notion of Canada as experienced in a cross-country road trip. This is referenced in his title, Fifteen Restless Nights – the length of time it would take to make the whole drive, as well as the experience of staying at low-priced roadside motels along the way.

Besant undertook the project of making the cross-country trip himself to create this work. Each morning, very early, working like a thief or a voyeur, the artist obtained the source documents for his imagery by sneaking around the motel and quickly taking a photograph just after someone had left to check out, but before the maid had arrived to clean up the room.

In keeping with his previous work, which has explored the recurring themes of memory, the human body, and text, Fifteen Restless Nights also delves into these notions. In the images, for example, the bodies have recently absented the scene, but their impressions have been left in the beds, and the sheets are like shucked skins or membranes of a chrysalis. In their rumpled state, the sheets and indented pillows on the unmade beds start to read as landscapes themselves, paralleling the experience of viewing the changing Canadian scenery on the road trip. At times, the black-and-white pieces have some of the qualities of a charcoal drawing, or of black paint, rather than reading as photo-based works. This is accentuated by the nylon scrim material as the works’ support, as it wavers in the room’s air currents. This ethereal quality nudges the visitor to considering the fleetingness of the passing moment, like a breath, gone forever once it is over.

For the sound component in Fifteen Restless Nights, Besant commissioned fictional texts to be written on each of the fifteen images by Governor General’s Award-winning, Ontario-based writer and poet, Diane Schoemperlen. A collaborative team consisting of a translator, a composer, foley artists/musicians, and readers, created the intriguing and integral sound track for the show.

Originally trained and working in drawing and printmaking, Besant established a national and international reputation for his work beginning in the 1970s. In the mid-1990s he moved into working with photographic imagery, intrigued by the advances of new technology and the so-called new media burgeoning in this realm. His restless energy and constant explorations are hallmarks of his practice.

Fifteen Restless Nights first premiered at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto for the city’s Nuit Blanche cultural event in September of 2006. Since then it has also been exhibited at the MMA Györ Art Museum, Gyor, Hungary; The Veszprém Art Museum in Bratislava; and the Dunaszerdahely Contemporary Museum in Slovakia. In Canada it has been exhibited at the Centre d’exposition Raymond-Lasnier in Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

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