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Carl Beam, Exorcism, 1984, plywood, acrylic, arrows, barbed wire, hatchets, 213 × 610 cm. Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Commission, the Canada Council Art Bank Special Purchase Assistance Program, 1984, photo Foster Gauley

From the Permanent Collection: Carl Beam’s Exorcism

Dates: December 13, 2018 – March 3, 2019

Thirty-five years ago, internationally acclaimed artist Carl Beam (1943–2005) from M’Chigeeng First Nation completed his monumental art installation Exorcism. This work was Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s first commissioned work; measuring 7 ft by 20 ft, it remains to this day the most massive and materially complex piece in the permanent collection.

At the 1984 opening reception for his exhibition Altered Egos:The Multimedia Work of Carl Beam, the artist directed everyone’s attention to Exorcism. The huge piece is constructed of plywood. Several lines of barbed wire run horizontally across the work, overlaying painted areas in tones of white, light pink, warm orange, and deep red ochre. Beam applied numbers, texts, and forms onto the wood using the collage method. He layered photo-transfers, writings, and paint on top of each other.

At the opening, Beam completed the installation, planting a hatchet into the work. He  then directed invited guests – exhibition curator Elizabeth McLuhan, city planner Stephan Huzan and arts development officer Mary Zoccole – to each do the same. Next, the artist had archer Dennis Chibnall shoot nine broad-head arrows into the work with a recurve bow at half-draw.

These actions signalled the destruction of institutionalized barriers prohibiting people’s direct interaction with art. While the subject matter merged the past and present using text and images, people’s participation affecting the work merged art and action. Exorcism signals how destruction can bring about renewal.

This work was completed 35 years ago.The exhibition of Exorcism is fitting as it likely marks the last time it will be shown publicly in the Gallery’s present building. In the Gallery’s new facility on the waterfront, it’s our goal to exhibit this work and many more from our collection.

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