Magical realist's take on a world overrun by pipes

 Jessica Plattner's new exhibit Overburden now on at gallery
St. Albert Gazette, Saturday, Mar 12, 2016 
By: Scott Hayes


The grass is green, the skies are blue, and the animals are frolicking as animals are wont to do.

But there’s something wrong with the otherwise beautiful and pristine landscapes in Overburden, Jessica Plattner’s new exhibit at the Art Gallery of St. Albert. There are pipelines a-plenty, all snakelike and jutting unnaturally out of the dirt and worming their pathways above ground in weird directions. Life goes on for the animals but the presence of these pipes is practically alien and indeed perturbing.

The Fulbright scholar and art instructor at Medicine Hat College explained that it’s the Alberta experience that made the most difference in inspiring her to develop this series. When she moved here from the northwestern United States, she began to see the oil and gas industry from a different perspective.

“I meet a lot of people who work in the oil and gas industry and realizing how much people’s lives are tied up in it. It’s not as simple as you think. Coming from Oregon where we flatly demonize the whole industry, moving up here I think I have a more complex view of it.”

She also listens to a lot of political and social commentary on CBC Radio while she works. That kind of engaged discussion about everything from the economy to the latest oil spill can’t help but prompt a creative response as she paints. That, plus it keeps her from the loneliness and isolation of working in a studio for long hours all by herself. “Something about hearing voices helps me get my work done.”

Overburden itself borrows its name from an industry term to define the earthy material that is above an area of interest because it contains coal or bitumen or what have you. In the exhibit, the overburden seems to have been switched around as what lies above are those burdensome pipelines.

The imagery sparks thoughts of surrealist landscapes like those of Max Ernst. The artist prefers to think of herself in terms of magical realism instead despite the fact that it most often is used to refer to a literary genre.

“The surrealists were more separated from the truth of real experience while the magical realists are trying to make visible what’s really there.”

She resonates more with that term, she indicated, noting that she also lived in Mexico during her Fulbright years. Those experiences were pretty influential to her.

This is the first time that the full exhibit is available to the public. Half of the works were previewed last year at Medicine Hat’s Esplanade Arts and Heritage Centre.

Plattner will be in town to open the exhibit on Saturday, April 2 from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Before she hosts that (coupled with an artist talk and an exhibit walk-through), she will be conducting a mixed media diorama landscape workshop for kids at the gallery. Details can be found through the gallery.