Overburden: Jessica Plattner

2016 Exhibition Catalogue Essay

Overburden, by Jessica Plattner, surveys the impact of human industry on the natural environment - particularly in Alberta. Plattner’s attentive oil paintings depict rolling hills and fertile lands accented by archeological ruins and industrial detritus. Ominous man-made systems and structures loom. Pipelines invade the landscapes. The resulting extraordinary realms created by Plattner are inhabited by an array of beautifully rendered flora, fauna, and children. We see the artist’s own daughter (and model), at play, exploring this world, suggesting nostalgic and emotional associations of childhood. Elements of magical realism permeate the environments within the paintings, proposing realities that are almost too strange to believe.

This body of work questions romantic ideals of the wilderness and sets this at odds with the changing reality of the natural world. Over time, man has carelessly implanted non-native, invasive species into his domain with ruinous effects on the ecosystem. In Plattner’s paintings this is evidenced by the inclusion of exquisite, exotic animals coexisting with native species in abstract if not absurd harmony. 

The word overburden, literally meaning an excessive weight or load (physical or metaphorical), that is too heavy to bear, also has significant meaning in the mining industry, where it refers to an ecosystem (or other material) existing above an extractable underground resource. With this in mind, when approaching Plattner’s works we must balance the beauty we see with the potential for disaster. 

Plattner’s images embrace both existentialist ideas regarding the human experience of the world and the struggle to mine meaning from life. The artist admits that, inspirations and associations aside, her work manifests anxieties of parenthood and trepidation for future generations. These fantastic paintings create a wondrous space for such uncertainties to dwell.

Jenny Willson-McGrath, Director/Curator, Art Gallery of St. Albert