The Veiled Men work was produced between 1994 and 1997, and was the subject of two solo exhibitions, Gone Glorious, at the MacLaren Art Centre Campus Gallery, Barrie, in 1998, and Veiled Men, curated by Mary Jo Hughes, at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, in 1995. Selections from it were also in the group shows: Fabrications: Hamish Buchanan, Catherine Opie, David Rasmus, curated by Kim Fullerton, which opened at Gallery TPW in Toronto in 1995 and toured until 1997 with stops at the Dunlop Art Gallery (Regina), Dazibao (Montreal), and the Vancouver Art Gallery; Avatar: Of postmodern times and multiple identities, curated by Bas Vroege for Axis bureau de kunsten V/M, Amsterdam (1998); Dressing Down, curated by Robin Metcalfe for the Oakville Galleries (1998); Carnal Knowledge: Illuminating views of the body, curated by Dale Barrett, John B. Aird Gallery, Toronto, and Le Corps Gay, curated by Karl Gilbert Murray at the Centre d'exposition du Vieux-palais at St-Jerôme, Québec (2002; touring 2004-06). Prints from the series are currently in the collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Canada Council Art Bank, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography/National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Carleton University, and private collectors.
"All three photographers in "Fabrications" are overt in staging their work, in creating, fabricating realities. They play off the veracity and (once held) belief in the "transparency" of the photographic medium. Far from revealing some underlying truth about the constructed "nature" of sexuality and gender, these works add to the uncertainty, complexity and richness of (queer) subjectivity. The works of Opie and Buchanan serve to explore located identities that are consciously constructed and self-determined. While all three artists poke fun at normative gender constructs, Buchanan goes the farthest in creating his own queer vocabulary." -
-Robert W.G. Lee, Fabrications, Parachute #84.
In many cultures the veil is associated with both seduction and modesty, and, as an extension of the latter, with mourning. It is connected with themes of death and transformation, and with issues of gender and sexuality. These themes and issues acquired particular urgency in early years of the age of AIDS: how do we give form to mourning; how does that affect desire?Mourning, as an internal emotional process, may know no gender, but its social expression has historically conformed to the general, patriarchal division of gender roles: it is considered terrible to see a grown man cry. Traditionally, the veil is worn exclusively by women. For a man to wear a veil is sexually transgressive, a form of drag which, like the more common glamorous and seductive forms, allows men to perform roles and express or embody a range of emotions normally denied them.
The Avatar installation at the Oude Kerk, Amsterdam.
Familiar Landscapes is comprised of eight multi-sectional panoramas of more-or-less wilderness areas in which studio studies of (mostly) nude men are pinned to the trees.
The panorama was one of the favourite formats of the nineteenth century cartographic photographers, who mapped out vistas of civic pride and natural beauty ripe for settlement and resource extraction. Here, however, the territory marked out by the pinned photographs is claimed in a more ephemeral, temporary way, and for purposes which do not necessarily exclude exploitation, but may also be elegiac, erotic, spiritual, or any number of other things, according to the viewer.
These particular landscapes, in scattered locations on the margins of the Canadian Shield in Ontario, are in what might still be considered Group of Seven territory, although approached with a (perhaps) less romantic eye.
Like the landscape, the studio represents a kind of ideal space, although in a much more abstract way, and the nude, whether or not it conforms to contemporary ideals, almost always carries with it conventional assumptions of idealism and timelessness. Putting studio nudes into the landscape as a temporary intervention doesn't really undermine (to use the overused lingo) any of these conventions, but it does put them in a slightly different relation to each other than in the conventional form of the nude in a landscape.
Associations viewers have drawn from the work have ranged from Italian memorials commemorating the victims of massacres during WWII, to gay cruising grounds; from arcadia to the wilderness of the coureur de bois; from the sacred grove to the dark forest of myth; and from ghosts to fairies... with many variations in between. Although these all resonate for me, the work is not about any of them in particular, or as such, but about all of them at once, in temporary, temporal convergence.
Installation at the Edward Day Gallery, Toronto
Provenance was an installation of 5 sequences of photographs, combining my own posed and travel photographs with appropriated imagery and old family photos. Four of the sequences comprised of 30" high colour prints, each with an index text on a plywood stand positioned in front of it; the fifth sequence, which formed the invitation for its first showing, at Gallery TPW in Toronto, was subsequently incorporated into the body of the exhibition as a set of 11" high B&W prints with a text panel pinned beside it on the wall.
"Although offering an ambiguous work rooted in personal uncertainty, the artist paradoxically proposes this position as a kind of 'solution.' Clues to this reading lie in the title of the exhibition, Provenance. 'Provenance' may be understood as the source of pictures/ photographs and here, more specifically, as the social and cultural place from which pictures come. The latter notion perhaps makes reference to the necessity of representing a state of 'paralysis' — cultural and personal— in order to understand and move beyond its limitations. In fact, the Latin root of 'provenance' is 'provenire,' an ancient word meaning to come forth, to appear on the stage. On our postmodern stage the artist acts out his realization that we must be wary of closure and learn to live 'just on the verge of completion.'
- Vid Ingelevics, Tentative Spaces on a Postmodern Stage, Views, Vol 6, No 2, May 1989
"Today the interest in representational issues has moved into a second phase. The reflexive is joined with the productive. Questioning the medium is joined with a kind of return of the referent. Hamish Buchanan's Provenance is concerned with the organization and meaning of identity through photography. But it is not an exclusively self-reflexive or meta-semantic work. The imagery which Buchanan has brought together in this work strikes a delicate balance between private and public, between autobiographical or domestic icons and collective myth. As such, it reinserts, with playfulness and humour, representational processes in a social sphere where meaning is always shared, yet never final."
- Jan-Erik Lundström, Real Stories catalogue, 1992.
Two views of the installation at Gallery TPW, Toronto.
Part of the installation at Odense, Denmark.
Studio installation. Photo: Vid Ingelevics.
"...Buchanan's work does not claim for itself the "objective," disinterested gaze of patriarchy. His photo-assemblages are not just sophisticated, liberal, what's-wrong-with-this-picture commentaries on cultural production. They speak of a boy, awkwardly posing for his father's camera. They speak of a man, revelling in his body's capacity for pleasure. They speak of the gap between object and subject, perceived and perceiving, of the moment you recognize your face in a photograph. ("That's me?!")"By putting himself in the picture (both literally and figuratively), Buchanan has taken risks. He has allowed a subjective voice to emerge, one which is shy, vulnerable, curious and longing."
- Lisa Gabrielle Mark, The Pressing of Flesh: Parallel Meditations on the Male Nude, Bordercrossings, Summer 1992
"It would appear that everything has become an object for photography, and it has been suggested that an important way in which we compose our own life stories is by the photographs we save, recording the events we regard as important. But at the same time, so much in every life is not documented, and so many personally significant events go unrecorded, be they feelings that are not susceptible to photographic record, or private moments when the camera is normally excluded. This is perhaps particularly true for sexual minorities, whose very safety has depended on keeping those things which mattered deeply to them from the prying eyes of family, neighbours and cameras. In Some Partial Continua, Hamish Buchanan... has attempted to redress that. In them, he seeks to find a way of retrieving those undocumented moments through association and reference, by placing images from various sources in sequence. Each sequence is partial in both senses of the word: subjective, and formally open-ended. Though linear, they are not simple narratives, but proceed by association on the part of both the artist and viewer. There is no closure, though they are tied together by personal experience"
- from the catalogue for Obsessions: from Wunderkammer to Cyberspace, curated by Bas Vroege, 1995
"The appropriation of industrial styles and iconic images, so closely identified with the postmodern activities of the 1980s, has landed on our virtual doorstep. Hamish Buchanan's photo-installation, Some Partial Continua (1991-96), is a moving example of work that narrows whatever gap remains between public and private picturing. It is a work of compilation, a kind of album, that piece-by-piece constructs an open autobiography..." "...In a work of art, the idea of album fulfils the critical prophecy of conformity, as a gravestone in a field of gravestones, as one unit of memory among many. The meta-albums of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Christian Boltanski, Maria Meisenberger and Hamish Buchanan are metaphoric devices whose uniform features are the scrims of spectatorial projection."
- from Martha Langford, The Idea of Album, Blackflash, Vol 14.4/Winter 1996
The rough-n-(more-or-less)-ready installation at Enschede, Netherlands.
Recumbent Men was an uncharacteristically 'fine art nudes' kind of series produced in 1999, from which a small selection was shown in the exhibition 25. Essentially, it was a subset of the continuing series of photographs of men that I began after the Veiled Men work, and was originally envisioned more as source material for other projects, such as Familiar Landscapes than as a stand-alone series. Still, I like them.
The large drawings were done in the mid-to-late 1980s using heavily-worked/erased charcoal pencil on paper, and they were usually two panels wide on 50" wide roll paper, which meant that the figures were almost life-size. They were exhibited only once (some of them, at least), in a collaborative exhibition with my friend Jennifer Dickson, at Gallery 101 in Ottawa (installation photos above), to which I also contributed vaguely-architectural cardboard sculptures (mostly now destroyed) and a soundscape (which may or may not still be around somewhere); Jennifer exhibited large black and white photographs, cibachromes and poems.