“The story of my project for Venice begins with these unpublished press photographs from 1955. They depict a collision between a train and a lumber truck halted by a railway crossing sign. There are planks scattered across the foreground and in one of the images, an unidentified boy poses with a half-eaten apple looking stiffly towards the horizon.
I was holding a copy of Howl, the epic poem by Allen Ginsberg, at the time I received the photographs. I was in my studio reading about the San Francisco Art Institute students who had organized the poem’s first reading on 7 October 1955. I had been an SFAI student myself in 1991. I was 24 years old and I heard Ginsberg sing Father Death Blues, which rattled me. It was also when I first learned about the Venice Biennale. I discovered a copy of a 1970 artscanada magazine about Michael Snow in the school’s library. I somehow thought that if I went back to that moment of discovery I might find something. I found Allen Ginsberg and the memory of a poem he recited.
I mention all of this because the absent figure in the photographs, beside the photographer, is my grandfather Victor, who walked away from the accident only to die a few months later. But I never knew that, or anything about the accident, or anything about him, until these images arrived in my inbox, sent to me by my sister Elizabeth, on 14 April 2016 at 6:24PM.
But this isn’t entirely true. I somehow knew the photographs intimately; the impact of the collision had been passed down through my family without us being aware of it. A shape created by absence, by rage, by unspoken trauma and grief.
They have been waiting patiently for 62 years, for the opportunity to fulfill their destiny, to break a spell, to open a space and to help me find a way out of the mirror.”
Farmer combines theatrical techniques such as staging and improvisation to create rich and layered works that are open to interpretation and propose multiple alternative narratives. Developed over extended periods of time, his sculptures and installations are in a constant state of transformation as the artist continues to revisit and alter them.
- Canada Pavilion, Giardini, Venice, 2017