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Highway Today

The Highway Today

Contemporary Art from the Yukon

Surveying SiteThe final section of the exhibition features the work of contemporary artists from the Yukon whose lives and art practices have been influenced by the impact of the Alaska Highway. Their work traverses the terrain between truth and fiction, reminding us that both history and art, are a complex construction of fact, fantasy, fiction, and reality.

In 1942, thousands of American Army personnel arrived in Whitehorse to build the Alaska Highway. By the end of the war, Whitehorse had changed from a small company town to an important centre of communications and transportation. Today, much of the city bares the traces of this period of rapid growth in the 1940s and 50s. In a series of new photographs, Whitehorse artist Joanne Jackson Johnson captures the feeling of the city as it exists today but also makes reference to the details of its past history.

Doug Smarch Jr. grew up in Teslin along the edge of the Highway. His video animation, Lucinations, tells the story of the coming of White people to his community in 1942—symbolized by the headlights of the trucks and tractors as they blazed the trail for the coming Highway. The title of his work refers to the change in light—from the light of the sun to gas-powered headlights and electricity. The work is projected onto a screen of white feathers that hangs suspended in the gallery space.

Lucinations, 2004At one time, the Liard Hotsprings were the single oasis on the long journey of parched spruce and pine trees that line the Alaska Highway. The collaborative team of Mitch Miyagawa, Derek Crowe, Brian Fidler and Ray Puttonen has worked to create a new installation, Mile 497, based on the Liard Hotsprings and Lodge built by Yukon persona Trapper Ray—penis bone collector and protector of the endangered Fur Spider. This new work presents an eclectic collection of artifacts (both real and fictional) from the heyday of Trapper Ray: faded Polaroids, postcards, bumper stickers, all of which have been woven together by the narrative texts of Miyagawa.

While Dawson City falls well north of the route of the Alaska Highway, Dawson City artist Valerie Salez's family has had a long association with it; her father worked on its construction and her uncle was responsible for its maintenance in the years after the Canadian sections were turned over to the federal government. Her new work, Ditch It, is a contemporary archaeology of travel and tourism—a small museum collection of objects and refuse that could have been found anywhere along the Highway's many ditches and culverts.

Installation at the Art Gallery of Alberta, 2005The construction of the Highway also opened the north to all forms of development: mining, forestry, oil and gas and telecommunications. Dawson City artist Mike Yuhasz's work revolves around the activities of a fictional Northern development company, Great North Development (www.greatnorthdev.com). Using the marketing strategies of industry—posters, banners, Web sites and tradeshow booths—Yuhasz seeks "investment" in his company and markets its services. In this exhibition, Great North Development is seeking investment for the construction of a Yukon River Bridge in Dawson City. While the company and project are both fictional, Yuhasz's work asks us to question the value of unchecked development and the lasting effects it has on both land and people.

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