Butterfly Garden by Mike MacDonald

Mike MacDonald

Video Artist/Photographer/Gardener

Mike MacDonald’s video installation “Touched By The Tears of a Butterfly” is the fourth in a series of installations this artist has produced over the past ten years. As with the other three, this work is a simple and direct presentation in the passive defence of ecologies. Unlike the other three, this installation utilizes a single video image, thus transforming the grid which marked the earlier work, as well as employing the external elements in its realization.

“Touched By the Tears of a Butterfly” consists of seven rocking chairs, each a different colour and placed before a silk scrim that flutters in the breeze of an air ionizer. The viewer is invited to sit in one of the chairs to watch the fourteen minute video of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis and preparing to fly. Following are images of different butterflies feeding.

There are several images which can be said to be archetypal in their portrayal of transformation or metamorphosis. An egg hatching, a flower blossoming, a butterfly emerging from a pupae are symbols so concrete they cease to be metaphors. That MacDonald has begun to use this images should have been predictable when one considers the simplicity of his project. MacDonald’s career is noted for his use of technology to bring into focus areas seemingly at odds with the technologies he employs.

These works in installation can be seen as a passionate voice in defence of the environment. They don't give directions or chastise the viewer. It is as if their passion is used up in their construction. There is nothing left for reprimands.

MacDonald utilizes his technologies in ways that are at odds with his message. The thirty-second timing of the shots in the earlier grid works (“Electronic Totem” 1987, “Seven Sisters” 1989, and “Secret Flowers” 1993) are reminiscent of the TV commercial. The grid itself in “Secret Flowers” seems at odds with the floral cornucopia that is the focus of the work.

In some ways “Touched By The Tears of a Butterfly” grapples with these dichotomies and in others furthers them. The seven rocking chairs MacDonald picked up in antique shops along the St. Lawrence River are painted the seven colours of the video colour bar. The colours at once reveal the artist’s palette and function like his earlier grids. The length of the image itself is not that of TV commercial but determined by the subject of the shot.

But the chairs provide an oddly human touch. Each asserts its own personality accented by the bright colours. Together they provide a homespun feel; a funkiness and a sense of joy. The small human scale of the video image is suggestive of a living room rather than a cinema.

The images of the butterfly emerging and then a host of butterflies feasting on the nectar of medicine plants are images of threatened species. The delicacy of their life cycle make them canaries in our ecological mineshaft. The first to go in an environmental situation that is worsening. MacDonald’s message is one of warning . . . and mourning for what is lost.

The result is strikingly familiar. The quiet ambient simplicity of the earlier work is still present, yet a transformation takes place before our eyes. the simple beauty of these few shots speaks directly to what has been lost, while the intrusion of the technology slips away unnoticed. Mike MacDonald, in a process not unlike his subject, transcends the contradictions as he issues quiet warnings of our peril.

Essay: Glenn Alteen, Grunt Gallery
Curator – Grunt Gallery: D. Maracle
Thanks to: Archer Pechawis

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2001 Touched by the Tears of a Butterfly—The Photographers Gallery SK
2000 Video Installations—Sacred Circle Gallery, Seattle WA
Butterfly Gardens—Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg MB
Touched by the Tears of a Butterfly—St. Norbert Arts Centre, Winnipeg MB
1999 Butterfly Garden—Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton AB
Butterfly Garden—Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff AB
1997 Touched by the Tears of a Butterfly—Ottawa Art Gallery, Ottawa ON
Butterfly Quilt—Confederation Centre Gallery, Charlottetown NC
Digital Garden—Mount St. Vincent Gallery, Halifax NS
1996 Seven Sisters—Yukon Art Gallery, Whitehorse, YT
Touched by the Tears of a Butterfly—Grunt Gallery, Vancouver BC
1994 Secret Flowers & Seven Sisters—Sacred Circle Gallery, Seattle WA
1993 Secret Flowers & Other Works—Confederation Art Gallery, Charlottetown NC
Secret Flowers—Presentation House, North Vancouver BC
Secret Flowers—Oboro Gallery, Montréal PQ
1992 Electronic Totem—Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria BC
Seeing Red, Seeing Green—Pitt Gallery, Vancouver BC
1991 Seven Sisters—Mercer Union, Toronto ON
1990 Photo Collages—Grunt Gallery, Vancouver BC
1989 Plants & Totems—Terrace Art Gallery, Terrace BC
1988 Electronic Totem—Ksan Exhibition Centre, Hazelton BC
1987 Electronic Totem—Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC
1984 Electronic Totem—Video In, Vancouver BC

Selected Group Exhibitions

2001 Earthly Delights—Oakville Galleries, Oakville ON
Cime et Racines—St. Etienne des Gres PQ
Ten Little Indians—St. Norbert Arts Centre, Winnipeg MB
2000 Material Culture—Paris Gibson Museum, Grand Falls MT
Being on Time—Central Tech High School, Toronto ON
The View From Here—Museum of Northwest Art, LaConner WA
Crossing Over—McIntosh Gallery, London ON
1999 The View From Here—Fujinomina, Mt. Fuji, Japan
Framing Nature—Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton AB
1998 The View From Here—SeaFirst Gallery, Seattle WA
Home Base—Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops BC
Earthly Delights—Artspace, Peterborough ON
1997 Cyclic—Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, France
Breaking Borders—St. Norbert Arts & Cultural Centre, Winnipeg MB
To Live & Die—Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC
Paysages Inter Site—Red Head Gallery, Toronto ON
Paysages Inter Site—Grunt Gallery, Vancouver BC
1996 Romance of the Land—Bellevue Art Museum, Seattle WA
Metissages—Optica, Montréal PQ
Beyond—A.K.A., Saskatoon SK
1995 Call of the Wild—Walter J. Phillips Gallery, Banff AB
It’s Time to Wear Our Blankets—Open Space, Victoria BC
Tea Party (Garden Project)—Presentation House, North Vancouver BC
Light Fantastic (Fringe Festival)—London, England
1994 These Are Your Instructions—Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon SK
Green the City—Halifax NS
Pe’l A’tukwey—New Brunswick Museum, St. John NB
Bath Fringe Festival—Bath, England
Images Festival—Toronto ON
Indigena—Windsor Art Gallery, Windsor ON
Pe’l A’tukwey—Des Brisay Museum, Bridgewater NS
Indigena—Heard Museum, Phoenix AZ
Pe’l A’tukwey—University College of Cape Breton, Sydney NS
Indigena—Glenbow Museum, Calgary AB
Pe’l A’tukwey—Eptek Exhibition Centre, Summerside PE
Pe’l A’tukwey—Beaverbrook Gallery, Fredricton NB
Viva Awards Show—Charles Scott Gallery, Vancouver BC
1993 Indigena—Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax NS
Pe’l A’tukwey—Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax NS
Indigena—Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg MB
Community Hall—Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff AB
Contemporary Canadian Native Art—Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops BC
Nomadis—Randolph St., Chicago IL
Contemporary Northwest Coast Art—Western Washington U. Gallery, Bellingham WA
Eh-toh simop—Muttart Gallery, Calgary AB
1992 Sacred?—Red Head, Toronto ON
New Territories—Montréal & Québec City PQ
Indigena—Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull PQ
Okanata—Woodlands Centre, Brantford ON
1991 Rat Art—A.V.E. Festival, Arnheim, Netherlands
Rat Art—7th Fringe Festival, Edinburgh UK
Rat Art—Northwest Film Festival, Portland OR
Rat Art—4th International Video Week, Geneva, Switzerland
Okanata—A Space, Toronto ON
Visions of Power—Leo Kamen, Toronto ON
1990 Spirit in the Land—Heritage Hall, Vancouver BC
Rat Art—Artropolis ’90, Vancouver BC
A Training in the Arts—Fine Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC
1989 Seven Sisters—Grierson Festival, Toronto ON
Beyond History—Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC
1988 Revisions—Walter J. Phillips Gallery, Banff AB
1987 Photo Collages—Kermodei Gallery, Hazelton BC
116 – 350 East 2nd Ave, Vancouver BC
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Butterfly Plants
Agastache | Aster | Borage | Calendula
Centaurea | Cosmos | Echinacea | Hesperis
Lupine | Marigold | Mexican Sunflower | Parsley
Red Clover | Violet | White Clover | Yarrow

The Butterflies
Black Swallowtail | Cabbage White | Monarch
Mourning Cloak | Red Admiral | Silver Skipper | Silvery Blue
Skipper | Sulphur | Tawny Crescent | Tiger Swallowtail | Vanessa | White Admiral

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