Overexposed, a multi-media piece created by West Guilford artist Laurie O’Reilly, won the Quarrington Multidisciplinary Arts Award as part of the Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition: Tradition Transformed. The work questions the role of technology in our lives, the way it influences our connection to the natural world, and the value systems it promotes. /Image courtesy of Laurie O’Reilly

Irony of technology explored in award-winning artwork

By Jenn Watt

A young woman sits on a floor made of circuit boards, wires and plastic, shoulders curled, head hanging over her device. Behind her, a scene of natural beauty. Around her, a Plexiglas box. This artwork, titled Overexposed, by West Guilford artist Laurie O’Reilly captured the Quarrington Multidisciplinary Arts Award this year as part of the Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition: Tradition Transformed.

“The jurors enjoyed the multiple meanings and dichotomies in her work, such as human vs. nature and human vs. technology,” said Ninette Gyorody, executive director of the Orillia Museum of Art and History, which hosts the exhibition. “Her materials were intriguing and they enjoyed the movement within the composition. Members of the Quarrington Arts Society felt the work was a very sobering comment on our times.”

To be eligible, the artist must have incorporated two or more mediums and/or artistic disciplines in their work.

The figure in O’Reilly’s piece is made of wax, built on a wire armature, with the box itself measuring 10 inches wide, six inches deep and a foot tall. She said it’s a narrative work.

“This is a narrative about a young person who feels protected, but is not, who feels connected but is isolated. She does not look at the things that surround her. She is connected electronically to others who are in the same situation, or ones who prey on those in these vulnerable states. Her myriad of contacts overexposes her to strangers, but her reliance on them underexposes her to real life opportunities to interact successfully in social situations and with the natural environment,” she said.

The Carmichael Canadian Landscape Exhibition: Tradition Transformed, which is on until Jan. 17 at the Orillia Museum of Art and History, features the work of 75 artists and “marks the ever-changing landscape, fulfilling the Group of Seven’s aim to create a uniquely Canadian identity,” Gyorody said.
Overexposed wasn’t created specifically for the show in Orillia, but its message fit with the theme. O’Reilly said she created the work as part of a larger series called Earthscapes, which was on display at Rails End Gallery last year.

“This piece is part of the last section entitled ‘Keepers of the Earth,’” she said. “As I looked at content for this body of work I realized that I had to speak to the fact that we humans are not doing the job that we need to do as ‘keepers’, that there are many lifestyle choices that we make, choices that we prioritize over our responsibility to the planet. Some of these are a result of our addiction to and or reliance on technology. I – like most others – enjoy my flights overseas, my car, my tablet and TV etc. These commodities all have a footprint. The vast number of humans on the planet means that even the things that seem innocuous to us have an impact. So my ‘Keepers of the Earth’ started to evolve as visual irony. This is the second piece in that series. I am presently working on the third. So far each piece speaks to behaviours that oppose the intent of ‘keepers’. I hope that some of the future pieces will speak to our positive efforts.”

O’Reilly said that as an artist she feels the responsibility to first look at her own life and actions (“I fall short of the mark when it comes to putting all that is best for our earth ahead of some of the creature comforts that I enjoy”), and that her perspective on the world and society comes from her personal viewpoint. She notices the rising authority of the online world, how people – especially young people – may measure self-worth through the number of “likes” they get on a post, and how the real world around them can be reduced to a backdrop for a selfie.

“Also when I travel I see many people more interested in taking selfies in front of, say, the Trevi Fountain [in Italy], than admiring the sculptural marvel that they would see if they turned around. The same is true for areas of natural wonder or monumental works of [architecture]. This speaks to a hugely important biological entity that occupies and affects this planet, but is distancing itself from the reality of our dependence on Earth’s health and beauty. If we distance ourselves from something then we are less sensitive to our role in its demise,” she said.

O’Reilly said receiving the Quarrington Multidisciplinary Arts Award, named for the musician, novelist and playwright Paul Quarrington, was an honour.

“I have worked for years to move my art beyond painting into other artistic disciplines,” she said. “To have this piece and my name associated with this nationally acknowledged multidisciplinary master is humbling.”
You can view Earthscapes on Laurie O’Reilly’s website: https://brushandpen.ca/lauries-introduction/lauries-art/nggallery/lauries-art/earthscapes-6.