Simultaneously a gag and social commentary, the Saskatchewan Maritime Museum blends reality and fiction into art.
For artist Todd Gronsdahl, the absurdism of displaying a “historical” museum of nautical artifacts hailing from landlocked Saskatchewan is both a hilarious gag and a challenge of norms.
“It’s just such a silly, goofy concept,” said Gronsdahl.
Gronsdahl is the mind behind the Saskatchewan Maritime Museum, a farcical installation currently on display at the Moose Jaw Museum & Art Gallery.
Filled with “artifacts” created by the sculptor, Gronsdahl said the museum is meant to be an examination of the way archival collections are framed, in the interest of questioning “truth, fiction and the construction of historical narratives.”
“I want (people) to consider what is presented to us, what our history is, and consider that it’s a point of view,” said Gronsdahl. “Some of it’s awesome; some of it, we’re celebrating but it’s not.
“Saskatchewan is just one perspective.”
And, at its core, it’s also a joke.
The idea was born from a sculpture project during his undergraduate studies, said Gronsdahl, asking him to “make something look old.”
He created two artifacts from Saskatchewan’s not-so-illustrious maritime history, housed in a comically small gallery the size of a phonebooth.
“You walk in, there’s two artifacts, and you walk out the other side,” said Gronsdahl. “And the joke is that, we just wouldn’t have a maritime museum; it’d be so small.”
But the idea has only grown since then, said Gronsdahl. After completing his degree, an artist residency at the Kenderdine Gallery in Saskatoon led him to expand his tiny collection into a full installation with more artifacts.
Now, the Saskatchewan Maritime Museum displays more than two dozen items, with five or six invented storylines straight from Gronsdahl’s imagination.
Each one ties into real places and histories in the province, blending reality and fiction.
One is fictional Métis adventurer Charles Gaspar, who Gronsdahl describes as “a prairie inventor, philosopher, sort of progressive thinker that would have been around the same era as Tommy Douglas.”
Another piece of the exhibition is a re-creation of the ski jump that once existed near the banks of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon. In Gronsdahl’s narrative, the jump was repurposed as a wheat bomb delivery system to protect the city from German U-boats in the Second World War.
“They’d fill the warheads with ground up wheat gluten and it would gum up the engines,” said Gronsdahl. “It’s just ridiculous and funny.”
Gronsdahl is continually adding to the collection with new farcical stories and figures. Each new exhibition sparks new ideas, to further the running joke.
On the worktable right now is an addition that reimagines the Emma Lake artist workshops, which welcomed throngs of famous artists between the 1930s to the 1990s, as an actual artist named Emma Lake.
“When I’m building things, the character in my head is making choices, sort of informing the story behind it, which then rewrites the project,” said Gronsdahl.
Gronsdahl’s collection looks to challenge the way history is traditionally presented, as a clean linear narrative that, in many ways, reinforces the way society operates.
“I think it’s a shame we learn history that way, because certain things become reinforced,” said Gronsdahl. “Not only because it’s simple, (but) also it supports this capitalist, nationalistic movement or agenda.”
Gronsdahl said audiences tend to really enjoy the installation, largely for its ridiculousness. When the museum showed in New Brunswick — in the actual Maritimes — he said visitors loved the perspective.
“They’ve never been to Saskatchewan,” said Gronsdahl. “So it was sort of like a Rosetta Stone, where I’m taking these maritime stereotypes and, through a Saskatchewan lens, showing them back to you.”
The Saskatchewan Maritime Museum is on display until Aug. 28.
The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Regina Leader-Post has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.
Sign up to receive daily headline news from Regina Leader-Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.
A welcome email is on its way. If you don’t see it, please check your junk folder.
The next issue of Regina Leader Post Headline News will soon be in your inbox.
We encountered an issue signing you up. Please try again
Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.
365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4
© 2022 Regina Leader Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited.