If it can't float, is it still a canoe?

November 8, 2008 | Gary Michael Dault

The centrepiece of Jed Lind's exhibition, Fluid Geographies, is the Toronto-born, Los Angeles-based artist's A Canoe is a Canoe is a Canoe. This impressive work, with its Gertrude Stein-ish ("a rose is a rose is a rose") title, is a 67-metre aluminum canoe that lies, armature-like, through the gallery space at Toronto's Jessica Bradley Art + Projects.

Lind's canoe began life as a recreational vehicle made, paradoxically, by the company that, as the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., once made Second World War fighter planes and then evolved into a manufacturer of jet fighters and (talk about beating swords into ploughshares!) a respected line of aluminum canoes. The absorbing thing about Lind's canoe - and what makes it art rather than artifact - is that he has carefully cut enough parts away from the hull (by hand!) that the canoe has turned lacy and ephemeral.

If you look closely at what appear to be the vagaries of Lind's cutting process, you begin to see more than a graceful decimation of the craft's structural integrity. The cutting-away has generated a pattern. And the pattern is highly reminiscent of that found in chain-link fencing.

With what result? The making of a metal canoe that seems to be formed entirely from chain-link fencing? A presentation of the least water-worthy canoe ever made? Or is there something else afoot?

Well, the conventional view of a canoe, of course, is that it is the sportsman's friend, slipping noiselessly through becalmed lakes and rivers. This is the Tom Thomson canoe, the Group of Seven canoe. But with Lind's canoe - which cannot float but can only be (though the shadows it casts are remarkably watery) - the chain-link patterning makes the canoe itself speak to the idea of division, boundary, to the inclusion/exclusion dichotomy: Does a chain-link canoe keep you in it (symbolically speaking) the way any fence keeps you in a space, or does it exclude you, the way a fence keeps you out? In other words, how is the spectator to relate to the canoe - as a user or as a viewer?

All this is a tad complicated because it calls into question what we mean by "use" and by "view." Maybe Lind is simply saying that high-art objects and everyday objects are almost virtually interchangeable, that all it takes to make us really see a canoe intensely is, paradoxically, to pare most of it away, so that the craft is essentially just pure idea.

Clearly, Lind enjoys making raids on the recent industrial past. His Frost King (First Take), for example - a small space-frame structure made from cast-off bits of the lacy canoe - seems to be derived both from Alexander Graham Bell's early experiments with giant, man-lifting kites (or so the gallery says) and from Buckminster Fuller's experiments with his geodesic building system of interconnected triangles held in place under the structural pressure of what Fuller called "tensegrity" (tension + integrity).

Lind's Frost King offers only an ironic nod to Bell and to Fuller, however, in that its gridded structure is not fastened together in an additive way, but, rather, is entirely cast in aluminum (and a virtuoso piece of casting it is!). Oddly, a faded twist of cloth the colour of dried blood is casually woven in and out of Frost King's gridded planes - as if was blown there by the wind and got entangled. I'm not at all certain what this abject piece of cloth is doing there. Maybe it's the ghost in the machine? The rumpled reminder of the human effort that went into making the perfect, orderly thing itself?

Globe and Mail, 2008