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Graeme Patterson: Secret Citadel

Secret Citadel tells a story of friendship through sculptural installations & stop-motion animation.

An anthropomorphized bison and cougar represent the two boys in this visual coming-of-age tale that is as playful as it is poignant. Although based on specific memories of the artist’s past, Secret Citadel draws you into its captivating worlds by highlighting universal themes of love and loss, play and competition, companionship and loneliness.

“Mountain” begins the boys’ journeys. This wooden and fabric-covered mound connects the artist’s and his friend’s miniature suburban homes, replicated with 1980s décor. The viewer can peek into the mountain to witness the boys’ creative meeting space. Their camaraderie continues into “Camp Wakonda,” two life-sized bunk beds with miniature scenes showing the boys playing games, chopping wood, and burning toys. Yet this childlike world is nuanced by the memory of a school bus crash on a highway and an archery match that ends in a fantasized death, hinting at the competitiveness to come in adolescence.

“Grudge Match” overtly shows the competitive nature of teenage boys through a miniature wrestling match, locker room, and gym tucked beneath life-sized bleachers.

The last sculptural piece, “Player Piano Waltz,” is an upright working piano that plays a haunting melody for the price of a loonie. Through the windows, the viewer glimpses different vignettes of these now estranged friends in adulthood: riding an elevator, sitting in a bar alone, recalling the old days. Devastating yet beautiful, “Player Piano Waltz” mourns the end of two friends and the isolated worlds of adulthood, making us, in D.H. Lawrence’s words, “weep like a child for the past.”

Curators: Melissa Bennett and Sarah Fillmore
Origin of Exhibition: Secret Citadel is on tour from The Art Gallery of Hamilton and Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Surrey Art Gallery is the only museum to see it at in British Columbia.

Image credit: Installation view of Secret Citadel at Surrey Art Gallery in 2016. Photo by Scott Massey.