Sylvia Grace Borda
Farm Tableaux Finland
and contemporary art
Farming is not typically a subject of contemporary art. The artist, Sylvia Grace Borda, aims to redefine this notion by creating unconventional portraits of modern day farmers and their cultivation practices.
Farm Tableaux Finland comprises photographic artworks and panoramic images that illustrate food culture in a way that moves us beyond lifestyle magazines and TV reality shows. The artist’s images of Finnish farming and food production reflect the on-going realities of farm-work from field labour to food processing. An unknown fact to many audiences is that Finland actually holds half of the world's arable land north of the 60°N latitude, and produces everything from reindeer meat to greenhouse grown lettuce.
Farm Tableaux is a pioneering series that pushes the boundaries of what constitutes contemporary art photography whilst also defining a new ‘commons’ comprised of pervasive online media and the concept of the tableau vivant. The resulting artwork provides an unrivalled opportunity for the viewer, anywhere in the world, to intimately experience first-hand the sustainable, raw uncompromising and humanistic practices of farming and food production.
Through this process, the artist questions the framing of history, perceptions of viewing culture and screen-based mediation in relation to its role in representing farming and agricultural landscapes within contemporary art and new media.
Portraits in real-time
Critically to the development of the Farm Tableaux portfolio, Sylvia has directly involved the Tableaux participants in the realization of the artworks. These participants are actual farmers and labourers undertaking the farm activities being depicted through the lens. In order to accomplish the tableaux scenes, the participants are invited to stand motionless for periods of up to 40 minutes in order to be captured by the Google stereo-cameras. The result is that audiences can explore the resulting tableaux as multi-point scenes in Google Street View. Online viewers can move in continuous and instantaneous timeframe around the portrait sitter and farm landscapes.
The artist’s 360 degree staged dioramas are three-dimensional photographs that redefine the contemporary notion of a photograph as a single framed shot. In this way the artist has cleverly reverse engineered traditional photographic documentary practices in the use of the Google Street view engine so her subjects become portrait sitters caught in multiple viewpoints in both space and time.
Experiencing the tableaux
Traveling to Finnish farms in the Autumn and Winter periods of 2014, Sylvia has had the ability to capture a rich variety of unexpected and uniquely Finnish farming practices, such as reindeer herding, flour milling, and culinary food preparation. A beautifully intimate set of scenes unfolds as a result.
For example, reindeer farming is a tradition associated with the Sami peoples, and in Sylvia’s artwork, Sami herders and their extended families are photographed as they herd, tag, and closely interact with the reindeer herds.
At Utajärvi, the world’s most northern flour-mill, a single miller runs the full operation. Online audiences can move virtually across four floors of the mill to examine how flour is ground and sieved.
At Sky Hotel, top culinary chefs are captured in the process of food preparation.
In each online artwork, viewers can explore the intricacies of food production and management whilst navigating to the main tableaux scene and to the portrait sitters themselves who are the real enablers of these achievements. The artist herself also plays a small part in which she has discretely positioned herself in the periphery of the scenes, acting as witness to the unfolding tableaux and as a unique visual signature to the artworks.
Sylvia’s groundbreaking series in collaboration with Google Trusted Photographer, John M Lynch, marks the first known and continuing series of artworks created specifically for Google Street View.
Experience first-hand the Farm Tableaux Finland series at the following links:
Farm, Muhos, Oulu:
Niina Leskelä tending Texel sheep. Link: http://tinyurl.com/naxloyn
Daily cleaning at the abattoir: Link: http://tinyurl.com/nrxtzv6
Tending to the Limousin cattle. Link: http://tinyurl.com/noulez4
Chefs Tero Mäntykangas, Jouni Toivanen, and Viljo Laine at work, Laplandhotels Sky Ounasvaara, Rovaniemi
A detail from Borda's work Mise en Scene: Farm Tableaux Finland (2014) at Mänttä Art Festival (photo: Timo Nieminen).
Leskelä tending to Texel sheep at Viskaalin Farm, Muhos, Oulu, 2014, Giclee
photo print made from artist’s staged tableaux in Google Street
Maulavirta preparing for ice fishing, Salla, 2014, Giclee
photo print made from artist’s staged tableaux in Google Street
Joonas Hämäläinen checking on the production of curing meats at Viskaalin Farm, Muhos, Oulu, 2014, Giclee photo print made from artist’s staged tableaux in Google Street View.
A supporting exhibition to Farm Tableaux Finland, Sylvia Grace Borda has developed the Stereoviews series. This small exhibition highlights the artist’s interest in stereo photography; that is the process of presenting two offset images separately to the left and right eye of the viewer, thus enabling two-dimensional images to have dimensional depth when seen through a stereo-viewer. This 19th Century photographic technique allows the observer to experience an increased sense of information about the 3-dimensional objects being displayed.
While Victorian stereoscopic imagery was closely aligned with ideas of opening a dimensional world to explore first-hand, Sylvia utilizes the stereo process metaphorically and virtually to allow the viewers to see Finnish farming subjects in close detail.
this way, the Stereoviews
provides both a complementary and a contrasting approach to the
Google Streetview enabled Farm
in order to reference more directly historical techniques that still
can support a viewer experience in terms of intimacy and depth in the
final artwork, and in redefining the notion of farming as a subject
of contemporary art.
Sylvia Grace Borda: Stereoviews Finland, 2014, a picture from the series.
(Photo: Timo Nieminen.)
Sylvia Grace Borda: Stereoviews Finland, 2014, 12 stereophotographs
from the series (photo: Timo Nieminen).
Sylvia Grace Borda works in photography, architecture, video and emergent technologies to respond to changing urban and rural landscapes. Her work borrows from painting and historical photographic vocabularies in which she pays homage to specific historical references. Utilising art history as a foundation to inform her production, Sylvia collaborates with artists and communities to accurately produce narratives that become contemporary portraits of our time and provide reflections on wider social conditions.
Sylvia Grace Borda is also an active lecturer, speaking and researching on topics covering photographic disciplines and Western art histories. Sylvia has held lecturing positions in Canada at the University of British Columbia (2000-2006) and Emily Carr University of Art and Design (2005-07). In the UK, she led the MA programme in Photography at Queen’s University Belfast (2007-2009), BA (Hons) Photography at the University of Salford-Manchester as Senior Lecturer (2010). Presently, she is a guest lecturer at the University of Stirling, Scotland. She studied Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia (MFA, 2001) and Media & Photography at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (BFA, 1995), Canada.
Currently, Sylvia is the recipient of an EU award (2014-17) under the Frontiers in Retreat programme managed by the Helsinki International Artist Programme. Through the Frontiers programme, Sylvia is continuing to produce new work reflecting on food production and its intersections with contemporary art production and social justice. Her collaboration with a number of independent and national agricultural organisations is leading to the creation of a national portrait of contemporary Finnish farming for public exhibition. This opportunity builds on ‘This one’s for the Farmer,” and ‘Aerial Fields’, both art commissions completed for the Surrey Art Gallery, BC, Canada (2013).
Sylvia Grace Borda has been involved in recent solo exhibitions over the last three years at Street Level Photoworks Gallery (Glasgow), Belfast Exposed (Northern Ireland), Surrey Art Gallery (Canada), A&D Gallery (London) in addition, to group shows at The MAC (Northern Ireland), presentation events as part of the Venice Architectural Biennale events for Scotland (2015) and for Northern Ireland in conjunction with the British Council (2014), and Zoo Arte (2012, Cuneo, Italy). Sylvia Grace Borda has also received a number of public grants and awards including BC Media Award for Innovation (2013), Surrey Urban Screen Production Grant (2013), City of Richmond Public Art Commission: No.4 Pump Station (2010-11), Cultural Capital of Canada Artist status award in combination with Cultural Olympiad project status for the Winter Olympics (2008-10), the Innovation Award, The Lighthouse Gallery Glasgow (2006), and the Urban Culture Award (through the Millennium Commission, Cities of Culture Liverpool) for 2005-07.
Grace Borda would like to thank partner organisations and individuals
who have assisted in informing the research and production in the
realisation 'Farm Tableaux Finland, including MTK, MSL, Ruokatieto,
Luomuliitto, Visit Finland, Aki Ajolan from the former Eat &
Joy's Market, and the Elo Foundation.
M Lynch, Google Trusted Photographer
John M Lynch started his commercial photography studio in 2009. He is a member of the British Institute of Professional Photographers (BIPP). John’s combined 20 years’ experience in advertising, marketing and photography assisted him in receiving a coveted place in the Google Business now known as the Google Trusted Photography programme in 2012. John’s collaboration with Sylvia Grace Borda has resulted in very first commissioned and curated artistic work within the Google Street View platform in 2013 (see thetyee.ca/ArtsAndCulture/2013/10/19/Google-Farm-View/)