|Richard Prince in front of the Kelowna Art Gallery.|
Who can resist? Certainly not me. And nor, apparently, can Prince, whose exhibition, Telling Stories (with digressions), is on now at the Kelowna Art Gallery.
"Telling stories is what we do all the time," said Prince, a UBC professor. "If you think of the sum total of knowledge that almost all of us have, it's come because it's been related to us by someone else. It starts when we are infants."
But back to the story. Prince tells of a man who once caught fireflies in a jar during a business trip to Toronto and, back when such things were still possible, took them back on a plane to his children in Vancouver, who had never seen them.
"He closed the jar, put them in his vest and took them home to show his children because you could do that within the lifespan of those fireflies," said Prince.
A charming story and, sure enough, a momentary thrill when I look at Prince's work later and spot a jar for fireflies tucked on a shelf in a piece called The Storyteller's Cart.
Hooked up to a bicycle, along with his Cart of Necessities, the installation evokes the itinerant existence of creative folk who travelled from town to town in days of yore.
To look into the carts is to explore an almost magical world, for they are part cabinet of curiosities, part natural history display and part picnic set. Oriental fans, a bottle of wine, a ball of golden thread, a model canoe, a bird feather, a dragonfly and more. Odd items, yes, yet curiously linked by the glue of imaginative possibility and stories yet to be told.
Prince's exhibition is composed of 10 such works, each odd and wondrous. Exquisitely crafted and aesthetically minimalist, they are full of whimsy and mystery. The cumulative effect of the exhibition becomes larger than the sum of its individual pieces.
The work has several common threads. Many pieces evoke travel, such as a small boat that rises and falls through a glass plate as if heading out to sea. Many also feature models, whether a tropical island under glass or a landscape diorama, that evoke memories of both museum displays and childhood crafts.
Historical references are also common. One is to the orrery, a mechanical device that shows the position and movement of planets and moons. Another is to the wheeled set pieces used in medieval miracle plays.
Both references can be seen in Device to Explain Something, which greets visitors as they enter the gallery. One of the piece's two elements is a wooden column on wheels. It is topped by a light that shines on two metallic spheres, one larger and one smaller.
The piece can be understood a metaphor for how we interpret meaning in narrative systems - whether epics or fairy tales - through underlying structures we come to recognize as easily as day turning to night.
Literary allusions are also manifest. For instance, Ithaka and the Black Ship is almost pictorial, offering a small wooden boat in the style of The Odyssey that is placed above the word Ithaka, spelled out in ancient Greek letters.
When I talk to Prince he offers another story. This one is about another airplane trip and a young girl receiving the gift of story, in this case the simplest of tales, the meaning of a single word.
Her parents kept pointing to clouds and she would repeat the word they were saying: Cloud.
"So in a simple word, there was a story - that the name of those is clouds and that's the story you have today," says Prince. "And she learned that story. At the end of the flight, she put her face against the window and looked out at the sky and said: 'Clouds.' It starts then and continues throughout the rest of our lives."
Telling Stories runs until Jan. 13.
Who: Richard Prince
What: Telling Stories (with digressions)
Where: Kelowna Art Gallery
When: To Jan. 13