Nowadays when people in other parts of Canada think of the Okanagan Valley they might imagine wine or golf. But only a few years ago, most people would have thought of—apples. Yet apple orcharding in the Okanagan is itself a fairly recent enterprise, and one that also relies completely on irrigation.
Several years ago Vancouver-based artist Christos Dikeakos and his wife, Sophie, purchased an apple orchard in Naramata as a get away from the city. The artist’s subsequent explorations around the Okanagan and his thinking about fruit orcharding here have now been brought together in a solo show that drills into both the issues here and humanity’s long relationship with the apple.
Dikeakos is a photographer with a national reputation, mostly for work that explores the complexity of urban life—and in the case of his Vancouver work, the First Nations’ histories that underlie the settlers’ stories on the same land.
He is an intense thinker who likes to dive wholeheartedly into and grapple with the topics that seize hold of him. There is a parallel to this presented in this solo exhibition, Nature Morte (a play on words with the French term for landscape, which would translate literally into English as dead nature), in which materials are available for the visitor to engage with issues and relationships. Two large binders on reading stands contain images, collages and quotations made or found by the artist for visitors to page through at will.
Up on the walls, the first group of colour photographs one encounters in the show is pretty much about the beauty of Okanagan apple orchards in all four seasons. At the far end of the room is a trio of large-format images of apples left on the branches in the snow, which is also very beautiful. In between is installed a group of dystopian images of strange-looking, deformed trees, for example, and donkeys being fed the apple culls. The centerpiece of the show is a 14-foot-high projection of a man looking down on a huge pile of dumped apples—the price of gas to take them to a juice plant is higher than the price he would receive for the apple crop.
The artist has also included references to famous conceptual artists, homages to some of the masters of Dikeakos’ youth: a Donald-Judd-like wall arrangement made of old apple boxes (used in the orchards before being replaced by the large bins that are moved about with forklifts), two floor corner pieces (in homage to Robert Smithson), and a frieze at the top of the walls of apple names, which is a nod to artists who used text in/as their work in the 1970s such as On Kawara and Joseph Kossuth.
These all form strong visual elements in the exhibition, which begins to read as an entire work of art in itself, far beyond a straightforward exhibition of photographs.
For those visitors interested in learning more about the artist’s ideas, the gallery has published a full-colour exhibition catalogue to accompany the show that includes essays by Jeff Wall, Harold Rhenisch, Claudia Beck, and me.
The exhibition Christos Dikeakos runs at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Oct. 5.