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Wanda Koop: Sightline-Blue Line

Born in Vancouver and based in Winnipeg, Wanda Koop is a renowned visual artist with over 50 solo exhibitions nationally and internationally. In 2010-2011 The National Gallery of Canada and Winnipeg Art Gallery presented On the Edge of Experience, a major survey of her career that toured the country. In 2016 Koop was awarded the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts, Canada’s highest honour for a visual artist. Koop has also made significant contributions to the community: in 1998 she founded Art City, a not-for-profit art studio dedicated to providing programming to participants of all ages. In recognition of Koop’s outstanding achievements, she has received honorary doctorates from the University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, and Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.[1] As an avid traveler, Koop has developed a rigorous method of research and documentation. Her documents take various forms: photos, sketches, and post-it notes. Koop uses these accumulated materials to extend the perspective she brings to her work by developing a visual synthesis of her experiences.[2] Her resulting paintings reflect these initial observations which then grant the viewer intimate access to the artist’s gaze.

Koop’s 2001 painting Sightline-Blue Line, which currently hangs in the University of Winnipeg’s Riddell Hall, is part of a 5-year body of work referred to as Sightlines[3]. In Sightline-Blue Line, a winding coastal scene is interrupted by the imposition of a cross-hair placed at the centre of the image. This prominent feature implicates a camera or firearm as the mediator of our perspective. By exposing the tools of her exhaustive visual research, Koop broadens explorations of sight to include the technology which enables it. The large cross-hair in the painting further articulates our predilection for possession which intervenes in an otherwise dreamy vista. This desire for dominion elicits further consideration of the landscape genre, whose comfort Koop has expressed interest in disrupting.[4] The ubiquity of the landscape is attributed to its benign decorous qualities; however this placidity is undone by the desire to capture the terrain. Likewise, the neutrality of technology is dismantled by the power it commands, and its violent potential.

Beyond the reticle, the seemingly infinite coastline disappears into an expansive horizon line such that this composition suggests an act of defiance, as though the terrain cannot be completely attained.[5] The blue/grey tint in which the painting is washed reinforces the presence of a lens, tinted just enough to place itself outside of the natural chromatic scheme. The imposing cross-hair is a brighter shade, more removed from the natural palette, a part of the scene but a separate materiality. Both the explicit and implicit traces of technological mediation serve as reminders of the omnipresence of technology in the environment. The statement of this painting is refocused from what we see to how we see.[6] Koop’s elegant interposition examines the technological frame in which we construct a notion of our surroundings, capturing an ephemeral experience and extending it as a possession.

In a traditional landscape painting we are transported into the scene, as transcribed by the artist. However, here we must detour through the visible vestige of a lens, which carries with it, its own implications. This detour dismantles the intimacy of the landscape experience and burdens the viewer with an unsatisfactory distance from the environment. Although our ability to surveil and capture it is augmented, we are unable to assimilate into the space. The grandeur beauty of this painting is only enhanced by the disquieting implications of its composition. In Sightline-Blue Line, Koop has managed to contemporize the landscape paradigm and elegantly capture the complex relationship between technology and nature.

Madeline Bogoch
Curatorial Assistant Intern
August 2018


[1] “Wanda Koop Bio,” http://www.wandakoop.com/studio/bio.htm. Accessed June 12, 2018.

[2] Robert Enright, “The Aim of Artists KOOP: The Art of Wanda Koop directed by Katherine Knight and Bull’s Eye: a Painter on the Watch, directed by Bruno Boulianne,” Border Crossings, Vol. 30, no. 2 (June 2011), 18-19.

[3] Amy Karlinsky, “Wanda Koop: Steel and Compassion,” Galleries West, http://www.gallerieswest.ca/magazine/stories/wanda-koop%2C-steel-and-compassion/. Last modified April 30, 2003.

[4] Robin Laurence, “Taking Aim: Wanda Koop,” Canadian Art, Vol. 12, no. 1 (Spring 2000), 84.

[5] Timothy Long, Wanda Koop: Sightlines (Regina: Mackenzie Art Gallery, 2002), 6.

[6] Dagmera Genda, “View from Here: On Contingency of Sight in Wanda Koop,” Momus,  2018. http://momus.ca/view-from-here-on-the-contingency-of-sight-in-wanda-koop/. Accessed June 15, 2018.