Multimedia artist, filmmaker and cinematographer aAron Munson has travelled to war zones and the farthest reaches of the globe; his exhibition Isachsen, photographed in a remote Arctic weather station, won the 2019 Eldon and Anne Foote Visual Arts Prize.
Certainty and familiarity may be comforting for some, but that’s not what drives multimedia artist and filmmaker aAron Munson. For him, extreme human experiences – such as filming horses in Siberia, visiting nomad camps in the Arabian Desert, or meditating for eight hours a day over 30 days during a recent exhibition – are far more rewarding. But Munson is not merely thrill-seeking, he is searching for new ways of thinking.
Raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, Munson never thought he would reach adulthood. “I was told the end of the world was coming and the rapture would take us all away,” he says. Once he began to question this version of reality, it felt as if an anchor had been removed. “It throws your identity out into the void a bit, you start to think about why we believe anything that we believe,” he says. Seeing the world through this new lens led him on a life-long search for truth, accompanied by an avid curiosity in the beliefs of others.
Art became a natural career choice: Artists, especially those on the fringes, cast new perspectives on society. At the same time, Munson’s work in documentary films took him to far-flung places among people disconnected and unconcerned with the rest of the world. “I like experiencing those realities and find it reassuring,” he says. “When you can physically remove yourself you begin to experience the world in a different way, it reminds you just how vast this experience is and how different it can be.”
But as remote as these travels were, they didn’t compare to Munson’s quest to follow in his father’s footsteps to Ellef Ringnes Island in the high Arctic. “I have been to a few ends of the earth like Siberia and Mongolia but this was the first time that I felt like I was on another planet,” he recalls. The weather station where his dad worked almost 50 years earlier, as a 19-year-old farm boy from Ontario, was the site of his religious conversion. “The person going up there and the person who came back was a different person,” says Munson. “It was important to understand his experience, to understand him, and also to understand where I come from.”
With the nearest settlement more than 300 miles away and winter temperatures dropping below -50C, this long-abandoned weather station was a haunting site. With partly frozen fingers, Munson managed to capture snow drifts enveloping pipes and furniture in pillowy sheaths – their ghostly textures highlighted by beams of light coming through broken windows. Outside, fierce Arctic winds turned the landscape into a palette of white. These photographs, exhibited at dc3 Art Projects in a multimedia show, Isachsen, won the 2019 Eldon and Anne Foote Visual Arts Prize; an award that validated Munson’s enormous personal effort.
Like much of Munson’s work, this show addresses mental-health issues. His father struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, but eventually found refuge in Christianity. Munson tackles his struggles through art. “I have a lot of empathy for people that deal with depression and with feeling isolated,” he says. “If the work that I create can somehow be a reminder that yes it’s difficult and we are navigating this together that can hopefully help people to find new perspectives.”
Munson’s art, which conjures the forsaken sites and mysterious new ways of seeing, is therapeutic. “If we are not aware of our ability to change and see things in a different way, then we are at the mercy of our minds and the frameworks that we have been brought up with, which can lead us to dark places, and feeling that the world is this flat place,” Munson says. But as his artworks powerfully demonstrate, the world around us is anything but flat, and that is profoundly liberating.
For the past 10 years the Eldon + Anne Foote Edmonton Visual Arts Prize has recognized outstanding artists from the Capital region. To celebrate, the Art Gallery of St. Albert is hosting the first ever exhibition in association with this award. In Good Company features award winners Preston Pavlis, Lauren Crazybull, aAron Munson and Gillian Willans, alongside the artists from the 2021 short list, including Emmanuel Osahor, Sharon Rose Kootenay and Jason Symington. Work by these seven incredible artists hang side by side, connected by their shared experience with the award, while offering a glimpse into their individual practices.
In Good Company runs November 9, 2021, to February 5, 2022. Plan your visit here.