From the Rain, the first solo show from Chinese-Canadian artist Long Gao, seeks to capture the energy and spirit of the rain experienced on the West Coast.
Choosing rain as an element was very personal to Long. Growing up in Vancouver, he says he has a special connection to the rain of this place.
“When I left to Toronto for 10 years, during those 10 years is when I really started feeling like I was missing home. And part of missing home was how I was connected to that element,” he says.
This show is the first of a three-part exhibition, each of which deals with natural experiences humans have with nature. The first is the human connection to rain, while the second and third explore the relationship with the sun and with flowers respectively.
Long says he chose these three things because of the fundamental and universal feelings they evoke from humans, regardless of geographical place, identity or culture.
“These things that connect us, they’re very simple things for me. You know? We’re organic beings that are tied to sunshine. We feel certain things when there’s moisture in the air. We feel a certain way when we see fire. And we feel beauty when we see flowers.”
And while he recognizes that over time, we have changed and evolved different meanings of natural elements and phenomena through culture, religion or shared social experience, those base feelings still remain.
From the Rain
From the Rain, as the name implies, takes up the first of these elements: the rain. Part of the uniqueness of the exhibition is that the artwork is being shown alongside an immersive installation, one that was created and painted at the venue, on its roof.
“Every painting in the series is finished by exposing the actual surface of it to the rain,” Long says. “And in that way, there’s a perfect moment for the droplets of the rain that literally fall in that time and place and moment onto that canvas that is captured perfectly. So, on the surface of every single piece is a different pattern, a different way you’re able to see that reflection. And in a way, a reflection of the quality of rain during that time.”
Each piece of artwork begins as a painted canvas that is then left out in the rain. As rain hits the surface, its uniqueness plays with the paint, moving it in new and unexpected ways.
This process continues a number of times—being in the rain, taken out, painted on and put back out in the rain—until it reaches a moment where the impression of that particular rain becomes captured on the canvas.
Each piece then becomes positioned within a specific place and time, telling the story of the rain from that moment, forever captured. This, in turn, reflects the energy of nature at that moment.
“It’s the idea that energy is present in nature, is present in phenomena, like sunlight, rain, like when the weather changes,” Long says. “And this energy, we harness, and it affects our mood and affects our behaviour and affects how we see things and think about things in subtle ways that have very important impacts on us in the future.”
The three-part series
While the other two exhibitions have not yet been given dates or locations, Long has given them tentative titles based on the specific fundamental element that will be present.
Summer will focus on the human relationship with the sun; whereas Poetry will explore humanity’s connection to the beauty of flowers.
So why explore the natural human experience to rain, the sun and flowers? Long says there are two reasons.
“One, we are becoming very, very political. A lot of things are about a person’s race, a person’s gender, a person’s identity. And I think these things are really good to start exploring. However, at the same time, those discussions also have power to highly isolate us, isolate us from our own society, isolate us from other people around the world. And then we see other groups of people as ‘others’.”
He says that humans ultimately share very similar, basic experiences.
“Like we all share a connection to simple experiences like the sun, like the rain, like flowers. You know? These things almost transcend culture, transcend identity, and that’s very, very powerful.”
The second reason was to explore the difference between what humans have the ability to control and manipulate and what will always remain the same.
“We find ourselves in the midst of a technological revolution, in which more and more, we have a mastery of our environment through technology. We’re able to create a completely different world through digital technology, and were going into the metaverse. We’re going literally into the Matrix. And we’re progressing in terms of our evolution as human beings. We’re able to control our genetics. Were able to control and manipulate all these things. Well, in the midst of all this movement and all this flux, all this drive toward the future, my work also represents a question that’s being asked, ‘What aspects of our humanity will not change? What aspects of our humanity have always stayed present throughout our evolution and development as human beings?’”
And if these phenomena remain present, humanity is still able to build that connection to their natural energy.
“[It’s] focused around the idea of being able to capture, translate and express natural energy. And by natural energy, I don’t mean like wind, solar. I mean like there’s almost like a spiritual force, you know, that people have been able to pick up on that exists within nature. [Indigenous peoples] call it the Great Spirit, you know? The life force. Zen masters call it chi. There’s so many different ways that people have defined this.”
In this, Long says, we all share these similar experiences before we pile on the filters of culture, religion or personal histories. And in exhibiting these, it allows him to bare himself free of these as well.
“That’s what artists do. We sell pieces of our soul,” he says. “It’s to be completely vulnerable and genuine.
From the Rain shows November 12–13 at Palm Street Studios. For more information about the show or the artist, please check out Long’s website: www.longgao.ca.
Quick Facts: From the Rain
Palm Street Studios
1849 Franklin St.
November 12: 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
November 13: 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
By Nathan Durec