Carbon Study: Walking in the Dark by Genevieve Robertson

Access Gallery –  January 12 to February 23, 2019

By Caitlin Almond

Genevieve Robertson, Carbon Study Installation, 2019. Photo by Rachel Topham Photography.

Carbon Study: Walking in the Dark is the result of Genevieve Robertson’s recent residency at the artist-run centre Access Gallery, curated by Access’s director and curator, Katie Belcher. Carbon Study: Walking in the Dark invites the viewer to enter Robertson’s captivating microcosm of monochromatic drawings of organic forms delicately oscillating between figuration and abstraction. The exhibition is a continuation of Genevieve Robertson’s current drawing practice, which taxonomically explores ephemeral materiality and organic forms of carboniferous flora and fauna, as a means to interrogate British Columbia’s exploitative landscape economy. In Access Gallery’s small space, Robertson deftly navigates the challenges of creating politically charged works without sacrificing any aesthetic sensibility.

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Genevieve Robertson, Carbon Study Detail, 2019. Photo by Caitlin Almond.
Genevieve Robertson, Carbon Study Installation, 2019. Photo by Rachel Topham Photography.

The curation of the space very effectively guides the viewer through the gallery space. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is directed to the right of the gallery where the three large focal works are situated, a large drawing of a horizontal leaf fragmented onto four pieces of paper, a grid composed of several smaller bituminous abstract drawings, and a large amorphous drawing of a lichen. The viewer is then slowly guided out of the space by six smaller works unified by scale and composition which are comfortably spaced throughout the rest of the gallery.

Genevieve Robertson, Carbon Study Installation, 2019. Photo by Rachel Topham Photography.

The drawings, have a distinctly monochromatic palette of white, black and gray, appearing simultaneously crisp and soft on the ever so slightly warped and unframed white paper, asserting the ephemeral materiality of the medium itself. Robertson’s large-scale drawings on paper are made with coal, charcoal, and graphite – foraged by the artist herself during walks through British Columbia’s fire-ravaged landscape (a process which informed the title of this exhibition). This use of carbon-based materials in Robertson’s work is a provocative effort by the artist to create an elemental sense of life through inherently decayed materials, teasing the viewer with a simultaneous experience of both construction and destruction.

Although, Robertson’s works are self-contained, marketable objects, they share a commonality with earthworks and land art in that they are conceived and created as “Fully engaged elements of their respective environments that asserted new conditions, […] They were (among other things) expressions of a dialectic in nature – the opposing forces of creation and destruction.” (Beardsley 1). While the simplistic figure-ground relationship employed in all the drawings, does initially serve the artist and curators intention for the works to read as taxonomic botanical drawings – it very quickly becomes repetitious and overly contrived in the gallery’s small space. This serial repetition of the minimalistic figure-ground relationship causes the work to appear less like a taxonomic study and more like a predictable sampling of slides from a Rorschach inkblot test.  The strength of Robertson’s work in Carbon Study: Walking in the Dark rests in the materiality and physicality of her handmade pigments. The crystalline texture of her foraged graphite glimmers on the paper’s surface, creating a startling texture to her drawings which disrupts the viewer’s expectation of the medium itself.

Works Cited

Beardsley, John. “Traditional Aspects of New Land Art.” Art Journal, vol. 42, no. 3, 1982, pp. 226–232. JSTOR,

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