Laura’s Peer’s article, “‘Almost True’: Peter Rindisbacher’s Early Images of Rupert’s Land, 1821-26” (2009), thoroughly interprets the socioeconomic context of the art Rindisbacher produced as well as the artist who was trained in Europe. By reading this article, I discover similarities between Rindisbacher’s visual culture and the current visual culture. Just as Rindisbacher is a product of his time and culture, so too are we all. He used his European training to construct images which were not “natural,” but instead utilized a vraisemblance to pique the desired responses of the viewers. The imperial expeditions financed by the centre, created an appetite for panoramic views which drew in the intended viewers. This act of spatialization by definition produced and reproduced expected and stereotypical images of “savages” in other lands, justifying the colonization by the homeland.
Rindisbacher creating images using the artistic conventions of his artist training, with subject matter depicting the expected vistas and exotic subjects with material details affording them authenticity, as if he were a journalist-artist. These kinds of works are instructional of discourses of power structures and, not as obviously, about the economic conditions which brought them about. Additionally, the patriotic forces of multiculturalism in the present-day have conditioned us for festivals around the calendar: we expect shows of “otherness” on certain days of the year, performed by well-defined ethnic groups. We purchased souvenirs and display them as symbols of my own adventures, much like Rindisbacher’s culture of explorers and colonialists. These are artifacts of primitiveness, a material culture which populates visual representations. Peers explains:
Material culture functioned as affirmations of the reality of their experiences […] Many such men made collections of Aboriginal objects: moccasins, coats, leggings, sashes, garters […] often purchased as souvenirs on the point of departure from the Northwest, or the return to ‘civilization’, where their wearing would have signified that the wearer had ‘gone native’ – not merely eccentric, but corrupted by the primitive. (Peers, 58)
I wonder, does the intention of the display, being appreciation rather than subjugative, afford it redemption? It is a complex issue. Peers discovers the same thing when she shows how Rindisbacher learned to paint in such a way as to imbue his work with “Western knowledge and power structures which were deeply embedded in colonialism,” (Peers, 60). He was interested in producing works which he knew would sell, and he produced works on commission. Rather than create art as an expression of his own impressions, he stepped into the travel narrative handed to him through the imperialist practice of colonialism, creating panoramas and other works which functioned much like stock photos of today.
As Peers’ work attests, there is much to explore and uncover with the production of art, the producers of art, their intentions, as well as the cultures in which they exist. I believe we are all explorers of the world, searching for a point of entry; a place to either perpetuate found narratives of inherited visual culture as Rindisbacher did, or a place to create new narratives, without using stock images.
Peers, Laura. “‘Almost True’: Peter Rindisbacher’s Early Images of Rupert’s Land, 1821-26.” Art History vol. 32, no. 3, June 2009, pp. 516-544. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8365.2009.00683.x.
View Peter Rindisbacher’s Early Images of Rupert’s Land Here.