The National Gallery of the Cayman Islands’ newest exhibition, “Plastic in Paradise – Scenes of Real Life Fictions,” features the photography of Heidi Bassett Blair, a Canadian-born artist who now lives in Grand Cayman.
Co-curated by Bassett Blair and the National Gallery’s director, Natalie Urquhart, the exhibition is set to take place from April 24 to July 3 and depicts moments from the artist’s youth and adulthood through a series of photographs.
A lineup of lectures, classes and workshops will also be offered for all ages and skill levels to explore photography as a medium, ranging from traditional photography workshops, to digital photo manipulation, to exploring the differences between documentary and fine art photography.
The artist’s visual diary traces her journey from eastern Canada to the California coast, and the many places in between (including the Cayman Islands) in an attempt to reconcile – and embrace – the notion of “paradise” from two opposite lenses: the element of plasticity (i.e. the masses of plastic in our world), as well as from a natural beauty and nostalgic standpoint.
In Bassett Blair’s artist’s statement, she explained that some things change, but most things don’t, and that it’s all a matter of perspective; the images are creations of what has either happened or are the representation of a past experience. She stated that life is full of dichotomy, that life is real while simultaneously a figment of our imagination.
“We live, we play, we fantasize and we dream. These images reflect what I see, where I go, with whom I play, and what I think about. Some of the scenes are completely candid. Others are staged based on a moment that has passed, or the creation of a scene based on the characteristics of the subjects I am photographing. Truth and fiction are woven together to create a narrative of both a real, and imagined world,” she stated.
Urquhart said, “We are always exploring ways to present new mediums at the National Gallery, and while we have featured several photography exhibitions, most have highlighted the strong documentary photography practice that we have in Cayman. Heidi’s work is a departure from this genre.”
Bassett Blair’s photos consist of candid images as well as ones already composed in her head, creating straightforward shoots.
“Because I am working with family or close friends, and the props are already in that particular landscape, it happens quite organically. By the time I shoot, I typically only take a few frames. The work is predominantly shot with film. The more recent images are digital. I think the most challenging thing for me is finishing the series. Every time I think I am done, another scene presents itself to me. Who knows, I may be shooting this series for life!” she said.
Urquhart said, “Heidi Bassett Blair’s visually striking ‘Plastic in Paradise’ series challenges the viewer to consider the fine line between the real and the artificial, and to explore the ephemeral contacts between man and nature.
The scenes appear natural, but in fact they are carefully staged. What could be taken at surface value, such as the family vacationing on the beach, for example, in fact has many layers of carefully arranged symbolism attached, which is only revealed only upon closer inspection.”
The series comprises 23 images taken from around the world over a span of 10 years, including in Northern Ontario; Florida; California; Bahamas; French West Indies; Cayman Islands; Bali, Indonesia; Lake Como, Italy; Byron Bay, Australia; and Spain.
As she has evolved, so too has her work, with each image speaking of a special time, place, person or story in her life. She gives an example of a beautiful landscape juxtaposed against a plastic blow-up toy which intersects nature with the man-made.
One image in the series, in particular, titled “Popping In,” highlights the duality of the plastic and the paradise in a highly playful way with an array of balloons surrounded by nature, with its subject – a little girl – standing in the center.
“My daughter Heather is literally in the thick of mylar party balloons. It also tells a story of where my daughter is in her life, a far cry from character-themed birthday parties as she heads into adulthood. I have aimed to both tell a story and comment on the environmental impact of plastic in a colorful way to inspire the viewer to examine their choices.”
Originally from Toronto, Canada, Bassett Blair moved from New York to Connecticut to Santa Barbara, California before settling in Cayman four years ago after visiting the island for more than 25 years.
She began shooting photography at age 15 after her father bought her a camera while he was fighting cancer. “The camera provided amazing grief management. I was able to look through the lens and escape. I was able to study people, places and lose myself in their stories.
“In a world where everyone seems to have a camera, I feel the responsibility, more than ever, to create work that is original and thought-provoking. Our world is already overpopulated in every way that I feel it is important to be mindful about what I contribute. Because I am concerned with narrative, my work does have a theme from collection to collection.”
She later began shooting documentary photography and moved into photojournalism, enrolling in a master’s program at New York University so she could study the art of photography.
While living in California for many years, she was motivated by its landscape, which has inspired much of her work.
“California introduced color into my work. For me, photography is about telling stories, and the California chapter of my life was one that speaks in color. As an artist, I am moved by situations that inspire and inform.
“A Canadian East Coast upbringing, coupled with a newly adopted West Coast world prompted me to look at my life and experiences with a grain of salt. Being a newcomer to this sunny new frontier pushed me to shed the darkness of long, cold winters and embrace a whole new way of living.
Nestled between the ocean and the mountains is truly destination living, as are these images. ‘Plastic in Paradise’ interfaces my past and present, migration from the east to the west, to create a playful diary of a newly embraced world,” she said.
Bassett Blair is working on a series of solar prints by taking various plants and exposing them with solar energy onto sun print paper. They are then scanned and recycled into images she already has in her archive and printed on bamboo paper or set into light boxes.
“The collages combine images of women and plants and she refers to them as “ballads to nature.”
“I was teaching my son how do make sun prints and the first print we made, from a leaf that was still attached to its roots, looked like a feather; the series literally took flight from this inspiration. It is the merger of art and education as the work is aimed to inspire us to embrace a plant-based lifestyle and reconnect with nature.”
A members’ preview evening for “Plastic in Paradise” for National Gallery members and guests will be held on April 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. A limited edition book of 10 images that includes one limited edition print will also be available for purchase at the National Gallery gift shop.
For more information about the exhibition and the full lineup of classes and workshops, contact: [email protected] or call 345-945-8111.