Jaynus O’Donnell

November 16 to  December 15, 2012

Pioneers is a new collection of work from Montreal artist Jaynus O’Donnell. Her practice uses collage, painting, and installation to examine representations of science and nature in visual culture. She regularly works with found paper materials including textbooks, field guides, posters, maps, and encyclopedias.

Artist Statement

In my practice I use a variety of mediums including collage, painting and installation to look at the language of visual culture objects. Much of my process involves collection, research and reflection on personal experience. The objects that I use most often in my practice are illustrated and photographic books and magazines, although I also take inspiration from films, architecture and games. My concern is with how these items share knowledge and shape identities and ideological structures. I am increasingly interested in imperialistic depictions of science, travel, tourism and landscape in Canadian cultural objects.


Traversing mysterious landscapes, we are pioneers navigating the imagined worlds of Jaynus O’Donnell’s collage works. These landscapes are playful, textural, ethereal, and sinister by turns, disrupting the viewer’s sense of scale and creating a series of indeterminate spaces.

Drawing source material from illustrated science texts, encyclopedias, technical manuals, and magazines, O’Donnell’s collages question the meaning of discovery in the post space age, reacting to and gently satirizing the naiveté and wonder of an earlier era of self-assured scientific and technical innovation and exploration. In place of the serious-mindedness of the original sources, O’Donnell gives us a giant jelly salad full of precious gems, an alchemist’s cloud machine floating in a watercolour sky, and a series of unidentifiable landscape formations. This reconfiguration through collage disrupts the triumphalist narratives about the “pioneering” technological and scientific breakthroughs that are presented in didactic and instructional publications. It also challenges the inevitability of official knowledge, suggesting-as the alchemist would-that everything that is assembled can be reassembled to constitute an entirely new form.

O’Donnell’s landscapes are reminiscent of a world that is increasingly experienced less as a whole physical environment and more as a discontinuous array of information. Exemplified by her series of Rocks, these formations, created from a range of disparate elements, are a reminder that objects (like knowledges) considered whole are in fact made up. Solid rocks are shown to be composed of assorted materials, while elsewhere a lanky walking figure is constructed entirely of bones, reminding us that even the human body is an assemblage of parts.

This indeterminacy is at the level of interpretation as well. Playing with scale and the scientific preoccupations of her source materials, O’Donnell’s Rocks can alternately be read as close-up mineralogical specimens or as the far-away geographies of unidentified planets. Are we looking through a microscope or a telescope? And on closer inspection one wonders if the various elements of these formations are really distinct at all. Alongside the ominous Storms, perhaps these formations illustrate multiple perspectives on the same surface, revealing changes in colour, texture, and luminosity, for example under various weather conditions or types of light.

O’Donnell’s interventions into her source material mirror the disruptive acts of previous readers, which she displays alongside her collages, pointing once again to the indeterminacy of knowledge and interpretation. These personalized intrusions, hand drawn beards and penises among them, undermine the original intentions of the publications. By including them here, they also challenge a narrative that might suggest the artist alone has the capacity to reimagine the radical possibilities of these materials. O’Donnell is aware that alchemy is inexact, and that the combinations she proposes are not the only possibilities available. She suggests new patterns of discovery, but ultimately each viewer is a pioneer, charting their own path through the detritus of the age of exploration.

– Sara Spike


Jaynus O’Donnell received her BFA from the University of British Columbia and her MA from Concordia University. She has lived and worked in Montréal for the past seven years. Her work has been shown in artist-run centres and galleries throughout Canada and the U.S. Her most recent solo project, Landed, was part of the Burnaby Art Gallery’s outreach exhibition series.

Sara Spike is a PhD Candidate in History at Carleton University. Her work focuses on histories of vision and visual culture in Canada. She has published on both contemporary and historical photography.