The Decameron Retold at Richmond Art Gallery

The public is invited to participate in the Decameron exhibit.| Photo courtesy of Richmond Art Gallery.

A new exhibition at the Richmond Art Gallery (RAG) by Vancouver-based artist Adad Hannah uses Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century collection of short stories, The Decameron. This time-honoured piece of literature functions as a departure point from which spectators and participants alike will gain insight into contemporary artistic working methods.

The Decameron Retold is based on the medieval work comprised of 100 tales told over 10 days by 10 young women and men sequestered in a villa outside of Florence trying to escape the Black Death. This is the contextual background [of the exhibition]” says Nan Capogna, RAG curator.

Hannah has opted to remake five paintings created between 1773 and 1916 that depict parts of Boccaccio’s work into tableaux vivants, reconstructions of art using real people and objects. These artworks have formed the basis of the work that will be on display.

“The remakes are not exact, and you see that they are contemporary,” says Hannah. “It is more the taking apart and reconstructing of things in order to look at the performance of art and the experience in the gallery. The remakes of these works are more like the vehicle for the ideas.”

Living pictures

Hannah’s interest in tableaux vivants means that a lot of the work in this exhibition will look at the space between photography and video and the viewer’s experience of art.

“The video recorded tableaux vivants are video recordings of people standing still performing these five paintings,” explains Hannah, who graduated in 1994 from Emily Carr, and went on to achieve both a Masters and a PhD at Concordia University in Montreal. “You’ll see the videos but you’ll also see how it was all constructed which leads to my greater interest in museums and how we look at art.”

The multifaceted installation will also include the set pieces and methods of production as part of the show, providing the viewer with an insight into how the work was made.

“Hannah’s work has many layers,” says Capogna. “He brings aspects of art history, painting, photography, moving image and performance together. He then invites community members to create these tableaux which is another enormous component adding yet more layers of meaning to the work.”

Community collaboration

Hannah and Capogna have been working together on the project for around two years, with the levels of activity noticeably escalating as the exhibition draws nearer.

“The last month has been non-stop. We have a group of 30 volunteers that are taking part so it’s been a real hub of activity, and lots of fun to be here,” says Hannah.

By responding to an artist call, members of the local community have had the opportunity to contribute to the creation of the work by fulfilling an array of production roles required by Hannah.

“I was really gratified by the assortment of people [who volunteered]. There really is no type. We have high school students; we have retirees. We have people from all kinds of backgrounds, educations and experiences. It has been really great in that way,” says Hannah.

The exhibition is also intended to engage the local community in Richmond on many levels, providing insight into aspects such as methods of production. Featuring community members in the tableaux vivants is another method of prompting visitor

“There are going to be many ways of entering the work and finding connections between art history and what they’re seeing on video,” says Capogna. “Many of the visitors that will come in may see people they know in the community which I think will be quite fascinating.”

Capogna also seems confident that the commissioned work fulfils RAG’s mandate.

“We’re committed to promoting dialogue amongst our diverse community by introducing challenging ideas and issues that are expressed through contemporary art,” says Capogna. “Through exhibitions like this one we are able to provide opportunities for engagement, learning and enjoyment.”


The Decameron Retold is at Richmond Art Gallery Feb. 10–Apr. 20.

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