Works by Diyan Achjadi and Barbara Zeigler turn the dire riveting

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      Diyan Achjadi: The Further Adventures of Girl

      At the Richmond Art Gallery until July 12

      Floods, mudslides, toxic clouds, blighted fish, poisoned rivers—it’s astounding how visually arresting environmental catastrophe can be, and how morally repugnant. In their paired shows at the Richmond Art Gallery, both Diyan Achjadi and Barbara Zeigler use contemporary printmaking to show us aspects of the besieged natural world.

      Both Vancouver-based artists are grounded in traditional techniques, and both also reveal the seamless integration of genres that characterizes our computer age. In Achjadi’s case, that means she produces large, glossy digital prints of what look like animation stills. For Zeigler, printmaking compasses the digital end of landscape photography. Both also expand their still images—and political concerns—into video.

      Achjadi has already established a firm presence for “Girl”, a symbolic character who has appeared in much of her work over the past few years. “The Girl,” she writes in her artist’s statement, “is a golden-skinned child of unspecified ethnic origin”¦who functions as an avatar of sorts, used to speak about experiences only lived through the filter of visual media.” Initially, Achjadi deployed the Girl in images of armed conflict and militarism. These pieces expressed her anxieties about political unrest and escalating violence in her native Indonesia, as she viewed events through the screens of geographical distance and media representation. At the same time, she used the Girl to examine the role of popular culture and mass media in conditioning children to see weapons as objects of play and in inuring them to violence.

      In The Further Adventures of Girl, Achjadi has transposed her avatar into situations of environmental disaster, again echoing events in Indonesia. Volcanic eruptions, mudflows, and flooded villages dominate the situations in which the Girl is set. She is depicted here in regimented multiples, uniform-clad, horn-blowing, marching—and sometimes dying. As in earlier work, the scenes are delivered in bright hues of pink, red, and yellow.

      In both still and video images, the candy colours and cartoon-style drawings belie the dire nature of the conditions represented. Environmental collapse reaches backward, to exploitation, greed, and mismanagement, and forward, to wars yet unfought over ruined land and exhausted resources.

      Barbara Zeigler: Hidden Sites

      In Hidden Sites, Zeigler’s focus is regional, although with a universal application. As her title suggests, she is bringing a couple of unseen places of environmental significance to our attention. These are the Cache Creek landfill that absorbs much of Metro Vancouver’s garbage, and the Broughton Archipelago of the central British Columbia coast, where migrating wild salmon smolts are being decimated by sea lice as they swim past a multitude of fish farms.

      Zeigler explores her subjects through a video and a series of still photographs, some shot straight and some digitally altered. The video wordlessly encapsulates the five-hour journey of a garbage truck as it travels from the outskirts of Vancouver to the Cache Creek landfill, where it deposits its stinking load before an audience of crows and earth movers.

      Along the route, shots of the Fraser River (beside which much of the highway runs) and of spawning salmon highlight the connection between two journeys, human and piscine. The Fraser, Zeigler’s statement records, “is considered to be the greatest salmon river in the world”. But for how long, her art asks, given the evidence of toxins leaching into wells and waterways from the mammoth landfill? Given the evidence, too, of fish farms, logging, pulp mills, and global warming, all wreaking destruction on the native salmon population. For how long?