In response to the 2008 global financial crisis, photographic artist Lisa Barnard undertook a quest in pursuit of one of the most sought-after materials in human history. Her resulting book, The Canary and The Hammer, presents a heady combination of images and thoroughly researched essays that carve out a core sample from mankind’s ages-old obsession with gold. While, by Barnard’s own admission, tales of humanity’s fascination with gold are too multitudinous for a single comprehensive volume, the artist deftly weaves together a riveting cross section of associations, extractions, global movements, and applications for the element that range from mythic, to cosmic, to political, to historical.
Barnard’s contemporary photographic work, compiled over the course of four years, chases gold across four continents — moving, like the material itself, through a complex series of international processes and relationships. One comes away from her narrative, diffuse and generally impartial though it may be, feeling as though gold has crucially affected the course of migration throughout many centuries of human existence — and will continue to do so, through our present and into our future.
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Image: “Fluorescent Fool’s Gold” by Lisa Barnard, from The Canary and The Hammer (MACK, 2019), courtesy the artist and MACK