Diana Thorneycroft is a Canadian photographer and multimedia artist for whom the national identity of this North American country is an important topic. With hockey being one of the key aspects that Canadians identify with, her connection to sports is clear. In addition to hockey players, her dioramas depict rugby players or figures crossing the snowy landscape on skis. Some of her works are humorous, some are dark, and many combine both moods.
At first glance, the images of fictional landscapes populated with lots of tiny figures look cheerful and even funny. On closer inspection, however, it is clear that the artist wants to not only amuse the viewer but also to disturb or even shock. Thorneycroft considers herself an activist who pushes boundaries, and often uses dark humour in her work. Her dreamy, often disturbing works explore society and its relationship to the present, the past, interpersonal relationships, sexuality and violence.
Diana Thorneycroft creates not only photographs but also drawings, paintings, sculptures and more recently multimedia works. She presents a carefully constructed slice of reality that is also a representation of a more general phenomenon. In her photographs, she arranges small figures that she uses to portray qualities such as heroism or vulnerability. These plastic figurines are placed in dioramas that evoke the almost cliché beauty of Canadian nature and its depictions in classical art.
Hockey players and skiers among Canadian martyrs
Her works are typical for combining humour and social criticism. Her images are saturated with the identity of her birth country and the clichés and myths associated with it. Canadian themes are abundantly represented in the Canadian Martyrdom series, which combines traditional imagery inspired by classical works of European art history and the theme of Christian martyrdom. All of this is captured through photographed installations of figurines, dolls and other toys, whose cuteness contrasts sharply with the violent nature of many of the scenes.
Among the suffering characters in the series are also hockey players. For example, the photograph titled The Martyrdom of the Great One shows a hockey player tied to a tree and left to be devoured by wild beasts. In Martyrdom at the Ski Hill groups of miniature plastic skiers watch dead bodies hung from a nearby tree. Skiing and hockey are considered to be the most typical Canadian sports.
The photographer explores the identity of her country in the context of art history and in relation to the United States
The Group of Seven Awkward Moments series is a response to the Group of Seven, a collective of Canadian landscape artists who were inspired by the beauty of the country's nature in the early 20th century. Created between 2007 and 2010, the photo series traces the influence of the mythology of the Canadian landscape on the creation of the national identity of the country's citizens. The dioramas placed in front of reproductions of the works of these landscape artists do not shy away from dark humour, through which they highlight the controversial aspects of Canadian national identity and try to disrupt the idyllic feeling that comes from the depictions of the beautiful landscape.
The Canadians and Americans (best friends forever... it's complicated) series also focuses on a similar topic. It follows iconic moments and figures in American and Canadian history to better explore the ambivalent relationship between the two neighbouring countries.
Drawings of well-known characters highlight the theme of violence
The series There Must Be 50 Ways to Kill Your Lover diverges both in its topic and technique, focusing instead on the issue of violence. In the drawings from around 2002, the artist depicts popular characters from comics and cartoons in violent scenes. The title of the series refers to the fact that a significant number of violent deaths are caused by the people in the victims' immediate surroundings.
The artist combines photographs with sculptures physically present in the gallery in her installation Black Forest (dark waters), which she first presented in 2018. The exhibition tells a dark and unfinished fairytale about mutant horses, their herders and the town in which they live. As a result, the viewer comes away with a sense of a perceived double meaning and a degree of incomprehension. In 2020, she continued this theme with her first stop-motion animation, Black Forest Sanatorium, describing the story of a dysfunctional romantic relationship.
Diana Thorneycroft has exhibited in galleries around the world and her work can be found in the collections of Canadian institutions such as the National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Alberta, Canadian Museum of Civilization, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal and TD Bank. She is the recipient of numerous awards and in 2002 her photographs were included in the Phaidon Press Blink publication, featuring 100 of the most interesting emerging photographers of the era.