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Vertigo Sea at the National Gallery


“Vertigo Sea” is a video installation on view at the National Gallery of Canada. As such, it is not a film, but more like an art installation. It is something to be experienced and absorbed.

D’Arcy Thorpe is a member of the Gallery and had suggested that CNS members might find the installation interesting, so five of us joined him on the morning of March 9 to take a look. It is always a pleasure to visit the beautiful Gallery, with its impressive architecture and magnificent views.


The “Vertigo Sea” installation consists of three separate videos shown simultaneously beside each other on three large panels. We sat on benches in a dark room to fully experience the effect. A series of powerful images and sounds swept over us for the next 45 minutes or so. There were images of mighty waves and swelling tides, icebergs and undersea life, mixed in with archival footage of whaling and polar bear hunting. Actors portrayed scenes of discovery of the New World and of the transportation and murder of African slaves crossing the Atlantic.


Scenes of great beauty were interspersed with gruesome whaling and hunting scenes and re- enactments of horrific brutality. A sense of things literally being turned upside down by the ocean and of unease caused by the disquieting and distressing images and sounds, made the title “Vertigo Sea” very meaningful. It was a thought-provoking and impressive experience which led to some interesting discussion afterwards.

We also enjoyed strolling through the Indigenous and Canadian Galleries before meeting up for lunch at the Gallery cafeteria, where our conversations about “Vertigo Sea” continued. Thank you D’Arcy for suggesting this visit. We are glad we went!

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