Owens presents Secret Citadel at the Vogue

Graeme Patterson’s 5-year sculpture project culminates in stop-motion film.

After five years, Secret Citadel, a multimedia project by Graeme Patterson, has come to a climactic end. Over the course of the project, Patterson constructed a series of large sculptural installations that were accompanied by short stop-motion animated films. These short films were spliced together to create a thirty minute film, also titled Secret Citadel. The film was recently acquired as part of the Owens’ permanent collection, and was screened at The Vogue Cinema on Monday, March 30.

“It seemed important to have Patterson represented in the Owens collection,” said Owens Art Gallery Director Gemey Kelly. “He’s a Sackville artist now, and someone I think is doing really excellent work. We haven’t really collected a lot of film, so this acquisition was innovative for us.”

In addition to the film, the Owens purchased four of the puppets that were used in the making of the film. “The puppets, when exhibited with the film, really give viewers a better idea of the entire creation process,” said Kelly.

Secret Citadel follows the relationship between two anthropomorphic figures, Cougar and Bison, as they navigate their evolving friendship.

“The piece is about male bonding and incorporates my experiences, but it’s really more of a portrait than a full narrative,” explained Patterson. “It’s autobiographic, but it’s really more fiction than non-fiction.”

For puppets without dialogue, Cougar and Bison are well-rounded, emotionally complex characters fraught with their own insecurities and losses. In one scene, Patterson depicts a car crash and a friend being shot in the back with an arrow. In another, Bison and Cougar fight their animal namesakes, ultimately losing and being dominated by their own primal forces. Despite these conflicts, the film ends with both characters left together in an abandoned bar, distant and vaguely brooding, but still connected.

Secret Citadel continually blurs the line between the physical and the imaginary. Throughout the film, Cougar and Bison can be seen working on maquettes of the sculptures that were built to accompany the project. The film then shifts to show Patterson dressed as his puppets and constructing full-scale versions of his sculptures. Even to viewers who have not had the chance to view the exhibition in its entirety, the link between the physical sculptures and the film’s narrative is inescapable.

The complete exhibition was displayed at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) earlier in the year and is currently on display at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery. AGNS Chief Curator Sarah Fillmore worked with Patterson throughout the project and attended Secret Citadel’s official book launch at Thunder & Lightning.

“[Patterson] has been able to make this film such a universal and human story that even though he’s working with animal avatars, everyone feels as though he is talking just to them,” said Fillmore.

“Two women curated a show on male friendship, but both of us felt like it was our story,” said Fillmore. “But it’s not our story, it’s not your story, it might not even be Graeme’s story; it’s this beautiful, fictional narrative that helps me to see myself better. There’s sadness and sweetness; it’s an examination of what it’s like to be alive.”


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