Thursday, August 30, 2007

On the Roam: Prairie Artsters in Saskatchewan

A four day sojourn to the land of the real FLAT was art-unrelated, but art was sought and art was seen. Prairie art missed was the Mendel Gallery in Saskatoon as well as the U of S's 100 years of collection exhibit; caught were galleries inside cafes and restaurants that were as equal a cafe as it was part gallery.
Saskatchewan as a whole seems to have stopped in time. The era in which it stopped differentiates from region to region as Moose Jaw stopped in 1998 and Tugaske stopped altogether in 1932.
In relation to art history, the days of Emma Lake and Kenneth Lochhead are simply gone with the wind. (The phrase "Gone crazy from the wind" also takes on more meaning than it ever has before).
Contemporary Saskatchewan art appears to be priding itself on the historical, in the same way as its city streets, way of life, tourist appeal, and in the way that their stores and heritage museums both displayed the same items, with just the differentiation of a price tag. Prairie art is taken as literal as can be, and this niche is as tied to the land as the farmers who still bale the fields remain to be. Not exactly successful, but certainly earnest and traditional.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pacific Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan August 2007

"It's summertime, so we mainly sell landscapes," says the proprietor of the Pacific Gallery near the U of S campus on Temperance St. Mostly carrying consigned works from regional artists as well as B.C. and Quebec works, the tourist season demands landscapes that are unabashedly in awe of the land.
Looking more like picture perfect postcards, the works on site were in absolute adoration of the river valley, the bridges, backyard lanes, and of course, that prairie sky. It is that sky that looks like nothing else, and leaves you feeling limitless and at the same time isolated, very much like wading in the middle of an ocean. There is a strange comfort, one that is beautiful and haunting, and you can either lie back and relax or be remiss and have a nervous breakdown.
A few artists, Davis Langeuin from Kamloops, Robert Roy from Saskatoon, and Rolf Krohn from Montreal, choose to approach the land in a less ideal way, favouring to apply heavy texture to borderline abstract landscapes--albeit nothing new, but certainly different within context.

Image Copyright Rolf Krohn "Quiet Evening"

Yvette Moore Gallery, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan August 2007

Renowned Saskatchewan realist painter Yvette Moore is often times standing behind the counter in her own gallery in a beautifully restored city-sanctioned heritage building that houses her gallery along with a restaurant. There are only Moore's detailed paintings along with numerous ceramics from around the region. Each painting and print, many of which are duplicates of various sizes, all depict a Saskatchewan of red brick detailing, ma and pa stands, handsome street carts passing old theatres, empty bridges on quiet rivers, and the tranquility of a place that seems uninhabited except for small playful children. The nostalgia is heavy and unmistakable, and the pieces are all finely detailed down to the last brick and mortar, but as she states on her webpage, "I want my art to be a document – a document of where we came from and where we are going. I find much of the simpler things in life no longer exist," the paradox that the past and the future are identical does not appear to baffle the artist.
Moore's focus on commercialism and tourism has proven successful, and her dedication to preserving the historical roots of Saskatchewan has been honoured at all levels, but in looking at the town of Moose Jaw, I wonder if this place was meant to sustain itself as a tourist attraction for those looking for an old-fashion way of life.

Image: Copyright Yvette Moore, Capital Theatre circa 1930.

Elbow Watercolour Society, August 2007

In the tiny town of Elbow, Saskatchewan, a small bungalow on the two blocks of main street resides as the gallery for the Elbow Watercolour Society. At first glance, there is the feeling that this is another arts society of Sunday landscape painters; but as you start winding through the salon style gallery, there are some formidable works covering its numerous walls.
Viv Brown's effervescent and nostalgic worlds most clearly reflect the end of a certain way of life. Portrayals of long lost structures and land have given way to development; and in the vastness of the land surrounding Elbow, it appears that any change such as the closing of a theatre or the destruction of a tower marks a dramatic impact on the individual who has spent their entire life with the same.
Other notable artists included Brenda Funk, whose mixed media works were solitary in execution and style and Norma Johnson, whose works all had a glow within them, honing a mysterious centre light that illuminated each piece from within.
Some of the artists' bios were available for perusal, and it was not surprising to read that several of these artists had exhibited nationally. The remoteness of a town like Elbow, like many all over the province, effuses a forgotten way of life for most in Canada, a way that was all too common just fifty years ago, and one that now sits as a relic in one of the many antique stores that grace small town main streets.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Prairie Artsters: Vue Weekly August 22, 2007

Art: discuss.
Isn’t as simple as it seems.

To borrow a strip from Elvis Costello: Writing about music—or in this case, art—is like dancing about architecture. If we are to agree with the original Napoleon Dynamite, how are we to decipher one craft and then translate it successfully into another?

It’s true we don’t necessarily have to translate, or describe, a work of art into syntactical form, but we are not all trained to understand art—though we are all taught to read and write—and there is an expectation to filter everything through this medium of natural language. In approaching a work of art I find myself asking: what is the artist attempting to communicate? And how are words going to communicate this communication?

I have recently been blocked twice on this issue: once in an interview gone awry, and once in a writing exercise I was asked to do, a task that asked me to write about a postcard print by Franz Kline.

Arts writers and critics can normally go around the issue of discussing art by throwing around the idolatries of history, theory and formalities that all lend to the “talk” of art; but to capture the presence, an essence wholly unto itself, of a work of visual art in mere words can become a rare and daunting task.

In being confronted with art that stirs an emotion rather than a thought, this task of writing in an informative manner suffers. In the interview with an artist whose body of work was both richly emotional and technically advanced, a struggle in discussing the art, by both interviewer and interviewed, stumbled in the faulty predisposition that the process of creation could be captured by natural language. Without social or political contexts to base the work, and unable to recapitulate a decade’s worth of knowledge in the craft, it was my role as an interviewer to illicit readable insights about the process and inspiration. When you leave out the dry talk of art, the history and -isms and theories, all that remains is the emotion you feel upon experience of the work. The effect, responding to that initial visceral reaction, may be a romantic approach to discussing art, but it is nevertheless the first and foremost step.

Similarly, in looking at the movements of a Kline, you are staring down the pure emotion of the artist. What is there to say beyond what is being poured out on canvas for all to see?
Because how do you use one medium to describe an emotion conveyed in another medium that is so vividly and structurally different? Description fails and details falter. It is near impossible to translate across form and content, and the end result of whatever you produce will always lack a certain significance exempt of experience.
But perhaps it is just this rumination of occurrences and experiences in and with art that is all that may be required, as with this fleeting gesture there is at least an acknowledgement of something intrinsically shared and mutually felt. Regardless, the discussion of art is an ongoing debate with each other and one that is certainly also going on within ourselves.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Best of Art Walk, Fringe Gallery, August 2007

To compare works on the wall versus works on the sidewalk is surprisingly not the issue that came out of seeing the 'best of' show from this summer's ArtWalk. Compressed into a single room down from over five city blocks, the works did not leave any stronger impression within an official gallery setting. In fact, they may have left less.
Without the artist present, most of the works lose their context, as most pieces are personal strains of expression that may be 'creative,' but fail to reach a larger audience looking for some form of originality, context, and investigation. Myka Jones and Gisele Denis may be held as exceptions, but the works represented were inferior pieces to show off their skill, and perhaps this leads into whether artists should show their strongest works, or their most marketable works . . .

Birch Heart, August 17, 2007 Good Intentions, Poor Traits

The Birch Heart basement is full of surprises. As you walk up to this nondescript house where fancy "kids" are strewn about on the lawn drinking beer and sharing smokes, your expectations always take a sudden turn as you enter the house, never quite knowing what to expect and who to run into. The living room always has several conversations going on; the kitchen, always with unexpected appetizers saran wrapped for posterity, is a hub of exchanges flowing from faces on the porch to line ups to the bathroom.
But it's the basement that you come for, where the faux wood walls transform into Edmonton's wickedly uncouthed contemporary art gallery and where visitors can find a little inspiration in the least of expected places.
With the theme of "Portraits," Birch Heart gems this go-around were found in Adam Waldon-Blain's sleekly distorted transfers, possibly an experiment in a new medium for the artist, but one that effused a sense of the known and the unique.
Same goes for Josee Aubin Oullette's 3D paper portraits, an interactive costume between audience and art where visitors may don various paper-constructed items from cigarettes and martini glasses to ties and hats, leading to the costumed pose as then documented by the artist. The sense of the same, the ephemeral, in paper costumes was less a social commentary than it was crafty, but as the digital memory card started filling up, the project is only just beginning.
Andrea Pinheiro's pieces lingering around the back corner were olfactorially taken in with sincere appreciation, always a wonder to visually take in, but in the cramped confines, the forgotten chemicals became an integral part of the experience.

The informal qualities of each Birch Heart are evident and a basis for its success, but the informality appears in slight contrast to its proprietor, who appears to be a rather serious young man. The effort and coordination of the show weighs heavily on Birch Heart the man, but here's only hoping that he himself has taken the time to appreciate the good intentions brewing in his Birch Heart basement.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Federal Minister of Canadian Heritage

The Honourable Josée Verner, Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages, has taken over where Beverly Oda left off. In fact, the two women have simply exchanged their positions, and Oda now sits as the Minister for International Co-operation.

What this could possibly mean for arts on the national and regional level is certainly unclear, as Oda did not construct very much in her time except for splashing around the Can-Con conundrum in television. Any future plans or mandate in the culture sector remains indistinguished, but here goes our expectations again . . .

Whether this was just another political move to sway Quebec or if this relative-unknown has something to prove in this turbulent ministry, I guess we are expected to wait and see.

I hesitate to even mention this latest cabinet shuffle, as its relevance seems minute, but I am interested in hearing how this affects anyone if at all.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Crash Pad, Latitude 53, August 10 - September 8, 2007

Photo credits: Jessica Tse, 2007

As the third installment of Sheri Barclay's ongoing curatorial project, The Crash Pad surpasses any initial hesitation or doubt surrounding the transplant of transient art into the static quo of a gallery setting.
Turning the main space of Latitude into the quintessential crash pad, the exhibit, especially on opening night, was one-part installation and one-part performance. An ideal setting for this close knit city currently underhoused and overpriced rent, Make It Not Suck regulars line the walls along with crash pad props and continue on the one basic unifying thread: i.e. Barclay's insistence to make Edmonton not suck.
The intro piece, a series of photographs of long lost misnomers, confronts nostalgia for what once was with a never-say-die urge to tough it out and explore what "home" could mean. As the statement warns, "Vancouver is not the answer."

Gillian Willans' "Pursuit of Happiness" stands as the keynote to the exhibit, threading together her idea of home cartographically through memory and association--producing an appreciation of place without necessarily stumbling into the realm of longing.
Not out of duty and possibly out of community, the project's mandate from the beginning was one born from boredom and the instinctual "fight or flight" mentality.
In its latest reincarnation, Barclay and co. addresses the live concerns of a very active and real community that exists largely outside of the "legitimate art" radar.
Artists leave Edmonton on a continual basis and arguably they leave because they don't feel that they belong here, that they can make it elsewhere because they'll be appreciated elsewhere. But in staying, and doing, the prospect of making it here and consequently expanding those boundaries of acceptance seem to be gaining its own momentum of appreciation.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Prairie Artsters: Vue Weekly August 8, 2007

With shoulders hunched over row after row, breaking every so often to stretch their necks and take in some neighbourly banter, the diverse crowd at the third annual Draw-a-thon inside Latitude 53 Gallery was certainly an industrious bunch.

As an observer for a brief part of the evening, the atmosphere lay somewhere between the unwavering buzz of a group meditation and the innocent joviality of a kindergarten art class. The basic need to draw, the desire to emote and render a thought coupled with intention, accumulated into a subtle frenzy of pure creation.

The air of sincerity and lack of ego surrounding everyone, fully absorbed inside their activity, was made even more exceptional by its location inside of a gallery setting. Usually a house for presentation rather than creation, the act of creating from inside of a gallery versus a studio carries a certain weight of subversion.
Todd Janes, Executive Director for Latitude 53, suggests that the Draw-a-thon’s success is partly due to its disruption of the “white cube” mantra.

“The idea of the four white walls, that if you put things inside them it then legitimizes the works in some way, is pretty standard,” he explains. “But here, we’re co-opting the space in a different way that’s collaborative and harmonious.”
Tim Rechner, the head organizer of this year’s Draw-a-thon, would agree.

“It would be different if it was set somewhere else,” he says after eight bleary-eyed hours of drawing. “I’m not sure why exactly at this moment, but the atmosphere would change for sure.”

The momentum of the Draw-a-thon in fact changes two to three times throughout the course of the day and night, rather than maintaining one sustained vibe through the ongoing art party, but for those very few who stay for the long haul, the notion of endurance took on a whole new meaning.

Slumped over in corners and doey-eyed from intense concentration, not everyone was as prepared for a Draw-a-thon as they would have liked. Fatigue of mind, heart and body is slightly different than just pulling another standard all-nighter.

Not that all artists present would have cared about the where and when circumstances. Most already and easily spend eight to 12 hours a day boarded up inside their studios, experimenting and refining their craft to their personal and professional satisfaction. It was obvious that some artists were at the Draw-a-thon simply to complete small-scale projects, using the evening as an excusable setting to work and to socialize in. Their focus is admirable, as even after the band began and the gallery became both uncomfortably warm and loud, most kept their heads down and continued working away.

The act of creating is often a lonely process, partly due to a necessity of concentration, and partly imposed by a general lack of celebrating the craft. The finished product is all that is usually heralded as art, yet the physical labour of art is where the tangible glow lies.

Bringing together a group of like-minded individuals doing similar things, but often doing them in solitude, the joy was in the shared and sustained acknowledgment that the work in art, without necessarily producing an end product, is an ongoing force alive and strong in everyone.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Roots, Profiles Public Art Gallery, August 2 - September 1, 2007

Experiencing the essence of tree roots as represented by three very different artists working in a variety of media, the legacy of grand trunks and aged presence worked well together as a contrast and as an offering of multiplicity to the subject matter.
Sherri Chaba's black metal wiring toed the line between installation and sculpture; creating a surprisingly lush and ephemeral atmosphere with her moss-like cynlinders of wire, coming down from the ceiling and jutting out from the wall, Chaba's works channeled the calming presence and slightly menancing affront of being amongst trees.
The highlights of the exhibit were Erin Schwab's large sketches of tree roots, a progression from her previous show of the same name. Eliminated from any context and placed onto sterile white backgrounds, the roots in foreground casting a suspicious shadow, their twists and natural wonders are resembling bodies, faces, and hands in scrutinized and contorted positions. They are beautiful to gaze upon, much like the beauty of recognizing objects in clouds, and a stark contrast to the bone-white and brittle renderings of roots in her sculptural works, which convey the ghastliness of frailty, and would maybe work better as lifesize sculptures than pedestal ceramics.

Artists: Sherri Chaba, Brenda Kim Christiansen, Erin Schwab

The Portable Festival of Portable Art, Institute Parachute, Legislature Grounds, August

Deeming itself as the largest nomadic art festival in the world, the inaugral Portable Festival of Portable Art is the brain child of Josee Oullette with the support and partnership of Adam Waldon Blain. Prone to drawing things that were "impossible to build," Oullette took to building the objects first rather than trying to continually and unsuccesfully build upon her sketches. Constructing the "Paper Tent," the centre piece of the festival rounded out by arm bands, a people game (the marathon game), a live picnic, and possibly more as others wandered to and from, the festival gathering was indeed an afterthought of the completion of the semi-functionable paper tent.
In the middle of a beautiful long weekend on the park grounds of the Legislature, amidst the cluster of frisbee parties and family picnics, the Institute Parachute had dropped down and celebrated something that was sincerely and humbly unique.

Anthony Easton "The Farm Show", Remedy Cafe

Taken near Wembley, the artist describes the works as "semi-abstract" of his usual observational style. Unfamiliar with his previous work, the pieces staggering up the side of the stairs is clearly from a foreign eye to the rural farmland. Only, the mystery eluded to in each photograph does not quite reach out to stop you and make you appreciate the beautiful simplicities. A handful of farm eggs, close markings of fur and hide, the wild and intersecting slabs of 2X4, a cow staring closely into the camera; the subjects are all there, but the context is missing.
The small showing has literally framed itself as a rural exhibit by the looks of their handmade farmhouse frames, but the novelty of rural life would benefit from further investigation.

Sweet: Candy at the Sugarbowl, Super Photo Friends, Sugarbowl Cafe (southside)

Another "candy" exhibit this summer season, the semi-new Super Photo Friends (comprised of 3Ten photographers Eugene Uhuad and Aaron Pederson, Eric Duffy, Dallas Whitley and Ted Kerr) appears to have given themselves the assignment of representing "sweet" as best they can in 2D gloss.
The result was nothing exceptional; lollipops and cotton candy, "sweet" as an emotive adjective or awed expression, most literally represented, the idea of "sweet" as a group exercise was perhaps more interesting than the results themselves.
The "why" of the exercise is evident, but the inspiration behind the theme could hopefully be better communicated at the next Super Photo Friends show.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Capital Modern: Edmonton Architecture and Urban Design 1940 - 1969, AGA


- wish I knew original locations of buildings, do they still stand today where they stood in the photographs?
- Eartha Kitt and Sammy DAvis in "that Night time girl" at the Varscona, 1941
- "Modest" modernism, perhaps most interesting to structural engineers
- MCO is right; this exhibit should be permanently housed somewhere

- more focus on the inevitable destruction of buildings, designs
- no new design movement identified as taking modernism's place in edm (new designers, gene dub, randall stout, remain names not a movement?)
- everyone dressed for a safari!
- plainly exposed the fine line between edm citizens and edm explorers. confusing tone of surprise by curators when discussing "hidden" gems.
- if you stay long enough anywhere, you learn to love it.
- saw nothing new, discovered some new detailing of some buildings, terminology more than ripples of history though.
- it's too young to even call history, no reverance yet

Michelle Lavoie 'In the Gatherine Light' and Marilee Salvator 'Ring Around the Rosie' at SNAP, July 26 - Sept 1, 2007

- A stark contrast betwen Lavoie's digital prints in the foyer space versus Salvator's homely collage work.
- Salvator's works reminded me of Toronto artist Teresa Ascencao's: the kitschy female iconography. Reminded me in theme and maybe inspiration, but nothing else.
- Also, directly after Brennan's wall to wall exhibit, the exhibit as a whole seemed minimal.
- Lavoie left less impression. an exercise in technique?