Thursday, February 21, 2008

Prairie Artsters in Vue Weekly February 21 - 27, 2008

I unexpectedly (and very fortunately) whisked away last weekend to take in a tumultuous three days of open studios, informal and lively discussions, and the opening/panel discussion of “Anthem” at the Banff Arts Centre.

For most, the sleepy mountain town remains a destination for ex-ski bums and tour buses. Only up Tunnel Mountain Drive, with a multitude of international artists—senior artists Ed Poitras, Richard Bell and Alex Janvier working alongside emerging artists Chris Millar and Jen Rae, to name but a few—completing “New Works,” “Self-Directed” and “Aboriginal Fiction” residencies, does the importance of incubating cross-cultural/generational/media reveal itself in a richly condensed community that feeds all who are willing to participate.

There is the closeness that naturally appears between temporary transients sharing a common pursuit such as backpacking or holding an artist residency, but unlike fair-weather travelers passing amongst hostels, the underlying bond produced from ongoing dialogue transcends this one singular time and place. The individuals met here return once again in the shape of future collaborators, directors, curators and peers. Engaging within the ongoing and fractured nature of contemporary visual arts, the revolving door of Banff’s art community actively exchanges in an ongoing dialogue rather than any single scene.

What unfolded over the weekend in a series of meet and greets between artists, curators and directors from across Canada was simply this: that art—as a serious and integral practice—can only flourish through a broad and diverse community of open and frank discussions. This isn’t some great revelation, but it is a path that so easily gets turned around in an insular world such as Edmonton.

An open community benefits everyone from the interchange of multiple perspectives. There is also the collective push to challenge oneself and each other within the opportunity to witness the process and progress of works coming into fruition. A sample of new experimentations include recent ACAD graduate Mikhail Miller’s new application of resin, Aboriginal legend Janvier’s turn to acid-free paper and chinese ink, and transnational Cyrus Wai Kuen Tang’s experimentation with ceramic wall configurations. These latest trials and tribulations from the studio are fresh to the senses compared to seeing the work in a gallery three years later—like the taste difference between picking an orange fresh from the grove and the accepted staleness of sorting one out at the grocers. This rawness is open for first opinions and reactions and the excitement is infectious.

Surrounded by mostly international and national artists with a handful of Calgarians, I was pleasantly surprised to bump into a small pack of U of A MFA students who showed up with fellow residency artist and U of A Professor Lyndal Osborne. The students shared their opinions about the facilities being quite impressive and the non-elitism and interdisciplinary support incredibly welcoming. They were also equally surprised and humbled by the level of work being produced as something not too far from their own grasp. Through this exposure, it can only be hoped that they will apply for future residencies: to put it simply, more emerging Edmonton-based artists need to engage in the ongoing dialogue and live exchange happening beyond our city’s limits.

*First published in Vue Weekly, Feburary 21, 2008

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