Thursday, May 29, 2008

Prairie Artsters - It’s not Us vs Them*

This deeply rooted and seemingly arbitrary rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary exists on various levels—from provincial government attention to sports fanaticism—but it’s questionable to engage in a Battle of Alberta in terms of contemporary visual arts. Extending from their respective former reputations as sculpture and painting centres, Edmonton and Calgary have sustained and developed in very different directions—and the urge to compare and contrast has outgrown itself (with a few minor relapses).

Putting this urge to the test, a friend in the field of art conservation joined me recently for a 24-hour Calgary art trip. Stopping first at the grad show at the Alberta College of Art and Design, the gamut of works surveyed struck us both with the sentiment that we had each seen this show before. Many of the ACAD pieces eerily echoed recent works seen on the northern part of the QEII (or perhaps vice versa), and already I couldn’t resist the the futile activity of comparing.

ACAD BFA Penny Chase’s carefully stringed frame within frame was the rainbow doppleganger to U of A MFA Maria Madacky’s past exhibited work and Ingjerd Jentoft Karlsen’s sound and video installation of active water perched within a wooden box was the higher-end deja vu of Agnieszka Matejko’s installation from The Apartment Show. Room after room of this sprawling and massive student exhibition curated by Wayne Baerwaldt and Alexandra Keim, constant comparisons were made to recent grad shows visited at the U of A, Grant MacEwan and even Victoria Composite’s Grade 12 IB. One is more original, the other more polished, daring, skilled, etc. The compulsive reaction to identify and compare doesn’t regularly occur when in any other city within Alberta, the Prairies, Canada and abroad, but perhaps due to the relative proximity of influences and connections combined with a sense of estrangement, there persists an unfounded sense of entitlement to ideas and aesthetics.

Later on, I unknowingly began an evening that would span all three openings at the artist-run centres that all consistently showcased exciting programming, boasted attendance of and access to all exhibiting artists, published glossy and locally commissioned critical essays accompanying each exhibition and served warm, fresh, and delicious reception food.

Beginning with Lethbridge-based artist Annie Martin’s (im)permeable at The New Gallery, the informal artist talk was both active and engaging, spinning off into a quality discussion of the work that transcended the world of esoteric academia jargon and the simple praise of personal connections and memories. Stopping next at Truck for Berlin-Montréal’s Bettina Hoffmann’s Parallax, the lingering sense that Calgary had a deeper pool of emerging and active artists, writers, curators and administrators was reaffirmed when the gallery was suddenly flooded with the likes of Anthea Black and Nicole Burisch. Eventually with over half a dozen in tow, we collectively headed to Stride for Victoria-based Lyndal Gammon’s Interval to find visiting resident artists from Banff as well as Stride’s executive board members such as Chris Cran still chatting into the night. Walking past Epcor-donated spaces of plus-15s filled with curated exhibitions and performances, and stopping in at a handful of worthwhile commercials such as Paul Kuhn, Newzones and Trepanier Baer, I left the next day feeling recharged. I had a fleeting thought of a life in Calgary, but it was far more exciting to think about the inter-provincial collaborations and discoveries awaiting. Momentarily satiated, my thirst for inspiration continues to explore an unending curiosity into the ambivalent idea of here.

*First published in Vue Weekly, May 29 - June 4, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

(im) permeable Annie Martin The New Gallery May 17 - June 21, 2008*

Situated throughout the interior halls of the Eau Claire Market, Annie Martin’s (im) permeable exhibition calls on the specter of Walter Benjamin. At first glance, The New Gallery could be mistaken for another shop in the quiet, semi-deserted mall in the midst of redeveloped Calgary-- selling a handful of original and newly relined ladies’ trench coats. Following Benjamin’s ambivalent and curious criticisms of the Haussmannization of Paris to the urban phenomenon of shopping arcades, Martin follows the rite of the modern wanderer, the flâneur that finds inspiration within the crowd, yet always feels alienated from it.

The flâneur’s motivation can be traced in Charles Baudelaire’s prose poem, “Crowds," that begins, “It is not given to everyone to take a bath in the multitude; to enjoy the crowd is an art; and only that man can gorge himself with vitality, at the expense of the human race . . . The poet enjoys the incomparable privilege that he can, at will, be either himself or another. Like those wandering spirits that seek a body, he enters, when he likes, into the person of any man. For him alone all is vacant; and if certain places seem to be closed to him, it is that, to his eyes, they are not worth the trouble of being visited.”

To inhabit public space freely and openly has been dominated mostly by men, as there is no traditional feminine equivalent to the idea of the flâneur. The flânuese remains atypical, and in a twist of cultural and economic saturation in the form of the modern day shopping mall, there is now a sense of safety and familiarity to the conflation of commerce and walking. Most inhabitants of the modern mall are women, children, and seniors, and it is here where Martin begins her investigation.

Focusing in on the presence of the wandering body, specifically the female body, Martin’s construction of an aural-based phenomenology situates itself within the shopping mall--a centre for the fleeting commodity. Anonymous and transient, the bodiless trench coats not only signify the listless roamer of urban arcades, but now amplify that route of the m(a)llified flâneur. Hanging spaciously on opposing walls of TNG, each coat is wired to a live audio feed coming from elsewhere in the mall. Tangible and textile, the dislocated presence becomes re-embodied. The experience requires you to physically lean into each coat, to open up the retailored and feminized upholstery, and re-navigate your spatial surrounding through an imperceptible auditory sensation. The audience body fills in for the perceiving and receiving body of the flâneur, at once within the crowd, but alone.

As a muffled aleatory of estranged noises, each coat inhabits a fragment of the modern ephemeral, a portal into hearing the heartbeat of a crowd. There is a disjunction between the stillness of the coats and of the seemingly kinetic sound coming from within them. The perception experienced is different from physically absorbing a crowd in the moment; the experience is more of a reception, akin to eavesdropping into a wholly other place and time. The ontological prowess of aurality is tested against the white noise of a non linear, non referential soundscape, prompting more questions than ideas. Dependent on the time of day, and the actual fluctuation of pedestrians passing through Eau Claire Market, (im)permeable is at best a live reflection of our everyday--channeling the nuances and broadcasting their essence in an unfiltered form. Although the coats can arguably be read as filters (literally) embroidered in historical and gender significations, the audio is raw, untempered and most importantly, transient.

The result of listening in to your immediate spatial environment is ultimately left up to the audience to do what they may, but its existence continues as a gesture as to how we engage with the world around us.

*Commissioned by and first published on on May 20, 2008

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Rainy May-Day Wednesday Afternoon in Edmonton

There's something about gallery hopping on a rainy day, prompting a clean, fresh perspective awaiting. Only it's something I've rarely done in Edmonton. Between the large stretches of blocks between each gallery, poor public transit, lack of parking, compounded by Gallery Walk's line up of mostly unappealing and recycled roster of artists, the rainy lonely trek through our city streets is more often dismal than inspirational.

As the rain slowed, I pulled on my gum boots. First, I stopped in at Latitude 53 to see both their renovations and their Consumable Waste show. Led by some of Edmonton's hottest young green designers, the show was disappointing to say the least. The exhibition was seemingly isolated from the city and oblivious to the challenges of fitting over-sized coat racks and rotting chairs into an ergonomic lifestyle. Out of all the items displayed, only Palette Industries' OSB Buoy Bench was of note in its simple raw utility. Otherwise, the basic principles of craftsmanship were mostly nowhere to be found and the arbitrary check boxes beside each item ticking off "improves quality of life" was outright laughable. Their lack of functionality and design was echoed by the glaring chill of bids missing by each item. The works created were neither here nor there. Simply impractical, but imbued with good intentions, it was a frustrating start of literal garbage as the rain started again.

Next I headed for Lando Gallery, where they were in the midst of setting up their auction sale for the weekend. Representing regional landscape painting and photography, the highlights continue to be their ceramic works by Saskatchewan artists Mel Bolen and Rod and Denyse Simair. Dominating the showroom floor, which is unsettling to walk amongst ceramics uncased in full fragility, Bolen and Simair's delicate porcelain finishes shine in contrast to the dark stained floors. (A beautiful space, the floors I finally realized are too dark in contrast to the heavy dark palettes on the walls.) Impressive were Simair's crystalline gaze and wheel thrown works as well as Bolen's gentle folds. The hands on craft of ceramics requires more patience than I normally have reserved, but today something struck home about the clay-rich land and the transformative power of ceramic art.

Aimless, I strolled by the Gallery Walk with no pull to go into any of them. I ended up on the other side of central at Mandolin Books for a coffee and caught Keith Walker's glass art exhibition and an accompanying photo essay. Always bright and whimsical in shape and colours, Walker's glass works did not at all match the photo essay, which told a story more akin to a day in the life of a steel worker. Dramatic black and white close ups, veins tensed, serious demeanors, and all around heavy metal work in action, these photographs were an intense contrast to the bubbly circus top works lining the top of the bookshelves. Walker's skill is undeniable, and his works can straddle both worlds of solo exhibition and background accents, but they sit here a top bookshelves in a store that looks to fold or sell in the very near future.

It still rains, nearly a week later, and these reflections still stand with no clear direction.

Friday, May 23, 2008

New: Harcourt House Studio Visits*

As the longest standing studio tenant in Harcourt House’s twenty year history, sculptor Barb Paterson has seen her share of change. From the flux of faces along the corridors to the dramatic rise of the cityscape from her east facing window, the walls of Harcourt House studios have shifted along with the city and its citizens.

Together with co-’88 BFA graduate Judy Hamilton, Paterson was one of the founding visionaries of Harcourt House Gallery’s existing layout. Working then with the newly formed WECAN Society, Paterson now shares that the original concept of Harcourt House was an open ended affair that included everything from painting to jewelry making and even musicians.

Studio space in the city was (and still remains) a need that was partially quenched with the creation of Harcourt House, and the studios have remained an environment that Paterson insists has been immensely important to her own practice as a sustained professional artist.

“Artists tend do their best work alone, but to survive that loneliness, you need interaction with fellow artists to keep your sanity,” she shares on a quiet weekday afternoon that was once a bustling centre for full time artists.

Looking around her sunlit studio, there are stunningly lifelike maquettes both old and new in their various stages of bronzing. As a celebrated sculptor best known nationally for her portrayal of The Famous Five on Parliament Hill and in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza, Paterson’s bronze works consistently draw great fanfare for its attention to detail and to their narrative interactions. Often ground-level, her life size works always appear caught in mid-action, from a boy playing hide and seek to a railroad worker approaching a dog, they are pieces that always thoughtfully and playfully engages with its viewers and surrounding environment.

The latest work dominating Paterson’s studio is a one and a quarter size monument to Lois Hole. Tentatively titled “Legacy of Love and Learning,” Paterson has sculpted a casually perched Lois Hole in mid-embrance of a young girl. Nodding to the essence of Lois Hole--who is equally famous for her hugs as for her enduring commitment to education--Paterson chose to sidestep a literal depiction of Hole hugging the girl (modeled after Paterson’s grand daughter) with a more subtle portrayal of the girl tightly hugging a book to her chest under Hole’s maternal guidance. Immortalizing a legacy within a moment, Paterson continues next with a statue of Emily Carr for Victoria’s Empress Hotel.

Studio visited May 14, 2008

Photo credit: Amy Fung, 2008

*First published in Harcourt House Gallery newsletter May 23, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

PREVIEW: Face the Nation, June 20 to September 23, The Art Gallery of Alberta*

On one side of the Art Gallery of Alberta are some of the national treasures of Canadian art history. Painted by the Russian-born Nicholas deGrandmaison, early 20th century scenes of Southern Alberta ranchers and cowboys along with intimate portraits of Blackfoot and Peigan people are primary documents of Alberta’s visual cultural history. Grandmaison’s oeuvre leaves a cherished legacy of raw romanticism that at once aggrandizes and encapsulates Aboriginal identity politics that persist into contemporary times.

In direct dialogue with their summer deGrandmaison show, and exhibiting on the other side of the Art Gallery of Alberta, Face the Nation gathers eight contemporary Aboriginal artists from across Canada for their take on the history and (mis)representation of myths, stereotypes, and culture. Featuring works by K.C. Adams, Lori Blondeau, Dana Claxton, Terrance Houle, Maria Hupfield, Kent Monkman, Adrian Stimson and Jeff Thomas, Face the Nation explores the ways that young, urban Aboriginal people are representing themselves in visual art.

Terrance Houle, Urban Indian #7, digital print, 2007.

“The artists are rooting the formations of their identities in a common past history — and in a common art history,” says Catherine Crowston, the AGA’s deputy director and chief curator. “They’re not just addressing present-day identities, but commenting on historical representations.”

While Toronto-based painter Kent Monkman has been known for his historical revisioning of classic painting styles —referencing the work of artists ike Paul Kane and George Catlin — Ottawa-based artist Jeff Thomas is working directly with the AGA’s collection of Edward Curtis historical photographs, and incorporating them into the institution’s modern photographic portraits as a method to archive, engage, and recover lost histories.

Many of the artists in Face the Nation use themes of sexuality and performance to confront the past and evaluate the present. “Many of the artists are rewriting the history of what has been left out, and often with many subjugated people, the issue of sexuality comes up,” Crowston says. “The animalistic man and the Indian princess – some of these artists are exploring an inversion of colonial relationships.”

Highlighting the body’s transformative identity, themes of imitation, mimicry and reference emerge through performative enactment of masquerade. Challenging the authority of history in both its documentary and artistic representations, new works and collaborative works by Lori Blondeau and Adrian Stimson assume the alter egos of Belle Sauvage and The Buffalo Boy. New media work by Dana Claxton, and new pieces by Calgary-based artist Terrance Houle play off gender roles. Houle’s work presents Native men in loin cloths setting up a tipi, with obvious erections directed away from the audience. The humour and subtlety of usurped identity echoes KC Adam’s 2005 Cyborg Hybrid series, which will also be included, along with sculptural works from Maria Hupfield.

“The way the show is shaping up, there will be a lot of performance and masquerade,” Crowston says. “A big part of what the show is looking at is the question of identity."

*First published in Galleries West, Volume 7, Number 2, Summer 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Prairie Artsters is right there in Red Deer*

More than just a pit stop between Edmonton and Calgary, a weekend visit to Red Deer yielded a new appreciation in the form of out-of-the way galleries.

Frequent collaborator (and Vue’s concurrent Queermonton columnist) Ted Kerr and I first hit up the Red Deer Museum and Gallery, which was a strange mixture of community art, historic pioneer antiques, and an excellent, but small, permanent collection of Inuit art. The desk belonging to the first mayor of Red Deer was there (and for sale), along with a corner of ordinary photographs representing work from the nearby Women’s Correctional Facility. A heavy folksy beaver-felt installation and a restored floor plan of a pioneer’s single storey one bedroom were some of Ted’s favourites, while computer print outs of salon-style art were a shared fascination. Noted were the price tags on nearly every single item, listed at potentially just above cost, and this farmer’s market value of art turned out to be a consistent theme throughout the rest of the day.

Photo credit: Ted Kerr, 2008

A stroll down Ross Street in search of the Harris-Warke Gallery resulted in a perusal of a kitchen-gadgets/gift shop called Sunworks, which evidently held the gallery in the back of its store. Named after the owners of the building, who once ran the upstairs space as an arts venue, the Harris-Warke Gallery was certainly a beautiful little area currently showcasing ceramic works by local artist Michele Dupas and poems by Glynis Wilson Boultbee. Miniature installations of playground dunes, void of children, played up the central theme of women who have chosen not to have children. Awkward, but a clear stance taken against an issue that is perhaps still pressing within this community, the works do modernize a tradition of folk narrative.

Popping our heads into the Allied Arts Council and Gallery across the street and in the back of a shopping centre, it was a slightly depressing space with little light and not enough art. On to Gallery IS, which held works by the likes of Vivienne Bennett and Ash Shumba, the gallery—or store—had a front display case that warded us off at first. But walking through, the backdoor of the gallery led us to the front door of The Velvet Olive, a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar and BBQ joint that was not surprisingly once owned by Harris and Warke. Rumoured to once be the almost gay bar, it has since been sold to be a seemingly high-end, but neighbourhood mixed-nuts on every table and prepare-your-own-burger-buns type of local gallery/bar/music venue.

But the ultimate destination was the Bilton Centre for Contemporary Art, a new space dedicated to regional as well as national and international artists. Just north of the river and serendipitously missing the turn-off back over the bridge, we found the gallery as it was just beginning to take down an exhibit by Ontario visual artist Sara Graham. New bright works of neon yellow and strong dark lines of reconfigured urban design cut a sharp traffic line all the way around the room. Opening just in the last year, this tiny contemporary art space seemingly in the middle of nowhere was suddenly filled by two carloads of visitors taking a lunch break from the Alberta Media Arts Alliance conference plus two random walk-ins.

One of the small joys of galleries in the region is that you’re usually the only one in the room. The rare exception falls on opening nights, but for the most part, we are spoiled in certain ways by the lack of security guards and not having to fall in line with the shuffle of visitors. There is a privateness to the experience shared between you and the art, between you and the gallery, and standing amidst friends from both Edmonton and Calgary inside the Bilton in Red Deer, the lived realization settled in that art only becomes a destination point for those who actually want it.

*First published in Vue Weekly, May 15 - 21, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

11404: Processing Within and Beyond Intellectual Property Lines*

Finding inspiration in their mutual pursuit of art, Andrea Pinheiro, Monica Pitre, and Gillian Willans found success through each other. Building off their inhabited camaraderie, the three artists and friends behind the “11404” exhibition lived off (as well as living amongst, beside, and against) each others’ feedback, support, and critiques for well over a year. The era of 11404 and its namely exhibition sums up what can only be described as an intensely concentrated period of hectic exhilaration. Serving as a crash pad for other artists from across North America, much time and breath had been shared over the elusive topic of “art.” Now, with each moving past the completion of their respective MFA degrees--a terminal degree in itself--each artist looks back at this time shared and how one idea can never be just yours or mine.

Exhibiting appropriately in the hallway gallery of ArtsHab over December of 2007 to January of 2008, the exhibit comes as the tenants of 11404 have already diverged. Pitre has already moved onto the professional world; Pinheiro is caught in transition as she moves west to Vancouver; and Willans readies herself as she bunkers down for her March graduate defense and exhibition. In scope and in direct correlation, Pitre creates a personal space within the larger exhibition, revealing a need for privacy and boundaries; Pinheiro documents her bedroom walls as viewed from the difficulty of leaving her room and her bed, narrowing her focus onto the soon-to-be forgotten private spaces near her; and Willans, the last one of the three to remain at 11404 during the time of the exhibition, peers back into her vault of notes written, moments sustained, and spaces shared as she re-creates a loose walk through of the space itself. Permeating each others lives, a life already dedicated to the arts, the year and half of their cohabitation comes to a quiet and bittersweet end that bids farewell to three individuals already heading off in different directions.

At the initial prospect of discussing “11404” in terms of intellectual property, the artists (and renters) of 11404 politely balked at the idea of imposing any sense of ownership over ideas and space once shared and incubated. The three women, ranging from their twenties to thirties, openly discussed and shared concepts, process, and aesthetics with each other with no sense of attachment or entitlement over the flow of ideas. In giving a little, each received a lot more than they anticipated. Partners in crime throughout their cohabitation via school, their involvement with SNAP Gallery, and various artist projects, all three artists retrospectively acknowledge the importance of having shared resources as they each moved closer to completing their degrees--and the impact they had on each other affecting who they are today as artists and as individuals.

Shortly after the exhibition ended Pitre shared some of her thoughts on her overall experience. “I was fortunate to be the first to complete my MFA, and to be the only one to do so while we three were still living together. I was able to indulge in all of that caring in friendship and artist comradeship,” Pitre said. “I am grateful to have many good friends; however, my relationship with Andrea and Gillian is special, because on top of each of us sharing a close friendship, we also share a deep love of art and a serious commitment to our own art practices.”

Aesthetically, all three of these artists do not share any strong formal or contextual similarities. What ties them together are their serious commitment to the arts and their openness to learning as much as they can about their medium. Willans, the sole MFA painter, is also the only Edmonton native. Her relationship with the city, the school, and all its peculiarities contains a much deeper inquiry than her roommates--both who came from Ontario to attend the U of A. Although Pitre and Pinheiro are both working in prestigious printmaking program--with Pitre and Pinheiro meeting when the former was the latter’s Teaching Assistant Instructor--their works are as different as the individuals behind them. And looking at “11404,” what is revealed through this exhibition are their individual personalities shining through the guise of cohabitants.

Each artist remains an individual quite formally from each other, but it is interesting to see how each artist’s sense of self comes through in context of their cohabitation. Willans’ neon-realist paintings walk you through a replica of their living space, from the clutter of shoes in the front foyer to a portrait of keys and mail lain as an installation painting in the hallway of ArtsHab. There is an identification of self through other(s), a fascination with the absent presence within domestic quarters, and the relics of relationships that haunts her pieces. Of her time at “11404” with Pitre and Pinheiro, of which she is still resides as she nears the completion of her thesis exhibition, Willans exasperates inbetween sleep and studio time, “ We all were night owls, and just because we had left the studio, it did not mean your brain would shut off. The reasoning around deciding to the leave the studio at the end of the day usually falls into three categories: you fulfilled your goals and you have to wait until your paint/ paper dries, you’re completely exhausted and physically can't do more and your going to mess things up, or you have messed things up and you don't know how to fix it. Debriefing is the best solution, and the best way to calm your mind down. To discuss immediately what your studio day was like and try to talk things out without having the work around you. ”
Fittingly, Willans’ work deals most directly with 11404, and rightly so as the sole remaining tenant from the original three. New roommates have moved in, but gone is a specific era and chemistry that could never be recreated.

Pitre, the first to complete her degree and the first to exit 11404, created her own space within the exhibition space, bordering a section off with billowing ceiling trim. As much an installation as it is a meditation on the sanctity of intangible boundaries, Pitre’s pieces are the least obvious in her personal relation to 11404, but the works cannot help but contain traces of the relationships formed during that era. Pinheiro and Willans enters the body of work quite enigmatically, shrouded in privacy and sanctity of what matters most to the artist.

Coming from the White Mountain Academy of the Arts, Pinheiro’s works have already been known to be sweeping in isolation and melancholy. Within this private context they appear hushed amongst friends as she quietly makes her exit of 11404 and of Edmonton. Perhaps still processing her time spent living here, the works are the equivalent of one last look around before moving on for good, murmuring certain lines of nostalgia and closure in the final show as an Edmonton resident. Together with Willans and scraps saved from Pitre, the two constructed the wall of old notes and polaroids that capture the every day communication and memories. Recalling visiting friends and couch surfers and personal idiosyncrasies, the wall paradoxically breaks down any barriers dividing personal and private, art and life, and self and other. Erected as a transient monument of transient messages, it becomes clear that the time shared at 11404 was filled with love and mutual respect, and that this exhibition is an unconsciously raw revelation of that era.

Benefiting from an environment to discuss your work immediately after you make it, without having the work around you, requires sharing and engaging with something bigger than yourself. Within artistic creativity, especially during process, it is only after breaking down the arbitrary lines of ownership to ideas and concepts does real growth and exploration begin. Summed up simply, Pinheiro states from her new home near Stanley Park, “It would be hard to imagine having lived any other way during my masters now. The sense of empathy, understanding, emotional relation was crucial. The sense of camaraderie also helped to make things seem not so epic, not alone, and also humbling in helping to remove some of the idea of the grandeur of the Artist.”

Echoing one another still, Willans concludes, “Art is not created in a vacuum, it is unique in it's very nature and having advice and feedback does not hinder the experience, it enhances it. Plus it can speed up the process . . . or maybe that's what the process is about.”

*Originally published in fifty 3: About visual culture. 2008. Vol. 8. Issue 4.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Studio Visit: Bernadine Schroyer, Grande Prairie 2008

A U of A BFA ‘95 graduate, Bernadine Schroyer has returned to actively painting after participating in 2007’s Prairie North workshop. A biennial workshop run by artists Tina Martel with the assistance of Kent Housego, Prairie North brings in two professional artists to workshop with an intimate group of registered participants. Past facilitators have included Harold Klunder, Aganetha Dyck, and Monica Tapp, whose colour palette and approach has significantly impacted her newest works, Schroyer says.
Working on a series of painted windows, all taken from the same residence to preserve a certain identity and memory, the shift from canvas to a 3D real and used material has changed the entire focus of how light affects paint in its texture, density, and viscosity. Remaining in abstract with aspects of kineticism, perhaps through the influence of Tapp or perhaps just through opening herself up to new styles, Schroyer’s recent painted works injects movement into her alignment of layers, an aesthetic she has continued to develop from early on.
Sharing her studio work divided between her home studio in the mature suburbs of Grande Prairie and the studio in the nearby Prairie Art Centre, Schroyer was at the time thinking of holding a open home-based exhibition of her work in lieu of available exhibition spaces. Although she has produced a new body of work, there is not the same drive to exhibit as there are simply not enough spaces or programming. Remote and seemingly isolated, the individuals working remain resilient in their practice and make do how they can, and the result is often more rewarding.

There are several projects on the go, including large strips of painted landscapes that are meant to wrap around trees, providing a 360 degree perspective of nature by nature; the window frame project; and new works using three layers of painted plexi glass. The effect of the bright spastic colours build upon each other as they slide over one another. There is a basic industrial look to the finished product, mounted simply and fastened by large steel bolts. Still at the stage of shuffling the sheets of plexi to create different outcomes, there is a sense of pure wonder at play and at work that continues to be fascinated with the basic principles of light, colour, and form--only in a whole new direction.

Visited March 24, 2008

All images Bernadine Schroyer, 2008

All photographs Amy Fung, 2008

AMAAS Conference 2008*

(AMAAS) Alberta Media Arts Alliance’s annual conference continues to grow in scope and size with each passing year, accumulating in 2008 at the Red Deer Lodge. But perhaps experiencing some growing pains in extending beyond earlier regional reincarnations and lineups, the connection to Alberta new media artists and projects has seemingly been relegated to just screening the annual Prairie Tales collection.
Mentorship and history were severely lacking at this year’s conference, where the undeniable highlight ended up being the Prairie Tales screening at local drinking hole, The Vat Pub. Exposing the gems and crevices of new media art in Alberta, the booze fueled public screening at best drew laughs and raised eyebrows from the off-season snow boarders at the bar; and at worst, culled apt assessments of “bourgeoisie bullshit” from the less impressed. The bottom-line for (new media) art remains in its intrinsic ability to communicate thoughts and ideas, but unfortunately, the conference as a whole focused more on esoteric potentials of the medium than the quality and cultural engagement of work produced.
Guest speakers reflected a broad and dislocated spectrum of seemingly borderless and transgressive media artists, but each isolated into a formal speaker-to-audience setting, the lineup appeared little more than an uninformative show-and-tell. From Toronto-based David McCallum, who specializes in wi-fi locative media manipulation and performance to Fabiola Nabil Naguib’s questionable site specific interventionist art, there was a sentiment that these were interesting people with interesting bodies of work, but within a new media arts conference, they and their work were simply not engaging and seemingly non-relevant to Alberta media artists.
McCallum’s mouth-mirroring with his laptop camera as he channeled wireless signals into an electronic musical composition was borderline Narcissist reincarnated as a digital pirate. McCallum’s steady and slowly self-realization/infatuation holds the potential be a sublime experience if it had not been a live performance--as presence, especially shared live experience, overwhelmed any sense of wonder over wireless channeling between a boy and his computer.
Similarly, Naguib’s presentation fell short of the political mark. Showing slides of details from site specific interventions that were neither shown in full or discussed in context, the works appeared nothing more than bad visual art destined for cyber cafes. Repeated references to censored work also remained unanswered, but most frustratingly, it was the paradox between her challenge of the hegemonic structure of documentation and her simultaneously promotion of her new Desmond Tutu-backed book that instantly documents, legitimizes and perpetuates the form of historically-sanctioned prestige that she so seemingly decries.
Jumbled and overly precious, I can only wonder if media art of this caliber gives the form a bad name or if it is simply perpetuating it.

*Originally published on May 8, 2008

Small leaves room for things to grow*

A single carbon nano tube, embedded in a sheath of the thinnest silicon wafer, rests on a solitary plinth inside of the gallery entrance. Confronting each viewer in all its breadth — a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter or 1/80000 of the diameter of a strand of human hair — gallery viewers circle about the glass encasement to stare and speculate into the darkness of the silicon, where anything nano-sized remains undetectable to the human eye. A leap of faith is required to believe that anything at all exists on this scale, let alone revolutionary breakthroughs in technology; but standing alone as an introduction to the small exhibition, the presence and reality of something so minute and complex immediately challenges our notions of size and scale beyond a relative experience.

Curated by AGA’s Assistant Curator Marcus Miller, small as a whole presents a multimedia inquiry into the obtuse notion of scale. In a contemporary era where most artists are seemingly working in limitless scale, the challenge to go small has produced a number of existential approaches to the idea of art in scale.

Recent U of A graduate Bonnie Fan’s miniature copper prints and Craig Le Blanc’s scaled down monuments present the most accessible and literal measurements of what it means to be small. Fan’s penchant for creating small works continues in “smallish prints for bookish lovers,” a series of doll-like birdhouses. Each ornamented birdhouse encases a set of Red Bird matchbooks that contain Thumbelina-sized etchings. Twenty-three unique prints are on full display and available to be perused by passing viewers. Unfortunately each print does not go beyond the novelty of its size. Craig Le Blanc’s floor models of a reduced amphitheater and factory building offer a similar interpretation. Brightly white and highly saturated with urethane, the buildings are more a testament to Le Blanc’s craftsmanship than to his response to the theme.

There are slightly more thoughtful approaches to the task of investigating small. Relative to the output of work produced inside on each of its pages, Harold Pearse’s tower of his personal hardcover sketchbooks barely reaches a meter high. Accumulated, the stack of notebooks communicate nothing; but showing the progress from 1 January 1988 – 1 January 2008, Pearse’s daily dutiful sketches reveal a steady stretch of both eye and hand. A small gesture in scope relative to the space and time each page consumes, its compendium exceeds quantification.

Recording the oddest of quantities in “Settings,” Shane Krepekavich (who grew up in Edmonton, but recently relocated to Montreal) documents his most personal details as logical scales and measurements. In one of five diagrams, he provides a precise rendering of his body mass converted into cubic meter volume in direct comparison to his apartment’s cubic meter volume. In another, Krepekavich approximates the location of his first kiss relative to the geographic distribution of the North Saskatchewan River. The seemingly arbitrary connections between his meticulous calculations, subtly suggest an inverted and solipsistic notion of small. His cartographic understanding of the world exists only in relation to his own self. The intrinsic dualism in his comparative measurements is rooted in the significant and sentimental milestones of his life. At first estranging in proximity, the world is made small as its reality is humbled into the scope of memory.

Going even further into exploring both the visible and invisible traces of memory and monument in public space is Allen Ball and Kimberly Mair’s project “The German Autumn in Minor Spaces.” As a looping photo slide show based on images taken from a regular digital camera shared between Ball and Mair, the project’s investment does not fall on the craft of photography. Ball, an acclaimed painter and Mair, a sociology researcher, plainly documented a series of public spaces in Berlin, Kassel and Stuggart in June of 2007. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of state crisis known as the Autumn of Terror in the former Federal Republic of Germany, a period fraught with protests and violence following the rise and fall of the Red Army Faction (RAF). Ball and Mair’s choice to use a household dimension of 5 X 7 for photographs maintains the banality of their cartographic rendering of RAF’s subversive activities. There is a vagueness in the experience of looking at these photographs; the history of their locations are lost without the knowledge and presence that imbues them with significance. These minor urban locations have been photographed numerous times before as the site of crime scenes, protests, and glory. Those same sites, as captured in Ball and Mair’s vacant snapshots, do not re-create the moment between then and now, but trigger the unfolding of time as history lived and relived.

One photograph, “Acoustic Isolation,” depicts a beautiful pastoral garden. Capturing lush fauna in an undisturbed setting, the title could easily refer to the tranquility of the scene. Only slightly off centre in the image, however, rests the grave marker of one of RAF’s central figures, Ulrike Meinhof. Beneath the umbrella of an idyllic ficus tree, there lies the remains of the prominent young journalist who helped break out rebel Andreas Baader, who would be forced to go underground before serving jail time for attempted murder, and eventually be induced into alienation that ended in a highly investigated suicide. It would be during her prison time in Ossendorf prison that prisoners were kept in a cell with 24-hour fluorescent lighting and isolated from any sound from the outside world — known as acoustic isolation. Known within Ossendorf as the “Dead Section,” later reports included descriptions of the experience as being buried alive, separated from the living and unable to speak and form thoughts. The non-monumentalness of the photograph shrinks the magnitude of Meinhof’s history into its present state as a minor space. Vastly different from the glorified era and radical implication of most RAF artwork, Ball and Mair take off from Deleuze and Guattari’s frame of minor language as an entry point into investigating the political and historical reverberations of these condensed public spaces. The work deals directly with the present rather than the past, and examines how we confront meanings and matter that have seemingly exceeded their root significance.

Although the series of 18 photographs run on a continuous loop, the unofficial last image is a present day photograph of Stammheim prison — the security prison where the three core members of RAF all mysteriously and independently committed suicide on the night of October 18, 1977. In the image, the building and sky are saturated with an institutional grey. Taken from the prison’s surrounding open fields, the photograph captures in the foreground three tiny red poppies emerging against the overcast concrete. As a haunting testament to presence, those three serendipitous wild flowers remain a sign to the history and reverberation of Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe, living specters that permeated The German Autumn of 1977.

Embracing the complexity of the most ordinary places, the documents of “The German Autumn in Minor Spaces” consciously fail at articulating memory and experience. Only there is a beautiful failure in its attempt to perform those attachments within their photographic cartography; and it is the difficulty and desire of articulating lived experience that perpetuates the motivation to create and to deal with something too big from our selves.

Curated through an open call to Alberta-based artists, "small" remains a lightweight exhibition in terms of relevance and transparency outside of its theme. As stand alone works of art, only Ball + Mair and LeBlanc's projects are ready to exhibit elsewhere. Limiting works to fit a theme rather than finding the thread that ties a body of work together, the end result produced inklings for a larger idea. Yet to reach their full potential, the works in "small" remain small in artistic scope.

*Originally published in FUSE magazine Spring 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Art of Living: Brief Overview*

In its completion, The Art of Living is a thoughtful and thoroughly researched approach to sustaining and fostering growth in Edmonton’s professional artistic community. Extensive focus groups and patience has ushered in a serious cultural plan that at once summarizes and disseminates its research and development. Personal essays connect the plan to the community, and detailed recommendations reveal who remains accountable for implementing all of these strategies. Boiling this down, the plan is an incredibly ambitious venture that qualifies the need to restructure and expand the Edmonton Arts Council.

This plan in essence is the blueprint for laying out the infrastructure this community seemingly needs, and now is not the time to tread lightly while the foundation is still being set. The community at large has grown and adapted to survive; nurtured on mostly by local community support. As a result the arts-at-large, at best, has a penchant for cross-disciplinary and collaborative efforts, real gems of Edmonton’s artistic process that should not fall through the cracks.

Direct and honest in self-assessments, the plan’s reasonable arts and heritage recommendations should be taken as a foundation—and not a limit—from which to grow. Many of the recommendations look to set and bolster existing activities such as ArtsHab, which currently exists as a shell of its potential. Its continued existence is a direct result of work and rallying support, but the real work is now only just beginning.

*First published in Vue Weekly, May 1 - 8, 2008

Prairie Artsters: Collecting Art on the Block*

Put off by the $100 entry fee into the upcoming Art on the Block auction held at the Art Gallery of Alberta, I felt it was important to address the state (and the art) of art auctions and collections. I’m afraid this fee may be putting out the wrong message with positive intentions, but just to be clear: people who believe collecting art is a privileged activity and an easy form of investment have been greatly misinformed.

(At the time of writing this column, I was contacted by a gentleman who was looking for advice as to how he could acquire affordable works by emerging local artists. Balking at big names with their big price tags, he didn’t know where to look beyond ArtWalk and talk of university auctions. I see this as a crystal example to leap from.)**

First, acquiring art needs knowledge. There are several local galleries like Peter Robertson, Front and Lando that represent local artists, and although prices tend to double when put into galleries, they are always a good place to view what you like, what you don’t like, and see how much they are asking for. If a piece touches you, ask questions. Get to know the artist. (Never buy something because its current and potential price value has been whispered into your ear. You are being scammed.)**

Second, many emerging artists these days are selling their work at inflated prices. No disrespect to the time and talent, but prices grow in direct correlation with professional growth. Feeling pressure to cover escalating living costs, selling your work for more than an acclaimed national artist isn’t going to make your work any more respected any faster. (Reversely, emerging artists who may still feel unsure about their chosen profession feel too precious about their work and end over overselling or refuse to sell at all. If it is your profession, make it so.)**

Photo credit: Amy Fung, 2008

There are significant collections hiding throughout this city, and the best ones are cultviated from research and education as much as personal fulfillment and tastes. This year’s Art on the Block does have some heavy hitting names like Edward Burtysnky and Alex Janvier along with dozens of regionally significant and emerging artists, so the entry fee seems to promote a more serious environment. But requesting a tour of AGA Executive Director Tony Luppino’s private collection, I learned that his first major acquisition was a Robert Motherwell, and his winning bid in 1975 was a nerve-inducing $180. True, it was the mid 1970s, Milan, and Motherwell wasn’t in great fashion, but that’s how collecting begins: with baby steps.

Interest, that may turn into passion, leads to sustained involvement. I spent a quiet snowstorm morning listening to Luppino’s peculiar and interesting history in art aquisitions that began with Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, John Hartman and others, but really blossomed into a passion for artist books and late Renaissance artifacts/art books including originals by Filippo Baldinucci. Actively translating Baldinucci’s texts from their original pages, Luppino is an advocate of the theory that original works of art, be they visual or textual, have to connect to people.

His own expansive library collection is meant to be a reference source one day, as books, especially Canadian art books, are already printed in limited numbers and simply disappear into the ether.

“I’m no mystic,” Luppino, who was also once an active archeology-enthusiast and researcher, says over coffee and wafers, “but there is a presence to an original, as an object, something comes out when you read from the original. You can feel it’s multilayered, like the physical cadence of the text. Not everything is simply off the internet.”

Pointing to the two Georg Baselitz’s over his head, works that he had always wanted but could never afford, he simply puts foward, “Never settle for second best. I’ll just wait, sell my car, whatever it takes, to get the real thing, because it’s important to surround yourself with quality.”

Art on the Block, Art Gallery of Alberta
Wed, May 7, 6:30 pm

*First published in Vue Weekly, May 1 - 8, 2008

**Excluded from Vue's version