Thursday, June 5, 2008

Nextfest Visual Arts Exhibits*

New festival sponsor, new curators, new artists, new venues: this year’s NextFest lineup has looked its strongest in years, with a range of innovative workshops and a multitude of events for each given discipline—the shake up and natural growth is certainly noticed within the visual arts portion.

Handed down by two part-time curators of previous years to one full-time curator this year, the change is notably reflected in the line up. Curated by Josée Aubin Ouellette, 16 NextFest venues featuring 19 emerging artists are scattered through the city in various businesses as a step towards building first-time solo exhibitions.

“I’m not sure how curation has influenced the festival before, and I don’t want to compare, but I never sensed curatorial control,” Ouellette begins as she takes a breathe during her 16th and last installation on a rainy afternoon inside The Artery. “But now after doing it, I understand the limitations of venues and submissions.”

With a drop in submissions and sourcing new venues, she cites the most difficult part this year was matching the right venue to the right artist. Pushing fellow artists to apply, then trying to find the right venue for them, Ouellette has carved out a strong lineup, varying in media range and formal practices that aim to go beyond art school exhibitions. Although an overwhelming majority of the artists are recent local graduates from the U of A, Ouellette points to the differences she is personally looking for in peers as well as her own practice.

“This is still an emerging exhibition, for sure, but there are differences in detail and self initiative,” she explains. “Everything from learning how to install to writing an artist statement, this is a professional experience that isn’t taught at the university. Being selected is different from making a body of work that will make for an interesting exhibition.”

Noting that the signature content of work seen at the emerging level are pieces not necessarily made with specific exhibitions or venues in mind and are often very object based, Ouellette also points out that they make for a good introduction, hanging in businesses that often are subject to the proprietor’s tastes and judgments. From The Cutting Room to Cafe Select South, Gravity Pope’s clothing store to EPCOR Centre, watch for new works by the likes of Nancy Schultz, Nomi Stricker, Leah Scott, Mandy Espezel and Erinne Fenwick, and must-sees at the Artery including Claire Uhlick’s webbed paintings and Caitlin Sian Richard’s cathartic installation.

Of her role as both emerging artist and curator, Ouellette simply relates, “A lot of these artists influence me, and I’m just going along the journey with them."

Until June 15, 2008

*First published in Vue Weekly, June 5 - 11, 2008

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