Thursday, July 24, 2008

Prairie Artsters - A Year on the Prairie*

This past week marks the one year anniversary of this column, and there’s no better time to reevaluate what all has been said and done.
Sprouting from the infancy of Prairie Artsters online, I was invited to this print column in order to explore and share Edmonton’s visual arts community beyond gallery exhibitions. Although neither editor David Berry nor I were quite sure what to expect every other week, I would surmise that through consistency and presence we have already surpassed any expectations either of us held.

From personal musings on art making, art writing, to studio visits in communities across Alberta, my underlying intent was to humanize the form, to open up discussion on why art could possibly matter and mean anything to anyone beyond individualistic intentions. I wanted to talk to artists about what they did and what it means to them formally and contextually. Most importantly, I wanted to document the pivotal and not-so-pivotal blips in the progression of any single artist and community. As Edmonton remains so ephemeral, so transient, with a constant flow of people coming in and leaving, I needed to find some common ground to tie it all together and to be able to look forward as well as look back.

This past year has been filled with reviews, interviews and studio visits, many of them beyond the Edmonton region, which opened up some much-needed contrast. As a mid-sized city with a limited but lively artistic presence, this city remains an anomaly of equal amounts action and perseverance. From the encounters within the city, I have befriended many individuals and antagonized some, and seen many of them move on and a few return. I have been astounded as to how many brilliant artists currently live or have lived in this city, and how removed they are from the city itself in terms of participation. I feel many have stayed and looked elsewhere, working quietly and separate from local engagements.

Looking around today, it would appear that for the next group that stays, there is some intangible badge of honour in remaining and seemingly fighting for their claim to be here. There is a recognition that things here can be easily improved, and there is an entitlement to improve it. I do not know if Prairie Artsters was born of that sentiment, only that I see it beyond just the arts. Whether this idealism can be credited to the lightened burden of prairie isolation through travel and the internet, important contemporary artists are staying, if not coming, to do their work, and that is the first step to building a conscious city.

Coincidentally, as I began reading Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics of Space” last week, “The Home Show” opened at the Nina Haggerty Centre. Focusing on the theme of home as expressed by the two seemingly disparate groups of the Alberta Society of Artists and the artists of the Nina Haggerty, the show united under a shared conveyance that “home” is a place of memories, comfort, safety, and daydreams. Bachelard contends that your home is your first corner of the world, and that every nook and cellar, step and corner, permeates an embodiment that equals our souls, if only we choose to pay more attention to it. Staying in this adopted hometown, at least for another year, I invite you to pay more attention with me.

*First published in Vue Weekly, July 24 - 30, 2008

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