Thursday, October 30, 2008

Prairie Artsters: Sprawling Community*

Driving down the windy Whitemud freeway and taking the exit just off Southgate, you turn into a stretch of mini malls, clustered in standardized awnings in a sea of paved parking stalls. There are no pedestrians except for those walking to and from their cars. There are no bicyclists. No public transit stops. Cars periodically and frequently stop in front of the old movie theatre to drop kids off or idle to pick them up. There are no sidewalks connecting store to store as each awning sits like a fortress surrounded by a cement moat. It’s only one of dozens of isolated mini malls in Edmonton, one of hundreds in Canada, thousands in North America—all resulting from urban sprawl.

Given with what we have already created in one of the worst sprawls on the continent, there are things we can do and steps being taken to overcome the destructive effects of sprawl that decimate a city’s sense of identity and community. In this specific Whitemud Crossing complex in the said old movie theatre, the Edmonton Public Library stepped in seven years ago to take over the former alternative discount theatre as its Whitemud Crossing branch and has since grown into the premiere library serving the ever-expanding South Edmonton.

“The city, especially the south, is expanding so much that we are getting enormous traffic, more so than the downtown library now,” says Benjamin Janke, one of Whitemud Crossing’s library assistants. Looking at the map of the libraries, with the concentration of branches in the central-north area, it’s surprising just how sparse the south seems in light of its hyperdevelopment. Between a branch in Millwoods and another in Riverbend, most visitors logistically have to drive on and off the Whitemud to get to their closest neighbourhood library. A far cry from the basic necessity of being able to walk to your public services and amenities like a library or post office or grocery store, the Whitemud Crossing EPL is nevertheless programming community events by using what they have and serving their community as best as they can.

Janke, who lives nearby and can walk or bike over during the summer months, has started programming artist talks in the 120 capacity theatre—the only remnant from the former movie complex. In addition to the new artist talks, they’re planning a healthy adult programming schedule that includes drop-in “Movies in the Suburbs” screenings as well as musical performances from local musicians and future possibilities of other live performances.

Contacting art professors from the University to see if they would be interested in giving a free public lecture about their work, artists ranging from Sean Caulfield, Royden Mills, Julian Forrest and George Miller have participated since this spring.

“I wanted to see if there were artists who wanted to connect to the community and the general public,” explains Janke, who has been working for the EPL for close to five years, most of which have been spent at this location. “I also wanted to be here and hear the talks,” he continues, as he shares that the general connection to the University was made through his girlfriend, who was taking art courses. “It’s a magical connection to hear them speak live, to explain the process,” he maintains, “especially for art forms where people may have difficulty in understanding it.”

Dropping in on the Sean Caulfield lecture back in the summer, the audience consisted mostly of students looking out of place in this suburban summer setting, but there was a scattering of faces new to the work. As Caulfield spoke eloquently about his processes, inspirations and upcoming projects as a fine art printmaker, the lecture dissolved from any sense of a formal academic talk into an engaging general interest presentation about a local artist and his work. He was under no obligations to share his thoughts and insights, but given the venue, communities and passages are built through generosity.

Although Janke is only beginning to expand the programming and open it up to reach his community, he wonders if it’s part of the mandate of the library. He knows that there is potential, but like all public institutions and services strapped for cash, the public investment of community programming remains underfunded like a distasteful public subsidy. From the sidewalks that don’t connect to the bus stops that don’t exist, there is at least some beacon of reason for people to come gather, and people simply need to connect, whether in the core or in the ‘burbs, in order for a city to function and sustain itself.

*First published in Vue Weekly, October 30 - November 5, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

MEDIATION, Edmonton Small Press Association's 10th Anniversary Retrospective, ArtsHab, REVIEWED BY MANDY ESPEZEL

The Mediation exhibition at ArtsHab is a pretty overwhelming thing to walk into. There are posters and letters and collages and art books plastered all over the walls throughout the entire space. Anyone who has ever been to ArtsHab knows how narrow those exhibition hallways are. The amount of displayed material on the narrow walls became a tunnel-like experience, where every available space had an image or slogan waiting to be explored.

This sheer amount of material is part of what I think is most impressive, and important, about the show. Mediation is giving us the chance to view the Edmonton Small Press Associations ‘best of’ work from their permanent collection acquired over the years. It is actually an incredibly encouraging thing to see displayed all in one place. This is work that individuals have made completely independently from any outside support or influence. The common thread through everything on exhibit is the emphasis placed on communication. This is not passive image making. All these works strive to contain some sort of message, whether it be the examination of political ideologies, criticism of current governments, or the mockery of systems of value or cultural norms. This active interest and involvement in the construction of our society remains the driving force behind the creation of materials that challenge others to do the same.

Some of the pieces that manage this task most successfully use humour to get their point across. Which includes most of the show. There is a children’s colouring book that explains the destruction of the environment, perfectly titled “Super Fun Air Pollutant Particles Colouring & Activity Book”. There’s posters of protesters asking for the right to free speech, and hundreds of 'zines and artists books that make you laugh out loud with their ridiculousness and good nature. Within all of this is a lot of run-of-the-mill anti George Bush sentiment. Which is only to be expected, along with political cartoons and fast food collages. Its just so important to know that there is a huge amount of critical thinking and constructive dissent going on, completely independently and peacefully, and with such creativity. This participation is absolutely essential, especially given that our country just experienced such a horrendously low voter turnout this past election. It is a hopeful thing to know that there is this level of engagement within our masses, even if as a majority, we don’t always actively appreciate our right to it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

All Power to the People, Graphics of the Black Panther Party, SNAP, October 23 - November 29, 2008

As the Western Canadian Premiere of All Power to the People, the exhibit brings in archival news prints and posters from the 1966 - 1974 period of the Black Panther Party and its community newspaper. Bold black, white, and red news prints on yellowing frayed news papers display the bold iconic graphics that were mass produced and distributed as an alternative source of news and information. From the quote pulled by exhibition organizers Heather Haynes and Izida Zorde, “The community (was) the museum for our artwork. Some people saw art for the first time when they saw my posters. Some joined the party, some got inspired to make art too.” (Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture, Black Panther Party).

Through the front page covers and center spreads that resemble a manifesto layout more than a standard newspaper layout, the focus of their community newspaper was to rally around the power of the people and to decry the injustice to their fellow marginalized men. Very few women appear besides Angela Davis and a few mother-figures, as the fight of the Black Panther party was to mobilize the black male in counter to the white male, and that leaves little room for much else. Expanded social and historical context of the prints are desired to launch them beyond the purely aesthetic and into their political domain and print’s variability for mass production, but if inclined, do your own research and see the show for all that it’s worth.

Image credit: Emory Douglas, "They Bled Your Mama" Black Panther Newspaper. Offset print, 1971, Oakland, California. 28436 / 28437

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Prairie Artsters - Getting M:STy Down South*

Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008

As a festival blogger for the fourth biennial Mountain Standard Time Performance Art Festival, I spent the last two weekends traveling the QE2 down to Lethbridge and Calgary, respectively. Living in a festival city where the peak of festivities has just finally come to a lull, I find myself in yet another festival, but one of an entirely different atmosphere.

Down in Lethbridge, where the new media reputation precedes its windy coulee corridors, the festival included in its programming the world premiere of local artist David Hoffos’ Scenes From a House Dream. Taking up both floors of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and maximizing a full three weeks of install after five years in the making, the exhibition drew out the close-knit arts community and plenty of visiting onlookers wanting a sneak peak before its national tour kicks off at the National Art Gallery of Canada.

Nothing seen during the day on a dead walk through the town would prepare for the night. While walking around looking for the elusive Trap\door artist-run centre, I eventually stumbled upon it in the basement of the Trianon Gallery, where emerging Canadian artist Andrew Taggart opened his latest exhibition. Taggart, who is currently completing a unique joint MFA in Norway with his wife (who as it turns out I knew from a stint during an arts festival in Edmonton), was surrounded by friends and family who drove down from Calgary. Although not part of M:ST programming, but just serendipitous timing, they shared similar minded audiences who would otherwise remain alien to one another.

The other two performances that night included Calgary-based Angela Silver, who punched the carbon-paper-lined entrance corridor with red Everlast boxing gloves customed with an electric typewriter set across its knuckles. The corporeal execution of imprinting text has been an ongoing investigation for Silver, especially in terms of text and its function in society and the evolution of tools used in the creation of text. Although the performance itself was quite nonplus, the marks left by the carbon paper created a hieroglyphic chart in the liminal space between the gallery and the street.

The other performance took place in the Parlour Window space, the front window display/gallery of Hoffos’ studio space that sits on top of an original opium den just a few blocks off the main street. Performed and arranged by Calgary-based Wednesday Lupypciw, whose family tree traces itself back to Lethbridge, she pays homage to her mother in the form of a living tableau as she plays out a teenage scenario filled with Ouija board spooks and mimed telephone conversations that echo back on a video loop.

I would next run into Lupypciw during the Adrian Stimson performance in Calgary and again at the Glenbow, where she was volunteering for the Movement Movement’s “Run the Glenbow Museum.” I also ran into Cindy Baker, Renato Vitic and others, as the festival rolled on over a course of two weeks and two cities. Artists and administrators turned volunteers and spectators, as expected, but the audience throughout both weekends grew beyond the same handful of consistent faces, with many new individuals trailing in and out for each event and performance regardless of the overall umbrella festival mentality.

Part of my personal burnout for festivals is the excuse it has to show weaker works alongside one or two headliners, simply spanning both time and space as encouraged by the recent increases to festival funding that privileges the idea of presenting culture rather than its creation. Each M:ST event, unique on its own and strong enough to draw a respectable audience—which may have been happenstance, with several other arts conferences on the go—nevertheless pulled audiences from across the board. The festival did not boast itself before the work or its artists, but emphasized each work in its own rightful merit and critical context that can and should proudly stand on its own and be discussed within a consciously programmed festive atmosphere.

*First published in Vue Weekly, October 16 - 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Maria Madacky, Here and Beyond, FAB Gallery, October 7 - November 1, 2008

The simplicity of the line, the fundamental mark in drawing, extends beyond the material presence in Maria Madacky's much anticipated MFA exhibition, Here and Beyond.

Beginning from the back of the gallery, where her "Hush" (I, II, III) series of white on white on white strings sit in a tense state of silence and suspension. This work first drew me in over two years ago in a MFA exhibition in the basement of the former AGA as an exploration of the logical and the sublime. The potential for melody sits enclosed within the shadow box frame, contained but open to intrusion and retinal exhaustion.

The two new larger works have been the latest focus for Madacky, one of them being "Reverie," a walk-in installation of vertical lines made out of rope hanging all around an undulating. The interior of the space is lined with wall to floor mirrors, and the only light comes through the dozens of round holes that appear to be the root of all things. Meant as a meditate space, applying the potential for melody and harmony from the 2D plane into that of a three dimensional sphere of space and movement, the only clearance is if you turn back, and in looking out you only see yourself surrounded in this reverie of light and line.

And dominating the large sloped wall is a 32 panel series of rust imprinted into acrylic gel entitled "Recollections." A variation of this appeared in another AGA show earlier this year, but together amassed into one piece, the overall affect is the awe of time, not just of its passing, but of its rhythm in capturing decay and remembering through the layering of presence.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Run the Glenbow Museum, Sunday, October 12, 2008*

The Movement Movement, aka Jenn Goodwin and Jessica Rose, in their power lycra onesies led a swarm of collaborators through four laps of the four floors in the Glenbow Museum.

Somewhere between a marathon with cheering supporters in tow and the act of herding sheep through the moraines, running the Glenbow over the course of 45 minutes situated itself as a live work of art amongst the walls and rooms of contemporary and historic objects on display.

As the swarm stretched itself out in the lobby, mostly dressed in full running gear, rules were established to follow the lead of the person in front as the route was carefully pre-planned with respect to the exhibitions. With first aid standing by, the group of close to 100, twisted and turned through the museum and ran up and down the flights of stairs with passersby often trapped against the walls waiting for the train of smiling joggers to roll by. The circular flow of the Glenbow lent itself to a vortex of sorts, as turning each corner you once again saw and heard the troop come stomping by in a consistent pace that was probably more akin to a brisk walk than a run.

Creating temporary public art works, or sculptural formations as they call it, Goodwin and Rose have led packs of public participants through the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Alternative Art Fair as exercises in social change. (A film will be made about the ROM run). Their impetus is not just a double entendre on "running" a major art institution, but public empowerment through socialization: mobilizing a collective of ordinary citizens to be both the subject and the concept--if even temporarily--of our cultural institutions.

The question they consistently pose is: if we can run a museum together what else can we run as a social body? The general public is discouraged from running in public spaces such as museums, or libraries, or other formal, but inherently social spaces meant for use by and for the public. As we are socialized to "behave" in public spaces, do these spaces still remain as public domains and what is to be public versus private? Although this was carefully planned and executed with the Glenbow's full cooperation, The Movement Movement idea can certainly grow to intervene itself into various spaces that equally need the presence and participation of a conscious and active social body.

All photo credits: Noel Begin, 2008.

*First appeared on M:ST 4

Sunday, October 12, 2008

ARENA, Art Gallery of Alberta, October 4 - January 4, 2009 REVIEWED BY Brenna Knapman

Curator Ray Cronin pools a variety of artists, inspirations and mediums to bring together ARENA: The Art of Hockey. Given the cultural division that has ostensibly separated arts and sports, it’s surprising how many notable artists have delved into the realm of hockey on their own initiative to find meaning, share inspiration or perhaps heal old wounds and fallen heroes. The more rooms one tours, the more the story comes out, weaving hockey fans into a very Canadian tapestry of dreams, politics, anticipation and cruel wilderness. ARENA successfully pulls together a meaningful dialogue about the lives of many Canadians and sheds light on the reasons we’re so obsessed with pucks, players and replays.

Image credit: Diana Thorneycroft, Group of Seven Awkward Moments (Winter on the Don), 2007. Chromira photograph, 2/20, 73.7 x 55.2 cm. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of the gallery

Hockey is an emotional sport rife with broken hearts and loyalties: the Toronto Maple Leafs have a 2,400 person waiting list for season tickets and they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in over forty years. ARENA reflects the fanaticism behind the fan, with pieces ranging from Craig Willms’ Hull in the Crease, a miniature, movable set-up of a disallowed goal available for public replays, to Ken Danby’s six versions of Gretzky, all completed between 1999 and 2001, each with a creepy smile and most which show famed hockey star Wayne Gretzky waving at the viewer (yes, he retired. Obsess much?). Roderick Buchanan’s self-portrait, The Origins of Hockey, features the artist naked, covered in temporary tattoos and holding a shinny (practice) stick, and is an apparent statement of Gaelic influence on the sport, but also reminds us of the years of hockey’s influence on our culture and the ensuing intensity of emotion we have toward or against it.

Wanda Koop’s Hockey Heads 1,3,5 and 6 evoke a chilling atmosphere that dominates one of the rooms, with larger-than-life goalie eyes peering out from behind masks, expressions suggested by the manipulation of background colours. In another room, the river of hockey players against a quintessential ‘wilds of Canada’ background and equipment buried in beeswax bring a rural setting, while the crucified hockey player as animal bait adds some terror to the wilderness. This is most evident in Jim Logan’s National Pastimes, a series of paintings centered around a game of hockey on a small-town rink within an indigenous community. The time period is determined by the heavy church imagery, and the activities show many instances of abuse and violence; out in the open yet ignored. It’s also the only piece in the whole show that features hockey players of colour.

ARENA manages to have a little something for everyone. It easily connects with popular culture (Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg’s giant pastel Zamboni reaches out to the ridiculous, while multi-media instillations like Jean-Pierre Gauthier’s Flirting with the Puck bring the sounds of the game and the appeal of interaction). A decidedly memorabilia feel to the show probably appeals to die-hard hockey fans. The show offers big name appeal, but doesn’t limit itself to the status quo of the art world. For those who crave the artistic discourse, opportunities exist to discuss loss and love, fear and desire, what intrigues us and what controls us.

Such a large show attracting more than its usual crowd makes sense when one considers the plethora of influence hockey has on us. From the heart-thumping feeling of anticipation and the heart-wrenching moment of a goal to the political influence of sponsors and war and the sociological implications of an often-violent sport, ARENA hits the nail on the head in terms of addressing the artistic interests of the ‘average Canadian’.

The show does great things for hockey, broadening its place in our cultural history. What does it do for art? It offers an artistic discussion capable of attracting those outside its normal realm. Thus, it grows.

Through the Looking Glass, Glenbow Museum, September 26 - November 16, 2008

Glenbow CEO Jeffrey Spalding curates this exhibition that does not hold up to its thematic title, Through the Looking Glass, but is nevertheless an impressive list of artists gathered. Beyond slipping in and out of time and space, which art through sheer existence cannot escape, the exhibit is a solid presentation of contemporary Canadian artists (many of them from Calgary) paired shoulder to shoulder with international artists--all who are currently hot on the art market circuit.

Calgary based painter Chris Cran appears next to German video artist Julian Rosefeldt, whose inverted mirror narrative slips deeper into an alternative reality of prefabricated living. Canadian Mark Lewis' ongoing investigation of movement in relation to stillness, in an evocative projection of a misty landscape that could easily double as a haunted 19th century Romantic painting. Around the corner from a distorted photographic print by Calgary sculptor Evan Penny is a video by William Kentridge. Save for the photographs of Calgary's Stampede next to Vikky Alexander's wonderment in West Edmonton Mall, the thematically disjunctive "world class" presentation of the exhibit rolls on in a seamless flow that consistently reinforced the rising stature of Calgary's cultural capital. Whether this actually breeds an appreciation of culture is beyond immediate judgement, but as I stood watching Rosefeldt's dizzying labyrinth, a nearby parent scolds his small son for saying "I don't get this," getting angry at his child's honesty, and just hoping that like his other small son, he can at least pretend to be enthused because it's important, and like his other son, try and act anxious to see and "get" the next room of art.

Buffalo Boy, The Battle of Little Big Horny, Boris Roubakine Recital Hall, U of C, October 11, 2008*

As the alter ego of Saskatoon-based performance artist Adrian Stimson, Buffalo Boy has played up the postcolonial identity of Aboriginal culture by sending up an over the top sexual parody of Buffalo Bill (Cody)'s Wild West show.

Dressed from head to toe in a crude mixture of flamboyant Western wear from a silver sequined cowboy hat to heavy rouge, fishnet stockings and traditional hides, Buffalo Boy subverts his sexuality as the one desiring. The comparison to Kent Monkman's Princess Eagle Testickle is inevitable in concept, but their respective executions are entirely different.

Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008

Meant as an end to the character of Buffalo Boy (2004 - 2008), The Battle of Little Big Horny begins with a Procession, with six pallbearers bringing in Buffalo Boy's coffin. An Irish Wake follows with shared shots of Bushmills along with an abridged version of James Joyce's "The Dead" printed on the back of the funeral programme. The clustering of cultures and aesthetics does not end or explain itself as Civil war songs, disco, world techno, and June Carter play out over a video montage of suspects who may have led to the death of Buffalo Bill. From a headmistress with nipple tassles to Belle Savage (collaborator Lori Blondeau) to other characters that Buffalo Boy speaks back to in an exchange of stage to screen, the performance as a whole lacked an affect for the death of Buffalo Boy. There was neither awe or sadness as Buffalo Boy played out his part and transgressed his prairie earth. The body moved in a stiffness that did not appear as either ironic or intentional. Whether indifference was actually intended, right up to the ceremonial hammering in the nail of the coffin, the piece can only be best described as a transitional work that was neither here nor there in the life and death of Buffalo Boy.

*First appeared for M:ST Festival 4

Walking Tour of Downtown Calgary, M:ST Festival, Saturday, October 11, 2008*

As I walked over to the Grand Theatre from the hotel just after 5 o'clock on a Saturday early evening in downtown Calgary, I could not find one single coffee shop open. Less a gripe than it is an indicator of the street life in the city, the walk over echoed the advice from the desk clerk that shared, "Oh, that's too far to walk. It could take half an hour. You should drive." Walking is a void mentality in Calgary as it is in many other centres, but time and time again, I find that a city without pedestrians is simply not a city at all, but a spectre of activity with little heart or heed. And so to walk, especially in such a city, becomes a constant intervention.

A small troupe of individuals gathered before artists Renato Vitic and Kay Burns as the tour got underway. Looking like he fell out of the Looking Glass, Vitic and a traffic vested Burns led us around downtown Calgary--which was not so ironically deserted save for the participants of a Zombie Walk, where one of them shouted, "That's great of you guys!" and in doing so confirmed the fact that ordinary walking is actually odder practice than pretending to be a walking zombie.

Walking in a procession, whether we were tied together (as we were at several points) or as individuals traversing the city grid, shocked stares from faces inside of cars and restaurants gawked at the spectacle of people actually walking along the city streets. Save for Vitic and Burns who were visibly different in attire, I believe it was the sheer number (which was maybe 20 - 30) that caused the perplexed faces that made me feel like an alien. With walkable streets, even Stephen Avenue where the street is shut down from traffic on the weekends, almost barely anyone walked with or against us through the core of Calgary. As discussions of walking unfolded over public spaces, enforced structures, and exercises in socializing the act of urban walking, what I feel was lost was the premise that walking in any urban centre is by its very nature a solitary act. It is hard to decipher in a deserted downtown that urban walking's greatest pleasure is to lose one's self in the anonymity of the city, and that strung together with a bunch of strangers, we are still very much alone in the guise as a spectacle. But highlights from the walk included:

- a run-in up in the plus 15's with dance choreographer Melanie Kloetzel's troupe of dancers that cleaned and alienated our interactions with liminal spaces

- Citizen Justice (aka Morgan Sea) sling shooting gummi bears at us from above Milestone's restaurant

Photo credit: Erica Brisson, 2008

- And standing in the far side of the bowl in Millenial Park as Vitic and his spray painted gold bullhorn read aloud Cindy Baker's essay/manifesto about the isolation of regional contemporary art practices to our diminishing group of shivering walkers, often drowned out by the rolling slide and heavy landing of a few skateboarders in the otherwise empty park.

Walk on!

*First appeared for M:ST Festival 4

Latitude 53, September 20 - October 18, 2008, REVIEWS BY ERIN CARTER

Design for a Dialogue Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari Latitude 53

What does it mean to be in “permanent migration”? After reading the
artist statement for Design for a Dialogue by Flutura and Besnik Haxhillari
I knew that I would be walking into Latitude 53 with a feeling that this
particular exhibit would be a bit over my head. The first visual I came
into contact with is a six-foot photograph of a naked man standing and
holding a stiff naked woman across his chest. The next photo is that of
the same naked woman sitting in the chair coddling the same naked man to
her bosom as if he were a child. All right. So the Haxhillari’s want to
“embody the legendary figure of travel: Gulliver. So they’ve decided to
go by the name of the two Gullivers and take video footage of their
transparent plastic suitcase in airports.

As I stand in the shadowy L of Latitude 53 and watch a video display of
two people painting a heart shape in reds and blacks on a canvas, I
listen to the orchestral music playing in the background. All right
they want to create a dialogue. At this point in the show if I had a
companion I would have looked to them and asked “What is this saying to
you?” Only all that I could turn to was the artist statement that
replied, “The heart is the metaphorical centre for all that is human and
watching these two people violently attack the canvas with paint while
violins rupture the silence of concentration means?” What exactly? So we
have a heart created in front of us, then we have photographs of the
opposite sex holding each other. The man is more powerful so he can
stand and hold the woman’s body weight. Why is she all stretched out in
his arms and he coddled into her arms? To me this says something about
the male/female relationship i.e. men protect with the physical strength
and woman protect with their emotional strength. The concept of looking
at something deeply and then understanding the conversation the artist
has created on canvas, video or photo is very important to me. At this
point I am completely confused and feel like I’m pulling boulders
through needle holes.

The two Gullivers (as they like to be called) like to work with
transparent objects. Reading through the statement again I understand
slightly that the media is the transparent mask that blocks us from
reality. I watch the video of the performance piece of a large number
of people holding transparent masks in front of there face and look for
any clues that could possibly lead me to the conclusion of media versus
reality. The text explained everything. The art did not. It turns out
I’m just a prairie girl with a love for the arts. I know that people are
smarter and more educated than me, but I feel this show benefits people
working on their PhD in the fine arts as well as studying the two
Gullivers as their thesis project. It’s way over my head and even though
it hurts to say this, I know I’m ignorant to their method of
communicating important messages.

Building My House Rebekah Miller

Next door to Design for a Dialogue in the ProjEX Room I greet wispy
hand printed panels of a prairie house. Hanging from the ceiling of
Latitude 53 Rebekah Miller has created her exhibition Building My House
and a sigh of relief in me. Recently graduating from the printmaking
department of the Alberta College of Art and Design, Miller has used her
printmaking education to handcraft walls, doors and windows of a shack
belonging to the floating, airy conscious and subconscious of the
prairie psyche.

The door gracefully dances with the air exchange in Latitude 53 as I
think about all the doors I’ve physically and mentally slammed and
opened in my life. A conscious built by walls of family learnt
tendencies and heritage passed down from each generation while offering
windows of escape and rebellion. This house holds all the hidden
crevices of personality and has the ability to keep our best secrets
boxed in the dusty attic. A building that keeps us safe, but also has
the power to lock us in. Caught up in a moment of repose I remember that
Miller will be coming in and adding to the house during the next couple
of weeks and wonder what new addition will capture my imagination.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

David Hoffos, Scenes from the House Dream, SAAG until November 30, 2008*

David Hoffos is a wizard. After walking through the darkened corridors containing the completed Scenes from the House Dream (a series spanning five years of dreams and construction), after becoming implicit in the master illusionist’s reflective theatrics, I can only surmise that Hoffos is nothing short of a man in touch with a wholly other realm of being and consciousness.

In the perpetual night time of Hoffos’ world, in the recesses of dream time, abbreviated narratives unfold and repeat in estranged landscapes and familiar actions. A young man wheels his bicycle down a deserted suburban street, away from the distant fireworks that loom and dissipate over this sleepy hamlet of a town.

Framed within tiny enclosures, the narrative within the scene are the boy and the fireworks, which both are projected onto the elaborate 3D infinite diorama from monitors just behind the viewing audience. The projection of light, or arguably the carefully measured refraction of light, creates a ghostly holographic effect. Only the strangest and most confounding illusion is the containment of light within the double-sided mirrors within most of the dioramas. In the ship dock scene, where a handful of docks turn into an endless mirage, a single yacht appears floating in an endless lap of water, while a man (coming from another screen) appears restless on the deck of the vessel. The overall affect creates a terrible soothing rhythm of awe and speculation -- a tumble down the rabbit hole of optical logic and finding yourself beyond the comfort of anything you know.

Revealing nothing by revealing all, there is one frame that lets you see the man behind the curtain, so to speak. The back of all the dioramas are revealed with each of their specific sound and light set ups. That in itself is already a stellar peek into the workings of the illusion, but down on the ground directly opposite of the space, there lies a subtle hologram cutout of a white cat. Resting on all fours with a slight turning of its head and swish of its tail, it can only be presumed that the cat is Hoffos' own, a fixture behind all of illusions and a constant mate in the studio. Cutouts of a woman also appear throughout the show, often in corners, appearing as a life size shadow with sporadic movements that perpetually startle the passing viewer.

Turning the concept of a voyeur inside out, the highlight for me personally was the live feed at work in one of the last scenes. Peering into a decadent house, with a slightly ajar bedroom door that makes you crane your neck to see more (and what you find is a another door with a mysterious stair case leading elsewhere), you look through this highly decorative room only to see moving figures milling about outside its large French window. They are standing in a small group, huddled to see into something, and suddenly you recognize one of their jackets as something you recently saw within this very space. Is it one of the artist’s friends who wore the same jacket and came for the opening night? Only being there with a friend, who turned around to look, I could see her face behind the French window. I ask her to wave away from the scene, and she is suddenly waving at me through the window. In this Lynchian moment of time collapsing space, or space collapsing time, there is only a horror-fueled glee running through my veins in this darkness.

Revolving around the intimate dream-filled nooks of a house, a Bachelardian concept of the poetics of space, particularly of the house and home, this presentation is a feat of decentering both the viewer and the work of art until they are fully realized as one participatory interaction of being.

As a practicing artist for over 17 years and a graduate of the University of Lethbridge’s BFA program, Hoffos’ world premiere in his home town marks a significant moment in his career. Scenes from a House Dream will begin a national tour starting next fall at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa.

All images from David Hoffos Scenes From a House Dream, 2008

*First appeared for M:ST 4. See all of Amy Fung's blog posts on M:ST in Lethbridge and Calgary

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Prairie Artsters - A Masterful (Public Art) Plan*

Public art in its most effective (and affective) incarnations reach the very ordinary. As a permanent piece, a fleeting transitory work, or an art piece created with a community’s vision in mind, the art of public art reveals itself through the long-term impact of its presence to the general assembly of passerbyers.

For a working-class city locked in a perpetual greyscale where art and aesthetics have rarely surfaced as civic concern, Edmonton’s new public art plan takes our very worst attributes and makes them great. Developed by the indomitable Kristy Trinier over the course of a year and half of research and outreach, the new plan has been unanimously approved by city council and takes its cue from a few foundational stepping stones, including integrated funding for public art in all new construction projects.

Last September, city council approved much-needed revisions to our existing Percent for Art policy, including the removal of a $100 000 cap and the development of a public art archive and maintenance program. Municipal Percent for Art programs have spread across North America as mid-sized urban cities look to fulfill their demand for cultured urban living and sophisticated urban identities. If done right, public art creates a unique space for its citizens and draws visitors; if done wrong, the works alienate and offend those who have to live with it and mystify outsiders. Keeping that in mind, with the amount of space we have as a city, our sprawl and vastness has the potential to be both our downfall and our glory.

The language of the plan reinforces a mentality that, as a blank canvas, Edmonton has the potential to be a national and international leader in setting standards for public art programming. With specific recommendations—such as a Public ArtPark System, which opens up our river valley as sites for programmed events—as well as focusing on opening up Edmonton to the world through a biennial international commission, public artist-in-residency and a curated transitory public art exhibition, the new vision of public art in Edmonton will be at least a decade in the making as the immediate needs of updating and conserving are already a major task at hand. As a city in transition, somewhere between an unrenewable-resource-based economy to a hopefully multi-tiered economy, Edmonton’s identity to be culturally significant resonates on a level that aspires to be more than a boom-and-bust pit stop.

A policy within the revised Percent for Art looks to develop a public art archive and maintenance program, which in its essence is the keystone to developing future public art in Edmonton. As our current collection and archive are far below second rate when compared to almost every city similar in size and stature, and one survey at the dilapidating state of many of our current permanent pieces, the realm of public art becomes far more than simply placing artwork in the great outdoors: it’s about creating a system to address and meet the ever-changing identity of Edmonton, to participate in the ever expanding realm of contemporary art practices, to break open our isolation and stop settling for mediocrity and find exception within our own ordinary.

*First published in Vue Weekly, October 2 - 8, 2008