Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Prairie Artsters - Is there a "here" in Here Now or Nowhere?*

Serendipitously walking by a piece of graffiti text that read “Be here now or nowhere” near his Toronto home, artist and curator Micah Lexier thought he had stumbled upon the perfect title for his curatorial exhibit in Grande Prairie.

Following on 2008’s Ed Bader curation featuring international and regional video-based artists such as Bill Viola, John Will, David Hoffos and Lexier himself taking over storefront windows throughout downtown Grande Prairie, Lexier was invited back by the Prairie Art Gallery to curate this year’s exhibition.

Running until the end of January, Here Now or Nowhere features a series of temporary public art works throughout Grande Prairie’s downtown core in windows, shops and theatres. Robert Steven, the gallery’s executive director, noted the anagram between “here now” and “nowhere” and suggested dropping the “be” all together, feeling the verb may be too emphatic. Only after artist talks and surveying the exhibit, I’m left wondering if the omitted “be” also plays upon the lack of a local ontological presence.

Constructed as a public art intervention exhibition banking on Grande Prairie’s remoteness, Here Now or Nowhere features several new works by artists like Adad Hannah and Jan Peacock, but features mostly older works by the likes of Kelly Mark, Germaine Koh and Neil Goldberg. Hannah and Peacock’s works are the only storefront pieces that successfully collaborate with their venue, while the remainder of the works appear in rotation along a two-block stretch.

The overall exhibition was repeatedly touted by senior critic Robert Enright as “good an exhibit as you’ll see anywhere,” but therein lies the problem: that this exhibit has mostly been crafted for anywhere, and in so doing disconnects it from a relative social milieu.

Grande Prairie, like most small to midsize cities dependent on automobiles with low pedestrian traffic and a sparse central population, shares the fate of a quiet downtown district. After dark, the core inevitably empties, with the exception of a consistent murmur surrounding the York Hotel and a steady flow of pickup trucks hauling skidoos to and from the highway. So for an exhibit where the majority of works are situated downtown and can only be seen after dark, the exhibit is certainly as good an exhibit as you’ll see anywhere, but the major difference is whether the exhibit will be identified by the present and local public.

Standing as mostly strong works independent of each other and of the public spaces they have been situated, the video projections finally became visible by early Saturday evening. After walking the three blocks of a deserted 100 Avenue, I was basking in the encounter of works on display, but left wondering if I’ve gained any insight into the actual places visited.

An ephemeral encounter such as Mark’s “Glow House” is perhaps the best example of the conundrum. Filling an old two-storey house with dozens of televisions set to identical channels, the simultaneous flicker of their synchronized screens illuminate the house into a pulsating glow. As an all-too-familiar sight for any suburban walker in the night, “Glow House” was first created in 2001 through Winnipeg’s Plug-In ICA to an audience that Mark estimates to be no more than a dozen. Reincarnating in various cities since, the idea arrived in Grande Prairie for a single weekend to a small handful who sought it out, but mostly existed for the majority of oblivious drivers and an idling security vehicle. Although some vehicles would slow down and ask what was going on, more often than not the reception was to honk or rev at the out-of-place onlookers standing in the street.

Although I strongly agree that the calibre of this exhibit are as good as anywhere, I could only suggest that the art works alongside their locations build upon a shared sense of “here” for next year.

*First published in Vue Weekly, January 21 - 27, 2009

1 comment:

af said...

worth mentioning: