Thursday, April 30, 2009

Prairie Artsters: Looking . . . *

The past two weeks have been scattered. Finishing my last semester of graduate studies has freed my schedule and thoughts for all things nonacademic, but the last few months of driving towards this arbitrary end point has left me drained, and disappointed, as churning out research papers at this stage is a flush of invigorating thoughts that never receive the process time deserved. Topics may be more complex and challenging at their best, but any actual exchange of ideas moves much slower in the academy, and more often than not, dialogue is directed backwards where the production of ideas is reactive rather than self-generative. Education is not for naught, of course, but it has become crystal clear that there is a far more prominent lineage underlying all thought production in the academy, a lineage that constructs the very walls that it then proceeds to methodically tear down.

Needing a palette cleanser, I headed out to Vancouver for an extended weekend, where, much to my surprise, I spent an afternoon in an art gallery with my mother. Possibly for the first time in my adult life, we did something cultural together that was beyond going to the movies. Arts and culture were never a topic of conversation growing up; rather, arts and culture were simply regular activities around the house on equal footing with everything else from walking the dog to cleaning up after yourself. Music lessons and art classes were standard chores; visits to galleries and museums were best left for school field trips. Drifting up the floors of the Vancouver Art Gallery and watching and listening to my mother’s present-day reactions to everything from Kyla Mallet and Germaine Koh to Claude Tousignant and Rodney Graham, I came to suddenly (and finally) realize where my skepticism comes from and how my reactions are provoked. Although our tastes and standards differ vastly, we share a similar approach in wanting to be convinced and engaged in a manner that approaches art as part of the everyday.

The day after getting back into town, urgent messages and updates about Edmonton arts writer and radio broadcaster Gilbert Bouchard began appearing all over the web, mostly through Facebook statuses, but then in emails, news links, and search groups. His sudden disappearance has ricocheted shock throughout the arts community, as he was one that covered it all and was always everywhere. In terms of local lineage, Bouchard is the predominant figure ahead of myself and the peers of my generation. As a voice for the visual arts in the city, I don’t remember reading anyone before him. Over the years we crossed paths numerous times, but I can’t say we ever spoke much to each other. Why we never did is what keeps spinning in my mind, as there are only a small handful of arts writers around who work and understand that particular brand of the freelance writing grind. Networks of support only exist if you build them.

Throughout the afternoon of the community search, even though I rationally knew we were just doing a general sweep of an area, I couldn’t help but keep wondering if he had actually walked down this exact path. I could only keep looking ahead as our small group wandered through a section of the immense river valley looking without knowing what we were actually looking for.

*First published in Vue Weekly, April 30 - May 6, 2009

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