For as long as I can remember, since trolling around on the inefficient Edmonton public transit system from nowhere north side to dead end west end as a preteen, since brooding year after year about remaining in Edmonton for another year, I too had always harboured the urge to leave. And not leave to just anywhere in particular, but specifically, I, along with legions before and after me, wanted desperately to move to Montréal.
La belle ville. Where you can seemingly live cheaply and freely forever. Where you can’t spit without hitting an artist. Where you can ride your bicycle everywhere and partake in an array of everything any day and any night of any week.
The years went by and I never did leave. At least not for Montréal. Never finding the pull strong enough or the push great enough, I ended up back where I started to try again.
But since those early days of dirt city angst, I have watched legions come, leave, return and leave again, perpetuating a rhythmic lulling cycle.
Last week, I finally dropped into Montréal on a research visit to witness Studio 303’s Edgy Women Festival. The curation of multidisciplinary performance works by Miriam Ginestier was certainly inspiring in scope and variety, with highlights including choreography from Chanti Wadge as performed by Isabelle Poirier, bittersweet performance artist Jess Dobkin, the always electric eclectian Alexis O’Hara, plus Edmonton’s own Kristine Nutting’s scaled-down remount of Pig. The 100-capacity theatre at Tangente was packed each night, and Nutting’s show brought out one ex-Edmontonian after another, who came out to see her Prairie gothic performance in Montréal. As the only Canadian artist representing west of Toronto, Nutting reaffirmed for me that our fetishization of elsewhere neglects to acknowledge what we already have brewing in our own backyard.
Working in a city like Edmonton demands infinitely more self-directed focus, and the trade-off is more process time for those who are committed. There is less of an expectation to persistently churn out more work; in fact, it has become clear that you can only viably create one or two works a year, in whatever medium you work in.
Checking out the visual arts scene during the day and touring the endless galleries in the Belgo building, hitting the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, DHC/ART, La Galerie Centrale and other spots, it proved that within Canada more does not equal better. The ratio of quality work to unprocessed works remains level in proportion, and so the result is seeing a ton of bad art with a few gems, most of which was created by artists from elsewhere.
You really can’t walk without tripping over an artist of some sort, and most likely they’re riding their bicycle to one of the many free or affordable cultural events that everyone from all ages seems to attend in passionate droves. Everyone is creative, almost all of the time; but there, like here, like most everywhere, is a vacuum unto itself. That vacuum is important for generating works specific and conscious of their environment and communities, as that becomes the cultural hallmark of any place; but for those who choose to stay and create, they need to be nourished, and that means growing both the work and the audience by injecting new and challenging works alongside the existing status quo instead of simply defaulting to elsewhere.
- A.F. Edmonton
*First published in Vue Weekly, April 2 - 9, 2009