Sunday, May 31, 2009

Branding KiCK Gallery: an eInterview by Laurel Smith

Calgarian, Jfry Craig is a promoter of art who recently KiCKed up his online non-traditional gallery. Craig currently has a roster of five local artists whose sample artworks are featured online alongside an array of one-night events where the works appear ‘live’. KiCK moves in wider circles by tapping into the entertainment industry. Gigs include local clubs, the 2009 Sled Island festival, and the RightToPlay charity event. KiCK also has an online store where you can purchase trendy art and swag. Laurel Smith eInterviews Jfry Craig to learn more about the direction of his gallery:

LS: Why KiCK?

JC: I wanted a short name that was easy to remember. I wanted it to
sound energetic and aggressive. A name I could make a bold brand from.

What prompted you to start an on-line gallery?

My belief is that I’ll have more success throwing shows all over
the world than sitting in a fixed location hoping the recession
goes away. An online gallery seemed a more natural fit with our
audience where KiCK can create campaigns for the artists that are more in tune with the tech crowd now emerging as significant
collectors. I still operate out of an office where I meet
collectors to show work and I have studio space for the artists to
work in. In that sense, we’re not that different than a fixed-
location agency or gallery. We’re just going to be more active in
promoting our artists abroad.

Who is your target audience?

I want dynamic aggressive artists and I think they’ll attract a
similar following. We’re focusing on emerging independent
collectors on the art side; there seems to be an appetite for
commissions. For the fans who might not be able to buy into the
art, we’re hoping that they enjoy the shows we throw and support
the artists by picking up a T or a bag, much like they would at a
festival or concert. We’d like everyone to feel like they can be
involved with the artists to some capacity.

Is KiCK an exclusive vanity gallery? How do you decide who gets to

KiCK is absolutely not a vanity gallery. KiCK has a vested interest in each artist. We provide studio space, help artists apply for grants, and produce promotional material for them. Our primary goal is to allow artists to focus on their art first and foremost. We are featuring Canadian artists that I felt were under-represented
in galleries. I believe there are opportunities to increase the
market and prestige both domestically and abroad.

Is it a deliberate decision to have one illustrator, one
photographer, one painter in your group? Will you open the gallery
to other media?

I think it’s just coincidence; that’s what we had up when you went
to the site as we were still building out content. Because KiCK is so
new, many of the artists are still preparing their first series of
work. Most of the artists are painters, but there are a couple of
photographers and illustrators. I would like to represent new media
and installation artists in the future, but that’s more of a phase
2 thing.

Do you see yourselves as an art collective? Do you collaborate on
content and projects?

KiCK shares many of the ideas of a collective but I’m not sure if
It’d really qualify as one at this point. Right now it’s more like
an agency of like-minded clients, but there will definitely be
collaborative work coming down the pipe this summer. I admire many
of the things that groups like Lifetime Collective are doing and
would be pumped if we could follow in a similar path.

Can anyone submit and post on your gallery or do you have
submission criteria?

Anyone can submit to KiCK, but right now, there’s a set roster and
I’d be hesitant to include many more artists than I currently
have. We’re trying to be a positive part of the community by
promoting other shows and events, like Out Of Context 3 in June (as
part of Sled Island). So while there might not be an opportunity to
be represented by KiCK, we’ll definitely be trying to help out if
we can.

You are based out of Calgary. What are the benefits of a Calgary

We have office and artist studio space in Calgary, but the idea is
to promote shows internationally, so our physical location isn’t
quite as important as a more traditional gallery. That said,
Calgary has a lot of people really trying to do their most for the
arts and it’s a really positive atmosphere. There is a lot of talent
and you can really see the push and pull of aesthetics at work
here. It’s a nice place to run a business.

What are the challenges for Calgary artists?

Not being sucked up by galleries and losing your sense of self.
Getting thoughtful critiques of your work. Finding suitable and
affordable studio space. Getting grant and government funding.
Gaining access to collectors, not just fans. I don’t think Calgary
is very different than many other scenes in that respect. Hopefully
KiCK can help with some of that.

How do you see your gallery contributing to the wider arts scene?

KiCK plans to co-present art and music shows in cities across
Canada and to provide whatever support we can to others trying to
do the same. There’s a nice positive outlook among the young people
involved in the art scene in Canada and it’s nice to be able to
help foster that energy in any way we can.

How do you measure your success?

If I can achieve my goals, which are to show the KiCK roster of
artists internationally, I will feel a sense of pride and
accomplishment, but real quantifiable success is measured in sales,
commissions and buzz. If I can help take some of the burden off of
artists and help them focus on their work, I’m on the right path.

Tell us about the Montreal exchange program and what inspired this?
Do you have sponsors, funding for this project?

We will be having a month long show in Montreal, which takes place
during the Just for Laughs and Jazz Festivals. The launch will
feature a big party with DJs and live art. We’re happy to be
partnering with Eric Amber, owner of Theatre Ste. Catherine to
present the show. We are hoping to have a show in TO in the early
winter and then a show in Mexico next spring. Right now everything
is funded by KiCK (aka me) although we will be seeking some funding
and government assistance in the future to help the artists attend
their shows and to set up installations.

- L.S. Calgary

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review: Attila Richard Lukacs and Michael Morris, Polaroid overload*

Since their first meeting more than 20 years ago during the landmark “Young Romantics” exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Michael Morris and Attila Richard Lukacs have formed a bond that bridges the realms of mentorship and collaboration. Developing this bond after Lukacs moved to Berlin in 1986, Morris became a major influence in shaping Lukacs’ aesthetic through informal museum trips educating the young painter on the masters. Taking special note of Caravaggio’s rendering of light and the body’s capacity to hold tension, Lukacs would mature to inform his paintings by affecting the sexualized subject within situations of contemporary political strife.

Known for his large-scale paintings of marginalized masculinity from soldiers to skinheads, Lukacs elaborately staged countless Polaroid photographs as studio studies of the human form. On display along with five paintings spanning Lukacs’ career, “POLAROIDS” at the Art Gallery of Alberta features more than 3,000 photographs taken largely between 1986 and 1996.

With the demise of Polaroid film production, there is a tint of nostalgia to the medium itself that is present in this show. As documents and studies taken almost entirely from Lukacs’ time in Berlin, the photographs reveal that the specific emulsion of Polaroid film has greatly informed the use of light in Lukacs’ paintings. The artist meticulously staged each studio scene, and the combination of light on Polaroid and Lukacs’ classical compositions imbue each photograph with an iconoclastic portrait of the male body.

Seeing the photographic study alongside its representation in the finished painting, we are given a glimpse into Lukacs’ production process—which on its own does not merit an entire retrospective. Each Polaroid photograph is individually stunning, made all the more precious with faded fingerprints in a variety of colours smudged along each border. But collected as an entity of over 250 grids featuring thousands of photographs, “POLAROIDS” is simply bewildering.

Barely holding together as a coherent assemblage, the exhibit’s underlying subtext calls into question the role of the contemporary curator. Morris, who remains best known alongside Vincent Trasov as a co-founder of the Image Bank, later renamed the Morris/Trasov Archive, took up the precarious task of sorting through Lukacs’ collection of photographs and assembling a portion into 3-by-4 grids. Forming loose narratives of events, Morris organizes each grid by model and session rather than by mixing up different studio sessions. Thematic threads linking and progressing across 20 years of studio sessions are no longer apparent in this format. Rather, focusing on the time elapsed between photographs, Morris shifts our attention to each studio session as a performance, rather than to the consistent play on power relations through direction and composition. Recording languid poses, as well as positions of vulnerability and resistance, the photographs across the wall overwhelm with their multitude of focal points. But boiled down to grids, the eye and mind are inevitably led nowhere.

Gridded into a format more suitable for book publication, the gallery experience is impenetrably dense. A book is in the works with full-size reproductions of Morris’ Polaroid arrangements, but if the book format was all along the best venue to showcase and contextualize Lukacs’ studio process, the physical exhibit exists as nothing more than an exercise in design layout.

*First published in Canadian Art online

- A.F. Edmonton

The Office Show, May 21-25, 2009, REVIEWED by Pam Baergen

“Office art” has never particularly excited me, especially when art exists in an office solely to mask the sterility and conformity of the space. No one goes to an office to check out its art. But what if the office space is the art?

The Office Show re-presents office space to the public through mixed media installation and performance in a way that is current, poignant, and refreshingly unique. Curated by Tiffany Shaw-Collinge and installed on the main floor of an office building on 10341-124 St., The Office Show is a conscious continuation of the notion of “public art” that The Apartment Show introduced in March of '07. I find myself drawn to art that comments on aspects of the everyday, so naturally I found the subject of this exhibition fascinating, but it was the space itself that really brought the artists' ideas about this subject to life. Being set in an office eliminated the need to translate space, or “pretend,” that is necessary when experiencing many gallery installations. Interacting with cubicles in an office rather than a gallery constructed to feel like an office greatly deepened The Office Show's impact on me.

Image credit: Detail from Amie Rangel, 2009

Within the confines of the office space, artists from Edmonton and beyond were allotted their own cubicle (or cubicle-sized section) to work with, mimicing the space allotted to an actual office worker. Shaw-Collinge's curatorial statement explains: “Although cubicles are partitioned, they are not completely separate from each other. By placing 15 artists together within cubicles, their ideas, like those of office workers, will inevitably permeate into each other.” From Tim Rechner and Craig Talbot's string web of spontaneous drawings and collages to Kenneth Doren's ominous and reflective audio installation, the works presented are radically different, yet their ideas do permeate and play off of each other in challenging, intriguing ways.

Out of all of the installations featured in this exhibition I found the more heavily interactive works to be the most intriguing- maybe because I am a tactile person, or maybe because being in an office makes me feel like I should be “doing something.” Regardless, two works in particular resonated with me. The first was Lindsay MacDonald's “It's not in my Outlook;” an average-looking workspace with a desk, chair, and computer. Exploring the work involved selecting different tasks from a Microsoft Outlook calendar that brought up different videos displaying all but “office appropriate” tasks. The second work was by Amie Rangel, which involved peering through surveillance windows into an organized, generic, model-sized office space. Being set in the same office building not only allowed the ideas of these two works to permeate eachother (as well as the rest of the works), but it also blurred the line between reality and the artist-created environment.

Invading a public space gives the installation art featured in The Office Show a way to successfully connect with and expand upon people's experiences of a common reality. Offices; apartments; I have even seen pictures of an exhibition in a Calgary motel room-- these spaces are redefining “public art,” and I look forward with anticipation to see which spaces prairie artists will be taking over next.

Blair Brennan, Kenneth Doren, Robert Harpin, David Janzen, Jon Lawson, Lindsay MacDonald, Royden Mills, Gerry Morita, aAron munson, Christopher Payne, Jan Peacock, Amie Rangel, Tim Rechner, Patrick J. Reed and Craig Talbot

- P.B. Edmonton

Prairie Artsters: What Continues To Be Wrong With Edmonton*

Finally, there seems to be some level of critical dialogue occurring within and about Edmonton's visual art scene in the 21st century. Breaking from our routine standard model of safe previews and moving into territories of in-depth reviews, think pieces and commentary, there is finally a multitude of voices where dialogue is actually happening across and between individuals with differing opinions.

Being incredibly conscious about generating dialogue, there is a sense that, collectively, we have now reached the arts-writing equivalent of socially awkward junior-high schoolers. Maturing from happy-go-lucky grade-school-level opinions into the beginnings of fleshed-out personalities ranging from shy and weird to the brain and the bully, arts writing in Edmonton is currently in its pubescent era. Each camp thinks they're right and completely misunderstood by everyone else. The next few years' worth of activity will be dysfunctional to watch, inane to listen to, and downright painful to experience, but these are the formative years that typically shape a being's long-term core values. Ebbing in cycles, there is certainly a charge in the air.

A recent effort by fellow Vue writer and artist Adam Waldron-Blain took up the position on Prairie Artsters that situated a potential explanation of why Edmonton artists are frustrating and frustrated from a brief historical lens. Waldron-Blain brings up some strong points: tying together converging intersections of institutional edifices and the gentle evolution of civic and aesthetic identities. Written partially as a response to my ongoing columns about the state of Edmonton's art scene, most notably in regards to the lack of context to present and create fearless works, Waldron-Blain's piece has triggered another angle to the perpetual debate of "What's Really Wrong With Edmonton."

One anonymous response has stated flatly, "There is nothing wrong with Edmonton." Agreeable in intention, I do however believe there is something wrong with every city—so long as you pay attention and care enough to try and improve the conditions. The same problems exist everywhere, just varying in degrees, and the inherent problems of our artist-run centers, major institutions and the disconnected production and creation of locally contextualized works should be at the forefront of our concerns.

Waldron-Blain steers the reader towards the history of Edmonton's artistic legacy as the major cause of why the city's next generation of artists don't seem to care. Ending the otherwise thorough essay with: "We barely expect any public or critical response, and so we tell ourselves that we don't want it. We don't treat our work as a representation of our professional selves, and as a result are unconcerned with its quality and cohesiveness. It is then no surprise that our explorations of local identity are scattered and messy and lacking in quality"

Waldron-Blain enters a dangerous position of playing the blame game. There are certainly elements that ring true, but since when did professional artists create works on the condition of engaged public response? Engagement, or respect, has to be earned. Especially for the upcoming generation of which I feel I belong to, there is a responsibility to look back at where your place comes from, but if conscious (and I do believe most artists who choose to work in Alberta have to be conscious on some level) then there is no excuse to keep defaulting to historical parameters. I do sense there is a generational tiff that keeps rippling through our respective positions on art, which in my opinion is more our different approaches to professionalization. Waldron-Blain and I are a mere four years apart in age and I view myself as an emerging arts writer nearing the end of this first arch of my career. After seven years as a freelancer, three focused solely on visual arts, I feel elated to finally have peers in my city. Discussions are starting, and we certainly don't all have to like each other, but letting go of the past legacies of Edmonton, I look forward to exchanging a more professional attitude in the shape of continuing this dialogue.

*First published in Vue Weekly, May 28 - June 3, 2009

-A.F. Edmonton

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Icelandic Love Corporation Meets the Discriminating Gentlemen’s Club, Platform Gallery. April 24 - May 30, 2009. REVIEWED by Noni Brynjolson

This exhibition is part of Núna (Now), a festival currently in its third year that celebrates connections between Icelandic and Canadian arts and culture. More than one hundred years ago, Icelandic settlers came to Manitoba and settled on Lake Winnipeg. They formed what is now the town of Gimli, home to the largest population of Icelandic people outside their native country. The legacy they left was more than vinatarta and difficult to pronounce surnames: it also included a strong sense of cultural tradition that has been preserved and continuously reinterpreted. Núna is focused on showcasing hybrid relationships between Icelandic and Canadian cultures in the form of contemporary art, dance, and music.

The exhibition at Platform, curated by J.J. Kegan McFadden and Freya Olafson, works along these lines of juxtaposition and convergence. Within one small room, the ladies of the Icelandic Love Corporation (Reykjavik) have been formally introduced to the lads of the Discriminating Gentlemen’s Club (Montreal). Both collectives have created videos that combine wintery scenes of nature with caricatured representations of the traditions of high society. Issues of gender and class are brought to the forefront in this making of acquaintances; this is immediately evident in comparing the ILC’s logo of vulva-shaped hearts with the DGC’s crest of flame-ejaculating penises.

Photo courtesy of Platform Gallery, 2009

The ILC exemplify the quirkiness of Icelandic culture. Not surprisingly, they have worked with Björk (they created the colourful crocheted costume on the cover of her 2006 album Volta). Their video "Dynasty" (2007) was created at the Hydro Power Plant in Vatnsfellsvirkjun, and imagines the end of electricity due to Global Warming. The ladies hunt, fish, golf and crochet, before symbolically removing their jewelry and placing it in a box along with their useless cell phones. They bury these precious cultural mementos on a point of land surrounded by the beauty of snowy mountains and icy streams. The video ends with the ladies disappearing into thin air as they walk towards the camera. Adjacent are nine large photographs, which vividly emphasize the textures and details of certain scenes. Bright orange yarn contrasts with the greys, browns and whites of background and figures. Well manicured hands clutch a dead fish with its mouth gaping open. Rich furs, an intricately carved silver ring, and the box of treasures buried beneath the rocks suggest culture, in the sense of the word that corresponds with a dynasty’s material possessions.

An interesting inclusion by the curators is a cloak from the Costume Museum of Canada, made of green velvet, silk and ermine. The garment was created in 1924 to adorn the first Fjallkona of Islendingadagurinn (translation: a mother figure symbolizing the spirit of Iceland, selected to symbolically preside over Manitoba’s first Icelandic festival. This is a tradition that continues to the present day, minus cloak).

In an essay accompanying the show, Laurie K. Bertram notes that the garment signifies the construction of gender and identity in Canada in the early twentieth century, through the symbolic status it conveyed. This can also be witnessed in the two video pieces.

While the ILC takes the mock-form of a corporation, the DGC satirizes the Gentlemen’s Club - the old-fashioned version, that is. Their artwork has involved the organization of social events, accompanied by the promotion of a faux-elite image. In "The Discriminating Gentlemen’s Club’s Fox Hunt" (2006) the five dapper fellows wear traditional riding costumes and gallop around on pink styrofoam horses. They hunt down a headless fox, celebrating with drinks after they capture the stuffed creature.

The ILC’s video leaves a lasting impression for its remarkable contrasts between intricacy and expansiveness, technology, nature, and the precariousness of human existence. Not immediately noticeable are several surreal elements, such as a stream of water flowing backwards. The DGC’s foxhunt, while charming, does not go much beyond prancing and posing. However, exhibiting these works together parallels their similar parodying of the upper classes on frozen terrains. In the context of Núna and the discourse on Icelandic-Canadian culture that has come out of the festival, this brings up questions familiar to prairie dwellers: does isolation breed creativity? Does it nurture culture, or merely encourage the repetition of tradition? The works in this show elicit these questions using sublime backdrops of snow-covered lands, upon which the contradictions inherent within the rituals and traditions of the elite have undergone a little northern exposure.

- N.B. Winnipeg

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Prairie Artsters: Speaking in Tongues*

As two independent Alberta-based arts writers, Anthea Black and I have challenged each other to a writing faceoff. Still within the first arch of our respective careers, we’ve decided to exploit the guidelines of freelance writing by setting a strict deadline, an even stricter word count and, to make things interesting, we’ve both agreed to write on the exact same show. What began as an excuse for a road trip to the mountains has turned into a full-on writing challenge with stakes set and egos on the line. With a deadline of midnight on Friday, May 22, each of our respective 1000 word essays on UK filmmaker and artist Steve McQueen’s Once Upon a Time (Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff) will simultaneously be posted and cross-posted on and Part marketing scheme, part formal exercise, I am at this present moment filled with dread at the prospect of having to follow through.

We approached this writing challenge to prove a point; to see how under controlled circumstances, where both writers entered the exhibition at the exact same time and stayed for the exact same duration and discussed it freely between each other, that writers will inevitably provide and form their own opinions—and that this difference in opinion is the foundation for more dialogue.

That said, we couldn’t have chosen a more difficult exhibition to prove our point.

Once Upon a Time is McQueen’s 70-minute video work based on Carl Sagan’s Golden Record, a 12” gold-plated copper disc that holds sounds and images of human civilization for the potential of alien communication aboard 1977’s Voyager 1 and 2. Serving as a time capsule, the Golden Record, which remains onboard the furthest human-made object from Earth, contains 115 images selected by a committee headed by Sagan, along with a soundtrack of natural sounds and greetings in 55 languages. As a form of an intergalactic message in a bottle, Sagan’s Golden Record attempts to tell the story of human life through an evolution of image storytelling, numbers, measurements and other human-centric codes.

“Epic” is one word that comes to mind; “problematic” is another. McQueen retains the original imagery, much akin to the tranquilizing pace of a slideshow, but replaces the original soundtrack of human voices and natural sounds with a series of different voices all speaking in tongues. Known as glossalalia, a form of speech invoked during states of trance, often during religious fervour, the all-consuming experience of Once Upon a Time is hypnotic, frustrating, and densely impenetrable.

The prospect of having to now face-off on such a subjective representation of universality is seriously daunting. Working through McQueen’s layering of Sagan is already enough, but having the pressure of another writer working on the same issue is proving to be a far more complicated mind game.

On one level, there is something poetic about approaching this exhibition as a writing challenge, where two individuals are asked to face off on this epic representation and (re)presentation of human civilization. In theory, Black and I acknowledge and respect each other as writers working within the same discipline and province, and know that even if we use the same amount of words, even if we use the same set of words, each writer will execute their version in a manner entirely their own.

On another level, this challenge is testing the waters of an unspoken and probably internalized fear of intellectual property that makes most people keep their ideas inside, but stifled ideas often just fester and rot without some form of light and nourishment. There is also a self-doubt that lingers when opinions are at stake, but there is no right or wrong, just a flow of ideas that continually shape, form, and inform each other.

*First published in Vue Weekly, June 14 - 20, 2009
- A.F. Edmonton

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interview with Suzanne Piechotta, Throw Away Gallery, BY LAUREL SMITH

Calgary’s unusual and neglected spaces are infiltrated by the Throw Away Gallery. Laurel Smith interviews Suzanne Piechotta, Director of T.A.G. (Throw Away Gallery)

What was the impetus for Throw Away Gallery?

The Throw Away Gallery was created out of my interest in alternative spaces. A need developed in my own practice to explore the relationships of contemporary art that is exhibited in unconventional spaces. While exploring unusual spaces, I became
increasingly aware of the lack of administrative help to produce and display work that doesn't call a gallery "home". There is something beautiful about a ‘happening’ that just appears at your local coffee shop, in your community. It is exciting to have contemporary art and artists find you instead of you having to seek out the art.

Your perspective on artists finding their viewers is interesting. How do you select which viewers to target?

TAG’s audience may be dictated by the project that we assist in. For example, Kaitlyn Brennan’s audience was coffee and tea lovers / general audience.

Who are the founders, brain-children, organizers of TAG?

TAG initially was formed as I was graduating from Alberta College of Art + Design. I realized that I could not embark on this project on my own so I asked Sheena Schmidt, a life-long friend and like-minded spirit to help me out....

Image credit: Kaitlyn Brennan, The great mugging, 2009

What is the goal of TAG?
The goal of TAG is to exist in public areas with a long-term vision for funding and full-time staff to sustain its success. I would say that TAG follows a similar model as the Mountain Standard Time Performative Arts Festival where the events happen in public situations.

What was the inspiration for the name Throw Away Gallery?

I called it the Throw Away Gallery for a few reasons. Throw Away Gallery reflects the refuse and recycled materials used by some of the artists who exhibit with us. Other artists ‘throw’ their work in non-spaces to create spaces. In other words, they erect shows that would not be housed in a conventional gallery by finding and responding to neglected spaces. The work occurs often in out of the way, or peripheral spaces, like graffiti, The acronym for Throw Away Gallery is fitting as a graffiti mark is also called TAG.

Why Calgary?

Right now TAG exists in Calgary as a starting place. When I move I would like to create a sister site for the city I am in and I hope that Sheena would continue here in Calgary.

What is lacking in the current Calgary art scene that you feel TAG fulfills?

TAG is meant for emerging artists who create work that relies heavily on public interaction and is therefore made visible outside of "the white cube" . The work occurs in situ however some audiences are unaware that they are participating in a TAG exhibit until they see it documented on the web. I created TAG as a response to the notion that some perceive that there is no "art community" here in Calgary. We have a community; a strong community that works together and supports its artists. I’m advocating that it is up to us, the artists and administrators of the community, to make the visual arts more visible to the general public. More and more it seems that local artist run centres have started to program offsite, public and even guerrilla events that highlight the visual arts. TAG fills the gaps by providing spaces for emerging artists or established artists who have not been able to situate within our local artist run centers.

Are you aware of other similar venues in other cities?

There is a long history of alternative venues. Valerie LeBlanc conducted a project called Trunk that she operated out of the back of her car which she drove to other gallery's openings to show their spectators. Other artists have created alternative spaces such as 809 here in Calgary. There is a professor in Chicago who operates the Suburban Gallery in her Garage as well.

What are the responses that you have received from spectators?

It has been a bit of a slow go, TAG has had trouble gaining notoriety among viewers, but we are gaining momentum. I have had a few inquiries about the project from interested spectators.

You’ve been spreading the word at a couple recent presentations to audiences from the Calgary Board of Education. It seems TAG is a great concept to captivate and inspire a younger, curious audience and also a way to educate their teachers about alternative art. How are artists responding to your invitations to participate?

Artists have been fascinated and eager to apply. The interest in this sort of public engagement from artists here in Calgary seems to be a reflection of the artistic climate of our city. There seems to be a need to react and express different contemporary practices. And most people I’ve been in contact with are eager for our next "happening" to take place.

Does TAG fuel your own art practice?

TAG is an extension of a stream of art that has always held my attention. My art practice expresses my interest in the accessibility issues that contemporary art practices offer. There is no reason to tell someone you can’t... only why they should. Currently my work consists of documenting my personal history through collections as well as documenting my paintings through the refuse that is accumulated through the act of creating. My creative approach with TAG is not focused on subverting existing artist-run models, rather I want to co-exist with them. My goal is to expose creative practices that find it difficult to operate in commercial white cubes.

What’s next?

TAGs next project will be presented in conjunction with TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary where we will be doing a mail-art show. Check out what’s happening at

- L.S. Calgary

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Special Feature: What's Really Wrong With Edmonton, BY ADAM WALDRON-BLAIN

Amy Fung has become increasingly frustrated with the lack of excitement and the apparent failure of the community to take up her project of constructing critical dialogue, especially since the end of 2008. Prairie Artsters, despite being essentially the only game in town, is almost never even able to get a real conversation going in the comments box. My own willingness to get into fights there was responsible for a significant animation of the site during its earlier day, and I recognize the reasons why I sometimes hesitate to jump in in the same way, but I have not stopped trying. Still, nothing happens aside from misguided but understandable random outrage against Sarah Hamilton on the Vue letters page. Even Ryan McCourt no longer seems interested in correcting Fung's grammar.

Fung's two recent columns, from the 1st and 16th of April, are statements of this new mindset. A recent trip elsewhere has persuaded her of Edmonton's enduring inadequacy. In Montreal, Fung laments,

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

Unlike here, apparently, but this is going too far. Fung is an art writer, going to see a festival. Of course everyone she meets is an artist — as an artist and writer living in Edmonton, my experience is not actually very different. If you spend time mostly among artists, then most everyone you meet will be one.

Amy is making hyperbole, of course. In her second article, after complaining about events that she didn't go to — a turnabout from her implied complaints about Edmontonians' unwillingness to participate — she tries to be more clear:

We don't think anyone wants to be challenged out of their comfort zones because we're never challenged out of our comfort zones

The problem is, then, that nobody does anything brave enough. But at the event Fung missed, was an example of something brave, in the form of K.O. Dance projects, whose performance was, incidentally, terrible. Justified only by a similar idea of fearless iconoclastic conceptualism, they performed the least site-specific site-specific dance imaginable (for which they had to rearrange the site), packed with pandering, over-literal movement and embarrassing metaphor. They challenged an audience who largely lacked the critical background, or, at the Mayor's Gala, the rudeness to address what they had seen. Notable local twitterer — but not art-critic — Mack Male described them as “interesting”, and that is undoubtably what someone similarly lacking a framework but trying to be open-minded would have described the feminist performance festival in Montreal as. This essay is not the place for an extensive discussion of their performance, but I think that many of us who claim to know what we are talking about might have made the same kind of noncommittal statement if pushed to it, and in any case Fung saved herself the trouble.

Overwhelmingly, we shy away from real discussions of the faults in our community, making only quick-and-easy statements that we can almost all agree on (often about how something is wrong with our city), and Fung's short and therefore inevitably simplistic articles are the best that we generally see. So what is wrong with Edmonton and why are we all so upset about it?

Edmonton's Aesthetic Legacy

Central to the crisis in confidence of Edmonton art is an idea of self-identity as expressed through aesthetics. Edmonton has a specific aesthetic history that needs to be addressed, and to their credit, the Art Gallery of Alberta has shown interest in exploring this history of late. The recent Sylvain Voyer show there is a useful starting point for an historical analysis of contemporary practices: the show presented an history of Voyer's own struggle to define a truly local aesthetic and we can broadly establish three categories from his work which provide a useful structure with which to discuss today's production and theory in Edmonton. In all three we can see the same internal conceptual struggles that describe today's Edmonton art practices.

Voyer's initial practice was as an abstract modernist, an aesthetic closely associated with Edmonton's institutional history. Voyer did not stay in his New York/Edmonton style for long, however finding it unsatisfying and not sufficiently specific to the place which he called home. Voyer was hardly the only local artist working in this style, however, as the history and collections at the AGA and the University of Alberta will quickly tell you. The other artists felt the limits of the style, too, although they did not abandon it as Voyer and mainstream international art tastes did.

Ironically then, what was once promoted as the international style has now become a regional art form with pockets of practice — or resistance, some would say — on the Prairies and elsewhere. Critical theorist, Caterina Pizanias...offers this opinion:

“...Relieved of the pressures of keeping up with New York, the reluctantly dispossessed Edmonton abstractionists began experimenting with less derivative styles....”

In other words, re-positioned as they now are on the margins, these Edmonton-based artists find their artwork looking more and more distinctive.... Some recent developments in contemporary art, like the use of metaphor and external references, have also rubbed off giving some of these practitioners the freedom to abandon the self-referential and strictly art for art's sake attitude. (Laviolette 191)

But this change is a curious one. At the University of Alberta, students of Graham Peacock see their professor and his ECAS cohorts pushing the boundaries of modernist abstraction. Peacock's work is, in his own words, “both abstract and representational” (Quoted by Ainslie & Laviolette 81) and due to his experiments in illusion his work is less able to be described by Greenberg-style theory than in his early days, but his lectures have not made this changeover with the same zeal. Similarly, ECAS's main representative as far as Prairie Artsters readers are concerned, Ryan McCourt, fills the shared Studiosavant blog with love for modernist theory, despite his own very referential work. Furthermore, despite claiming ignorance of what some cast as a deep divide between aesthetic and theoretical camps in the city's art community, McCourt revels in the battle, browbeating his adversaries and any unfortunate writers who happen to disagree with him.

The strengths and weaknesses of McCourt's arguments are seen most clearly when he feels most threatened. In a long, multi-part argument in the Studiosavant comment box following a 2008 talk by Anne Whitelaw about Edmonton's modernist history, regarding the changing role of the Edmonton Art Gallery/Art Gallery of Alberta, and some allegedly abrasive comments made there, it seems that McCourt (and presumably his “henchmen”) are angry with Whitelaw not only because she clearly belongs to the postmodernist team, but because she was unable to answer every question. She seems to be in a position of authority, as an Art History professor and curator, and it is critical for the would-be modernists to demonstrate that this is false: not only does she disagree with higher authorities (like Karen Wilkin and others who she is discussing and critiquing), but by her own admission her knowledge is not absolute, so her authority is suspect.

Reliance on authority is an explanation for the constant reassertion of modernist theory, as well as explaining for a simpler time in criticism, and Peacock's recurring comments to his classes about how the AGA is now afraid to show abstract work. The result is resistance to attempts, like Fung's, to construct a new critical discourse, which is met with disheartening attacks on the credibility of writers, or a passive lack of acknowledgement.

Edmonton's other groups don't necessarily do better, however. For the abstractionists, this kind of conflict is a survival mechanism to preserve their importance and keep their critics defensive, but the rest of the community has also taken up this discourse.

“Latitude Attitude”

After his abandonment of abstract painting, Voyer's practice is still split in a way that can be instructive for contemporary Edmonton art. His continuing attempt to construct a local art practice resulted in two dramatically different forms.

Voyer was of course involved in the creation of Latitude 53, an artist-run centre which was a clear alternative to the Edmonton Art Gallery. Latitude 53's historical mission is articulated in a “Latitude Attitude” pamphlet displayed in Voyer's retrospective. It was a challenge to the modernist status-quo in Edmonton, both in encouraging something truly local and as an appeal to a different model of internationalism than the New York-centered model of the modernists. The pamphlet exalts the visit of a Parisian critic and his high view of alternative Edmonton art.

Edmonton's ARCs continue to bring experimental art from abroad as well as showing some of what is produced here, and show much the same kinds of work, but the role of the centre has changed because of changes in other institutions. This is doubly true in the eyes of the artists who have grown up since Latitude's founding. The centre can no longer be defined against the public gallery because the Art Gallery of Alberta has significantly changed its curatorial and institutional strategies. In fact, to the young artists of today, these institutions do not seem terribly different: although the ARCs and the AGA show different artists and have different models of accessibility, they both show art from elsewhere and are primarily interested in connecting Edmonton to a larger art discourse. The art both show is clearly different from what is put up at the ARTery, a much younger alternative space, and not in merely in terms of quality. Young Edmonton artists, especially those seen at the ARTery, seem more concerned with the local, and their approach is again grounded in our history.

Voyer is most famous for his third and most enduring practice, and while I certainly do not wish to suggest that work at the ARTery resembles his canola landscapes, there is a philisophical similarity. Voyer's landscapes are his ultimate expression of the reality of Alberta, and young artists here seem very interesting in creating work which takes up the same kind of question of local identity. As with Voyer, this can include a retreat from the battling models of globalism, especially as young artists and writers are so used to the constant conflict of Edmonton's changing institutional and public taste.

In January of this year I wrote an overwhelmingly negative of The Advantaged at the ARTery, a show which aimed to talk about some ideas of local art in Edmonton and Calgary. What the show did right was to let the artists talk about the place instead of trying to suggest that the work summed up the practices of the place — plenty of shows about local scenes are easily criticized for trying to package things too neatly. Instead the opposite occurred and the works had too little curatorial oversight both in terms of quality and focus.

In some ways, Edmonton came out of The Advantaged looking good. I mostly wrote about the flashy, jokey tendency of the most visible, mostly Calgarian, art in the show, which I felt was ultimately uninteresting compared to humbler local works. But that humility is itself part of something at least as bad: the dangerous tendency among young artists here is to lose interest in not only the institutions but everyone, making work only for themselves. They can barely be bothered to pick up their artwork after the show, because it matters so little to them.

This is the dark twin of Fung's idea of bravery — that we do not care what anyone else thinks. We barely expect any public or critical response, and so we tell ourselves that we don't want it. We don't treat our work as a representation of our professional selves, and as a result are unconcerned with its quality and cohesiveness. It is then no surprise that our explorations of local identity are scattered and messy and lacking in quality.

Print Citations

* Ainslie, Patricia and Laviolette, Mary-Beth. Alberta Art and Artists. Calgary: Fifth House 2007. 81
* Laviolette, Mary-Beth. An Alberta Art Chronichle: Adventures in Recent & Contemporary Art. Canmore: Altitude Publishing 2006. 191

- A.W.B. Edmonton