The phrase "third time's the charm" comes to mind when speaking with Josée Aubin Ouellette, third-time curator for Nextfest's visual arts program.
Since taking over in 2008 as the sole applicant for the job of curator, Ouellette has transformed the standard for emerging visual artists in this city by leaps and bounds. Pushing beyond the model of working with community businesses who allowed work to be shown on their spare walls during the run of the festival in her first year on the job, Ouellette consciously began pairing solo exhibitions in conceptually interesting settings and seeking new venues to compliment the artworks she wanted to exhibit. By her second year, she actively sought out partnerships with independent galleries, and now in her third and last year as the Nextfest visual arts curator, Ouellette has achieved her original vision of having one grand show in a real gallery space that sets a professional standard for new Edmonton artists.
It'll be Ouellette's last Nextfest show before she heads off to complete her MFA at the prestigious Glasgow School of Art, where she'll return to her own artistic practice that will certainly continue to be informed by her curatorial practices.
"I felt like I was filling a void in Edmonton. I know I didn't get the support I needed, and I've been trying to fill the void for my peers," says Ouellette, who was first a Nextfest artist in 2007 before taking on the job of curating it herself.
Organizing 28 artists within one show, along with six other venues along 124 street, this year's exhibition is certainly the strongest display of contemporary art from Edmonton's emerging artists in recent memory. Taking place in the former AGA's interim gallery space that has since hosted a handful of silent art auctions, the 2010 Nextfest visual art show offers the capacity to show video-based works, along with more delicate works that strongly signal the clear move away from art on walls, which Nextfest's original and outdated model had clearly been set up for. While Ouellette has certainly been appreciative of showing work in businesses in the past, the opportunity to gather the works into their own official space is a clear and logical step.
"There's not a lot of opportunities out there for emerging artists as there's not a lot of expectations for artists in Edmonton," Ouellette says. "And I want to promote a culture that will support emerging artists and let audiences actively look out for talent."
With a strong contingent from the 2010 Visual Arts Student Association throughout the show, along with show highlights "Paint Lick" by Mandy Espezel, a thoughtful and surprisingly emotional stop-motion video and soundtrack on the process and evolution of one oil painting, and a series of extraordinary paired photographs from Emmanuel Ilagan, the show is one that is not to be missed as it marks a turning point in professionalism for emerging artists. And as the job of next year's curatorial duties is now up for grabs, it should be noted now where the bar has been set and how the forthcoming years will match, if not raise the standards more so.
*First published in Vue Weekly