Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Summer Visits*

I've written before about studio visits, most particularly in the form of detailed reports with artists whom I was lucky enough to meet on the fly. From my first visit with the great Alex Janvier to the dozens that have come since, the studio holds a mystery that engages with my critic's side, fuels my curatorial side and still enraptures the part of me that simply enjoys the simple pleasure of looking at art.

In the uncharted and seemingly brief history, the studio visit is often the undocumented exercise between an artist's works-in-progress and that of an outside eye. In other disciplines, especially performance-related mediums such as theatre or dance, this would be the equivalent of a workshop, a salon or a showcase of unfinished work for feedback and notes. Visual art has little to no equivalent of such. The artist, and if they're lucky, their production team, works often in isolation from outside eyes until the day of install. The opening is thus the unveiling, with a sizable amount of pressure attached, and I believe this is a fundamental crisis in the visual art world—that not enough process and feedback has occurred before the work gets thrown into the public eye, a public that doesn't necessary want to have to play catch up with the ongoing art historical conversation that is most gallery and museum-level art.

The more opportunities for visual artists to show their works-in-progress, the better, as communication in and around the art world can only approve. Studio critiques appear to be a regular exercise when in art school, forcing students to verbally enunciate a word or two about their work, or God forbid, defend their work to questions. One translation of that has surfaced as of late: Latitude 53 recently began showing a members' series that lasts for a few days at a time, and the one I've caught so far, by Marc Seigner, appears to be quite different from his known body of work in printmaking, and it was positive to see a space for experiments and works in progress.

Perhaps in this instant age, where anyone and everyone can self-publish their thoughts, ideas and images with hardly a filter, the concept of intellectual kneading seems out of date or simply out of fashion.

But the live exchange will never be replaced, and I prefer the face to face studio visit. Talking about art in any descriptive tone will never do the work of art any justice, as it ignores the experience of the work, but talking about an artwork with its maker is another experience in and of itself. There is always an ungauged and often illuminating conversation that will have to happen between the artist and the guest, and that to me holds the kernel for the basest raw material of any art work I have ever witnessed.

Engaging in a series of visits this summer that will continue on through the rest of August, I have sat in many a well-lit studio, basement studio, living room, spare bedroom, public cafe and kitchen table discussing the work by some of Alberta's finest as well as some of the province's newest artists. With no other purpose than to simply glance inside their working studio or portfolio, and to hear the artist speak about the work from his or her own words, the experience has always been worthwhile and memorable. Purely from a point of discovery, it's completely fascinating to view and learn the chronology of an artist's portfolio. Often knowing an artist by a particular style from a recent show or a series of work, to get a greater sense of its formation and connection from earlier works, artists, residencies and moments and memories in social and pop history, creates a richer network of ties and dissonances that are unearthed, and inform all of our stories.

*First published in Vue Weekly

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