Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Interview with Richard Rhodes for Timeland, The 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art

The meat of the interview can be found in the pages of the Fall 2010 issue of Galleries West, but we talked for close to an hour during the Timeland install and many topics were brought up. Here are some excerpts about technology, formalism, and landscapes that didn't make the final cut.


Excerpt from Danny Singer's "Rockyford"

Amy Fung: How does technology factor into the physical curation of this show?

Richard Rhodes: I think once you come to things with a consciousness of the syncrhonicity that technology brings to the culture in general, then what I hope in the end result is that it allows you to pick a lot of different types of art, because the same principles of synchronicity happen within the art world.

For example, David Cantine’s career was in large part structured on the fact that he wasn’t quite a formalist--that he was an impure formalist. In the context of this show, who’s the formalist? John Will has made a career out of painting a dislike of painting,  a skepticism of practice of producing high art, well, who occupies the most space in this show? John Will! With a whole clutch of younger artists, all are whom are fiercely contemporary in their own sense, and in the same sense are completely framed by John’s own skepticism towards the art world. 

I don’t think the links are linear; they are atmospheric, and that’s what’s interesting to me.

AF: Let’s talk about the younger artists in this show. You’ve consciously chosen to include a host of young emerging artists alongside these established artists?

RR: The whole interest in doing a biennial--for me--is to introduce this notion of a cross generation biennial. Artists don’t stop making work depending on how old they are nor does an artist in the 5th decade or 6th have a wall between them and topicality; but the very fact that you’re a 30 year old artist--I don’t think--privileges newness in any way.

For me, it was an real point that this biennial was impart cross generation, that idea of old and new, young and old, has community roots too, and you can’t build a community of artists if the artists can’t survive their own generation. Otherwise you have one generation of artists killing off a succeeding generation of artists.

AF: That reminds me of the history of Edmonton’s modernism and formalism and its legacy, that in 2010, are still pervasive.

RR: And that ultimately is not constructive.

It’s so interesting to see how that works into the younger work, because never have I been more impressed by the work ethic among artists than I have coming here to Alberta. The amount of time and attention that goes into making the work here is phenomenal to notice.

AF: You trace this back to formalism?

RR: I do, absolutely. That carefulness, that closeness of looking, that whole pace. Formalism has a pace to it, and it’s part and parcel of what we’re seeing by the intricacies that are across the board at the work here even when it’s hanging by pins and it’s just a wash, it’s still done out of a fairly intricate process and I think that’s a kind of orphan legacy of Alberta formalism. And in the long run, its most constructive aspect.

I’m sure Allan Dunning and Paul Woodrow would freak out at the concept that they would owe formalism anything, but culture sets up these clouds of being, ways of interacting, pressures of labour, and all these things about how we think about an atmosphere actually go into how we think of culture. It’s full of ephemeras, full of things that have no hard edges.

Image credit: Chris Millar,
Bejeweled Double Festooned Plus Skull for Girls.
Photo Courtesy of Trepanier Baer Gallery, John Dean
AF: I wanted to go back to the reoccurring theme of “ghost” that kept on being mentioned in your studio visits.

RR: Not a theme, but a word that was just mentioned repeatedly. There was no uniformity, there was no one ghost, it was a consciousness of ephemerals at play. It’s not a ghost so much as a haunting. There’s this historical legacy that’s very much in the air. A historical legacy that gets lived out in the landscape. I mean just to going down into that river valley is to feel some sort of primordial space that interrupts you. You come with this very comfortable middle class head space and suddenly, you have this river that looks like it’s hundreds of miles, bearing traces of a landscape that is not one ounce urbanized.

AF: I find it interesting how Canadian art on the world stage is almost always Aboriginal or Group of Seven or something dealing with "iconic" landscapes. But when you bring it back to the Alberta Biennial, there is no trace of the iconocisms of landscape that Canadian art is known for.

RR: The kind of landscapes that figures in this show is the interactive landscape that modern development has brought. It’s land that has been redefined by all of our anxieties about climate change, even though you are swallowed whole by landscape. All of us are conscious of its vulnerabilities, even if it can swallow you whole, we are conscious of it as a vulnerable entity,  certainly in Rita’s piece, Walter’s work, Paul’s paintings, David’s photographs, the landscape has turned, and it’s our responsibility. Most of the landscape orientated art takes a position that the landscape is our responsibility. That’s what comes through and that’s a really interesting sign that artists working across generations are sharing a same point of view.

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