EMMEDIA ANTHOLOGY OF CRITICAL TEXTS 2010/2011
ÂŠ 2011 EMMEDIA Gallery & Production Society All Rights Reserved All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without prior written permission from the publisher. Library and Archiving Canada Cataloguing in Publication GRAIN: EMMEDIA Anthology of Critical Texts 2010/2011 ISBN 978-0-9867369-0-2 Published by emPRESS EMMEDIA Gallery & Production Society #203, 351 - 11 Ave SW Calgary, AB Canada T2R 0C7 1-403-263-2833 www.emmedia.ca Edited by Jennifer McVeigh Project coordinated by Vicki Chau Publication design by Vicki Chau Printed in Canada by Rhino Print Solutions Cover Image: View of grain fields, Craigmyle, Alberta (1911) Photo credit: Oliver, W.J. (Calgary, Alberta) Glenbow Archives ND -8 -172
EMMEDIA gratefully acknowledges The Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Calgary Arts Development, Calgary Foundation, National Film Board of Canada, Webcore Labs, and the Alberta Media Arts Alliance Society.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
GRAIN: EMMEDIA Anthology of Critical Texts 2010/2011
Edited by Jennifer McVeigh
INTRODUCTION by Jennifer McVeigh
BREATHING LIFE INTO THE LIFELESS THROUGH VIDEO: Two Selections From Emmedia’s Canola Oil Compression Camp by Simone Keiran
13 EATING YOUR SHARE: Rita McKeough’s The Lion’s Share by Vicki Chau 19 THE ART OF A PARTY: BBBS/ABCC and Art’s Birthday 2010 by Vanessa McLachlan 23 THE CHALLENGE OF LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS: Red Rover by Lia Rogers 31 COLLABORATION IN A PRAIRIE DOWNPOUR: Mark Lowe’s BIN 15 by Shawn Dicey 35 THE CITY WE ONCE KNEW: Vera Frenkel’s Once Near Water by Tomas Jonsson POP-UP GALLERIES AND 41 DIY EXHIBITION SPACES IN CALGARY: A Vital and Continuing History by Mohammad Rezaei INTO THE LIGHT: 49 Sans façon’s Limelight by Kay Burns COMMUNITY AND COMING 55 OF AGE IN CALGARY by Bogdan Cheta 60 BIOGRAPHIES
Left image: Audience members at the Carpet ‘N Toast Gallery watch a performance of wowandflutter by Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, choreographed by Kimberly Cooper, 2008. Photo: Milo Dlouhy
INTRODUCTION By Jennifer McVeigh Following the rich chaos and confusion of EMMEDIA Gallery and Production Society’s CRASH! programming year in 2009/2010, a more detailed and deliberate perspective was fixed for 2010/2011. Grain was the thematic catalyst for myriad creative activities with a focus on generation and growth, including fine-grain, critical examination of our urban environment. The United Nations designated 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity and EMMEDIA interpreted this declaration through a broad lens, incorporating notions of sustainability and diversity as it pertains to community, city and identity, as well as ecology. One of the goals of EMMEDIA’s publishing program is to push the boundaries of media arts discourse by helping to nurture a community of writers in Calgary. To this end, the society presents a free annual workshop, taught by an experienced author and dedicated to developing critical writing skills. Students from this workshop are encouraged to submit proposals for EMMEDIA publications, at which point they develop their texts with the guidance of an editor/mentor. The 2011 workshop, Whole Lotta Love: Critical-Creative Writing in Media Arts, was facilitated by writer, researcher and Alberta College of Art + Design Liberal Studies instructor Christopher Frey, and took place on the last warm, sunny weekend of the fall. Despite the outdoor temptations, thirteen students gathered in EMMEDIA’s windowless screening room for lively discussions and exercises on voice, form, imagery and making the intangible, tangible. In the following weeks, a group of first-time and emerging writers, joined by a few more senior practitioners, embarked on a journey of successive drafts exchanged with me, writing and rewriting as the grain of their subjects came into sharper focus. Their patience and hard work is admirable. — 3 —
The texts collected in this anthology are germinated from the seeds of the Grain thematic, but grow in rhizomatic, unpredictable patterns. The essays investigate artworks and events presented at EMMEDIA and elsewhere, and also explore wider ideas important to our members and supporters, such as the development and preservation of communities that nourish artists. Grain began at EMMEDIA with the presentation of Vera Frenkel’s Once Near Water, a video that documents the selective erasure of a city’s relationship, through development, to the body of water that once sustained it. Tomas Jonsson’s essay juxtaposes the city depicted in the video with Calgary’s urban growth, tracing the construction scaffolding that Jonsson describes as a transitory placeholder; “a reminder of something that once was, and a possibility still open.” In his text, Mohammad Rezaei traces the history of another set of temporary structures scattered throughout Calgary and other cities – DIY and pop-up art galleries. Building on a strong history, these spaces continue to provide valuable exhibition opportunities for emerging artists, in addition to intimate and informal community building. Rezaei and Bogdan Cheta both explore the germination process of arts communities and audiences in Calgary. How are they seeded and how do they grow? Cheta invites the reader on a fascinating allegorical search for signs of life after leaving the hothouse confines of art school. The goal of Sans façon, the collaborative duo behind Limelight, an installation scheduled to be presented in downtown Calgary the evening of the launch of this publication, is to affect the outlook and behaviour of urban communities with their interventions. Exploring the multiple international presentations of the project, writer Kay Burns explains, “It provides a gift of freedom to engage with public space in a different way, to think about where they live in a different way.” Through her review of the collaborative, simultaneous screening Red Rover, Lia Rogers examines the difficulty of cross-pollination when it comes to artistic communities. If distance serves to limit our knowledge of practices happening in other cities, how can we as artists and as creative communities, work to overcome these obstacles? Germination and pollination are also at the heart of Vanessa McLachlan’s feature about one of the projects presented at the 2011 Art’s Birthday Party at EMMEDIA. According to legend, art was born when a dry sponge was dropped into a bucket of water, and since 1963, efforts have been made to celebrate the event by connecting artists around the world through the mail, the radio and now the internet. McLachlan’s review investigates the connective success of just one of the artworks resulting from this process; BBBS/ABCC by Carl Spencer, Ian Birse and Laura Kavanaugh. BIN 15 was one of the most visible and audible incarnations of EMMEDIA’s — 4 —
Grain theme. A corrugated metal sentinel of the prairie landscape repurposed by artist Mark Lowe, it was installed in several public locations where it became a lively gathering point for sound and noise artists, musicians and curious passersby. Writer and musician Shawn Dicey describes his experience of its unique sonic qualities during a sudden summer downpour. Grain bins were not the only iconic prairie structures to inspire EMMEDIA artists in 2010/2011. Simone Keiran tackles the anthropomorphic qualities and dark implications of the pumpjack featured in Lia Rogers eponymous video, along with the surprising life of canola oil in Vicki Chau’s Synthetic Rhythm. While both videos were produced as part of the short but intense annual Compression Camp workshop, they have a resonance well beyond their five-minute length. As Keiran puts it, they are “meditations on actors, unseen forces, the nature of sentience and the processes that lie beneath the surface of the everyday.” Vicki Chau writes that the repercussions of anthropomorphization are also vital to Rita McKeough’s installation The Lion’s Share. Presented at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, in the heart of Alberta’s agricultural region, the exhibition takes a humorous but pointed look at the absurdity of our contemporary relationship to food. The word anthology derives from the Greek anthologia, meaning flowergathering; a garland or bouquet of short texts collected into a single volume1. The Grain anthology cannot be summarized quite so tidily. The texts herein trace the first green tendrils of community sprouting in schools, homes, garages and under the streetlights of the city, and coming up through cracks in the sidewalks of urban regeneration; the deep and tangled roots of the food and fuel that sustain us; and the virtual trailing vines of artists reaching out to each other over high-speed internet lines. Living structures this complex cannot be neatly cut and tied together with a ribbon. However, this collection is a wholehearted attempt to capture a glimpse of the complex, interdependent and robust ecology of practices and communities connected to media arts in Calgary today. ____________________________________________________________________ “anthology”. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. http://oxforddictionaries.com/ definition/anthology (accessed December 19, 2011). 1
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Top left image: Still from Pumpjack, Lia Rogers, 2011, video, 3:16 min. Bottom left image: Still from Synthetic Rhythm, Vicki Chau, 2011, video, 5:35 min.
BREATHING LIFE INTO THE LIFELESS THROUGH VIDEO: Two Selections From Emmedia’s Canola Oil Compression Camp www.compressioncamp.com/videos.html by Simone Keiran
i. Anthropomorphology and the Golem: Pumpjack by Lia Rogers Among the amazing machines crafted in the late Middle Ages, Prague has its famous astronomical clock, with a parade of dancing skeletons and other figures illustrating the stages of life and the passage of time. A famous 16th-Century folk tale which bore the symbolic imprimateur of such mechanical dolls tells the story of Rabbi Josef Levi who, in response to pleas from the city’s Jewish population for some form of defence against the pogroms of the era, fashioned a homunculus from mud and “brought it to life” using sacred inscriptions. The golem, humanlike in form but mindless and murderous, terrorized the city until the Maharal, in response to more pleas, deactivated it.1 Variations on this mechanized slave theme recur in many great works of literature, ballet and film2 to address existential questions about humanity. Can a creature made of mud or other base elements acquire a soul or consciousness? Can a mechanized being develop a conscience, atone for misdeeds, or find redemption? Despite all good intent, are these creatures, crafted and manipulated by humans, destined to reflect our inherent flaws, if not our deepest failings? Or are they scapegoats to deflect personal responsibility? Lia Rogers, who trained in sculpture and computer science, focuses her video camera down winnowed fields, capturing stalks of grain reaped by combines into orderly parallel lines leading to a point on the horizon. These magical golden — 7 —
roads culminate in that icon of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, the pumpjack. In Pumpjack, the focus of lens becomes a sigil — a symmetrically inverted division of time and space within and between scenes. The scene jumps with a shock of power, producing an alchemical process which gives the pumpjack protosentience, a life of its own on video. Anyone who has driven around the foothills, prairies and woodlands of Alberta probably has some familiarity with pumpjacks — those gargantuan machines which dot the landscape and bob ceaselessly like the famous dipping Drinking Bird Toy. Pumpjacks are slowly being phased out by more modern, efficient technology, but at one time they were ubiquitous. There is a precise rhythm and order in this machine’s function: a dance of rotary weights, circulating and synchronizing with the vertical rise and fall; thrust and retraction of the pump. The video opens on a wide shot; a long distance view of the pumpjack in the landscape. The only movement visible is the slow nodding of the machine on the horizon. After several seconds, the video cuts to a closer, more detailed perspective, so that the apparatus seems jump toward the viewer. Next, we are moved close enough to the pumpjack that its image overflows the frame; a composition reminiscent of portraiture. Here, the shift in camera angle throws the sharp edges of the weights and counterweights into shadow, seeming to blur the lines and give them a human-like appearance. They look like the shoulders of a giant, pushing and pulling oxen-like at some ancient water-wheel. Each successive cut focuses on different angles and components of the pumpjack; a cable, a flywheel, the rotary weights and the pump-shaft. The smooth and constant motion of the machine regulates the way in which the video is edited. Each scene lasts the same number of seconds, describing the spin, the lift and the fall as elegant, yet mechanical processes. Wind, birds and crickets on the soundtrack suddenly sound like an eerie breath; the whirring of fly wheels and cables like blood rushing through veins; the clicking of gears and chains, a pulse. The pumpjack transforms into a massive troll, like the Kobold said to haunt mines and other underground places, hauling its subterranean wealth to the surface. Treasure from the depths of the earth is brought to air, brought to life. Hefting, heaving and lifting over and over. In her artist statement, Rogers’ insists that while the pumpjack is a symbol of the oil industry, both acclaimed and vilified, her work is intended to present as little political commentary as possible; that her precisely three-minute-16second video has no content except as an illustration of symmetry and form. Her training as an artist allows each scene an impeccable harmony in terms of composition. The intended effect is peaceful and meditative, and the video accomplishes that goal. But fairy gold is never what it appears to be. Snow White’s apple looked golden and delicious on one side, but the other held poison. The golem looked — 8 —
deceptively human, but was a monster in action. The subterranean treasure hauled to the surface by the pumpjack heats our icy winters, but also corrupts our air and soil. It connects vast distances, bringing us closer together and allowing us to move ourselves and our objects around the globe, but only by turning our oceans into acid baths incapable of supporting any life except jellyfish. This peaceful, formalist meditation on symmetry and smooth mechanical function carries another, unintended and unsettling undercurrent, a meditation on the purpose of the machine and its far-reaching effects. Audiences always bring their own perspective to the process of viewing an artwork, and the subject of the oil industry in Alberta is particularly fraught at present. It is difficult to avoid associations, even if they are not overtly intended. The golem wasn’t created to be a monster and neither was the pumpjack, but associations come of their own accord. Objects become symbols, and symbols hold power, a lot of power. The Rabbi’s true genius was not that he could animate a warrior from clumps of mud, but that he used it to teach his contemporary social milieu about how bargains struck in fairyland carry a hidden toll. This is Wagnerian. This is a dwarf named Alberich, who creates wondrous rings from stolen gold, but grasps and curses them, attaching calamitous falls from lofty heights and death with exaltation.3 It’s all a bit much of a muchness for such an earthly machine, but there it is, tied to cherished dreams and the desire to be lifted above the muck. The end of Pumpjack is a direct inversion of the beginning. The sequence of shots is reversed until the parting scene is framed exactly the same way as the opening. The images and progression of movements in the video are all perfectly measured, divided and arranged according to time and distance. If played as a loop, the video would have the same hypnotic, rhythmic effect as the pumpjack, with its rising and falling gait and a cable bisecting blue sky, tying air to earth and expansion to constriction; an endless ring cycle in a three-minute video. ii. Personification in Surface Tension: Synthetic Rhythm by Vicki Chau Movement gives lifeless objects the semblance of life within this video, a narrative that transpires entirely within a tightly framed close-up on a beaker. It is so tightly framed, in fact, that it takes a moment or two to recognize the setting, and what is happening within the setting. A simple demonstration begins, one used in almost every elementary school to illustrate surface tension, specific gravity, osmosis and diffusion. Throughout this video, the experimental process creates movement, texture and a simple but straightforward cause-andeffect plot. To open her video, Vicki Chau chose this particular quote from Compression Camp EMAnimenteur Noel Bégin, “Oil, in a sense, is the very absence of grain, but the products it makes possible break down into a microscopic granularity that clouds the oceans as a kind of synthetic and indigestible plankton.” Chau’s — 9 —
video proceeds to set this idea into form. An unseen actor slowly pours glistening, golden canola oil into the beaker of water. With this step, the oil and water become actors in their own right, forces by which the story is set into motion. As the two substances repel each other, the scene bubbles, rolls, and churns vigorously. A single frame divides into a split-screen shot. One half shows the heaving surface as the oil rises above the water. In the other half, a side view of the beaker, the agitation begins to settle down. A division line is left between the golden canola oil and clear water, distinct as the horizon. An extreme close-up fills the frame, with the camera focused only on the layer of oil. Here globules of water tunnel through the substance like caterpillars. The scene shifts again. A few tiny beads of water remain trapped at the bottom of the oil, too small at this stage to move. The scene is of absolute stillness. Droplets of food colouring fall into the beaker. They remain perfect, cohesive spheres as they penetrate the oil, but the second they touch the water, they start to diffuse. Different coloured fluids slowly disperse to create shapes that allude to more solid forms in nature; fungal rhizomes, spores, roots and tendrils dropping down. Heavier than water, this liquid sinks, leaving tracks of colour behind. The camera pans to the bottom of the beaker, where all the colours have mixed and settled into an opaque layer of turbidity. In the centre of the beaker however, the colours swirl, sprout limbs and clutch at each other, combining, circling, transforming into new hues or evaporating like ghosts. Footage from two different angles of the diffusion process is superimposed, simultaneously showing droplets of dye nestled against the bottom of the oil layer, and breaking through to generate phantasmagorical shapes. These two images are eventually aligned and the water grows darker and muddier in tone, but the oil remains aloft â€” glistening, golden and translucent. The final scene pans from the top of the beaker to the bottom, from light to impenetrable darkness. Shot in fascinating detail, the chemical reactions in Synthetic Rhythm generate the glamour of individualism and soul within the substances at work in the beaker, personifying them, allowing the viewer to equate them with their own struggles for independence or assimilation.
Alone, materials are inert. They require an actor to set mechanical and chemical processes in motion. In both Pumpjack and Synthetic Rhythm, the absence of the actor onscreen creates an illusion that these things move of their own will, that they are animated of their own accord. â€” 10 â€”
The result is like early studio cartoons, where swarms of mosquitoes turn into squadrons of warplanes4, or ducks stand in for dictators5 — living creatures with their own instincts or nascent thought processes, who acquire human attributes and consciousness. Or where inanimate objects come to life, like the barrage of malicious trumpets and bullying steam whistles that keep Goofy awake6 — removing the actors from the scene and leaving elemental monsters in place. The liquid and machinery in each video have the power to become strange totems and, depending on the ideas and emotions the viewer projects onto them, take on the magical agency of fetish objects. By extension, the videos become meditations on actors, unseen forces, the nature of sentience and the processes that lie beneath the surface of the everyday. Like the inert materials that are their subjects, the videos have an independent existence beyond their creation, in the perceptions of their viewers. The question remains if they will dissolve into their constituent elements, like Prague’s golem, or evolve into something new. ____________________________________________________________________ It’s likely that the story of the homunculus, or some sort of animated doll, predated Rabbi Levi, and was re-purposed to editorialize religious turmoil in Medieval Bohemia. Europeans were obsessed with ‘poppets’, or human-like dolls that served as vehicles for will of witches and warlocks, as evidence of black magic. In 1909, however, Yudl Rosenberg penned a novel based on this legend called The Golem and the Wondrous Deeds of the Maharal of Prague, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, in 1969, wrote his own version of The Golem. Both novels, brought forth from modernist sensibilities and experiences, accentuated different subtleties within the golem legend, from variants like Mahatma Gandhi’s “An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth leaves us all blind and toothless” — particularly with Singer’s use of the tale to illustrate standing down during the era of Cold War military brinkmanship — to Hyperboleand-a-Half’s recent cautionary adage, “Always be specific in case the Wish Genie is a dick” (“Shooting Star,” May, 2010; http://hyperboleandnineeighths.blogspot.com/). 1
The Arthur Saint-Léon and Charles Nuitter ballet libretto for Coppélia; German Romanticist, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s ballet libretto for The Nutcracker and the short stories he wrote which served as the basis of Jules Barbier’s opera libretto, The Tales of Hoffmann; Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus; Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot; Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; the George Lucas/Steven Spielburg Star Wars franchise; and David Mitchell’s “An Orison of Sonmi-451” from Cloud Atlas. 2
Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), a cycle of four epic operas by the German composer Richard Wagner, based loosely on characters from the Norse Sagas and the Nibelungenlied, often referred to as the Ring Cycle, Wagner’s Ring, or simply the Ring. 3
“Betty Boop: Stop that Noise,” directed by Dave Fleischer; 1935, Max Fleischer Studio
“The Ducktators,” directed by Norm McCabe; 1942 Looney Tunes
“How to Sleep,” directed by Jack Kinney; 1953, Disney Studios
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Left image: Detail of The Lion’s Share Rita McKeough, 2011. Courtesy: University of Lethbridge Art Gallery
EATING YOUR SHARE: Rita McKeough’s The Lion’s Share By Vicki Chau
Walking through the Centre for the Arts at the University of Lethbridge, trying to locate their main gallery space, I notice a red and blue “OPEN” sign lit up above a doorway. Is this the entrance to the gallery, or maybe the school coffee shop or cafeteria? Beside the entrance in question, white dinner plates, each adorned with two bright orange, sculpted carrots, are mounted on the wall. Above each one, a cartoon thought bubble contains a face with Xs for eyes. These carrots must be dead. But did we think of them being alive to begin with? We don’t ponder eating vegetables the same way we do eating animals. Intrigued, I walk through the entrance to be greeted by a table scattered with freshly carved wooden stakes. One even spears a pink, rubbery hot dog. I look up to see a chalkboard menu that is supposed to list Today’s Specials, but the words are smeared and erased. This time, the carrots on the wall look back at me with bemused expressions. Their thought bubbles say, “…lick the plate clean…” and “…lick the table clean…” Rita McKeough’s installation The Lion’s Share is a restaurant; not just any restaurant though. Strange meals are precariously balanced on tables whose legs have been carved into sharp wooden stakes that spear hot dogs to the floor. The chairs are empty but the utensils move of their own accord. The cutlery consists of wooden stakes, jabbing and thrusting themselves into the food almost barbarically. This mechanical movement produces an uneasy sound of churning — 13 —
motors, while the music of the restaurant is replaced with an occasional lion’s roar. Not loud enough to startle, it is strangely omnipresent. Today’s Special is a hot dog, two eggs sunny side-up, and a glass of milk. The walls are decorated with swallows that seem to be spiraling out of control towards the ground — a clever visual pun depicting the act of swallowing food. Swallows were seen as a good omen for anyone at sea, so the falling of these birds precipitates an uncomfortable atmosphere. The carrots here are equally perplexed by the sight before them, saying things like “…good…grief…” and “…oh…I can’t stand it…”. There are so many different elements to The Lion’s Share that it takes some time to discover and explore each part of the large-scale installation. It becomes a kind of game, surprising and disturbing at the same time. One discovery is that all the food for Today’s Special is “grown” in-house. Off to one side, an aquarium is filled with a cloudy substance. Nearby, a ladle is placed in front of a few tall glasses of milk. I look closer and the milk is licking back at me! Tongues protrude from every glass, even from puddles on the floor. The liquid seems to be mocking a feline — in this case a lion — lapping up milk with its tongue. Is the milk alive, sticking its tongue out at you in contention? If so, it’s not the only food that is. The hot dogs come from a fenced wooden cage in the back of the restaurant. In a buffet- style arrangement, tongs hang by the cage, ready for you to pick and choose. A wooden stake spears a single hot dog in the middle of the cage, while the rest of them are scattered as if fending for their lives. Each dog is the rubbery pink colour of packaged, grocery store hot dogs, but they are not living in ideal conditions. Small, cartoonish spirals of feces litter the floor of the cage. The scene is reminiscent of factory farm pigpens, where hundreds of animals wallow in their own filth. Where do the eggs come from? I notice the swinging kitchen doors for the first time. Peering in, I can make out a stove and what appears to be a dead chicken lying on a table. I push through the doors and the room is filled with eggs. Eggshells litter the floor and the walls are splattered with eggs cooked sunny side-up. Stacks of plates are ready to be filled, and two pans sit on the stove. Approaching the chicken, I set off a high-pitched laugh that fills the room. Suddenly, the chicken is hysterical, bobbing back and forth, driven to madness by producing so many eggs. Poultry farms are frequently criticized for their conditions, where egg-laying hens are stuffed into wire battery cages that barely allow them to move, causing suffering and abnormal behaviour. Feeling uncomfortable, I make my way back into the restaurant with the chicken’s crazed laughter echoing behind me as the kitchen doors swing shut. The last “farm” in the restaurant is a beautiful aquarium. Wooden fish embellished with jeweled scales grow like tulips from the pebbles at the bottom of the tank and beaded fishing lines hold their mouths just above the water. An inscription reads “Frank McKeough Memorial Aquarium”. The artist told me that — 14 —
Details of The Lionâ€™s Share, Rita McKeough, 2011. Courtesy: University of Lethbridge Art Gallery
Frank McKeough was her father, and the fish are similar to the animal sculptures he loved to make for her. McKeough is a committed vegetarian, and this work comes from a very personal perspective. When I talked to her about the exhibition, she said she was afraid she was having too much fun with it. At the opening reception, the artist was decked out in a full chef’s uniform to wrangle “free-range” hot dogs back into the restaurant. With a long wooden stake in hand, she pushed the hot dogs from the grassy fields outside, through the main lobby, to the gallery and into their cage. It took nearly an hour to wrangle them all. Meanwhile, curious passers-by asked if they could touch the hot dogs, to which McKeough replied, “They’re quite friendly. We haven’t had a problem with them yet.” The city of Lethbridge was developed largely on the basis of local ranching and farming, and the economy of the area is still dependent on agribusiness. Given this context, it is no surprise that the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery has programmed a group of exhibitions called Food Series, exploring social and cultural issues related to food production, supply and consumption. The Lion’s Share was commissioned as part of this series, to reflect on our relationship to animals and animal by-products as food. In North America, industrial farming, mass food production and long-distance grocery distribution serve to disconnect consumers almost entirely from the sources of their food. McKeough’s ubiquitous hot dogs encompass one of the most extreme disconnects to be found at the supermarket. Intensely processed with added fillers and preservatives, the final vacuum-packed product is completely disassociated from its animal origins. As omnivorous consumers, we in turn are effectively disassociated from any sense of responsibility for our choices. By giving these hot dogs new and personable lives in her restaurant, McKeough highlights this problematic relationship. As Italian psychologist Emanuela Cenami Spada wrote: Anthropomorphism is a risk we must run, because we must refer to our own human experience in order to formulate questions about animal experience…. The only available “cure” [for anthropomorphism] is the continuous critique of our working definitions in order to provide more adequate answers to our questions, and to that embarrassing problem that animals present to us.1 What is that embarrassing problem? That we don’t simply project human experiences onto animals; we are (and are not) animals.2 There is a very dark, yet humorous commentary running through The Lion’s Share. While the installation may seem like a clear argument for vegetarianism at first glance, when it comes to eating animals, there is never a straightforward case. This is what writer Jonathan Safran Foer discovered, “It’s a slippery, frustrating, and resonant subject. Each question prompts another, and it’s easy to find yourself defending a position far more extreme than you actually believe or could live by. Or worse, finding no position worth defending or living by.”3 — 16 —
In much of North America today, food is not just food. We have the option to choose what we eat and when we eat it. Eating is no longer survival but a favorite pastime. The Lion’s Share is a starting point for viewers to become consumers with a conscience, ultimately asking, “Do you know where your food is coming from?” ____________________________________________________________________ Spada, Emanuela Cenami. “Amorphism, mechanomorphism, and anthropomorphism”. Anthropomorphism, Anecdotes, and Animals. Edited by R.W. Mitchell and others. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1997, p. 37-49. 2 Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009, p. 47. 3 Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009, p. 13 – 14. 1
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Left image: BBBS/ABCC, Carl Spencer, Ian Birse and Laura Kavanaugh, 2010. Photo: Vicki Chau
THE ART OF A PARTY: BBBS/ABCC and Art’s Birthday 2010 by Vanessa McLachlan
It’s January 17th — Art’s Birthday — a time to celebrate! No, art wasn’t really born on this day, but since 1963 it has been celebrated to commemorate the impact of art in our lives, and to recognize that art is everywhere. French artist Robert Filliou originated this notion. He proposed that one million years ago there was no art, until one January day when someone dropped a dry sponge in a bucket of water and art was born. Although the story is illogical, it fits with Filliou’s ideology and Fluxus tradition — both of which incorporate the absurd and the humorous along with positive social and communitarian aspirations. So how do you celebrate art? Create a warm and inviting atmosphere that brings people together for a fun experience, then translate that into artistic expression. It is a situation that aligns with the principles of the External Network, another ideology held by Filliou, which attempts to bridge the gap between artists and non-artists by encouraging collaboration. Within this framework, the act of collaboration is more important than any resulting artwork, and the distinct roles of artist and audience are no longer. Originally, Art’s Birthday events took place within a network of artists who used — 19 —
the postal system to collaborate. More recently, artists have used the Internet, radio and other multi-media technologies to create networked activities that encompass the principles of the External Network and enable the exchange of birthday presents for art. Projects from previous Art’s Birthday events include: Scrambled Bits (2004), in which artists around the world streamed sensor data that activated robotic devices in various social spaces; and ATTIC (2008), which fed remote web streams, noise made in a performance space, and taped audio into an attic space to create a feedback chamber, which was connected to other performances at other locations. The 2010 Calgary event, held at EMMEDIA in collaboration with Quickdraw Animation Society, The New Gallery and Alberta College of Art + Design, showcased several participatory festivities including a workshop where participants built motorized drawing robots, a ‘Zine’ creation activity and a tea room where participants could trade their baked tarts for tea. One highlight of the event was BBBS/ABCC (Betamax Birthday Broadcasting System / Art’s Birthday Cake Cast) by Carl Spencer, Ian Birse and Laura Kavanaugh, an installation combining audio, visual and transmission technology to create an experience that stimulated all the senses. On a table in the corner of EMMEDIA’s screening room, a mini-keyboard is outfitted with two pieces of paper cut into the shape of hands, a visual cue to encourage participants to interact with the instrument. A webcam is strategically placed to the left of the set-up in order to capture the activity in the room. Volunteers invite guests to play on the keyboard or interact with the camera, which projects their distorted images onto the large screen stretched across the far wall. Both the sound from the keyboard and the images from the camera are distorted, looped and layered overtop of the sound from the Instant Places Mobile Art Lab in Hull, Québec. When questioned about his intent, artist Carl Spencer highlights his interest in exploring ideas of “indeterminacy and the possibilities that arise from incidental occurrences.” Specifically, the unpredictability of outcome and the manner in which the each element of the piece blend together even if they are not in sync. He characterizes the participatory elements of the piece as performance art, as the non-artist does more than just observe and the outcome becomes indeterminate because of their interaction with the technology. The idea was to create a “remix” of audio and video using Max/MSP, a programming application that enables interactive video and sound creation and alteration. In this installation, live sound — including microphoned instruments like a viola, voice and noise from household objects was captured in Hull, transformed, then shared with the Calgary location using Skype. This process coincides with Fluxus philosophy and the notion of using telematics in collaborative spaces facilitated by the Internet. At EMMEDIA sound captured from people playing on the mini-keyboard and input from the studio in Hull — 20 —
was recorded onto 8-track tapes, played, re-recorded and re-played. All of these blending together to create an echoing effect. For some participants who chose to play, either on the keyboard or in front of the camera, it was a heartfelt experience as they witnessed their interaction transformed and layered with performances by others at the sister event. Something interesting and arbitrary was manifested through the filtering and distortion of images and sounds, as those participating in the installation responded to what was presented to them onscreen and through the speakers. For the observer, it was an interesting experiment, and begged the question – were the participants creating art, or were they instruments being manipulated, just like the camera and keyboard? What made BBBS/ABCC successful was the willingness of its participants to play. Without their interaction, there was no installation. What made the piece interesting, however, was how their input was distorted and sometimes layered with that of other people in distant locations. A great deal of thought can go into building an installation with an environment that is both engaging and visually stimulating, but what is the role of the participant who may be playing aimlessly, with no intent but to feed their curiosity and entertain themselves? Is meaning derived from the successful implementation of technology, or from the creation of interaction using technology? BBBS/ABCC is effective because radio technology is applied to produce an engaging experience in a studio environment. It generates a sense of fun and participation by encouraging viewers to get in touch with their inner child and play. However, the participant engagement is with the technology. The artist creates a simulation, and participants in turn, create pieces that are somewhat pre-determined due to the restrictions inherent in the application. Finally, the audience observes the piece. In the process, no one from any of these three groups is required to engage directly with anyone else. BBBS/ABCC may not fully meet Fillou’s principle of bringing people together, but it still creates a fun atmosphere and engages people in the creative use of technology.
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Top left image: Still from Coffee, Noel Bégin, 2010, video, 3:54 min. Bottom left image: Still from Untitled (For June), by Josh Fraser, 2010, video, 7:14 min.
THE CHALLENGE OF LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS: Red Rover by Lia Rogers
Looking at a map, it might be easy to assume that because Calgary, Saskatoon and Regina are all in the same region of western Canada, there is a lot of exchange between the cities. The reality is that they are all isolated by vast distances. It would be a feat for artists from any one of the cities to pop over to another to catch a screening or an exhibition. Like the children’s game, Red Rover allowed media arts organizations in each city to “call over” the others to share their unique voices. Red Rover was a collaboration between EMMEDIA in Calgary, Paved Arts in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative in Regina. The program was screened simultaneously in Calgary and Saskatoon during the Independent Media Arts Alliance’s prairie conference on April 28, 2011. The program consisted of three sections, one from each organization. Modeled after the children’s game Red Rover, each institution chose a selection of works to send to the others. On the night of the screening the organizations were connected via Skype, so that audiences in each location could interact — ask questions and share commentary — between sections of the program. Despite the relative cultural and geographical proximity of the centres, each program was distinct, exposing audiences to the plurality of expression happening in nearby communities. EMMEDIA presented five works produced by its members. The collection was dominated by live action, with one incorporating animated elements and one work that used neither. Everyone has a morning routine, but most people don’t record it. Coffee (video, — 23 —
3:54) by Noel Bégin is a short and spontaneous work made the morning after the artist got a new camera. It documents a banal and boring everyday chore: making coffee. In the video, Bégin exposes an essential morning routine in his household. Normally a private affair, a routine like this is an essential ritual to begin the day. It is not only intimate, it is sacrosanct. The video has an immediacy; the camera is hand held and sometimes shaky. Neither planned or produced, it is not precious. Edited using quick cuts and tight close ups, a pair of hands is shown grinding the coffee, measuring it and turning on the stove. The hands don’t hesitate when performing this practised routine, perfected over time. The colours are washed out and the lighting is dim, like early morning. Once prepared, the drinks are delivered to the table in mismatched mugs, one large and one small. The full face of the coffee maker is shown for the first time at the table. As she settles down to drink, she clinks her mug to the one waiting for the camera operator. This video is about the meditation that is morning coffee, common to many homes and many people, but different in each instance. Like the Japanese tea ceremony, this coffee is prepared using steps polished by repetition and time. There is no use of measuring cups or exact amounts - this is coffee prepared to preference by muscle memory and eye. Silent except for the sounds of clinking, grinding, running water and boiling picked up by the camera, the lack of dialog reinforces the sacred atmosphere of the video. In his video, Josh Fraser seems bent on triggering epileptic seizures. Some people reported feeling overwhelmed by the intense visuals in Untitled (For June) (video, 7:14), a black and white video that flickers and flashes in total silence. It is a process based piece created as part of EMMEDIA’s Production Access program, where Fraser took content and fed it into monitors and projectors, which he then recorded. His goal was to condense and reduce the content, and then re-process it to be distilled further. In his artist statement, printed in the evening’s program, Fraser claims it was an unsuccessful experiment. Fraser alternates between two types of technology: the smooth grain of a captured image from a digital projector, and the obvious red-green-blue pixels, electron scan and curved screen of a CRT television. The quality of the image changes continually, going from flickering with edges of colour, to smooth in black and white, and back again. While this is not typical of Fraser’s Noise performance work, the rapidly moving images do fit with his aesthetic. It is not clear if the footage is found or choreographed. The images are mostly indistinct, but occasionally a readable shape appears, like feet moving or a face. But just as quickly, it goes back to blobs, smears or flickering light. No form is recognizable for long, but the audience can always see the technology. Fraser’s work is an exploration, condensing and refining the image but also distilling and separating the technology. The inherent characteristics of the gear used is what creates these images. The method is the medium. In the audience, no one speaks and everyone makes an effort to eliminate all — 24 —
coughing and shuffling. Totally silent, the images become paramount. Based in Saskatoon, Paved Arts is the relative new comer. Established in 2003 when two institutions merged, this centre is an amalgam of the presentation space of The Photographers Gallery and the production space of Video Vérité. The new organization concentrates on media arts. Paved presented seven works in their program, most of which lacked opening or closing credits — a telling convention from this institution. Like a gallery without labels, these projects must stand on their own. Anyone coming across the works without a program would be hard pressed to get supplementary information. The selection was dominated by a diversity of animation and works that contained animated objects, like the puppets in Scenes From a Secret World, by ex-Calgarian Amalie Atkins. The notable exception to this trend was the live action Bike Ballet by Paul Atkins (no relation). Not many people can ride a bike and play a guitar at the same time, but in Bike Ballet (video, 2:56), Atkins does just that. Two ladies ride to either side and behind him like backup dancers, moving their arms, legs and sometimes their whole bodies, in time to the music. At times they are even off their bike seats completely. While fluid and graceful, this synchronized choreography is filled with tension as Atkins bikes full speed with no hands, drifting around corners as he sings and plays. Atkins himself might actually perform the song, as he is a musician as well as a video artist. Played on acoustic guitar with a few bike bells for emphasis, the song seems to have been written especially for the project. The lyrics praise the benefits of bike ballet. At first it is about being an audience member watching the graceful bikers and cheering them on. It even makes a challenge, posing the question. “Bike Ballet is easy to say, but have you ever tried dancing on your bike?” During the verse that compares biking to flying Atkins picks up speed as he rolls no-handed down a hill. By the end, the song and the video encourage everyone to take up dancing in order to transcend from audience to performer. Shot before winter has fully taken over the suburban streets, the riders are dressed for cold in hats and mittens, as well as coordinating outfits of red and green. They stand out in the fall landscape, with no leaves on the trees and long shadows cast by a low sun. The camera is mounted on another bike and it jumps and jostles along, shooting backwards towards the performers. There is one obvious cut right at the beginning of the video, as the bikers get going, but after that it looks to be one continuous shot of the entire ride. This video rides a fine line between documentation and music video. It could easily be dismissed as documentation of a performance piece; however, the distinct lack of audience pushes it closer to music video territory. By the same token, the lack of credits and emphasis on the song keep it from being a full blown music video. Whatever the categorization, Bike Ballet has the strength to stand as a spontaneous video on its own. A small creature pops out from a broken pipe in a snowy alley. It waves its antenna in the air to attract a butterfly, which picks up the creature and takes it on a ride around the icy landscape. One Mushroom Too Many (video, 2:43) — 25 —
by Andrei Feheregyhazi stars the quick moving cave mite and includes a cameo by the Anglerpod, both of which are characters from the artist’s previous animations. Over the course of their journey, they are joined by other creatures and eventually, find some mushrooms. Each creature takes a mushroom and moves around the alley as colourful, plant like growths spring up behind them. Soon, the alley is filled with bright blue, yellow and red curly ribbons. Some of these growths spring up so fast they propel the mite up the nearby brick wall of the buildings. The creatures leave long trails of leaves and flowers as they flit about. One creature rebounds off the walls around the alley causing green vines to shoot up and out. The creatures all move in the same way they did before they were carrying the magical mushrooms, but now colour and life follows in their wake. It is difficult to tell if this is rendered animation layered over video, or stop motion animation of actual objects. The animated creatures look like they could be made out of physical materials like paper and cardboard. The beating of the butterfly’s wings and the movement of the creatures’ little legs are choreographed in perfect time with the music. The soundtrack is recognizably by the musician Pogo, who takes samples from popular culture and re-mixes them into pulsing beats. Usually, his music contains lyrics or spoken words, but not this piece. It is appropriate that there is no human voice or language invading this fantasy world. It would break the spell created by these creatures, their setting and the way they are animated. In the midst of winter, there aren’t many bugs, so seeing the characters move so quickly and surely in these conditions adds to the magic. It is enchanting to think of these captivating events, which result in such colourful growth sprouting all around the cold alley. Established in 1977, Saskatchewan Filmpool in Regina supports the production of independent film and video projects in the province. Filmpool presented five works, three of which were originally film, and the other two video. In I Have A Secret (video, 1:00) Barbara Meneley explores confessions. The work consists of animated text telling the story of a secret event that took place on a girl’s walk home in 1970s suburbia. Black cursive words start writing themselves on a white background. The text begins from left to right at the top of the page, but then changes direction, angling and layering over top of itself. The secretteller is still not comfortable telling her secret straight out. The soundtrack is a whispered female voice telling the same story as the text, with the phrase “I have a secret” repeated over and over, on top of the narrative. This layering in both the audio and video serves to obscure any understanding of the actual secret. The words “secret” and “promise” are repeated several times. Repetition can repeal a scarcity effect, making the impact less effective. Just like the techniques used to recover from post traumatic stress, the continual repetition of a memory makes it less painful. Despite obfuscation, the secret is not completely hidden. The writing is slow enough that an attentive viewer can decipher it, but it is easy to get distracted and lose your place. The secret is not a bad one. The — 26 —
Still from Bike Ballet, Paul Atkins, 2010, video, 2:56 min.
Still from Sign-off, Brett Bell, 2011, film, 2:16 min.
secret keeper has not committed any crime, rather, she has shown some poor judgement. Meneley loops and repeats the dialog giving it an ostinato pattern. It becomes like a round, with the same song repeated slightly behind the first part. Each repetition states more of the secret, but the full story is never spoken aloud. Sharing a secret reduces the burden — this is the reason behind the success of anonymous sharing sites like postsecret.com. Unlike traditional confession however, there is no absolution. Like a memory, this secret is ambiguous. The audience is left with questions. Perhaps it is a true secret, and perhaps it is fiction. Most likely it lies between the two. Sign-off (film, 2:16) by Brett Bell is the perfect piece to end the entire program. It is an homage to the end of broadcasting day sign-offs seen on television stations until a few years ago. Usually, these included uplifting and inspiring shots of beautiful Canadian landscapes accompanied the national anthem played at full volume by a full orchestra. Bell subverts this quasi-patriotic ritual with distorted audio and a collection of not so uplifting images. He challenges the manufactured aspect of Canadian identity based our natural landscape by including interior scenes and images of technology. For instance, there is footage of spools of tape and a library complete with card catalogue; images of guns and hunters tracking a moose; a young boy in his underwear and shots from a business educational video. These are not sights typically used to commemorate and invigorate; they are banal or disturbing. Sign-off is entirely composed of found footage, not all of which is in good condition. It parallels the degradation of our cultural repository as film and audio mechanically break down over time. Even the sign-off itself is even becoming obsolete as 24 hour digital television takes over and broadcasting shifts to more on-demand services. The piece ends with the “Indian Head” test card, which was a test pattern for black and white televisions used in Canada from the second world war until the mid 1970s. It is a modern day mandala, one that will soon be referenced in only in archives and memory. On a national scale, Alberta and Saskatchewan are usually lumped with Manitoba as “the prairie region”. Red Rover served to counter this grouping and revealed the diversity of practices happening in the area. It also exposed internal influences active in each centre. For example, Filmpool production coordinator Berny Hi’s music box audio was credited in two separate pieces from Regina. Interaction between members of the media arts communities in Calgary, Regina and Saskatoon is rare, and this type of exchange should be cherished. While this screening offered a glimpse into the creative energy of each centre, it only served to whet my appetite in terms of a true understanding of each community. This cross-pollination was a first step what could be a rich journey. These sorts of events, whether exchanges of works or people, should be continued. Red Rover was a great opportunity to see artistic output generated by each city, but the production practices were hidden and few hints were given as to the atmosphere of each organization - after all, only the final product was shown. — 29 —
Left image: Detail of Bin 15, Mark Lowe, 2011. Photo: Vicki Chau
COLLABORATION IN A PRAIRIE DOWNPOUR: Mark Lowe’s BIN 15 By Shawn Dicey
An unusual sight for downtown Calgary, Mark Lowe’s BIN 15 was a metal grain silo that stood at the Calgary Folk Music Festival one weekend in July 2011. Reassembled after a westward journey from the artist’s home province of Saskatchewan, it sat between the merchandise tent and the children’s playground. Both instrument and performance space, BIN 15 also occupied a significant conceptual position within the festival’s lineup. Folk is a wide-sweeping musical term. The Calgary Folk Festival encapsulates this idea by presenting artists from around the world, working in nearly every conceivable genre of music. Though Noise or improvised music is a difficult sell to most festival-goers, the object of this enormous summertime gathering of music lovers is to promote exposure to new people and ways of thinking. BIN 15 played host to a score of improvisers over the course of the festival, bringing artists from Calgary’s Noise/improv community to the bin to perform, as well as more orchestrated daily sessions by Lowe, along with bandmates Steve Leidal and Brodie Mohninger. The most intriguing guest in this collaborative environment is undoubtedly the bin itself. Approximately fifteen feet in height, the structure’s scale is confused by a small hatch near the bottom that serves as the only entrance to the galvanized metal teepee. This forces participants to crouch as they step into the cavernous interior of found objects and instruments. Inside, the curved, ribbed walls and conical roof confine the space without right angles or corners. In — 31 —
contrast, a steel cube built of the identical volume would not have the same reactive and absorptive character, and the reverb saturation of sound would likely be unbearable. Though the silo was designed to hold and protect grain, reimagined here as an integral vessel to be played from within using tools, found objects, body parts and other instruments, it has found a potent new purpose. Standing outside during Larry McDowell’s set of undulating electronic rhythms and feedback, the experience of his performance was filtered through the great participator of the bin. Touching it with hands and face evoked a tangible energy no conventional speaker could produce. The sounds the artist created were captured by its metallic skin and converted into a multi-sensual experience that catered to the jagged signals as synchronously as the harsh winter winds of the prairies. On the second day of the festival, a heavy and unrelenting rain pounded the island, prompting swift shelter-seeking by all attendees. Fortunately, the silo became one such refuge, allowing a true exploration of the performative capabilities of the metal bin alone, in an impromptu setting. The special solo performance by blasting sheets of rain demonstrated the underlying brilliance of character the bin naturally possesses, producing flowing drones with intricate patterns and varying tempos. Reflecting the sound waves travelling through the metal, whether produced by sticks in the hands of performers, or a precipitous onslaught from above, the silo became a two-way limiter, forcing distinction between inside and out. One could have been isolated in a shock storm on the open prairie as easily as in BIN 15, with skyscrapers mere blocks away. From the outside, the bin’s recognizable form was a reference to its iconic place in agricultural heritage. Inside however, one was compelled to compare and contrast the lives of grain seeds, drumsticks, and drops of rain. With a nod to the fluxus composers, Lowe successfully brought a piece of his home to Calgary’s Folk Fest, and created a space to ponder the existential roots of Noise and improvisational music.
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Top image: Bin 15, Mark Lowe, Calgary Folk Music Festival, 2011. Bottom image: (L-R) Joshua Fraser, Larry McDowell, and Peter Redecopp perform in Bin 15. Photos: Vicki Chau
Left images: Stills from Once Near Water, Vera Frenkel, 2008, video, 15:25 min.
THE CITY WE ONCE KNEW: Vera Frenkel’s Once Near Water by Tomas Jonsson
Once Near Water: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive is the story of a city cut off from a lake. This work by Vera Frenkel is a tribute to a city lost under wave after wave of construction, and to those who would acknowledge its absence. The story is recollected through a letter the narrator receives from “Ruth” (her name changed to assure her anonymity, it is noted), an archivist of scaffolding. As the sole beneficiary of her collection of photographs and notes, the narrator recounts Ruth’s observations to a mysterious building committee to determine the appropriate care for this material. The letter reports on Ruth’s efforts as an unofficial and covert archivist of scaffolding. Interwoven are observations and reflections on the city she lived in and knew in a process of destructive transmutation: “Once a rich, multi-course meal, now a dried biscuit.”1 The city in question is unnamed, but through the accompanying visuals, it is recognizable as Toronto. In recent years, this city has experienced the visual erasure of much of the harbour front along Lake Ontario, impeded by a growing wall of condominium towers that extends continually further into the heart of the city. Buildings and neighbourhoods that grew slowly over time are suddenly and irrevocably erased through this violent upheaval. “Mapping greed,” Ruth writes in her letter, the narrator emphasizing that this statement is underlined, “is a thankless task.”
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II Once Near Water was presented as a two-channel video installation in Calgary at EMMEDIA in September 2010, and Frenkel’s narrative resonates strongly with the urban realities here. Like Toronto and most cities, Calgary was founded in relation to a body of water, in this case a river. This river, the Bow, flows eastwards and south, and defined the early settlements that would eventually form the city. Over time, this relationship to water was superseded by the railway, and then roads, which further bifurcated and defined Calgary into quadrants, both geographic and economic. New sandstone and brick structures, built during the rush of Calgary’s first economic boom, were born out of the surge of capital that flowed into the city, which had, until then, consisted of wooden structures. Single occupancy hotels such as The York and The Regis housed migrant labourers brought in to work on the railroad. This euphoric, unfettered construction and speculation was eventually brought crashing down with the sudden, unexpected collapse at the onset of the First World War. Since then, this continual rise and fall has been deeply embedded into the dynamic of the city. Construction has always closely mirrored the main economic drive of Calgary. As historian Max Foran notes, “since the construction industry was a secondary component of internal economic growth, it merely reflected existing prosperity…. The disproportionate role of construction in Calgary’s economy served to underscore unstable growth patterns in general.”2 Construction implies confidence in the future and the creation of jobs. Construction is a near-constant condition of the city, whether it consists of stalled projects, or a building frenzy fuelled by economic growth. In today’s slowed economy, construction persists, albeit at a dramatically reduced rate, carrying hope forward and generating flow. Particularly in the downtown core, scaffolding cuts through the city, opening up new pathways or creating barriers to reorient our movements through the spaces we inhabit. The most recent boom, fueled by the northern Alberta oil sands development, sparked a comparable frenzy of construction in Calgary. Signature architectural projects, such as the contentious Peace Bridge by Calatrava, and the Bow Building by Foster + Partners, are represented as realignments to the city’s relationship to the water. However, they are also major arteries in themselves, articulating the dynamic ebb and flow of economic investment. Construction for the Bow broke ground in August 2007, its name and architecture referencing the glacier-fed river that — for now — flows through Calgary. Upon its completion it will be the largest tower in Western Canada, and home to the Encana natural gas corporation. A promotional campaign for the building incorporates stories, one for each of the 58 floors of the building. Several of these texts are presented on the hoarding that surrounds its construction site, which has slowly eased this building into the — 36 —
consciousness of the city. In these narratives, the building is promised to be “a place to inspire ideas and innovation”, “a gathering place for Calgarians,” and it is noted, “In a nod to the past, The Bow will incorporate the façade from the old York Hotel.”3 During construction of the Bow, the façade of the York – one of Calgary’s original hotels – was dismantled brick by brick, and its core shattered to make way for the new building. Eventually, the façade will be re-built; it’s patina a nod to history, but also a mask for new development. The neighbouring Regis Hotel, we are informed, will enjoy a new life as a boutique hotel. Other buildings are rarely so lucky. Rapid spasms of development in the urban fabric cause entire buildings to disappear, seemingly overnight. Their replacement is unmarked, and the full implications of their loss in our conception of the city is soon forgotten, lost in selective amnesia. III In 2007, speaking on the subject of the new developments in Calgary, Christopher Ridabock, President of JJ Barnicke Calgary real estate noted “We, I think, have been building up to a crescendo for the last four years. Now, my particular personal opinion is that we’re at the high point. The waves of demand have been sweeping behind us. The buildings that have been planned, commissioned, architecturally designed are now starting to come out of the ground, or the holes are dug.”4 This optimism is nothing new, nor is the crash that has yet to be fully realized. The ambitions driven by the sudden flow of capital that washed over Calgary will soon dry up. Calgary as an economic engine remains largely oblivious, though not immune to the global economic crisis that continues to reverberate at increasing volume. The trauma of the collapse is not faced head on, but deferred. Scaffolding is an increasingly permanent placeholder. An uncomfortable suggestion emerges; that what we are witnessing is not in fact growth, but rather the destruction of the city, the erasure of places and times which are embedded in the buildings that surround us. Before the erasure is complete, scaffolding serves as a reminder of something that once was, and a possibility still open. Today, the downtown core of Calgary resembles a living archive of scaffolding. Fences surround gaping holes in the ground - unmanned caverns that sit in economic limbo. This stalled construction also grants a reprieve to buildings slated for demolition, left to face this challenge another day. In the meantime however, they slip into decrepitude, furthering justifications to tear down the old to make way for the new. The narrative of Frenkel’s Once Near Water runs counter to the main current of the city’s cycles, opening up a new path to understand the trajectory of the city, and its potential. In her letter, Ruth stresses the importance of bearing witness — 37 —
Stills from Once Near Water, Vera Frenkel, 2008, video, 15:25 min.
to what was. “Do what you want with this,” the letter reads, referring to the scaffolding archive. “Reminisce, advocate, grieve, write.” “All is not lost,” the narrator is promised, and in this we can take comfort, “take note, and take positions”. ____________________________________________________________________ Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are drawn from Frenkel’s Once Near Water: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive. A transcript of the voice-over can be found in On Site Review, Issue 24: Migration, 2010, p. 13 - 16. 2 Foran, Max. Calgary: an Illustrated History. James Lorimer & Company, Toronto, 1978, p. 78. 3 http://www.the-bow.com, 2010. 4 “Towers of power; City’s transforming skyline reflects growth and rebirth from Beltline to downtown”. Mario Toneguzzi. Calgary Herald. Nov 11, 2007. p. C.1 1
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Left image: Work from My Father, The Sun and The Hungry Ghost, Sarah Smalik, at Haight Gallery, 2011. Courtesy: Haight Gallery
POP-UP GALLERIES AND DIY EXHIBITION SPACES IN CALGARY: A Vital And Continuing History by Mohammad Rezaei
Pop-up galleries and do-it-yourself spaces have long history in Calgary’s art community, and the wider art world. Such outlets have been developed in variety of different places, such as artists’ homes or studios. In such curious locales, artists and organizers have developed a relaxed and intimate environment where artists and audiences share a communal space for communication and conversation. In “Home – A Case History”, Laura Godfrey-Isaacs explains that the development of art in the home space is not a new idea. It can be traced back to the beginnings of interior design and the Arts and Crafts movement. The home is a space of tradition that evokes a sense of rejection towards modernism. The author goes on to explain that the domestic space is also considered inferior due to the “presence of the feminine and the bourgeois”.1 All of these ideas suggest a contradiction with the display of contemporary art in a domestic setting. However, Isaacs explains that in this atmosphere, the lines between art and the home are blurred, as art is “integrated in onto the household.”2 In this sort of space, the relationship between the audience and the work develops differently than it does in gallery spaces based on the more common “white cube” model. Often, a sense of intimidation associated with formal galleries and museums can affect the viewer’s experience of an artwork. Independent, individual opinions can be difficult to form in face of the “professional” opinions present in the situation. A domestic space allows — 41 —
audiences to form a more relaxed, intimate and comfortable relationship with the work.3 In Calgary, Mary Scott was one of the pioneers in the development of DIY and pop-up spaces, with Stride, One White Wall Gallery and <<dL>>. In the early 2000’s, Lisa Brawn, Milo Dlouhy and Angela Inglis started a series of art projects that evolved into a variety of DIY spaces including the Sugar Estate, Sugar Cube and Sugar Shack. Since then, many established Calgary artists have developed such spaces in their homes or studios. Shelly Ouellet started the Carpet N’ Toast Gallery in her basement and John Will hosted openings for friends’ works installed in the bathroom of his house. This trend was not limited to established artists. Just after graduating from Alberta College of Art and Design in 2010, Matthew Mark Bourée founded the Haight Gallery in a specially renovated garage behind his home. These are just a few examples of such spaces in Calgary.4 Mary Scott is perhaps the most recognizable contributor not only to DIY spaces in Calgary, but to the artist-run centres which are a major of the city’s art community today. Scott is one of the founding members of Stride Gallery and she has also been involved with several other artist-run centres over the years. Developing the original space for Stride Gallery, Scott told me that the sale of artwork was not an intention. The space was funded entirely by the artists without any support from outside sources. “We set up the Stride Gallery our own way because we did not want any outside influence or authority on what was being displayed in the space.” The original intention of artist-run centres was to fill the gaps and voids in arts and culture and to present works that would not normally get exhibition space. The goal was, Scott told me, to “escape the bureaucratic steps mandated by the museums.” She went on to explain, “We wanted to exhibit contemporary works that were being developed at the time and the institutions of the time were just not up keeping with the arts”. Today, Stride Gallery is one of the most recognizable exhibition venues in Calgary. Artist-run and governed by a volunteer board, with three presentation spaces, Stride has managed to stay active and contemporary for over a quarter of a century. Scott went on to develop two more centres. <<dL>> and the One White Wall Gallery both functioned as pop up spaces. << dL >> was fully organized by Scott herself. The gallery ran for 18 months, exhibiting works from across the country. The space was funded by Scott’s day job working at The Banff Centre. Scott recalls the intimate nature of the exhibits. The shows were mostly promoted through the gallery’s mailing list and the audience was diverse. “We had an exhibit of AIDS posters from around the world and that attracted a lot of different people. There were nurses, people with different cultural backgrounds who came to the space.” Scott also founded the One White Wall Gallery in her home. Of the space, Scott says “During the openings I would bake muffins for everybody. Neighbours, friends and art crowds would just come by to hang out at my house and see art.” — 42 —
In 2004, when Ouellet’s basement was destroyed in a flood, the artist decided to remodel the space into a clean white cube, and a pop-up gallery was born. Inspired by One White Wall, Ouellet turned her space into the Carpet N’ Toast Gallery, which opened its first exhibition in 2006. The space celebrated the main objectives of DIY spaces by “[creating] an environment for conversation, celebration and exchange.”5 “The C’NT came to be from a variety of circumstances in my domestic situation.” remembers Ouellet. “I had a flood and then I had a dark dingy basement renovated into a lovely white cube. I had no roommates to negotiate with, and lots of friends who made great work that other artists would want to see, and who make great work themselves.” Like Scott, Ouellet enjoyed the liberty of choosing the work to be displayed; “I’ve had many opportunities to have a voice in programming committees and juries, but C’NT was all mine.” she says. In both home-based galleries, the relationship formed between the audience and the art was unusual due to the intimate nature of the spaces. “In a domestic space, the audience feels less guarded. There is no hierarchy. There is less of that ‘am I going to get it?’ sense,” Scott comments. Ouellet agrees, “Because the space was very social, the artist and his/her work was always front-and-centre, and accessible.” The artist’s studio can serve as a space for the presentation of art, as well as its creation. In “Studio Unbound”, Lane Relyea points out that the dichotomy of the studio and the white cube is a blurred line that is often challenged. She goes on to quote Hans Ulrich Obrist and Barbra Vanderlinden from their essay “Laboratorium”, saying that there is a “creative blur between the making and the exhibiting of the work.”6 With more emphasis on practices such as performance art and interactive art, the studio is no longer a space for the artist alone. The relationship between art making and the display of art has, in some ways, become interchangeable. At the Alberta College of Art + Design, located in northwest Calgary, studio and gallery spaces exist side by side, with both sometimes located inside a student’s studio. There are several student-run, DIY spaces within the school, dedicated to displaying student work. While The Marion Nicoll Gallery serves as a formal, public exhibition space for jury-selected student exhibitions, about half a dozen other student-run, pop up spaces are spread throughout the building. These include The Closet Gallery, the Ivan Gallery, The Poly and Esther Wall Gallery, and The Coven Gallery just to name a few. Ouellet, who is also a faculty member at ACAD, expressed that, “creating opportunities for students to show their work in a gallery-like venue is really important and good experience for working in a gallery down the road.” She went on to say, “The Marion Nicoll Gallery has evolved into a professional organization with developed infrastructure. I think this gallery is extremely important to sit side-by-side with the Illingworth Kerr Gallery (ACAD’s institutional public gallery) and support student practices with the same level — 43 —
of professionalism.” While the MNG functions as a professional gallery space, funded through donations and the Student Association at the college, the pop-up spaces provide less formal areas for students to exhibit their works. Many of these galleries receive a small amount of funding from the student Association, while others are funded and organized by the students themselves. Jeremy Pavka, creator of the Contemporary Art Gallery of Calgary — one of ACAD’s pop-up galleries — comments, “The year I was running it (2010/2011), we were recognized by ACADSA as a student club, and got a little bit of funding. We also did fundraising by selling pop at our openings to help pay for show cards and stuff like that.” Spaces like this have long been a part of the ACAD community. While some survive for years, others have come and gone. Ouellet comments, “When I worked in the Media Arts and Digital Technology department, I felt that the Closet Gallery was crucial for creating a sense of community in the department. The space offered real-time, face-time between students and showed the possibilities of presentation outside the monitor space. Now that I work in the Sculpture department I’m more connected with the Ivan Gallery. Students are organizing their own mandate and the space is multipurpose.” These spaces, whether new or old, have claimed a permanent spot in the college community in terms of exhibition and communication of works. Their existence not only provides space for young artists to display their work, but also energizes the community through events and openings. The Contemporary Art Gallery of Calgary is one of the most recognizable DIY spaces at ACAD today. Created by Jeremy Pavka in 2010 and located in a fourth floor Media Arts studio, the gallery consists of two pieces of drywall fastened together to make a corner. Pavka reflects, “I started the CAGC as an installation/ performance commenting on the white cube. Realistically, I wanted to make something sound very professional that was actually quite small, pushing the idea of what the gallery was, and showing art that did the same thing.” Commenting on the struggle for upcoming artists to exhibit their work in an established space, Pavka expressed, “I am a big believer in making what you want to happen, happen. We wanted to create a contemporary space to show work, so we did it. If others find that there isn’t enough space, then they will create more. If people stop making new things, and stop creating new space to show it in, then there is enough space.” In terms of the relationship between art and audience at the CACG, Pavka had a similar observation to Scott and Ouellet about their home gallery spaces. “I think the audience is able to approach the work easier in the small and informal space. The events are always a fun way to blow off some steam from the school week and hang out with a bunch of your friends and classmates.” Several other spaces on campus function in a similar fashion. The Woodland Gallery, founded in 2011, is situated under a set of trees outside the college’s — 44 —
Top image: Opening reception at CAGC, Lindsay Wells’ Dead Pets, 2010. Courtesy: Contemporary Art Gallery of Calgary Bottom image: CAGC installation and show card for Stephen Nachtigall’s Barn Fader 13, 2010. Courtesy: Contemporary Art Gallery of Calgary
Performance of wowandflutter by Decidedly Jazz Danceworks at Câ€™NT, choreographed by Kimberly Cooper, 2008. Photo: Milo Dlouhy
front doors. The Gallery holds an opening every other Thursday and exhibitions last only one day. “There is no outdoor gallery at ACAD, or within the city of Calgary that we know of. Many of the artists at this school make work that relates well to nature and this space gives them the opportunity to present their work outdoors in a professional manner.” co-creator Kaylee Lishner explains. “The amounts of opportunities are limited. With the addition of the Woodland gallery we are creating more ways for students to start showing their work.” The Poly and Esther Wall Gallery is another example. Founded by Fibre students, the gallery is a wall in the Fibre studio that functions on a first come first serve basis. Any interested student can sign up for the space and exhibit their work for one week. Such spaces have become more common on the campus and continue to evolve as the years pass, with the involvement of different students. On the subject of the CAGC, Scott, who is also a faculty member in the Media Arts and Digital Technology department at the college, says, “I think it’s powerful.” She also emphasizes the importance of emerging DIY spaces to the art community at large, stating, “We need to take the new thinking of the young people and utilize it.” As an artist who is about to start my own professional career, I find the continuing existence of pop-up and DIY spaces to be a vital part of Calgary’s art community. Such spaces provide a sense of community in the city and provide spaces for up and coming, as well as established artists to develop their practice while displaying their work. Mary Scott concluded with some advice for future generations of DIY artists and organizers by saying, “It all needs to be documented. Lost history is the biggest loss to any act in history.” In order to preserve and continue this culture, documentation is an important step for future generations to understand, reflect and build on this phenomenon in Calgary. ____________________________________________________________________ Godfrey-Isaacs, Laura. “Home – A Case History”. Beyond the Museum: Art, Institutions, and People Volume 4. Ed. Ian Cole & Nick Stanley. Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 2000, p. 28. 1
Ibid. p. 28.
Ibid p. 27-29.
Tousley, Nancy. “Calgary Report: An Artist-Run Alberta.” Canadian Art 3 March 2011. 08 March. 2011 (http://www.canadianart.ca/online/features/2011/03/03/calgary_report/). 4
Shelly, Ouellet. “Carpet ‘N Toast Gallery.” Carpet N’ Toast Gallery. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. (http://www. vanitygallery.com/cnt/about.html). 5
Relyea, Lane. “Studio Unbound”. The Studio Reader: On the space of Artists. Ed. Mary Jane Jacob & Michelle Grabner. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2010. p. 341-349. 6
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Left image: Limelight in Iverness, Scotland.
INTO THE LIGHT: Sans façon’s Limelight by Kay Burns
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. - T.S. Elliot Imagine if you will, walking down a city street late at night. It is quiet, and mostly abandoned because few people occupy the streets of a city centre in the deep hours of darkness. There is a perception of danger lurking in every shadow and unknown hazards at every turn. What if instead, you glance down a dark street and see a bright spot of light illuminating a patch of pavement some distance ahead of you? It beckons by its presence so you tentatively walk forward to explore. At the boundary of this circle of light you hesitate, unsure of what to do next. But the invitation is evident; the light wants you in its beam. Unable to resist, you step into the spot and then enthusiastically skip across it, arms held out, face turned up to the blinding source. At the other side, as you slip back into darkness, you revert to your cautious step, shrouded by the night. Limelight is incredibly simple in concept, and an incredibly compelling piece of temporary public art. By exchanging the bulbs in two streetlights with theatrical spotlights, Sans façon invites the engagement of passers-by and urban nighttime denizens. A collaborative art duo based in Glasgow, Scotland (although temporarily located in Calgary), Sans façon is made up of artist Tristan Surtees and architect Charles Blanc.
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Limelight was originally created for Glasgow’s Radiance Festival of Light. Surtees and Blanc had put together a proposal for the project, uncertain whether or not it would work. They wanted to experiment with the way light functioned in a city and how people understood it or related to it. They wanted to explore the potential for integrating their work into the infrastructure of a city’s existing lighting system. Surtees describes the outcome: “We stood up in a multistory car park, looking down, and just watched. There were no signs, no posters promoting it; it wasn’t signaled for anybody that it was an artwork. It was really an experiment in the city. And it worked! I remember getting quite emotional about the fact that such a small shift in something within the expected, can create such an opportunity for people. It creates such different reactions in such a cross section of people. There were young children there as well as old people and they all did different things… If they were with somebody else, most people did something even if it was just a little click of the heels or arms raised. So we were delighted at that.” At the next stage of the project, Limelight was commissioned as part of a series of works presented at Artisphere, a new arts centre in Arlington, Virginia. Sans façon presented the work in Arlington in 2009 and as an adjunct to the live presentation, Artisphere became the lead commissioner in the world tour of the work, enabling Sans façon to present it in ten cities over two years. To date, Limelight has been installed in twelve cities, in conjunction with various galleries, museums or festivals, presented for 1 or 2 nights over a weekend in each location.1 Each place has offered different experiences. In Gaborone, Botswana, they encountered some logistical challenges: “They don’t have streetlights there really… it was put by a mall because that’s the only place they have outdoor lights. But we attached our spotlights to huge palm trees. Some places are a bit more complicated than others…. Taking it to Gaborone was a real experience because it was very different place. It was lovely to see that children react exactly the same way, people dance — it still worked.” And indeed, in many of the destinations, the artists have witnessed similar responses - the most common being dancing, or couples kissing in the light. Surtees notes that the most interesting results are the spontaneous, chance happenings: “Often you will see people kiss in the spotlight. On the quayside in Newcastle a guy knelt down and asked his girlfriend to marry him. It’s just amazing.” Essentially, the artists are trying to create an experience that is not based on expectation. Surtees says, “We try as much as possible not to advertise the project before it comes. It’s fine if people do, but that’s not really what the project is about. To be instructive about what we want people to do is not something we’re looking for.” In some situations, finding the right site can be a challenge: “You don’t want it to be placed in a really busy area because either people miss it altogether — 50 —
Top image: Limelight in Arlington, USA. Bottom image: Limelight in Gaborone, Botswana.
or it’s completely mobbed. In Toronto, although it was fantastic to be a part of Nuit Blanche, at one point there were a thousand people that stood around the spotlight. That was great, it was in a different context, but that was never the intention of the work.” Expanding on Limelight’s role as an urban, public installation, Surtees indicates, “I think we’re trying to investigate in some way what our cities are, and react to the standardization and sterilization of public space. It relates to how we think about ourselves in public space, and how much it’s actually owned, monitored and controlled, and question how much of it is generally public. It’s a big issue, particularly in North America – that kind of public / private space issue where you close parks at certain times… If cities are going to live, then public spaces are a vital part of that, and actually how we think about that public space, what we’re allowed to do in it, and how we think about ourselves in it, is really of vital importance.” Because Limelight is controlled along with the automated illumination of city streetlights at night, it activates spaces that are often deemed unwelcoming or dangerous. In contrast to the corporate and consumer hustle and bustle of a city centre during daylight hours, Limelight occupies the furtive and enigmatic quiet hours of late night. The streets are mostly devoid of people, yet the generic city lights insipidly illuminate the space every night until dawn, as a way to offer a perception of security. Despite the effort and expense involved in their operation, city streetlights in their banal utilitarian form do little to appease safety concerns or create a welcoming environment. When Limelight is installed, people wandering city streets at any time during the dark hours may happen upon this transformative space. Sans façon documents the installation each night it is presented, then edits the video footage to give to the host organization. Surtees and Blanc attend each presentation and observe from a distance, informing people about the project after their participation, and giving them the option to not have their photo incorporated into the Limelight archives if they so choose (no one has refused to date). At the core of it all, Limelight is a piece of public art, a definition that brings with it a mixed bag of associations. Surtees indicates: “The reason that we’re interested in making public art is because all work that you make in a public realm is about having a conversation. It’s not just about an artist placing something and saying ‘look what I’ve done.’ It’s about questioning what is public space, how do we want to behave, what do we want our cities to be, how do we design these places, and how do we wish our public space would develop in the future. It’s trying to draw some of those conversations into the realm of contemporary public art.” Clearly, given the responses to the work, the installation is an incredibly compelling experience. Somehow, people feel at liberty to do things in the spotlight that they wouldn’t normally do on city streets at night. It provides a gift of freedom to engage with public space in a different way, to think about where they live in a different way. The things that happen in this grain of light — 52 —
are happy things — dancing, music, kissing, romance, laughing — in contrast to apprehensions associated with the urban gloom beyond its edges. Surtees describes the piece as an “invitation to play…it’s a place-making thing…. Every time we do it we just walk away with a massive smile on our face. It’s just very intuitive, people are always smiling.” As a way to activate and engage people in city streets at night, Limelight offers a welcome intervention in the wee hours of urban dark. The playfulness exhibited by participants and the way such a small change in an environment can evoke such an enthusiastic response indicate that city streets are ripe for change, something beyond the functional mundanity of utilitarian lighting and the trepidation associated with nighttime city habitation. The ability of the project to transform the experience of a place is its success. In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present. - Francis Bacon ____________________________________________________________________ 1
Limelight will be presented in Calgary as part of the 2012 High Performance Rodeo, January 13 – 15.
For more information and photos see the Sans façon blog at: http://limelightontour.blogspot.com/
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Left image: A found object arrangement by Dennis, 2011. Photo: Bogdan Cheta
COMMUNITY AND COMING OF AGE IN CALGARY by Bogdan Cheta
The series is a meandering journey. The experiment was to see if I could take an idea and live with it for five years and to see what comes from that. The process is a bit of a leap, but it has also been a way of developing techniques that were fairly crude in my work in the ‘90s. Now I feel these ideas are getting dialed in. I have always thought that artists should give themselves a sort of second childhood; when they go to art school and think maybe that making art is what they want to pursue, they’re being born. As they learn, they develop technique and craft, they start to enter an adolescence. In my work, I feel like I’ve just come out of my adolescence. Maybe the works I’m doing now are the first adult things that I’ve done. - David Hoffos, upon the completion of his five year-long project, Scenes from the House Dream1 Crumbling walls, fresh spray foam insulation, the sound of the train and new construction - in the midst of this, something is growing. Something lush, green and unlikely is poking through the cracks, spreading leaves and bearing fruit. The Area (119 10 Ave. SE) is a space in the neighbourhood of Inglewood, just east of downtown Calgary, near Crown Surplus store. It supports art, music, urban agriculture, environmental activities and education. From my encounters with it, I imagine The Area to be a place where someone could make their own community. I like the idea of having the free will to make our own community; that the role of an emerging artist could be more than just trying to fit in or build a resumé. — 55 —
As David Hoffos describes, the time we have just after leaving art school could be our second adolescence. It is a time to meander and to discover what it means to be a professional artist. During this time, it might be possible to aim for the kind of excellence that distrusts outcome - to take real risks with your work, with who you are, to allow for things to arrange themselves and hopefully, to fuck up. There is a risk is that you could fall off a cliff and never be able to get back up, but maybe that fall is what triggers the promotion to adulthood. In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), David Hume suggests that for all we know, the world may have been designed by a baby god in an act of play. Play is the defining quality of adolescence. If we give ourselves the time to play, perhaps we can start to imagine authentic ways to assert the kind of selfsufficiency that develops into artistic voice. Close your eyes and imagine the following: One day you wake up, look around the studio and realize that you might be a tourist, a kid who needs to believe in something so he can stay in school. But then, when you get outside of that place, it hits you that the apocalypse has happened. It has passed and you have become a relic. Maybe you are from outer space. Maybe you have survived because sometimes an overgrown weed is too pretty to kill. I feel this scenario is an allegory for the emerging characteristics of a possible post-media aesthetic. Having outlived it’s own apocalyptic trauma, the art object itself is dissolving, and in the process, ideas of community are being re-imagined. From my perspective as part of an emerging generation of artists, who have gone through art school and made the decision to invest themselves in object- based practices, it is reassuring to meet other artists who interpret community as a space that creates and then satisfies it’s own audience. They are giving themselves a shot at that second childhood by working with the community they find. This is a space where there is trust in seeing the world as if it is happening for the first time; where the art object may be resuscitated by opening up the rhizomatic potential of who constitutes audience. My interest in exploring what represents community lies in my own reality of developing new, studio-based work after finishing art school. Like everyone else who goes through a BFA and then chooses to make art, I need to find a community that will challenge and support me. I am still learning how not to go crazy from isolation, but this isolation from the world is also a place where I can find my voice. I find it strange when people show an interest in what I’m doing and negotiating studio visits is incredibly awkward. For a while, I thought that I wanted to be anonymous in whatever I did, but then it was too easy to forget how to be social. As a teenager in my art practice, this is a time for me to be creative and to find teachers in unlikely places. I’ve started talking to the homeless people who inhabit the back-alleys around my downtown studio and they have become part of my community. One fellow I talk to, Dennis, makes these amazing arrangements out of daily trash, which I’ve started to use as yardsticks for my own studio work. For me, daily life is like being in Bogdan’s art class. It is a class that never ends. Life does not fit into a neatly packaged version of itself. There — 56 —
is always something ready to spill out and something that does not make sense. For some time, I’ve been thinking that Jennifer Chrighton, a local multidisciplinary artist and member of the band Deadhorse, is one of these post-apocalyptic survivors. In Jennifer’s terms, local quite literally refers to the immediate surroundings where someone lives: supporting local artists, businesses, musicians and the environment through a sustainable and meaningful lens. In a recent Facebook conversation with me, Crighton expanded on the idea of locality: A genuine care for the environment that creativity is built on and lives in, is essential to maintaining the belief that art can be relevant and trans- formative to that environment. I don’t think you can make universal art by making art for the universe, I feel it is more quickly arrived at through an understanding of what you can feel and observe closely, and daily, which at its deepest will strike a universal resonance. Perhaps it is a misapplication of context that has given art its overstuffed airs. Art is powerful with context, and virtually meaningless without it. This might be what makes some artists so successful after their deaths. The passing of time gives the public the opportunity to place their work in a relevant narrative through an understanding of its historical context. But, all too often, there is the desire to fix that history into a very wooden story. Ironically, once an artist reaches that canonical status they are often packed off to Museums where they are stripped of it in any meaningful way. It is why I am more likely to understand a painter by going to his house than I am by reading the historical panel next to his paining. It is also what is behind all of the high profile repatriations of works of antiquity to their original settings. On a recent visit to The Area, I was hoping to see Deadhorse perform. They were raising money for an upcoming trip to Halifax, where a new album was in the works. What I saw was Jennifer, cooking a huge pot of corn chowder. It looked like one of those pots deep enough to hold a small child or maybe a dog. I am sure that my dog, Roxie, would have jumped right in, thinking that she might get baptized. I was baptized in one of those big pots in a neighbourhood church in Romania. Strangely, The Area bears a strong resemblance to that church. It too had a community garden and spaces for performance. But Jennifer wasn’t performing an Eastern Orthodox service, she was grating blocks of cheddar and distributing bowls wearing an outfit that looked like it came out of a Stevie Nicks song. Maybe feeding your fans with chowder is a different kind of baptismal experience, where participation is encouraged rather than complicated. Watching Jennifer cook made me feel that I was in the kitchen with my mother. Out of impulse I felt like I had to give her a hand to feed her children, but she didn’t need help. Like my mother, Jennifer had it all under control. And as the evening progressed, I started to understand the pre-concert event as a DIY — 57 —
creation that collectively formed a narrative in which everyone had a place. At work is an aesthetic that blurs the maker/consumer or artist/non-artist dichotomies — the inside and the outside coexist as if reality is a performative activity that generates itself newly and differently, again and again. This aesthetic dimension expands the potential in everyday life to locate a universal significance to which everyone can relate. I also wondered what made it so refreshing to meet people that I normally see only on Facebook, in real life, drinking soup and supporting each other.
Floorplan of trailer, Marcel Saltel, drawing, date unknown.
As part of my interest in encountering spaces that grow community, I have started to visit mobile homes and their local communities. I became interested in these spaces because they are affordable, and at first glance, they seem like ideal sites for setting up a studio, given they sit on the outside of everything. Today, disguised as a potential buyer, I ran into an elderly couple – Barb and Marcel. They live in the park at the top of the hill that overlooks IKEA. Both are in their late 80’s. The husband is a painter, and he proceeded to show me his makeshift studio – an extension to the trailer that smelled like the sea. The windows were covered with a discolored blue plastic wrap. The floor made a crackling sound as if I was in an old house and the light seemed aged, as if it witnessed time. I recognized that light because it follows me through my studios. It’s a light that sees the work, and not the art. Barb’s gaze held that same luminosity. Through her bejeweled, oversized glasses, her eyes looked young, but her face was scarred by time. Her lipstick reminded me of a paintjob that you would find on a new SAAB. It had that same quality of reflective depth, as if you can read your future just from staring at it. Probably it was an ancient lipstick, long past its expiry date and in a state of decay. It became obvious to all of us that this was more of a visit than a transaction, so I was invited to sit with them. I felt like I was a stray cat that had just been picked up by a caring couple. Maybe I needed to be patted. Or adopted. — 58 —
The air between us communicated our thoughts and words were not required. Could this be my future? As I left, Marcel gave me one of his drawings. I had a palpable sense that this trailer could be my home. Barb told me that she would give me a deal on the asking price, and I would also inherit their vintage Swedish furniture. By that time, I was already envisioning how I could transform one of the bedrooms into a library. She told me that it felt like living in the country. Except that you could hear the roar of Deerfoot Trail beneath you. Trying to meet an understanding of community, I wanted to use this text as a site for mapping the different sources of community I have found as an emerging object-based artist, living and working in Calgary today. They ranged from being part of the audience at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery’s David Hoffos exhibition, (Hoffos too, has a close relationship with his local community in Lethbridge, Alberta) to having a dialogue with Jennifer Chrighton, a local artist/musician, and then witnessing a new kind of site for “local” at The Area. I also found it necessary to speak of more personal places where community takes place by sharing encounters with locals such as Dennis and Marcel. These relationships have expanded my own field of understanding around community and where an emerging artist might be able to find it. Being an emerging artist in Calgary, I find the metaphor bloom where you’re planted to be an interesting one. To me it suggests that it’s not enough to aim at having a vision — you have to be the vision. Meandering through life and art could become an interesting way to spend life. ____________________________________________________________________ “Interview with Glen Lowry”, West Coast Line 50, Staging Vernaculars, p. 86, Vol. 40, No. 2, CAG, 2007. 1
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BIOGRAPHIES JENNIFER McVEIGH Jennifer McVeigh is a writer, editor and researcher living in Calgary. Much of her work has focused on the communication, preservation and dissemination of information about the arts to diverse audiences, especially around artist-run culture. She has an extensive record of published writing, including exhibition essays and regular art criticism in publications such as Canadian Art, the Calgary Herald and FFWD Magazine. In 2008, she edited Resonant Dialogues: 25 Years of the Second Story Art Society. She is a long-time member of EMMEDIA’s Programming Committee and currently serves as the organization’s editor-inresidence. ________________________________ KAY BURNS Kay Burns is a multidisciplinary artist based in Newfoundland, involved in the creation of performance art, photography, locative media, audio, video, and installation. She has a strong interest in collaborative practices and is a co-founder of the Ministry of Walking (a collective involved in the practice of walking within individual and collaborative art explorations). Kay works with language and location, and explores the relationship between humanity and place, site and memory, and the oddities and eccentricities of the people who inhabit those places. Through her work, she engages in site-specific or situational responses to location through the reinterpretation of local mythologies and histories. Her artwork has been presented internationally, including New York, Reykjavik, Amsterstam, Belfast, and Los Angeles; as well as at numerous galleries and festivals across Canada, from Dawson City, Yukon to St. John’s, Newfoundland. She was a curator for 5 years at the Muttart Public Art Gallery in Calgary, and taught for 10 years through the University of Calgary
Art Department and the Alberta College of Art and Design Media Arts Department. In conjunction with her art practice she continues to undertake freelance writing projects for various publications. VICKI CHAU Vicki Chau is a media artist based in Calgary, working mainly with photography and video. She graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design, earning a BFA with distinction in Media Arts + Digital Technologies, and is currently the Programs & Outreach Coordinator at EMMEDIA Gallery & Production Society. She volunteers her spare time at other arts organizations, sitting on the programming committee of The New Gallery and the board of Exposure Photography Festival. She is also an independent organizer and curator of exhibitions featuring emerging and established artists, at different venues throughout the city. BOGDAN CHETA Bogdan Cheta makes sculptures, drawings, essays and other stuff. He hopes to continue to find ways to speak, read, and write honestly in order to try to make sense of all those things that do not seem to make sense. SHAWN DICEY Shawn Dicey is a musician, artist and Calgarian, working with musical instruments, gear (recording, computer/ electronics, light producing), found objects, historical information, paint, pens, words, and surroundings. Exploration, research and development guide Shawn’s artistic practice while he seeks self-improvement and broadened understandings.
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As an artist, curator and writer, Tomas Jonsson is interested in issues of social agency in processes of urban growth and transformation. Tomas is pursuing a Masters in Environmental Studies at York University, with an emphasis on socially engaged planning. Tomas recently participated in the Border Cities Kolleg at the Bauhaus Institute in Dessau, Germany, where he developed projects with creative and precarious communities in Tallinn and Helsinki. Tomas has worked for a number of artist-run centres in Calgary, including The New Gallery, EMMEDIA and the Mountain Standard Time Performative Art Festival.
Mohammad Rezaei is a Calgary based media artist. His practice focuses on performance and installation art. He strives to capture current social issues through videos that provide a personal perspective on the subject matter. He is currently attending his fourth and final year at the Alberta Collage of Art + Design, majoring in Media Arts + Digital Technologies. After graduation, he hopes to further develop his practice in media arts through different forms of research and development.
SIMONE KEIRAN Simone Keiran has been publishing critical art essays, reviews and commentaries for the past fifteen years and is a member of the ARTiCAL Collective critical writing group in Calgary. Her writing has appeared in the Kootenay Gallery of Arts, History and Science, and the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. She was a regular writer for ARTiculate: Journal of Arts and Culture in the Columbia-Kootenay Basin, and has published in Route 3, Harrowsmith Country Life, Avenue, and Porch magazines. Her book, A Brief History of Western Sculpture, published by Quantum Books, was released at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair. Her background is in music, art, film, antiquities and cultural properties. She has traveled extensively, and makes her online home at simonekeiran.com.
LIA ROGERS Lia Rogers is a practicing interdisciplinary artist concentrating on sculptural works, interactive installations, software and online interventions. She began her career as a production potter, making pottery to put herself through a BFA in sculpture at the University of Calgary. During her art studies she discovered media art and computers and went on to get a BSc. degree in Computer Science. She has spent time working at the Banff Centre and for the Integrated Arts Media Lab. She is the Calgary Dorkbot Overlord and a member of EMMEDIA’s Board of Directors. Her work has been exhibited across Canada.
VANESSA McLACHLAN Vanessa McLachlan has a master’s degree in Environmental Design, where her research focused on product development and inter-firm collaboration. Much of her artistic exploration is in sound and music production.
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