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notes

ISSUE 2 WINTER 2014


Gerry Dotto Riddle Me This Xerography and collaga 1988

PrairieSeen is a registered non-profit organization operating in Edmonton, Alberta. PrairieSeen Notes is published as a part of the organization’s mandate. Directors/ Editors: Chelsey Van Weerden Tori McNish

www.prairieseen.com

© 2014 PRAIRIESEEN CONTEMPORARY ARTS LTD.


EDITORS’ NOTE

Photo by Giulliano Palladino

After almost 2 ½ years, over 400 blog posts, 1200 Tweets, 60 Instagram photos, and 2 issues of PrairieSeen Notes, this is it - we have decided to stop actively writing and publishing as PrairieSeen. She’s been good to us, but, like all things, has run her course. We would like to thank all of our supporters for regularly reading the blog and the magazine, and for your contributions to our fundraising campaign to get PrairieSeen Notes off the ground. Our website, blog, and other social media sites will stay up, as archives, for as many years to come as the Internet allows. To end with a bang, we've done something brand new with this issue - we have gone off the grid, to Lethbridge, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg to see what else is going on in the contemporary art world in Canada. Take pleasure in reading articles from both old and new contributors, venturing out of Edmonton to see what else there is in the world - we know we’re going to! Best, Tori McNish and Chelsey Van Weerden


CONTRIBUTORS

Bart Gazzola (bartgazzola.com) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta, Canadian Art, FUSE, Galleries West, BlackFlash and Hamilton Arts & Letters. His interests focus on sites of contested narratives, both on the Prairies, where he lives, and in the larger national theatre. He currently is in the eighth year of hosting / producing The A Word on CFCR 90.5 FM/cfcr.ca and has been art critic for Planet S Magazine for nearly a decade

Dr. Caterina Pizanias is an independent curator, arts writer, teacher, and active member in arts communities in Canada and Greece. She received her doctorate in the Sociology of Art from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Dr. Pizanias has published extensively in refereed academic journals, art catalogues, books, anthologies, and arts periodicals. She has curated and organized exhibitions of contemporary artists in Canada and Greece. Her curatorial strategy is to be vigilant for points of permeability in an artist’s career, those unnoticed catalysts that made a difference in their artistic choices.

Justine Hartlieb-Power is an aspiring curator, art critic and all around art enthusiast from Edmonton. She’s always had an interest in art, dating back to her schoolgirl days when she painted portrait after portrait of Ringo Starr.

Helena Wadsley is a visual artist based in Vancouver; she teaches painting and drawing at Langara College and during the summers she runs an artist residency in Italy. She works in the media of painting, video, photography and textiles, and recently had her video work exhibited in Venice, Italy, Vancouver and is currently in a touring festival across the US; this summer, her textile sculptures were included in exhibitions in southern Italy. Gerry Dotto is an Edmonton area visual artist and has been active in the local and international art scene for over 30 years. Since completing his studies at the Alberta College of Art in 1981, Dotto has worked as a printmaker, also with mixed media and collage, photography and photo-based media. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and is part of several public collections. Dotto’s work is based on exploring our interaction with everyday forms of visual communication. The subjects of his images are familiar objects, samples of consumer packaging with words and symbols obscured or distorted in some way. The value of these objects, relative to the message they once carried, has been lost. They now take on an aesthetic value of their own, either in their appearance or in the reinterpretation of their message.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Featured Artist: Gerry Dotto by PrairieSeen

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As Far as the Eye Can See: An Image Essay of the Prairies by PrairieSeen

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Review: Blair Brennan, The Right Side of Magic dc3 Art Projects, August 30 - October 11, 2014 by Caterina Pizanias

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Review: Scott Massey, Outstanding Outdoor PAVED Arts, September - November, 2014 by Bart Gazzola

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Review: Corinne Thiessen and Amy Modahl, Liar! Liar! Trianon Gallery, September 27 - November 15, 2014 by Helena Wadsley

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Preview: The Canadian Museum of Human Rights Opened September 19, 2014 by Justine Hartlieb-Power

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Preview: Art & Design Department 50th Anniversary Exhibition Fine Arts Building Gallery, December 9, 2014 - January 10, 2015 by Chelsey Van Weerden


Emergency Kit #1 Gerry Dotto Mixed media assemblage 2012

Emergency Kit #2 Gerry Dotto Mixed media assemblage 2013


FEATURED ARTIST: GERRY DOTTO by PrairieSeen

PrairieSeen: Can you tell us more about yourself and what you're working on at the moment? Gerry Dotto: I’ve been active in the local arts community for over 30 years, with various arts organizations such as Latitude 53 and SNAP since the early 1980’s. I started out in 1982 doing graphic design as well as exhibiting my personal work. Back then, I did design work for the Princess Theatre, Edmonton Folk Festival, and a few small theatre companies and The Edmonton Bullet to name a few. I was mostly drawing and printmaking then, and experimented with Polaroid photos and xerography, or photocopying. Over the course of the last couple of decades, I’ve expanded into photography, mixed media and collage, and some sculptural work. I am currently in two group exhibitions: ‘Photocentric’ at the Garrison Art Center in New York, and BIMPE VIII (Biennial International Miniature Print Exhibition) in Vancouver, that will be coming to SNAP in 2015. I’m presently working on pieces for a solo show at the Art Gallery of St. Albert, scheduled for 2016. The show will consist mostly of photo-based work, but there will also be mixed media pieces and a few sculptures. I also had one of my photos selected for Manifest Gallery’s (Based in Ohio) INPHA3 Photography Annual, which will be published and released in summer 2015

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PS: With regard to Emergency Kit #1 and Emergency Kit #2, can you elaborate on the postal theme explicit in each of the works? In what way might they be used as "emergency kits"? GD: The postal theme is directly related to the fact that these pieces were created for a postcard exhibition. Though it was not required that the pieces have a postal theme, my line of thought is that if it’s to be a ‘postcard’, it should look like it would function as one. I collaged pieces of envelopes and stamps in to help make that connection. It’s also an extension of when I made a lot of mail art early in my career - I still tend to bring these elements into other printmaking and collage projects I’m working on. Size restrictions (4” x 6” postcard size or letter envelope size) and limits on materials that can operate at that size and can travel through the postal system safely, force you to be creative in different ways when working within these parameters. I think that mailing a piece of art - especially when the postcard or envelope is part of the art - makes it more personal, as well as the fact that it’s survived a somewhat elaborate system (the postal service) to arrive at your door (or not...) also adds a certain quality to the piece. Emergency Kits #1 and #2 were each constructed with a small plastic pouch. A unique characteristic of these pieces is that they are kinetic, with 3 small items in each of the plastic pouches that are free to move around inside the pouch whenever the postcard is handled. Threads are pulled tight to keep the plastic pouch close to the surface of the card. The name ‘Emergency Kit’ reflects on the notion that each postcard carries a pouch with items that could be useful in an emergency - a match, a small black metal spike, and a penny or watch battery. Who knows when one of these things could save a life? PS: Le et La involves both a play on words and language, with the poem you wrote interacting with a custom-made cigarette package. Why did you choose to make a cigarette package for this piece, specifically? GD: The cigarette package design was chosen because the poem is about smoking. In this case, I had first decided I wanted to do a print that looked like a cigarette package, then found the poem to print on it. You’ll note that this piece also follows the postal theme to a certain degree - it’s 4” x 6” (postcard size) and has a duty stamp in the top right corner.

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Le et La Gerry Dotto Relief print, hand cut and folded, plus collage elements 2012


PS: Themes of language, communication and miscommunication are present in each of your featured works - can you explain your approach to these topics? GD: My work is based on exploring our interaction with everyday forms of visual communication. The subjects of my images are developed in large part from consumer packaging. These are familiar objects, but, more specifically, I’m inspired by these objects when their words and symbols have become obscured or distorted in some way. I recreate these altered items to present them in a new light. The value of these objects, relative to the message they once carried, has been lost. They now take on an aesthetic value of their own, either in their appearance or in the reinterpretation of their message. Each piece examines components of our universal language, altered in ways that lead to new interpretations (or misinterpretations), affected by changes in context. To a larger degree, this reflects on how established forms of our language, and communication in general, can be compromised for the sake of convenience or through neglect. PS: When you create with found materials, do the materials inform the works, or do you seek out the specific materials to bring an idea to life? GD: When working with found materials, in most cases, the materials inform the works. Once a piece is started, though, I look for specific materials to complete it. I also have a collection of recycled and recyclable materials, primarily consumer packaging: cereal boxes, cigarette packages, candy wrappers, etc. - that I draw from on a regular basis. I’ll try to collect multiples of the same packages so that I can create a small ‘edition’ of a collaged piece. Unfortunately, I think I’m teetering on the brink of becoming a hoarder. Is that considered an occupational hazard?

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Natasa Vretenar Prairie Storm Acrylic on canvas n.d.

AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE: AN IMAGE ESSAY OF THE PRAIRIES by PrairieSeen

We’ve collected images from four artists, Paul Boultbee, Kevin Boyle, Steve Coffey, and Natasa Vretenar, who depict modern representations of the prairies. All of these artists speak of a personal relationship to the landscape, which is reflected individually through their choice of medium, their use of light and shadow, and the inclusion of specific natural or architectural elements.

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Paul Boultbee Canola Field Acrylic on canvas 2011

Paul Boultbee Distant Field Acrylic on canvas 2011


Kevin Boyle Abandoned Study #1 | Colour Archival Ink on Moab Slickrock Pearl Face-Mounted on Plexiglass with Aluminum Backing n.d.

Kevin Boyle Three Barns | Regina Archival Ink on Moab Slickrock Pearl Face-Mounted on Plexiglass with Aluminum Backing n.d.


Steve Coffey Shack in Summer Light Oil 2014


Steve Coffey Prairie Shack in Night Light Oil 2014


Blair Brennan Two Jackets I’ve Worn Branded leather jackets and branding irons on coat rack 2000

Blair Brennan Nails Out/ Nails In (working title) Wood, nails, screws, other metal and miscellaneous pieces of small hardware 1986-present


REVIEW: BLAIR BRENNAN, THE RIGHT SIDE OF MAGIC dc3 ART PROJECTS, AUGUST 30 - OCTOBER 11, 2014 by Caterina Pizanias

Blair Brennan has done it again with his recent survey exhibit at dc3 Art Projects The Right Side of Magic: his work is once again the pulse of what art and everyday life need during this time of flux, ambivalence and turbulence. His self-curated installationcum-performance was a singular event, a ritual offering, a salve for our wounds. Throughout his lengthy artistic practice and art community involvement in the prairies, Blair Brennan has been a catalyst and a refuge for many of us in our discontent with the status quo. Time and again, Brennan’s installations and performances have told us stories about memories seemingly lost and then found deep in the flesh; he has made art that is disquieting and reflective, but resonates in both aesthetic and socially engaged ways. He has boldly navigated between the conceptual and emotional, the mystical and the profane, the crude and the beautiful. These elements force us to rethink the history of the “West,” notions of masculinity, vulnerable bodies and souls, and above all, established religion—by resurrecting rituals that have retained their “magick.” The Right Side of Magic was an exhibition of old and new works—on paper, found and fabricated objects, text-based works, drawings hung traditionally, and others within installations throughout the gallery space. Some texts were produced through

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Blair Brennan Tracing Board (right) Printed fabric banner 2014

Blair Brennan An Unlearned Human Language MDF panels, nails, wood sawhorses with metal braces, peg board and hammer, key press and keys, signage lettering, miscellaneous trash and occasional marimba 2014


“branding,” the preferred method of “writing” for Brennan—a writing that becomes a talismanic “mark” that offers magical protection. Performing the right ritual, uttering the right words, leaving the right mark is all about being on the right side of magick—Wittgenstein would have felt at home in Brennan's studio. In a wider context, The Right Side of Magic was an installation and performance exploring the connections between language, magic and ritual. In an art-historical critical context, one could detect aspects of Fluxus, almost within Brian Webb's performance, Duchampian-like found objects that Blair has imbued with magical powers—and a Beuysian installational aesthetic unfettered by the latter's unresolved issues of authority. Blair is not the shaman who can heal all wounds, but a priest that invites all to participate according to their needs. To quote William Burroughs: “Only those to whom the knowledge is intended will find it.” I saw the exhibit and performance of An Unlearned Human Language, on September 20, 2014. The foyer of the gallery and sidewalk were packed with visitors eagerly waiting to be allowed into the main gallery space. Viewers saw two leather jackets, worn and exhibited many times over the years—explorations in masculinity, burned skin, and markings about Peace and War. Just to the right of the jackets were two wooden clubs, covered in nails, screws and other metals, palimpsests of efforts by a boy or man pounding nails on them until there was no desire or ability left to continue. To the right, the entrance to the main gallery was closed off by a plastic curtain with a black coffin emblazoned on it. Next to it was a printed fabric banner with the artist's statement: I wanted to create a raise the dead/cure the sick/heal the lame/make the blind see religion, and I all I could give you was art. Without announcement, Brian Webb entered the main gallery with a lit candle. Some stayed in the foyer, but others like me, followed him. Not knowing what was happening, I looked around and saw works I had seen before, and others new. People were moving about, trying to adjust to the darkness. This darkness was interrupted when we realized Brian was lighting the candles neatly arranged on a steel plate with a large capital G on its top: the Free Mason's G for “God,” “Geometry” – and as we were to hear from Webb – “Glory” and “Grandeur,” too. I continued to look around, recognizing the hospital stretchers with a branded

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palindrome—another of Blair's favourite tropes – and the White Nurse drawings, when Webb made it to the center of the gallery space and started pounding nails with impunity on a board that sat on two work horses. I decided to focus on Webb, but I could also see others walking about, sitting on the floor, and chatting. After a while, Brian opened sealed envelopes and read texts in a loud voice: texts such as “And now we'll have a word about the world,” “the dignity of labour,” and “what I can't see is infinitely more important than what I can see.” In between pounding nails and reading texts, Webb began responding to Allyson MacIvor's marimba improvisations from the back of the gallery. He appeared to slow down or speed up in response to the music. Allyson played away as if installed in front of heaven's gate, welcoming those claiming entry with one of the hundreds of keys neatly hung on a wall behind her marimba. After quite some time, Webb, exhausted from his labour, lay on the floor underneath a bench – his performance ending as unobtrusively as it had started. Brennan and Webb have collaborated many times, and each instance is magical and deeply affecting. They have established a trust allowing them intuitively to interchange between “artist” and “performer,” one becoming a stand-in for the other. The Unlearned Human Language performance was not a parergon to visuality, as it took its cues from millennial-old ritual and dance practices. It would be more appropriate to speak of “theatricality,” rather than “performativity.” There exists a protagonist, scripted messages that hark back to the Delphic Oracle or pre-Christian prophets of the desert giving words to live by; we have choreography that speaks of the dignity of labour while following primordial musical cues: a combination that for a while, freed us of our burdens and made us believe that anything is still possible. Brennan has given us new, non-linear narratives about language, magick, and religion, referencing the past for the sake of the present like a latter-day Uroboros whispering, “only those to whom the knowledge is intended will find it.”

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REVIEW: SCOTT MASSEY, OUTSTANDING OUTDOOR PAVED ARTS, SEPTEMBER - NOVEMBER 2014 by Bart Gazzola

Scott Massey’s Outstanding Outdoor is, in a variety of ways, the perfect public artwork in a perfect moment in Saskatoon. Not in the last two decades has there been as much controversy and conversation (sometimes informed, sometimes ignorant) about art in Saskatoon’s civic spaces. From the vandalism directed at Keeley Haftner’s Found Compressions or Tonya Hart’s INFRA to the award winning interventions of sans façon’s Cacher pour mieux montrer / hide to show better, the City of Saskatoon’s Placemaker program has leapt forward with intent. Nuit Blanche also captivated Saskatoon’s 20th Street West, the premiere incarnation of that festival in this city while the Street Meet Festival of Street, Public, and Graffiti Art, in its second year, explored ideas of class and privilege in “public” sites. Spirit of Alliance has recently debuted as part of the federal commemoration (with significant financial support) of the War of 1812 and was officially opened by visiting royalty, though its take on that historical “landmark” is uniquely relevant to the West, more so than Ottawa. As for the conversations: Saskatoon’s AKA gallery hosted a panel entitled MAIMBY (“more art in my backyard”) that was cringeworthy in repeatedly citing the snobbish need for “education.” Street Meet’s speakers illustrated the politically charged usage of words like “mural” instead of “graffiti,” and how not all publics are equal in the eyes of those who administer, control or “own” public spaces. Even the most recent cacophony of voices bleating about

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Scott Massey Outstanding Outdoor Billboard 2014

Scott Massey Outstanding Outdoor (at Nuit Blanche) Billboard 2014


public art at the much-loved Frances Morrison Library (and gallery space) was comprised of speakers whom are all entwined with institutional spaces. Some, such as the Mendel, bring a history of engagement and challenge; others, like the University of Saskatchewan, are appropriately under a miasma of doubt for their eagerness to punish and silence dissenting voices. Scott Massey’s billboard is punctuation to all of this, employing strategies of fair use and sarcasm in a manner reminiscent of the Yes Men, with their performative satire (as when they posed as Dow Chemical spokesmen, an utter and complete hoax designed to embarrass the corporation in light of the anniversary of the Bhopal disaster). In its somewhat staid white font on blue, the work mimics the Pattison logo, substituting the word “POLLUTION.” This dominates a large portion of 20th Street, as Mary Longman’s Warrior Women billboard project did earlier this year, and as Cathy Busby’s Budget Cuts did several years ago. I mention those two in conjunction, as their success was in a willingness to speak to the public site the billboard inhabits (race and gentrification, both in a contemporary way with Busby, or a more historical manner with Longman, define the Riversdale cultural corridor). Massey’s words apply to his work, but can also be grafted onto the larger conversation about public art that the city, citizens and various stakeholders have been engaging in: “Outdoor advertising is nearly impossible to avoid seeing. It is pervasive and, by virtue of its purpose, meant to stand out and obscure everything else in the vicinity... perhaps because of its desirable appeals to love, sex, happiness and material wealth, it remains largely uncontested in the public sphere. This is a puzzling phenomenon when, contrasted with the outspoken criticisms and laments from the public over some public art installations, the effects of this visual advertising clutter are rarely discussed critically.” “Pollution” (as Massey sometimes refers to it) illustrates how many public sites are for consumers, not citizens, and that although all voices may be professed to be equal, some are more equal than others. This can apply on a specific level to the concerns of gentrification on 20th Street that Pollution overlooks (Indigo, a speaker at the aforementioned Street Meet panel, joked about living in an area that gets lovely public art along with massive raises in rent and forced displacement). More widely, public spaces are not just physical billboards, but also the social and mental space we all share, and whether any person or group has a right to “own” that space, or if it should be a public forum, is a

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debate that Massey demands we engage in. Whether an honest and clear debate happens, remains to be seen.

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REVIEW: CORINNE THIESSEN AND AMY MODAHL, LIAR! LIAR! TRIANON GALLERY, SEPTEMBER 27 - NOVEMBER 15, 2014 by Helena Wadsley

Bare feet and sagging pants are now a common sight at airports. Shoes and belts piled into plastic trays slide along the conveyor belt as bored officers scrutinize contents of shoulder bags and knapsacks. We have become so accustomed to this partial stripping that we take our shoes off early in the queue, without waiting to be asked. Entering into the Trianon Gallery for the opening of Liar! Liar!, guests are also directed, according to a posted sign, to remove shoes. They allow their bags to be searched, despite this being a performance and installation in a gallery; the uniformed guards are actors. Although an audio track playing a speech that is repeated in various accents emphasizes the importance of detecting liars, the ruse behind the pseudo-company, AmCor速 , which proclaims to teach one how to detect lies, is that the scene is set up for interrogation rather than education. Even so, the audience plays along obediently. Visitors wait for their number to be called, whereupon they head to the back of the room where, out of general view, Amy Modahl and Corinne Thiessen sit, ready to grill. Modahl and Thiessen, who began collaborating on a drawing series at a Banff residency last spring, sharing an interest in nonverbal communication, took on the roles of interrogators on the

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Corinne Thiessen and Amy Modahl Taxonomy of Lies Performance 2014


opening night of the exhibition. Like the two security guards at the entrance, they are in rented uniforms; they sit at a table strewn with paper, facing their subject, sternly asking questions such as 'Where do you live?' or 'How do you remove chest hair?' The participants are willing collaborators in the process, some inventing their own absurd answers to cheeky questions. Modahl and Thiessen, however, keep the upper hand by drawing loose representations of their subjects, labelling them with indicators of a mendacious personality: signs include thin lips, tight lips, pursed lips, open lips, thick hair, thin hair, light hair, dark hair. By the end of the evening, the wall behind the interrogation table is plastered with scribbled drawings and notes of suspicions and warnings. As the computer-generated voices in the audio component caution, 91% of people fib. The voices warn, “An average mendacious cat with visual facility for insidious indicators is aware that concealment indicators emerge systemically.” The robotic voices speaking English in thick German and French accents take the mistrustful gibberish a step further into the absurd. It isn't clear why the speech is repeated in these accents; perhaps it is reminiscent again of airports and multi-lingual security announcements, but they all promise “greater comfort and happiness” for those who can separate the lies from the truth. We are in an era of surveillance; heavy security, suspicious attitudes and worry about violations of privacy comprise the angst of our time, yet does our acquiescence make us willing accomplices? While the duo's mock company AmCor® claims to teach clients how to detect liars, the pair create a playful situation in which truth becomes non-existent, drawing attention to our perception of authority that remains unchallenged and obedience that goes unquestioned.

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PREVIEW: THE CANADIAN MUSEUM OF HUMAN RIGHTS, OPENED SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 by Justine Hartlieb-Power

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, MB, officially opened for the first time on the 19th of September 2014. When I visited on the 4th of November it was still not complete, with only a few galleries accessible to the public, and only then via a guided walking tour. At the time of publication its second grand opening will have long past on November 11th. Thus, it is with some regret that I must report my review does not cover the entirety of the museum. I viewed a total of four galleries, the glacial tower, the front entrance/atrium, and the Garden of Contemplation with a limited amount of time allotted to me. I ask that the reader please keep this in mind as they read my review, which should perhaps be thought of as more of a think-piece. I would be lying if I attempted to describe the recently erected Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg as anything other than incredibly impressive. It dominates a landscape that is to begin with relatively flat, with little to no contemporary architecture to speak of. Situated on Treaty One Land, also known as The Forks, where the Red and Assinboine Rivers meet—a culturally significant place to begin with—it rises from the earth like a monolithic, industrial mountain. During my tour I discover that yes, this is indeed what American architect Antoine Predock intended. More than that, however, he wished for the CMHR to represent all of Canada’s natural formations: the beautiful, endless prairie sky is symbolized in the glass bubble

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that envelops the tyndall stone ‘mountain;’ the roots of trees extend outward from the building’s base, and a glacier juts out of the top. Rising 100 meters into the air, it is by far the most ethereal and fantastical part of the building, not least of all because you can ascend to its peak to observe the whole of Winnipeg. Despite the CMHR’s mandate, which states that its core mission is to “enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue,” I felt a twinge of unease at the amount of physical and electronic security that greeted me upon entry. While it is not unusual for a museum of this scope to have a comprehensive security system, the amount of highly visible and Banksy-like cameras pointed at the entrances caused me to pause, and the guard who searched my bag, and then the other guard who escorted my partner and I to the main entrance (we had inadvertently stumbled upon the back door which, it should be noted, is accessible to the public), certainly did not make me feel welcome. Although both gentlemen were friendly and helpful, their presence was slightly off putting and, more importantly, in direct opposition to the professed transparency and respect the museum is attempting to convey to its visitors through its written mandate and overall architectural design. In this context, the museum took on a more sinister connotation, and the vast interior began to resemble the embodiment of panoptic authority rather than a ‘beacon of hope.’ Once inside, and while waiting for the tour to start, I wandered through the dimly lit atrium. Purposefully gloomy, it signifies humanity’s ability to navigate through the darkness of oppression to the light of benevolent understanding, represented by glowing alabaster staircases that crisscross above and around me. Since I was unable to visit every gallery, I found the freestanding didactic panels at the entrance to be quite convenient. Arranged in rows, with text on both sides, their sculptural quality necessitates that the viewer engage with them physically, provoking a more involved looking experience. The panels themselves do not initially appear to offer much: the descriptions are, by necessity, I imagine, short, but they are cleverly articulated. For example, the label for the Protecting Rights in Canada gallery invokes visions of a legal system that is somehow naturally occurring, as opposed to entirely man-made (and I do mean man-made—the majority of our laws were written and enacted by men). Perhaps this is overly cynical of me, but to compare a system that

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The Canadian Museum of Human Rights Winnipeg, MB 2014

Stone pillars The Canadian Museum of Human Rights Winnipeg, MB 2014


is enforced, constructed, and conceived by humans to a naturally-evolving tree is superficial at best, and blatantly manipulative at worst. However, I was unable to view this gallery, as it was one of several that were still inaccessible. I noticed, though, that in the galleries I was able to visit, there was a great deal of technology being used to incite interaction and learning. Videos, touch screens, complicated aural recordings in stairways, and projected images combined to suggest a more engaged viewing experience. But do they really? I began to wonder if, instead of promoting deeply involved looking, these modern devices would instead allow visitors to quickly flip or scroll through the words and images before them, much like they would with the content on their smart phones or tablets. In my experience, these technologies often promote a type of A.D.D. viewing inherent in their design and function. Juxtaposed against the written word, touch screens allow for quick, sporadic bursts of attention. In contrast, traditional reading asks that the viewer slow their eyes and mind in order to absorb the content. That is not to say, however, that video work should be disregarded completely in galleries or museums - as a didactic means of education, or as art, the majority of filmic work on display in our cultural institutions are enlightening and thought provoking. For example, the short film that introduces the Indigenous Perspectives gallery was well conceived. Projected in a circular room, it forms a full 360° ring above the audience, and is comprised of moving images, text, American and Quebequois sign language, and the spoken word (in English, French, Michif and several other Aboriginal languages). The viewers, likewise, sit in a circle; they are therefore able to interact with one another visually, promoting a sense of inclusion, understanding, and open, respectful dialogue. Once inside and seated, the placement of the video near the top of the theatre forces the audience to tilt their heads upwards slightly. It is an effective tactic, and I felt as though it promoted a certain amount of reverence for the film and therefore for Aboriginal people—their ideas, beliefs, and culture. In turn, various Aboriginal values, from perspectives on the natural world to the need for self-government and acknowledgement of past atrocities, are given a place of honour, reminding visitors that Inuit, MÊtis, and First Nations communities do, and should, have a voice within our society. Overall, the Canadian Museum of Human Rights is an impressive place. It is imposing to be sure, but beautifully constructed.

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However, because the pessimist inside me is perpetually screaming to get out, I do want to point out the non-coincidence of the museum’s Remembrance Day opening. That day is significant to many Canadians, and it most certainly means…. something. I do not think it is a stretch to argue that this Remembrance Day, more so than ones past, was especially important given the events in Ottawa and Quebec a mere week beforehand. Call them what you will, but the Prime Minister was unwavering in his description of them as terrorist attacks, ones that threatened our collective right to safety, freedom, and civil liberty. To celebrate the opening of the museum on such a politically loaded day sends a message to the populace that is twofold: on the one hand, it suggests that Canada is strong as a nation, and willing to make human and monetary sacrifices for the betterment of humanity; on the other, it sets up the Canadian government as the lone protector and arbiter of those rights, an effective bit of propaganda. The irony that this particular governmental regime (although both the Chrétien and Martin liberal governments pledged money towards the CMHR’s construction before Harper took office), with its plethora of human rights offences—including the rejection of a public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the muzzling of scientists, and, now, the strengthening of our security laws—is credited with erecting a museum dedicated to the advancement of said human rights is not lost on me. Nor should it be on you. It is important to remember that all institutions, when sanctioned by a ruling body, exist to legitimize that body’s power—they represent an authoritative right to shape our understanding of Canadian culture and values. Do visit the Canadian Museum of Human Rights if you get the chance, but, as always, do so with a grain of salt. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/08/26/missingmurdered-aboriginal-women-premiers_n_5717155.html; http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/11/20/rick-mercer-scienceconservatives-video_n_6192852.html; http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/government-to-givecsis-more-powers-in-fight-against-homegrown-radicals

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You Came and I Wasn’t There Scott Cumberland Acrylic on canvas 2014


PREVIEW: ART & DESIGN DEPARTMENT 50TH ANNIVERSARY EXHIBITION FINE ARTS BUILDING GALLERY, DECEMBER 9, 2014 - JANUARY 10, 2015 by Chelsey Van Weerden

The University of Alberta’s Art and Design Department celebrates its golden anniversary this year – it’s hard to believe the beloved birthplace of so many creatives in this city has been around for half a century, cultivating Edmonton’s arts community one student at a time. To recognize this milestone, the University of Alberta’s Fine Arts Building Gallery is showcasing work from some of the Department’s contract academic staff, whose varied skill sets in the visual arts range from industrial and visual communications design to painting, sculpture, printmaking, and drawing & intermedia. First in a series of anniversary exhibitions, this exhibition includes many familiar names, whose work in both the studio and the classroom has markedly bled into the greater creative community of Edmonton, and ensured its growing vibrancy. It’s clear that, as the exhibition description describes, “their dedication to their own practice is as significant as their enthusiasm for teaching and mentoring – their contribution to the local arts community is immeasurable.” It would be difficult to find an Art and Design graduate whose career hasn’t been impacted by the Department’s passionate roster of artists and instructors, not only in visual arts but the Departments of Music and Drama as well, since “…the overall health of the arts ecosystem is linked to support for all the arts events, organizations and creative individuals within our community.” It’s clear that the exhibition aims to demonstrate this sentiment. 30


Burning I Can’t Stand... Gerry Dotto Xerography and collage 1988

PrairieSeen Notes Issue 2  
PrairieSeen Notes Issue 2  
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