An early look at the High Performance Rodeo troupe

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Tonight I made a special trip to visit my personal archives.  While rooting around trying to find a couple old things that I was looking for, I happened to come across an old magazine I knew that I had, but had forgotten where I put it in one of my recent moves.

It is a rather interesting magazine as it was glossy and covered the arts in Calgary.  As best I can determine it had a very low circulation and was active during the mid to late-1980s.  It was called Last Issue.  This was the Winter 1987 issue (based on what is inside it is the 1986/1987 issue).

The High Performance Rodeo ends this Saturday, the first day of February.  It also is the 28th iteration of the Rodeo.  As I opened the magazine to investigate what was inside, I found an image on the inside front cover which lists a lot of people involved with the High Performance Rodeo.

One Yellow Rabbit and the High Performance Rodeo both have their roots in dance.  Here, the University of Calgary, Faculty of Physical Education was doing an inter-disciplinary sponsorship of this young troupe of performers, in a three day performance entitled Red Dress Journey and other dances during the year that the High Performance Rodeo was formed.

It is interesting seeing the names Denise Clarke, Anne Flynn, Blake Brooker, Ronnie Burkett, Richard McDowell & Infradig together with Lisa Doolittle, Murray Marshall, Vicki Moreland and Terri Willoughby.  What a great group of people who all played a role in forming the High Performance Rodeo.

This occured when things were just starting to happen for the two organizations.  Kudos for the Faculty of Physical Education for the foresight to recognize this group for it was to become, way back in 1986 before the Olympic Arts Festival brought culture and sport together.  These type of partnerships are always interesting to see.

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Calgary art exported to Kentucky

New-Moon-Installation-Jan-2014-from-Lexington-Herald-Leader
There seems to be a story that has gone largely unreported in the city.  Maybe more correctly – not at all.  This is entirely understandable, as this did not happen in the city.

Lucky for you dear reader (I don’t know why, but I feel like Miss Manners saying this).  You get to find out about this project through me.

That being said, it does fall within my research scope and does very much interest me.  A few of the more obtuse things that I am interested in – Nuit Blanche, The House Project, Arbour Lake Sghool, Wreck City, Phantom Wing, Solar Flare, do-it-yourself projects, public art and building of community through art.  This is a continuation and morphing of these stories.

Recently, I wrote about the Solar Flare installation which was sponsored by Downtown Calgary and is currently installed along Stephen Avenue Mall.  It should be up for another month or so.  This Kentucky installation involves the same two artists – Caitlin r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett.

They have just installed another project which was unveiled at a Ball, about ten days ago.  This time in Lexington, Kentucky.  It, like other similar projects, is a short-term installation that will be installed outdoors during the Lexington Art League’s light-based festival Luminosity during February 21 through March 31.

Those who look at this picture will recognize how a very well-received installation during Nuit Blanche’s initial iteration entitled Cloud, has morphed into new directions over time, while still retaining a certain element of the original conception.  This work is also interesting for a different reason as it appears as if this involves much more collaborative efforts than any of their previous efforts.

When I think of large scale collaborative efforts to produce installations, I cannot help but think of some major installations that Calgary artist Shelley Ouellet undertook during the 1990s and into the 2000s and still informs a certain amount of her art-making practice.  Specifically, I think of the large Mount Rundle work which I believe was shown at the Whyte Museum in Banff and/or the Entomology piece (I can’t remember exact titles, even though I helped collaborate on both pieces) that was shown at the old Nickle Arts Museum.  If I recall correctly, either one or both pieces are now in the collection of either the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton or alternatively acquired by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.  I would expect to see one of these pieces (or at the very minimum a smaller-scale installation-based work of some sort by Shelley Ouellet) in the Glenbow 199os show that Nancy Tousley is curating and will be opening in the next week or two.

This Kentucky work would seem to be following in the tradition of installation-based and collaborative space that Shelley works in.  This is evident through the collection of large quantities of burned out and live incandescent light bulbs required for the installation(s) to be built, which has always been there.  In this case, based on what little information I could deduce, I suspect the Lexington Art League was helpful in directing (or encouraging) the installation and fabrication part of the project towards this direction as well.  Based on my interest in economic development and history, it is quite possible that this may be a community characteristic of Lexington.  This could potentially be rationalized by the long agricultural history in the area which dates to pre-industrial and slave-trade times (with the largest concentration of slaves per capita AND free blacks) combined with its long cultural legacy as well.  If so, these factors would necessitate that the community would need to work collaboratively for a common purpose.  It will be interesting to see if this continues in further iterations as the type of work lends itself to a collaborative effort and a larger community buy-in.

This is more of a footnote for me, but an interesting one nevertheless.  My congratulations go out to both artists.

Photography, installation art and blurring boundaries

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Over the weekend Phillip Gefter’s article in the New York Times from two days ago, entitled The Next Big Picture; With Cameras Optional, New Directions in Photography crossed my desk. 

This served as a reminder that I had previously indicated I wanted to talk further about this ten days ago, when I stated the following:

  • I would argue that Tyler Los-Jones’ installation-based work entitled The way air hides the sky should also be considered as dealing with photography in an abstract way, even though this may not be the artist’s original intent.

For background to further discussion, I want to talk about the camera obscura.

Utilizing a naturally occurring phenomenon, the camera obscura has been around since we lived in caves and tents – although it may not have been recognized as such until sometime later, probably in the middle ages.  It is so rudimentary, it is how our eye sees objects.  Our brain automatically corrects the orientation of the image.  Pinhole photography and the camera obscura share a lot of the same principles.  I have inserted a schematic which shows the process of how it works below as it relates to drawing.  The principles are still the same.

Basic-Camura-Obscura-Schematic

Basically simple photography works like this:

  • A single person is standing in the sunshine on one side of the yard.
  • The photographer steps into a completely darkened room on the other side of the yard and closes the door behind him/her.
  • Between them is a wall with a small hole in it on the side facing the person standing in the sunshine.
  • After the photographer’s eyes adjust to the darkened room, the photographer notices that on the far wall across from the small hole is an image of the person standing in the sunshine.  The difference is that the person is upside down and appears to be standing on their head and can be viewed in real time.

This is the basic technology for the camera obscura – simplified greatly of course.  I have not bothered to explain how the image is captured.

One of the many advances in photography was the use of mirrors.  Now we have mirrorless cameras.  This is a relatively new innovation and young technology and is viewed as kind of a big deal.  Most likely this is where the marketplace will be going in the next couple years.  Watch for more significant advances here in the near future.  As a result, it is fair to say that the technology now is very much different and much more complex than it once was.

Having said this, any person can build their own camera and take photographs using the rudimentary camera obscura process and there are many that do.  In fact, there is a small group of dedicated photographers that do just that in the city and area and there has been for a while.  In some ways I would suggest that is a backlash against technological advances, retaining past knowledge, combined with the honesty of doing it old-school – although I am sure tat each person does it for their own personal reasons.  In fact I wrote a review published in Calgary’s FastForward last year during the Exposure Festival about two of these people that do pinhole photography – Diane Bos and Sarah Fuller.

To boil down the technology of photography even further – photography is about capturing light (and the absence thereof).

The framework for my argument

Getting back to the New York Times article.  The article is in response to a new show that will be opening later this week at the International Centre for Photography in NYC.  The ICP show talks about the important period starting in the 1970s to present day.  During this period the boundaries surrounding photography began to blur as a result of conceptualism and the inter-disciplinary nature of photography that is not uncommon now.

In the NY Times article, Phillip Gefter quotes Quentin Bajac, MoMA’s Chief Curator of Photography who talks about the identity crisis in photography at present which is a result of changing practices.  He goes on to state:

  • The shift of focus from fact to fiction, and all the gradations in between, is perhaps the largest issue in the current soul-searching underway in photography circles. Questions swirl: Can the “captured” image (taken on the street — think of the documentary work of Henri Cartier-Bresson) maintain equal footing with the “constructed” image (made in the studio or on the computer, often with ideological intention)?

There is a lot more in the article and it is well worth the read for anyone interested in photography.  I would suggest that with it being the month of photography shortly, this article should be required reading before stepping foot inside any exhibition space.  You don’t have to agree or disagree with the writer or any of those quoted – just be aware and use it as food for thought.

Back in mid-December 2013 the British newspaper The Guardian also published an article written by Stuart Jeffries, entitled The death of photography: Are camera phones destroying an artform?  This also is an interesting article, like the one above – for different reasons.  It starts off with a quote from the award winning, Mexican-born, professional photographer Antonio Olmos, who states this:

  • “It’s really weird. . . Photography has never been so popular, but it’s getting destroyed. There have never been so many photographs taken, but photography is dying.”

Now Tyler Los-Jones and his installation at the Esker

As stated above, the use of mirrors is considered to be a significant innovation in the advancement of photographic technology.  So was the use of lenses; the concave and convex forms that they took; digital image capture; and many other advances.  For our purposes however, I am most interested in the use of mirrors.

In Los-Jones’ installation mirrors are also important.  The primary image in this installation is of three pieces of what I assume to be old growth timbers, painted blue on one end.  To properly view the image, one must use the mirrors stacked against the far wall or alternatively move to a far extreme in the window and see it from the side.  The image generally faces away from the viewer and is attached to the backside of what looks like a packing crate and moving blankets.  There also are what is assumed to be a large scale photo of water and nature-based wallpaper rolled up sharing the same space.  The installation gives the impression that it is like a display window that is being set up and those putting it together have left for a short coffee break.

My point is that in this installation the mirrors are important.  It is through using these mirrors one gets a view of or glimpse of the installation.  As it is with photography, so it is with this work.  Some of this installation is photo-based.  This also ties in with the photography theme, although this is more studio-based and as Bajac states, is moving more toward fiction.

Overall this work fits within the greater context of the other three artists showing in the main space.  All are dealing with the concept of utopia – a theme that underlies all the works on display.

Now for the public service announcement:

On Saturday, February 15 between 3:00-4:00pm, Tyler Los-Jones will give an informal talk about this installation.  As indicated in the exhibition guide, “he will discuss questions he has about time, secrets, and the anxiety he feels towards the concept of Nature.”

If I am able, I would like to go.  I am previously familiar with his work, but this appears to potentially be a new direction.  I would be interested to hear what he has to say.

Another mysterious piece of public art

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I am sure this has never happened to anyone else.  You walk past something 1000 times or more over the course of many years.  You never notice that something has been there all that time, then for whatever reason you notice it and realize how oblivious you have been all that time.

Yup!!!  That was me yesterday.

I mentioned my find to a colleague that I saw at a function last night.  I described them.  I even mentioned the artist’s name.  She indicated that she should be aware of them.  She drew a blank as well.  So I informed her that she should check my blog in the next few days for more info.

So here is the public service announcement.

I am assuming that the two of us are not alone.  We look at public art.  We look for it too.  If we have not paid attention to them, chances are it is not even on the radar screen for others.

Public art is a curious thing.  Sometimes it is bright, flashy and you can’t help notice it.  Sometimes it is not.  Sometimes it is ephemeral.  This one is the one that is easy to miss.

The artist.  Derek Besant.

The City of Calgary has a 1% for art program.  Just like many other municipalities, provincial and state governments, and the federal government as well.  I have written about it before.  I am sure I will write about the 1% for art program again.

Briefly, the program designates that capital project budgets over $1-million should allocate 1% of the capital budget toward public art.  This public art is sited and embedded in close proximity to the capital project that the 1% relates to.  For more info, click here.

I realize that the above is very much a complete simplification of the process.  In talking to those involved, I believe that in Calgary there has never been a case where new public art related to this program has gone over the 1% budget – not even close.

There is a seedy block in the downtown core that has been quite seedy for a very, very long time.  It is along the Seventh Avenue C-Train line.  Any long-term resident that has spent any amount of time in the downtown core, will know exactly what strip I am talking about, even though it is not nearly as seedy as it once was.

Yesterday I walked along that strip.  It is directly across from both Art Central and the new Telus Sky development.  It also borders where the former MaVA project was to have taken place, before the deal for MaVA fell apart sometime during the last year or two.  If someone who reads this has info on the MaVA project I would like to talk, and I would be very interested in receiving documentation relating to it.  But I digress.

Regardless of that, I stood at the intersection waiting for the light to change.  I have stood at this intersection many, many times since 2007.  I stood there when I had a dog that used the shrubbery in the area and I am positive that he even used the lamppost where this artwork was found to do his business when I had a place across the street in Art Central.

Do you think I ever noticed them before?  Nope.  Not even a clue.

Yesterday I did.

Today, I took photos.  The work is text based so I recorded what the text states.  Each work is on a two inch (approximately) high on a stainless steel band that fully surrounds each light standard and/or power pole.  One must circle the entire post to read what it says.  There are six bands attached to six different light standards on this block.  The same font is used on each band so I assume that they were laser-cut.  All six pieces were attached to each lamppost at eye level and located on the shady side of the block – between the Hyatt and the Bay.

Starting at the Central United Church end of the block, while looking across the street toward the C-Train platform, and moving toward the Palomino and the Hyatt as if reading a book, the six read as follows:

  • IMAGES OF ANOTHER TRAIN IN MY MIND
  • THIS SPIRIT OF WESTERN CLOUDS FORM INTO
  • A RANGE OVER THE RISE INTO NIGHT
  • THAT IS A HORSE RIDING HARD ACROSS
  • IN TIME TO HEART BEAT RYTHYM
  • TRAIN SET FOOT ACROSS THIS LAND AGAIN

Each band almost as if it is an incomplete fragment of a thought.

I did some further research and from sources I believe to be dependable, there should be four more located near City Hall for a total of ten pieces.  As a result, I walked the 7th Avenue corridor between the Bay and East Village on both sides of the street and then walked around City Hall and Olympic Plaza as well.  I could not find them.  I wonder whatever happened to the other four poles that the artist has indicated should exist.

Maybe I am blind and can’t see them, but at least I now know that they should exist – somewhere.

Yet another mystery on my hands.  Now to find them.

Photos and architecture at Esker

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Last night I attended the well-attended opening at the Esker Foundation.  There were three interesting shows in the main space featuring (as one encounters them) – Peter Von Tiesenhausen, Tobias Zielony, Cedric Bomford.  As a group with different approaches they all are well-selected and work well together in the same physical space.  Also featured in the Project Room (a display window space on the main floor) – Tyler Los-Jones.

As expected, given that this is the EXPOSURE: Calgary, Banff, Canmore Photography Festival will occur during the month of February, two of the featured artists deal with traditional photography – Tobias Zielony and Cedric Bomford.  However, I would argue that Tyler Los-Jones’ installation-based work entitled The way air hides the sky should also be considered as dealing with photography in an abstract way, even though this may not be the artist’s original intent.  If time allows, and I still have the inclination, I would like to explain why at a later date.

My intent today is to write about Cedric Bomford and architecture.

I am not an architect.  However, I do enjoy looking at built-spaces, as stated before in this blog, I am however a big fan of Brutalism.  That is about the end of it.

The work of Cedric Bomford on display at the Esker, is a series of 15 large black and white photos of air vents connected to the Prague underground metro system.  I must assume based on the date of the one photograph illustrated in the catalogue (seen above), that this work must have been completed shortly after his graduation at Emily Carr University.  This in itself is interesting given the strong long-standing and well-conceived photographic tradition that is found in the lower BC mainland and Vancouver in particular.

The structures found in the photos certainly are reminiscent of the Brutalist style of architecture, which for our purposes, thanks to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) can be defined as this:

  • A stark style of functionalist architecture, especially of the 1950s and 1960s, characterized by the use of steel and concrete in massive blocks

There is also a very interesting article from the Architectural Review on the origins of the New Brutalism dating from December 1955 which can be accessed here.  The article is rather interesting as it makes reference to art historical periods such as Cubism, Futurism and others.  I would propose that the Brutalist tradition continued into works such as Clement Greenberg’s Abstract Expressionist influenced steel sculpture (such as David Smith and Sir Anthony Caro).  Ironically one of Anthony Caro’s sculptures stands outside of the Esker main doors.  We see those type of forms in these photographs of Cedric Bomford.  This is relevant given curator Naomi Potter’s comment which states, “As an architectural philosophy, rather than a style, Brutalism was often associated with socialist utopian ideology . . .”

With that in mind it is interesting looking at these works with an historical perspective.  Naomi Potter indicates in the catalogue essay that these structures were built during the 15-year period of 1975-1989.

We, in Calgary, are fortunate to have some good examples of Brutalism that are often under continual threat of destruction.  A few of these are:

  • The old Nickle Arts Museum building located in the heart of the University of Calgary campus (which was quietly demolished last year to allow the new Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning to be built on its former site);
  • The former Calgary Board of Education building (which is vacant and is now under threat);
  • The old Calgary Separate School Board building (which might be radically changed depending on what the new owner’s currently unknown intent is);
  • The Centennial Planetarium (which may have an announcement regarding change of use before the end of this month);
  • Century Gardens (which a parkour  group helped draw awareness to its importance recently);
  • Glenbow Museum (which will probably have a new entrance soon);
  • Fort Calgary (which has announced a major expansion);
  • Mayland Heights Elementary School (which was on the list of schools to be closed at one time);
  • Stampede Corral (this might be a bit of a “sleeper” as it was built in 1949-1950 which would date to, or even pre-date the very early stages of when Brutalism as an architectural concept was forming.  As a result I would be very interested in who the architect was and investigating how important historically this building might be as it shares some physical and stylistic attributes associated with Brutalist architecture); and
  • A bridge connected to the Langevin Science School (that will soon be remediated) amongst others.

Recently I have spent time in the downtown core.  When there, I often look at the interiors of office building lobbies as I pass through.  Attached is a photograph I took this week of the lobby of the TD Canada Trust Tower located at 421 – 7 Avenue SW.  It is located on the site of the former Eaton’s flagship store in Calgary built in 1929 and some of the original Eaton’s façade has been incorporated into the exterior of the building, especially along the 8th Avenue side.  When looking at this photo I also wonder if maybe some of the original marble floor was retained as well.

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Regardless, this is an example of office tower lobbies in Calgary during recent history.  This is not a particularly good photo and there is no reason why this lobby was selected over another, except that it illustrates my point and I happened to have a photo of it.

As seen in this photo it can be described as minimal, cavernous and functional, with limited individual personality (outside of its unique architectural detailing) and a certain level of conformity (as in similarity to other office lobbies).  I understand that architecture deals with the whole concept of form and function, just like it does with fashion and industrial design as well.  Because of this, I should probably clarify my statement.

I find it strikingly beautiful in its austerity of form and high finish.  The functionality of its use is as a conduit to get those who use this building from the exterior building entrance to the elevator lobby which leads to their offices.  Unfortunately the downside to this is that it does not encourage street-level vibrancy.  It is not particularly welcoming or encouraging of people to stay in the environment for any length of time, with the exception of maybe the security guard whose desk is located there or the cleaner doing their job.  There is only so much variation one can do in a defined physical space and often architects are not always the final decision makers in the grand scheme of things.  Clients have a certain role to play as well and they also have to be aware of their own clients and the needs and requirements of the users of the space.  As an example, this photo shows that there is no artwork, no public sculpture, very little seating and few signs of human presence (although we know it is there), only punctuated with few forms of greenery used to break the austerity.

Similar statements can be said for Brutalism.   Both are austere and pare down extraneous detail.

Given that, I would be interested to fast-forward 20-30 years from now to see if this austere period in our current obsession (for lack of a better word) in our office lobby environments will be seen as dated.  Also I would be curious to see if it meets with a similar distain for this style of minimal architectural interiors, as is the case for many with Brutalism now.  Of course I cannot really speculate on that, as only time will tell.

Three-dimensional objects as sculpture

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Today I want to talk about something that shares a lot of attributes with sculpture, three-dimensional art-making and public sculpture.

But it is none of the above.

Tonight I was walking through the +15 of the old Petro-Canada Centre (now Suncor Plaza).  I had not been that way for quite some time and because I was not in a rush to get home tonight, I went a different way.  I was glad that I did and that I had my camera with me too.

It was dark already.  As I entered the building, all I could see was scaffolding with darkness behind.  When I got closer I was surprised at how beautiful the large atrium was with all the scaffolding stacked from floor to ceiling filling the space to capacity.  I also looked at the illuminated airplane differently, as it was the only object lit and the focal point of the entire lobby.  It was almost surreal in its orientation.  This plane (a Noorduyn Norseman V) which is on loan from the Aerospace Museum of Calgary, has hung in the atrium for as long as I can remember.  It was in its present location when I used to work in the East Tower on the 29th floor, back when I did a year-long contract for TransCanada PipeLines, before they built the new tower across the street.

Under this plane I remember purchasing a small Norfolk pine from a Junior Achievement group, one lunch hour in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  I was with my most favourite administrative assistant that I had the pleasure of working with, Ramona.  She was awesome.  We spent our lunches together almost every day, until she left.  She helped me decide on the name for the plant – Elvis, in the hopes that optimistically, it, like The King himself, would live forever.  Alas, it was not be.  However, the plant lady who used to water all the plants for the executive team on my floor, heard that my plant was called Elvis.  That was all it took to hear new stories from the plant lady about her groupie experiences attending concerts following The King around North America.  It was the best $3 or $5 investment I ever made.  If she saw me in the years after I left the company, she would always ask how Elvis was doing and tell me a new story.  I never got tired of hearing them.  They always made me laugh.

Normally I don’t give the airplane much thought.  Tonight as I got closer, the light was quite striking as it cast itself upon the airplane as if it was an object in space – which I suppose it is.  Today, however, it took on a different hue.  This time it was different.  Very different.  It was almost as if I was doing a studio visit to a sculptor’s studio.  It was as if I was seeing an unfinished work in progress that is being held in place by the framework, with all the sprues still attached to the sculptural object, and lit for maximum effect to discuss which direction the work should go.

After taking a few photos, I talked to one of the workers who was wearing a safety harness and getting ready to climb the scaffolding.  I asked him what is happening with the plane.  In his pleasant Newfoundlander accent he told it is not going anywhere and that they are starting to take down the scaffolding.  They painted the interior of the building, cleaned from top to bottom and will leave a reduced scaffold so they can clean the airplane once they are done.  They have been working on it for the past month or so and will be finishing up soon.

It looked so beautiful tonight.  I am glad I saw it while the lobby was in a transitional state.

Finally. Something is happening here.

Image

Something amazing happened today when I was downtown.  I saw signs of life in one of the most uninviting and forsaken courtyards in all of downtown.

As I was waiting for the light to change, I noticed what I think must be a new sign on a street corner.  Maybe I was paying attention.  Maybe I was not.  Either way it doesn’t matter.

Dating back to the late-1970s/early 1980s this was the location of what was to be the tallest building (at 61 stories) in Calgary back in the day.  When the economy came to a screeching halt in 1980/81, this building was put on ice for what was to be a couple years.  It appears to be more like 30 years instead.  The companion building First Canadian Centre was completed in 1982 and actually was the tallest building for only what I assume was a very brief period of time.  It was surpassed by the Petro-Canada Centre, or Red Square as it was derisively known as in the fall-out period of the National Energy Project (or the NEP) which any long-time resident active in the oil patch will know about.

Looks like things are happening there.  Now we will have three tall buildings in a row.  All under construction at the same time.  Each on a separate block.  Each making designs to be the tallest building in the city.  Each on the same side of the street.  Each on subsequent blocks – starting from Centre Street going west, Telus Sky, Brookfield Place and then this.

Oy!!! 

The nightmares of traffic congestion in about a year should be horrendous.