Celebrating Canada on Canada Day

Arianna_Richardson_The_Canada_Collection_Calgary_installation_view_2014_July_01 (1024x683)

It is Canada Day.

What better way to acknowledge this fact on this blog than to post something that is prototypically Canadian.

Right now in one of the window spaces at the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts (ooops, I stand corrected the Epcor name has finally been dropped a few days ago after four years of keeping it without a naming sponsorship in place) is an awesome, over-the-top collection of vintage pop-culture Canadiana from the time period circa 1967. But maybe that is the point, as being slightly over the top can be one way of dealing with nationalism.

The seven window spaces on the +15 level between Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Martha Cohen Theatre feature a rotating series of exhibitions. They usually change on a monthly or semi-monthly basis. The quality of these shows is often uneven. The programming is coordinated by seven different organizations. As is to be expected in small spaces, the spaces are often used by recent graduates or programming that is more experimental in nature. It is always worth checking out. There have been some fascinating and thought provoking shows (and some that are not) presented in those spaces.

This show for the month of June/July is in the Truck Gallery space. The work presented is by Arianna Richardson, a recent graduate from the University of Lethbridge (BFA, 2013). She has described the accumulated collection of artefacts that comprise The Canada Collection as follows:

The artifacts that are collected under this project are everyday, semi-useful trinkets that bear iconographic signs of Canada (ie- salt and pepper shakers, shot glasses, records, games, plates, etc.) as well as decorative souvenirs representing Canadian sites and attractions. More often than not, items fill both of these criteria, existing strangely between both utilitarian everyday-ness and purposeless decoration. These objects are often reminiscent of the Canadian Centennial era: an integral point in the great push of Canadian identity with effects still resonating today. It is important that these items are collected from thrift stores, garage sales and alleyways; discarded and relegated to the backs of shelves, they are the refuse of our very own Canadian consumer culture. They are most often cheaply made and mass produced: not the sort of artifact that would typically be considered worthy of preservation by official purveyors of national identity.

In this exhibition various items have been stacked up on shelving units such as board games, puzzles, china, spoon racks in the shape of provinces or the country, deer antler cribbage boards, salt and pepper shakers, piggy banks, needlepoint seat covers, or any other assorted collection of knick-knacks and tchotchkes. One of the larger pieces mounted to the wall is a large map of Canada used to place hand tools. All variations on the usual detritus found in garage sales, thrift stores or neatly placed beside the back alley trash bin for someone to take away. Some of these items are hand-made and occasionally a bit quirky. It is this odd assortment of accumulated objects that makes this exhibition interesting as a snapshot of time.

This is the third iteration of this show, having previously been shown in the Forestburg (Alberta) Historical Society and Museum and the Mountainview Museum and Archives in Olds, (Alberta). As described in a small catalogue written by David Smith relating to the two previous shows, he states, “(the artist is) exhibiting . . . in the context of the museum (which) allows for a conversation about the similarities and differences between her artistic practice and the social function of the museum.”

Smith goes on to state, “museums play an important role in shaping national identity. By contrast, Richardson . . . bring(s) awareness about how national identity is constructed.”

This is an interesting and important dialogue to have.

We can see how important this dialogue is with the controversy surrounding the current federal government which announced in 2012 a renaming of the Canadian Museum of Civilization across the river from the Parliament Buildings to the Canadian Museum of History. Of course, as to be expected, in the political arena when this sort of thing happens, it brought accusations that the governing party is trying to rewrite or “manipulat(e) history for ideological purposes” as seen in this article.

In this exhibition the context is not a museum.

Rather it is a passageway between two destination points (presumably one’s vehicle and a performance space). The context changes, but not significantly. The Epcor Centre for Performing Arts being predominantly a performance venue so it does seem appropriate that included in this iteration are examples of vinyl recordings by Alberta Slim and compilation albums of songs celebrating Canada or its provinces and territories.

As a cultural venue these questions of cultural identity are important ones to ask.

Of course I must also mention the fact that many of these items are hand-made. This brings an interesting dynamic as well. Adding to this as part of this iteration, Richardson has created a pseudo-craft kit artefact for this show under the Hobbyist Brand. Here it is illustrated below. How appropriate for the city in the days leading up to the annual Cow Extravaganza at the Calgary Stampede.

Arianne_Richardson_Hobbyist_Brand_Craft_Kit_No_3_Calgary (1024x683)

This is an interesting snapshot of Canada at a time when it was finally finding its own national identity. There were many factors which brought together the increased state of patriotism and optimism in Canada and its increased presence on the international stage – notably the baby boomers coming of age; the Quiet Revolution was happening in Quebec; Expo ’67 was held in Montreal; the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup; French President Charles de Gaulle declared from the balcony of Montréal’s City Hall “Vive, le Québec libre” followed by boisterous cheering; Lester B. Pearson stepped down as Prime Minister; and Justice Minister and future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously declared in a scrum in the halls of Parliament that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Pierre Burton in turn and after the fact wrote a book which was originally entitled 1967: The Last Good Year the title of which was subsequently changed in later editions to 1967: Canada’s Turning Point.

Needless to say, 1967 was an interesting year.

The 150th Anniversary of Confederation is soon approaching. I am happy that this exhibition was selected for the Truck window space. I also note that an organization which former CEO of the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts, Colin Jackson is very deeply involved with is called, imagiNation 150. It is located down the hall from the exhibition in the Burns Building. It will be interesting to see whether their projects will match the euphoria during 1967.

The show closes on Thursday, July 17 between 6:00 and 7:00pm.

2 comments on “Celebrating Canada on Canada Day

  1. David says:

    …an interesting examination of Canadianism as
    coming of age with 1967 as a focal point from which this (coming of age) perspective is being promoted to bring Canadians forward to the next big party (or not) with Canada’s 2017 sequentennial celebration. The artifacts of the period, in my opinion need to be expanded upon in twenty-five year increments from let’s say beginning with twenty-five years post 1867. And, to be displayed not necessarily as a static piece of history, nor as a deconstruction to reassemble out of context a reconstructed circus piece to reflect the notion that ‘museums’ speak to and about everything (after the fact) through a unique Canadian window of a joint collection of both home-made, hand-made, however-made folk ‘art’, covering all mediums (which is lacking) of expression to cover a thorough iconographic snapshot of the past – in order to understand the migration of such a cultural significance in a truly diverse spectrum of identity, enough to withstand the changing tides of a Canada still in it’s introspective infancy. There is still a lot more space on that wooden map of Canada to etch in a century or two more of an evolving history before we can definitively declare that Canada has ‘turned a corner’. Pierre Burton’s initial title (and true instinctive thought) stands as a testimonial of his time and a year (1967) for what it was. To close my comments herein with a borrowed phrase, ‘so let it be written, so let it be said’. Changing or attempting to alter the facts of history through an intrepretive treaties and display of ‘museum’ artifacts with an eye on shaping the course of Canada’s direction is, in my humble opinion a dangerous side step. Caution is strongly recommended when one is asked or invited to curate and stroke one’s own collective thoughts, after the display had been assembled for public viewing. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to express my own thoughts. Respectively yours, D.

    • Thank you for your comments David. I appreciate you taking the time to write them.

      It is an important discussion to have. As you correctly noted, the Canadian sesquicentennial celebrations are fast approaching.

      In addition, your comments would also appear to be timely as well when one looks through the lens of the recent changes that took place in the former Museum of Civilization which was recently rebranded as the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. This includes the new displays, and the long-standing question of whose history(ies) do the new displays represent. Of course, depending on one’s viewpoint, these changes could be considered either a significant improvement or a substantial retrogression (or potentially both at the same time).

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