Collaboration in Calgary arts community (with a potential new participant)




Tomorrow, the trustees of the Tate Britain will announce the winner of the 2014 Turner Prize. One of the four nominees is Canadian-born printmaker – Ciara Phillips.

Normally, an event that is taking place half-way around the world would be a non-event for this blog. However, I believe it is timely for discussion in Calgary, regardless of whether she wins or not.

For those who do not know, I am a former gallerist that operated a member gallery of the Art Dealers Association of Canada which dealt primarily with printmaking and prints. As a result, I have a very deep appreciation and understanding of the printmaking process, even though I am not a printmaker myself. For whatever reason, the printmaking medium, gets very little respect and appreciation in the city. It has been that way for a very long time, which is surprising given the strong printmaking tradition in the city and that there is an amazing collection of block prints (in particular) which is housed at the Glenbow. This all is quite unfortunate situation that I can only hope will change in time.

Secretly, (well maybe not so secretly anymore) I am pulling for her to win. I do see that she probably is somewhat of a longshot, although definitely in the running. In the UK, there is an interesting phenomenon in that people make wagers, and bookies make books on the outcomes of major cultural prizes, along with the usual horse races, football games and boxing matches. The Turner Prize is no exception.

When I checked a few minutes ago the average odds at the time of retrieval, the consensus order of payout (or from most-likely to least-likely) as determined by a survey of various bookies, is as follows:

  • Duncan Campbell is the favourite, a win would payout £7 for every £4 bet (1.75x);
  • A Ciara Phillips win would payout £11 for every £4 bet (2.75x);
  • A James Richards win would payout £3 for every £1 bet (3.0x);
  • A Tris Vonna-Mitchell win would payout £7 for every £2 bet (3.5x).

If only people cared that much on the visual arts in this city that they would bet on and for artists. If we did, we would probably have a civic art gallery and actually support the visual arts and its artists – but I digress.

Getting back to business.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for an exhibition that she held during 2013 at The Showroom, London that ended one year ago today (November 30). The exhibition was described as follows, and I will quote at length (there is substantially more, if you feel so inclined) to help put this posting into context for those in Calgary who may not click on the hotlink and to understand the timeliness. Here is what The Showroom had to say about this exhibition:

Workshop (2010–ongoing) is a new installation made up of multiple screenprints on newsprint and large-scale works on cotton. This new work sets an attitude for a two-month temporary print studio that will take place in the gallery over the course of the exhibition.

Throughout October and November (2013) Phillips will be collaborating with invited artists, designers, and local women’s groups (many of whom have ongoing relationships with The Showroom) to produce new screenprints. Guests will bring their different knowledge and experiences of working collectively to the Workshop, whose structure is open for development as the project progresses. These new collaborations will initiate conversations and actions that aren’t contained within specific disciplines of art, community action, design or activism. By making prints in these new collaborative groupings, Phillips will explore the potential of ‘making together’ as a way of negotiating ideas and generating discussions around experimental and wider uses of print.

We know that Ciara Phillips showed in Calgary previously and I was fortunate enough to have seen the group show which she was included in, during the summer of 2013 at the short-lived Haight Gallery (which has subsequently closed, probably right after the group show ended). The photo above was from that show, and the same exhibition was also shown in January 2014 at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 – an artist run centre.

Now to get to the core of the matter.

Why is this relevant to Calgary?

As seen above, we know that Ciara Phillips has shown in Calgary. We also know that there is a significant artistic exchange that occurs between Glasgow (where she currently lives) and Calgary. I could easily rattle off a good sampling of names without too much difficulty.

We also have seen a significant increase in collaboration in the city’s institutional culture. Here are some examples:

  • Earlier this year it was announced that Calgary will host the MassMOCA produced Oh, Canada show which will open in January 2015. This will be a collaborative exhibition spread between Glenbow, Esker, Nickle, and the Illingworth Kerr galleries.
  • Not so long ago Contemporary Calgary co-hosted a portion of the Made in Calgary: The 1990s show and the Nickle currently is co-hosting the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 2000s show.
  • We can also reference the initial Nuit Blanche show in 2012 where they informally collaborated with MOCA Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary).
  • Then there was the partnership between the Calgary Stampede and MOCA Calgary for a 1912/2012 focused show during the summer of 2012.
  • We can also talk about the long-standing (maybe 15-20 year long) relationship between the Centre for Performing Arts and mostly artist run centres in the six +15 window spaces which has recently been expanded to also include the Alberta Craft Council, Tiny Gallery and the University of Calgary. There may be more in the works as I see construction happening in the same general area.

Even other organizations outside of the visual arts like the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is getting in on the act with a performance which involved students in the MADT program at the Alberta College of Art and Design in their performance last night of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila.

Beakerhead is yet another fine example where it was set up to explore where collaboration can exist between the engineering and science communities with the visual arts.

I know that I have only touched upon a few partnerships, but as seen above it is an increasingly important part of the cultural landscape that is developing in the city for various reasons. It is probably a good thing.

In a recent interview in the Ottawa Citizen where she is quoted as saying, “I think it (the Turner Prize) has drawn a lot more attention to my work, and there have been some really nice outcomes of that, especially invitations to make future exhibitions in Sweden and Canada.” This was also repeated a few days later (earlier this week) in a recent interview with Canadian Art magazine.

Alberta Printmakers Society is one such organization that could potentially host this show in their new facility. Although, having said that, I would think the gallery space might be a bit on the small side.

From a personal observation, A/P has become much more active recently and has shown a willingness to program potentially controversial exhibitions such as the recent Joscelyn Gardner show which ended yesterday, entitled bringing down the flowers. . . I attended the opening of Gardner’s show this past October 24th and had a good discussion with her while I was there. It was my intention to write something about it, but due to other more pressing circumstances, I was unable to find the time to do so. It was a very strong show and it dealt with issues that should have a higher visibility and dialogue in this country. Certainly, more so than what is currently the case. I may still, even though it is too late to see the show at the Artist Proof Gallery.

Given this as background, and understand that this is complete and unsubstantiated speculation as an outsider, does that mean we may potentially see Caira Phillip’s Workshop (2010 – ongoing) make an appearance in Calgary in the near future?

Maybe there is a partnership with A/P and another organization such as the Esker, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, the Banff Centre or potentially Contemporary Calgary or the Glenbow in the works?

Let’s hope so.

*  *  *

December 1, 2014 edit

I checked the news to find out who won the Turner Prize this year. The winner was Duncan Campbell. It is not surprising given that the film he was nominated for was previously shown at the most recent Venice Biennale.

It doesn’t change anything about collaboration, which was the primary focus of this posting. Of course that possibility of a Canadian show for Ciara Phillips is still out there and I think that it would be awesome if it took place in Calgary.

Update on the Art Central demolition

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Doing a very quick update on the Art Central demolition.

The photo above was taken near the corner of 7th Avenue and Centre Street around 4:00pm earlier today (November 25).

As seen here the basement floor is visible and there is not much left to the building, except the north wall facing the alley where the Brunning mural is located.  There is also a bit of the west wall still standing which abuts the Col. James Walker Park, which is located on the +15 level between Art Central and the Len Werry Building at the other end of the C-Train platform.

There is some public art located on the Col. James Walker Park affixed to the Len Werry Building. I suspect that I will write about it in the near future.

With it only being Tuesday evening, I suspect that the north wall facing the alley will be demolished by the weekend if they keep up this pace.


David Brunning’s Art Central mural

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It has been a week since the external demolition of Art Central began.

I figure it is as good of a time as any to talk about the mural that was commissioned by Art Central (or Encorp on behalf of Art Central) for one of the exterior walls. It has been there since the opening of Art Central in 2005.

Although the exterior wall that this is painted on has not come down yet, I assume that it will be coming down shortly as seen by the photo above.

The artist for the mural was David Brunning (a.k.a. The Kid Belo). He is one of the better known local graffiti artists. Much of his work tends to be more mural-based which is unusual for Calgary.

This mural tended to get a fair bit of attention as it was a common backdrop for fashion photography. The contrast between the grittiness of graffiti with modern fashion obviously is appealing for many photographers and/or graphic designers.

Sadly there is not much graffiti murals around in the city.

As a result, I figured it is probably a good thing to record this now, instead of later, when it will be mostly landfill – probably by the end of the week.


The demise of Art Central

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What has become a far too common recent situation in the city started again earlier this week – the long-anticipated demolition of Art Central.

It all began this past Monday – November 17.

This demolition is being done to build a new much-larger multi-use complex on its footprint – the 58-storey Telus Sky building.

I noticed that the windows on the second floor, south side had been removed when I rode by on the C-Train early Tuesday morning. By the time I returned around 4:00 later that afternoon to take the photo I have posted above this is what I saw. There also was a small backhoe visible from street-level when I stood outside the Palomino, which was located inside the space that once housed The New Gallery, and prior to that QUAB Gallery.

On a personal level, I also occupied that same space for about three or four months during the time between the occupancy of the two galleries mentioned above. This was a time when I was in transition and also had a very large non-objective exhibition in 2007/2008 that was spread over three spaces on the +15 level – my old space (unit 207), my new space (unit 203) and this larger space (unit 213).

It is sad to see this building come down.

The building held so much promise, dreams and expectations.

For various reasons, the project mostly failed to deliver on much of that hope and expectation which was built into the initial concept.

There were the external factors, some of which were quite large and played a very important role in its ultimate demise. There were challenges and factors that occurred before the building even opened. And of course, there were the internal factors and the nature of the concept, combined with its location.

I would love to talk further about the dreams, expectations, hopes and disappointments of those involved in this space, either as tenants, owners and visitors. They all helped shape the initial concept into what it ultimately became. It would be an interesting story.

Someday I will.

Today however, I will quietly mourn its demise and wait for the appropriate time and place to talk further.


100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI and related art installations


Every year on this date (November 11) we take a minute at 11:11 to observe and pay our respects to the many people (both military and non-military personnel) who died during warfare.

These were predominately boys and girls (many of whom had never left home before they enlisted) paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their countries or state.

This year is a momentous one as it is the 100th anniversary of the beginnings of what many consider, with the advantage of having an historical lens to view its events through, was largely a pointless war – World War One – “The Great War”.

At the time, WWI was idealistically spoken of as being “the war to end all wars”.

We of course know how that ended up.

One only needs to open a newspaper or listen to the sabre-rattling and war-mongering from our political leadership on the news reports to know that war will probably not end anytime soon. These leaders are now increasingly painting war as being something that is both heroic and necessary. This while cynically holding on to the cautionary warnings of “Never Again” and “Lest we Forget” as being guiding truisms.

No one wins when war is fought – except maybe the economic beneficiaries – the armament manufacturers and arms dealers.

Now is the time to head warnings such as those given by Mikhail S. Gorbachev on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall two days ago on November 9th. He stated that, “the world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it’s already begun.”

It is also worth listening to those who have served their countries, like Harry Leslie Smith, a 90-year old veteran, who penned a well-written piece for The Guardian that should be required reading for all.

Included in the above referenced article, Smith penned these words:

I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.

Then there is this touching story of a 91-year old Canadian WWII veteran Frank “Johnny” Johnston who gives a first-hand account of his time as a PoW and the humanity of enemies toward each other near the end of the war. He states this:

“And this woman, she pulls back an eiderdown bed cover and there are these beautiful white linen sheets, on a beautiful bed, and the [soldiers] just threw me on it. I was bloody. I had muddy boots on. And this lady, she took my boots off, undressed me and she kept talking to me, and she gets a big bowl of hot water and cleans all this mess off. She bandages my hip and then, if you can believe it, she washed my face, my arms, my chest — everywhere — and left me lying there on that beautiful bed.

“Now, why would she do that? I was the enemy. And to this day, sitting here talking to you, I still can’t get over it. Then she goes downstairs and comes up with a big bowl of stew and every time I have chunky soup for lunch I picture that nice German lady. I picture her clear as day. Jesus. She was a wonderful person.”

He then goes on to talk about his own response shortly thereafter:

Mr. Johnson was liberated from a German POW camp six weeks after the nice German lady cleaned him up. He tried to find her after the war, to say thanks, but never did, and so he just went on living.

Looking back now all he sees are the dead.

“I am only really proud of one thing I did during the war,” he says.

He was flying patrol when his air traffic controller said there was a German plane above their airstrip.

“I was up about 4,000 feet and I look down and I see this guy,” Mr. Johnson says.

“Anybody who was an experienced fighter pilot would never be flying over an enemy airstrip and would never be flying in a straight line. But this guy was. He was obviously a rookie. Maybe it was his first flight in that goddamn aircraft and maybe he had gotten lost, and so I pulled out from behind him and came alongside and I looked over at him.

“He was just a boy. A kid. And I thought to myself, why the hell would I kill this kid? The war is almost over. He doesn’t know what the hell he is doing. So I [waved at him] and flew off. Back at the base they were all, ‘Did you get him? Did you get him? I said I let him go.

It is the only thing that I did in that whole goddamn war that I am really pleased about. We had to kill, see? I remember destroying a ferry where I must have killed 50 or 60 people. And it is human life, and you could say, ‘Well, what the hell, it is war.’ But it just shows you how stupid war is when a guy like me looks back at things and feels the way I do.”

Of course, not everyone returned. A few days ago CBC published a story about an underage soldier from Saltcoats, Saskatchewan named Roy Clarence Armstrong. He fought in Northern France and died when he was still 18. This is an interesting story, one that never would have been told had the family not kept his letters, and recognized their importance when they were found. In the story it also talks about the issue of underage boys who enlisted. There were many who did. I know this, because I have family members that also enlisted while underage. This quote from the article talks about this issue:

For a time the military fulfilled some parents’ requests to remove underage sons from the army. The practice stopped after a court ruled in 1915 that a pact existed between the army and an individual soldier regardless of age.

Though the issue of underage soldiers came up in the House of Commons in 1916, the matter doesn’t appear to have been pursued in the following years, says Black.

So boys continued to sign up. Two as young as 10 enlisted but never made it to the Western Front, according to historians. Many of the approximately 20,000 teens who lied about their ages were between 14 and 17.

Following in this theme, Calgary Opera will be presenting the Canadian Premiere of Kevin Puts’ and Mark Campbell’s Pulitzer Prize winning opera Silent Night this week. It tells the story of a spontaneous truce on Christmas Eve 1914, when combatant troops laid down their weapons to celebrate the holiday together and bury their dead.

Tickets are still available for the performances tomorrow and on Friday.

* * *

Of course, this blog is about art – not war.

To that end, public art often incorporates memorials for various reasons – one of those objectives is the remembrance of war and its victims.

Two recent public art installations were unveiled, or completed today, to honour those that fell during WWI. Each took a different perspective in how they portrayed a memorial to those that fell. The differences of perspective are interesting. One is located in northern France, near the town of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire; the other is attached to the Tower of London.

Philippe Prost’s International Memorial of Notre-Dame de Lorette


Honouring the 579,606 soldiers from all nations who died on the battlefield in France. The names are all listed in strict alphabetical order, with no designation of rank or country of service in a large elliptical circle.

Noteworthy in the French installation is that part of the circular installation is left hanging above the landscape which serves as “a reminder and a warning about the fragility of peace.”

In the BBC story referenced above, there is a poignant story about one of those whose name is listed on this memorial – Geert Hindricks who served with the 3rd Hannover Infantry Regiment. I quote the article:

He described in a last letter to his wife how the German soldiers on the Western Front became friendly with their enemies in the British trench just 20m (65ft) away, warning each other when officers were passing by and sharing meat and cigarettes.

“When you think about it,” he wrote, “it’s a sad affair when there’s no animosity between the locals and the soldiers, and only those at the top can’t agree on anything.”

I digress, but in some respects this French installation bears a certain resemblance to a component of a planned, but certainly much more hackneyed, circular installation proposed to be located alongside the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island.

Paul Cummin’s and Tom Piper’s Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red


This temporary public art installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies which only a few hours ago was finally completed through the placement of the final poppy in the moat surrounding the Tower of London. A 13-year old cadet, Harry Hayes, was selected. When one thinks about it, this was an appropriate choice as many of those British servicemen who served and died in action were only slightly older than this young boy.

The poppy installation has a populist appeal. Many will attend or have visited during the installation. However, it is not without its detractors. Jonathon Jones the art critic for The Guardian stated:

It is deeply disturbing that a hundred years on from 1914, we can only mark this terrible war as a national tragedy. Nationalism – the 19th-century invention of nations as an ideal, as romantic unions of blood and patriotism – caused the great war. What does it say about Britain in 2014 that we still narrowly remember our own dead and do not mourn the German or French or Russian victims? The crowds come to remember – but we should not be remembering only our own. It’s the inward-looking mood that lets Ukip thrive.


As we move forward from this 100th anniversary, let us reflect on change. It is safe to say that very few are still living who experienced the horrors of that war. Maybe it is time to finally move on and focus on what is truly important.

Will we choose to focus on peace, reconciliation and mutual respect – or will we focus on war, divisiveness and intolerance?

New cultural facility in Mayland Heights

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Today a gym (Fitness Plus) in the community of Mayland Heights has an auction selling all of its exercise equipment located there. According to the sign on the door, they closed this location on October 5 due to their inability to “maintain the financial viability of (its) north location”.

Why is this arts related news, you may ask?

It is not.

However, what is news and relevant, is that the new occupant of the space will be Evergreen Theatre which I believe is currently located on the former CFB Calgary base. I know from the news that area will be undergoing redevelopment in the near future.

Some time ago, probably around the time that ArtBOX on 17E opened in the summer of 2013 and potentially in conjunction with a discussion of public art as well, I mentioned the fact of the paucity of dedicated art spaces located east of Deerfoot Trail.

I find this a rather fascinating observation. Here is why.

In the 2014 City Census , as seen here, it shows that 1,195,194 residents of all ages who live in the City boundaries. It also shows that there are currently 14 electoral wards for the office of Councillor officially representing those approximately 1.2 million people.

In those 14 wards, it would appear as if five wards are largely located east of Deerfoot (wards 3, 5, 9, 10 and 12). I can already hear it. I know what is going to happen is that someone will take exception to my choices of wards (especially with regards to ward 9). I am okay with that, because I see from the map on page 28 of the link provided above that there is no indication of major thoroughfares on it and where population actually resides. Ward 9 goes to the eastern city limits, but I also know that the Councillor is also considered to represent the inner-city by some. It is a moot point. I have probably erred somewhat. As a result I had to guess based on an approximate speculation of where Deerfoot is located on this map.

If I use the wards indicated above (3, 5, 9, 10 and 12) and add up the population in those wards as indicated on the map located on page 28, I see that approximately 442,479 people reside east of Deerfoot. That represents 37.02% of all residents of the city.

This is a significant amount of people, no matter how you cut it. From the following link we can see that a similar percentage of the popular vote (39.6%) was all that was required to bring the federal Conservative Party of Canada to a majority government in the last election in May 2011.

The question follows.

Given that this geographical area represents nearly 40% of the City population – why is it that this area has been so severely misrepresented with art spaces, for so long?

Regardless of whether you the reader, like my choice of electoral ward selection, it is nevertheless a valid question to ask.

I need to also state in all fairness, that Calgary Arts Development is aware of this deficit and has started to take steps to introduce cultural equity into places where none currently exist. One of those attempts is the ArtBOX on 17E project that is a limited time project in partnership with the International Avenue BRZ. So at least there are some attempts being made to try and rectify this oversight. Yet another cultural space is the long-overdue, but recently announced Calgary Film Studio that had the sod-turning yesterday (October 31) that will be located in the Great Plains Industrial area.

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From what I understand the new Evergreen Theatre space will open in early 2016. I also understand that some of their space will be available to be sublet or for special events. This should help alleviate somewhat the demand for cultural space east of the Deerfoot (even if it is within view of, and a short walk away from Deerfoot Trail).

Having this space here makes me happy. 

Bear with me as indulge myself on this circuitous detour to explain why. I will attempt to be short and unfortunately it might be even sickly sweet. It is possible that the dry heaves may occur.


At the risk of dating myself and because it is my blog I can do things like this. I once had a junior high school crush on a girl. I know, I know, I am sure that I am probably the only one that ever had something like that happen to them during junior high when the hormones were rushing. This is the only picture I have of her which was taken from a larger group photo as you can see from the buttons on the person standing behind her. She used to live on the street directly above this new art space. Around the same time, I also remember riding an inner tube with friends (who knows, maybe she joined us, stranger things have happened) down the hill behind this space and probably right through the middle of the space that Evergreen will soon occupy. I am sure that I did this at least a couple times when it was covered with snow. I have always wondered whatever happened to her as I don’t recall hearing anything about her after the time that this photo above was originally taken. I guess it will always remain one of those great mysteries in life.

Visiting the space when I took these photos brought back these remote and distant memories that I rarely think about anymore. It made me happy for that reason.

Fond memories as I travel down that dusty nostalgic lane.

Back to business now. 

I wish those involved at the Evergreen Theatre much success in their new location.