Andrew McPhail’s CRYBABY at UAS and a related show at Avalanche

Andrew_McPhail_Crybaby_detail_at_Untitled_Art_Society_2014_Sept (1024x683)

Earlier tonight I attended the opening of Andrew McPhail‘s installation CRYBABY at the Untitled Art Society’s Satellite Gallery. This exhibition is part of Mountain Standard Time – the seventh biennial performative art festival, known more colloquially as M:ST 7 which begins this weekend in both Lethbridge and Calgary.

It is a quiet installation, with subdued lighting. This show contrasted quite starkly with the opening held at the same time at Avalanche! Institute of Contemporary Art in their space directly below UAS.

At Avalanche! Shawn Mankowske‘s and Palmer Olson‘s two-person exhibition momento maury showed bright colours, abstract shapes along with a tip of the hat and awareness of op-art and formalist abstraction from the 1960s and 1970s. It is an odd combination to see in Calgary. Formalist abstraction has never gained significant traction and had very little impact in the city during its heyday (or since). I could probably write lots about this odd disconnect as it is something that has fascinated me for quite some time.

* * *

As stated above Andrew McPhail’s CRYBABY installation at UAS is subdued and accentuates the sublime nature of the work – especially at night when I attended. The absence of natural light lends itself well to the exhibition and the somewhat theatrical lighting made it more dramatic than it probably otherwise would be during daylight hours, when the gallery receives natural light.

This is an ongoing installation begun in 2010 that has been installed previously at two separate locations – Union Gallery at Queen`s University in Kingston (2011) and at TH&B at 270 Sherman (the former Imperial Cotton Mill) in Hamilton (2012).

Briefly this work originated as a result of an experience the artist had while making a trans-Atlantic flight. His seatmate, whom he did not know, suffered a heart-attack while en route and passed away. This work came as a result of this experience. It is a memorial of sorts to this unknown person and the often overwhelming nature of grief.

The work itself is made up of thousands of Kleenex tissues that are individually stitched together. At the opening and various times throughout the exhibition the performative component of the show as part of M:ST 7 has the artist stitching tissues together and engaging viewers in dialogue with issues surrounding the work.

Andrew_McPhail_Crybaby_performative_aspect_and_Detail_at Untitled_Art_Society_2014_Sept (1024x683)

This situation that led to this work is a sad circumstance. However, it is something we all can relate to.

We all will encounter death, sadness and loss at some point in our lives. It may be someone we know, a relative or someone we have loved. It could be a casual acquaintance we once knew. It could be a random circumstance such as what happened to McPhail. Or in a similar way like myself when I was bicycling home yesterday and chanced upon a policeman calling for an ambulance (I assume) while he stood near a fellow who appeared to have fallen, and was lying motionless on the concrete beside an apartment building, with what appeared to be blood in the area of his head. Who knows how long he was there. For that matter, we could even ponder our own failing health or those family members that we are closest to.

It is these together – the all too frequent points in our lives, where we are reminded of our own frailties and the transitory nature of life itself.

Plato wrote a great dialogue in his middle period called Phaedo. It is told from the perspective of one of Socrate‘s students – Phaedo of Elis. Here, Plato using the voice of Phaedo and Socrates’ associates talks about the events leading up to the death of Socrates. He then goes on to present four arguments in favour of the immortality of the soul and the afterlife:

  • The Cyclical Argument, or Opposites Argument;
  • The Theory of Recollection;
  • The Affinity Argument; and;
  • The Argument of the Form of Life, or The Final Argument.

There has been much discussion over the centuries about how we deal with the issue of grief – and death. It is something that we must all come to terms with in our own way. However, this is an important discussion to have, as it has deep resonance with all.

This issue that Plato discussed and related questions are some of the fundamental questions of all religious thought and philosophy. These are questions such as:

  • What happens when our mortal life ends?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What purpose do we have? and;
  • Why do we live?

* * *

This all brings me back to the Avalanche! show in a circuitous and very odd, but related way.

The choice of title momento maury for Mankowske‘s and Olson‘s exhibition riffs off the centuries old Latin phrase momento mori which roughly translated means “remember (you have to) die”. This phrase is interesting as it carries a lot of philosophical, art historical, musical and religious baggage and is frequently referenced throughout the centuries.

The concept of momento mori comes from the Vulgate Latin rendering of Ecclesiasticus 7:40 which reads “in omnibus operibus tuis memorare novissima tua, et in aeternum non peccabis” or as it is translated “in all thy works be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin.”

As an aside, this Latin phrase in the exhibition context with the title, is also mildly humourous – which is probably the intent.

This is especially so, when one reflects further upon the theories of Clement Greenberg and formalist abstraction which their paintings reference.

* * *

Returning once again to McPhail’s work we see that he also draws from the concept of momento mori. Even the materials used – Kleenex tissues – also talk about the ephemeral nature of life.

That is what good art should do – give the viewer something to think about.

Put the UAS show in your list of things to view. While there, make a slight detour, go down the stairs and visit Avalanche! as well.

Yup, it is Still Burning

Dominion_Bridge_Passage_opening_for_Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_Sept_18_2014 (1024x683)

Last night, I attended the opening of the 35th anniversary show of the Burn’s Visual Arts Society (BVAS) exhibition held at Passage. The space where it was held, literally is as described, a passage between two buildings in the old Dominion Bridge building complex in Ramsay.

This is an event that I have looked forward to for about a month, when I first heard that it was in the works.

Whenever I have been able, I have made best efforts to attend the Burns open house. It only happens once a year, and more often than not I usually had to work which always made it difficult to attend.

This year the open house will be next weekend. That is the weekend which corresponds with Alberta Culture Days and ArtWalk (which amazingly within the last year has come back from the nearly dead). The same can’t be said for ArtCity, which went from a yearly event, to a biennial event, until last I heard it was registering a flatline.

The Burns Visual Arts Society has an interesting story. It is a story few know about.

The organization should be known more as many of the past members of the Society have gone on to great artistic success both here and elsewhere. As you can see by the incomplete list of past members below there have been some important artists who had studios in the BVAS that achieved a certain level of critical success such as Martin Bennett, Dennis Burton, Mark Dicey, Greg Edmonson, Marjan Eggermont, Marianne Gerlinger, Mark Joslin, Ron Moppet, Arthur Nishimura, Evan Penny, Bill Rodgers, Noboru Sawai, Jeff Spalding, Bev Tosh and Peter von Tiesenhausen.

Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_list_of_members_since_1979 (1024x683)

I must admit there is not much available to work with in terms of public information about the Burns Visual Arts Society. In some ways this is to be expected as most visual artists quietly produce work in the confines of their studios – with little fanfare. It is a solitary career for the most part.

When there is information, it is usually in conjunction with the individual artist’s work being produced, sometimes years after the fact when an exhibition is mounted and the artist acknowledges the contribution that the society did to enable and provide a supportive environment to create the work. Even then there is little discussion about the place where the art was produced, but rather about the artist him or herself. Fortunately, I have an amazing library as it relates to art from the region and have worked in the business and attended numerous exhibitions and networked with artists and administrators with amazing regularity in Calgary for a very, very long time. . .

This is a milestone exhibition.

The BVAS has reached it 35 year anniversary. From what one of the didactic panels stated, the BVAS is “Canada’s oldest continual art studio cooperative.”

This is something definitely worth celebrating.

This fact alone shows how difficult it is to keep an organization such as this going. It is an amazing feat that this cooperative society has survived this long in Calgary.

No doubt it also speaks to the 175+ artists who been involved in the organization over the past 35 years. The numbers alone would indicate that each artist stays for over five years on average. Some have stayed longer. Artists such as Bev Tosh, Louise Williamson and Cecelia Gossen have maintained studios at BVAS for substantial periods of time and in so doing have been the glue that holds the organization and in so doing have provided the stability allowing the organization to flourish.

So a catalogue is definitely in order and is available from BVAS for $20.

I am glad to see that it happened. And in colour too.

I must hand it to curator Colleen Sharpe who wrote an essay for the catalogue. In talking to her last night she indicated that the catalogue was only put together in two weeks. From the significant amount of research I have done in this area over the past couple years, I know this for a factas I have stated above, there is not much material to work with to create a history for BVAS. So as a result, she must be commended that she was able to create as much as she did.

Having worked with Colleen before, I knew that the show would be well-curated before I even got there. Colleen does a good job in what she does. I am one of her biggest fans – maybe even her biggest.



What is stated below is a bit more history on the Burns Visual Arts Society.

This is all primarily new information and is not in the essay.

On Thursday, December 28th, 1978, midway between Christmas and New Years Eve, the tenants in the Burns Building were evicted by the landlord and told to vacate their spaces by January 31st, 1979.

This was not surprising news as only a month earlier, the Globe and Mail reported `that “the city is assembling the four city blocks, bounded by 7th and 9th avenues and 1st and 3rd streets SE, to hold a new city hall, a centre for the performing arts, and possibly some commercial development.” This area incorporates the geographical area incorporating what is now known as Olympic Plaza, the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts and City Hall.

In 1979, building permits were forecast at the end of January to be $1.3-billion. The city was in the midst of the great boom that ended in 1980-81.

The Burns Building was in a seedy area at the time. Across the street also facing Macleod Trail stood the Queen’s Hotel along with neighbouring Alexandra Hotel which were part of what was a seedy part of town, what was once called Whiskey Row. Both of these hotels were subsequently demolished to make way for the new City Hall Building and the Centre For Performing Arts. Initially, this was all part of Mayor Ross Alger’s planned $234-million Civic Centre project and was the subject of a November 29, 1979 plebiscite to approve the project. That first project was defeated by 1841 votes. This controversial project, of course, was partly responsible for bringing former CTV News, City Hall reporter, Ralph Klein to the mayoral seat in 1980. The end result was that the project still went ahead a couple years later, only that it changed somewhat.

This all was background.

There were a number of artists who maintained studios in the Burns Building.

The Burns Visual Arts Society was formed as a result of the December 1978 eviction with artist Bill Rodgers acting as spokesman for the group. The City at that time was largely unsympathetic to the artist`s plight as evidenced by Alderman Barb Scott‘s comments where she bluntly stated that the Burns Building was private property and the artists should not come to the City for help with relocation. However in Barb Scott’s defence, she did indicate that with little more than 30-days notice “there (was) no need (to) vacat(e) for several months”.

It was in this context that artists such as Evan Penny, Laura Pope, Wayne Giles, Bill Rodgers and others established the Burns Visual Arts Society as a cooperative in 1979 – 35 years ago.

Ironically, as a side note, and this more of a happenstance than anything else, earlier this year Calgary Arts Development Authority and Studio C both relocated to the Burns Building. So the arts now live again in the Burns Building as this has almost come full circle.

The next home for the BVAS was on the fourth and fifth floor of the five-storey Neilson Block located at 118 – 8 Avenue SE just over a block away from its former home. During that time, the Neilson Block definitely was a visual arts friendly building. The Off Centre Centre (now known as The New Gallery) was also located in this building on the third floor for a number of years. Also there was a hair salon (the name of which I forget) on the second floor that also regularly featured artists and openings.

This building with its close proximity across the pedestrian mall from the Glenbow Museum, was operated as normal until it was sold in 1995 with plans for redevelopment were announced. This resulted in changes starting to happen. The society remained there until they were forced to relocate in 1998 as a result of the new Telus Convention Centre and Hyatt Hotel construction and redevelopment which affected the entire block that the Neilson Block stood on. The building façade has been retained and incorporated into the design of the new part of what was then known as the Calgary Convention Centre.

It was at this time that the BVAS moved to its present location 828 – 24 Avenue SE in the community of Ramsay, where it is still located. It is situated almost directly across the street from where the art space Passage, where the exhibition Still Burning is hosted, on the site of the old Dominion Bridge Building.

This site where the exhibition is held is notable for being the site where Dennis Oppenheim‘s controversial sculpture Device to Root Out Evil was located between 2008 until it was quietly removed in January of this year at the end of its five-year lease. In addition, it is notable for housing a number of artist studios, production shops and was the original home of NewZones, a commercial gallery, before they moved to their present location on 11th Avenue SW.

Passage_Gallery_Burns_Visual_Arts_Society_Still_Burning_exhibition_Sept_18_2014 (1024x683)

Overall this is a good show. It is well worth a visit.

I am glad to see that they acknowledged the current 20 members of the Studio Collective. They also tipped a hat and acknowledged the contributions and memory of former members who are no longer involved or have passed away. They did this by including a major dress piece by long-term member Elizabeth Clark who passed away suddenly on March 10, 2008 as a gesture of tribute and by including recent studio artist Graham Page who also passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer this past summer on July 6, 2014.

Make sure you include a visit as part of the East Side Studio Crawl which was initiated by a couple of BVAS members Cecelia Gossen and Celia Meade in 2003 which was based loosely on a similar successful initiative that was held in Vancouver around the time that it was established. This event will take place this weekend on September 20.


new participatory yarn-bombing project coming soon


This is not something that this blog usually does – advertise for upcoming events.

However this project is a bit different as it is primarily about creative placemaking and engaging audiences that may be interested in art, but may not frequent the formalized art one sees in galleries with regularity. There were a couple recent projects that tapped into this dynamic, the most successful one probably was Wreck City in 2012.

This event all ties into this whole concept as described above in a roundabout way.

* * *

Without further ado – here is what it is all about.

  • I know that there are those who do knitting.
  • I also know that there are those who do crocheting.
  • They may even be concerned about their fellow human beings.
  • They may even be concerned about the issue of homelessness.
  • They also may only be superficially be aware of a phenomenon called yarn-bombing.

Recently, there was an art-bombing (or whatever term is most appealing to the reader to describe what is the result of an artist’s, or group of artist’s using yarn for creative public art displays) which happened downtown. The CBC covered this most recent attempt last week outside of Bow Valley Square downtown. It may still be visible (or not).

I plan to write about this whole issue of yarn-bombing, art-bombing, urban knitting, kniffiti, or any other variation that a wordsmith can come up with to describe what it is, when I have more time to do so.

I find this whole concept quite fascinating and interesting.  This, even though I don’t know how to knit. I did try to learn, with my mother when I was a child, and later with someone who was close to me at the time, providing guidance. Unfortunately, the end result for both times was that I got incredibly frustrated.

* * *

The project:

The Calgary Homeless Foundation has recently purchased a house that is slated for demolition.

An organization I have written about in the past, This is My City Art Society is partnering with the Calgary Homeless Foundation to create an art event. Together they are trying to draw attention to this issue and as part of this, they are going to yarn-bomb the recently purchased house slated for demolition, which is located in a prominent NW location during September.

The wrapping of this house in a giant quilt, is meant to symbolize the warmth and comfort of a home.

It seems like a great concept.

Since there is only a small group of knitters (or crocheters) involved, I want to help expand their network, if I am able.

Here is what they are looking for:

  • People to create 12” knitted or crocheted squares that will be used to yarn-bomb the house – or create a bunch of them, and/or getting friends to help.

It is that easy.

* * *

Now the particulars and how to get it to the yarn-bombers.


  • These 12″ squares need to be dropped off at a few locations around the city by August 26 (that is 14 days, or two weeks from now)

Here are the locations:

  • Crowfoot Library (8665 Nose Hill Drive NW)
  • Fish Creek Library (11161 Bonaventure Drive SE)
  • Louise Riley Library (1904 – 14 Avenue NW)
  • Community Wise Centre (aka The Old Y) (Suite 101, 223 12 Avenue SW)

For more information please review the photo above. You will find more contact info available on that image.

I am sure I will cover this story more once it is up and installed.


So much to see and do

ABCultureDays (1024x683)

Q: Why is it so busy this weekend?

A: Alberta Culture Days!

This evening is opening night and Olympic Plaza will be a hopping place.  Events will be happening throughout the weekend.  In conjunction with Alberta Culture Days, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) – Calgary will be open late.  So will the Art Gallery of Calgary.  Of course the Centre for Performing Arts facing Olympic Plaza also has lots going on as well, which is typical as it is a Friday night after all.

Something is happening all over the city.  Here is a taste of what is happening tonight.  Everything listed below is FREE:

  • Opening ceremonies with live music, dancers, at Olympic Plaza from 4 – 10 pm
  • Live at Festival Hall with various Alberta musicians (1215 – 10 Avenue SE) from 5 – 9 pm
  • 3rd Annual Flamenco Festival at Webber Academy Performing Arts Centre (1515 – 93 Street SW) from 8 – 10 pm
  • Water Works, the City of Calgary Waterworks Department in conjunction with Calgary Society of Independent Filmakers (CIFF) at the south end of the Peace Bridge along the pathway from 7:30 – 9:30 pm
  • Culturefest, featuring Bollywood and Hollywood movies in the park and lots more at the Genesis Centre for Community Wellness (7555 Falconridge Blvd. NE) from 7 – 10 pm
  • Danielle Couture classical music performance at La Cité des Rocheuses (4800 Richard Road SW) from 8:00 – 9:30 pm
  • Tales of shoes around the world at John Fleuvog Shoes (207 – 8 Avenue SW) from 5 – 6 pm
  • Artember Festival throughout various locations especially along Main Street in the city of Airdie.  Visit for more information.

For a full listing of what will be happening as part of Alberta Culture Days

  • There is information on Twitter @AlbertaCultureDays
  • There is information on facebook at /AlbertaCultureDays
  • There is even a mobile app available through iTunes at

There is no excuse to stay at home this weekend.  Go out and have some fun!