Wreck City Demo Tape thoughts

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A week ago this past Friday (June 19), I attended the opening evening of the newly opened incarnation of Wreck City. I got there late as the last band was packing up. I was only able to see a few things that evening and had to return to see the remainder the following day. Sadly, even though I began writing this on the second day, this project called Demo Tape has now ended.

The last project that this curatorial team called Wreck City was involved with was entitled Phantom Wing. It occurred in the fall of 2013 and I have written at least one or two posts about it. If you are curious, follow the Phantom Wing link to the right.

Phantom Wing (from what I understand) was under the direction of cSPACE (working in collaboration with the curators of the successful original Wreck City project in Sunnyside). I have written a few things about it during the time that the project was running. It was coordinated to kick off the impending demolition stage of the new wing of the King Edward School that is intended to be an arts incubator.

About a month or two ago, the official sod turning event happened at the King Edward School. Two years later (after Phantom Wing), it would appear as if the King Edward School project has finally began the building stage process. As stated optimistically in the press release above, occupancy is scheduled for mid-2016. But given how long it has taken to get to this stage, and with some knowledge of how long construction projects often take, it is my speculation that occupancy will be more likely occur at some point during 2017. But since I am not involved in this project, it is possible that I could be wrong.

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After my little introductory diversion, the curators of Wreck City put the word out in January and in February that they were looking to resurrect the concept once again.

At that stage, they indicated that they were looking for space in the inner city communities. From what I understand there were a number of options that came as a result, which is not surprising given the rapid gentrification and upgrading of older communities in the city. Obviously given that this concept occurred – they found a suitable space.

This event was held in the former Penguin Car Wash overlooking the Elbow River between Fort Calgary and the Esker. It has a fantastic view of downtown Calgary and the mountains behind.

It also has a connection to an art mystery.

Specifically, this mystery involves a series of Rembrandt letters which prove that two recently purchased Rembrandt paintings were indeed forgeries and also involve a murder that was tied to an incident to obtain these letters. Of course, this whole Rembrandt story is a complete fabrication. But it was a small piece of the plot for the movie Silver Streak (1976) featuring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, Patrick McGoohan and Richard Pryor.

The Penguin Car Wash connection takes place at the bottom of the small hill that the car wash is located upon. The CP railway bridge which crosses the Elbow River and is located directly below the carwash. See next photo, as it is quite possible that this scene was shot from this viewpoint (or nearby).

At the beginning of the third act of Silver Streak, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump from the train into the Elbow River below. I tried to find a clip of the scene, but could not track it down. I guess that means you will have to watch the whole movie instead. It is possible that the Penguin Car Wash is visible in the movie. However, it has been so long since I have seen it, I am uncertain whether it is visible or not.  Now I have to track down a copy and view it again as well.

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After, yet another diversion, back to the Penguin Car Wash and Wreck City’s Demo Tape.

As stated earlier, I visited opening day toward the end of the night. The band that I heard while waiting for the freight train to pass, was already starting to pack up by the time I arrived. As a result, I only got to see some of the installations. However, I came back the following day when it was less busy and saw the remainder when there were less crowds.

It was interesting, however this version, did not have the same amount of buzz around it that I recall from the first iteration. Why that was, I am unsure. Maybe it was a bit more structured, formalized and probably a bit more thoughtful.

These are all good things, that are to be expected as an organization matures and changes.

Midway through the event, the organizers were forecasting that they would get 5000 attendees. Although the final numbers of those who attended have not been released, based on the following comments, a guesstimate can be made that probably somewhere between 2500 and 3000 people most likely attended. This is a solid attendance for an art event with little media support.

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Of course this cannot compare with the approximately 8000+ that attended the original project. We can attribute this variance to any number of reasons, given that both took place over a similar time period. Some of these reasons are:

  • Public transit accessibility – original was two blocks from a C-Train platform vs. Demo Tape had little transit infrastructure nearby and about a kilometre away from the nearest C-Train platform.
  • Time of year – the original event occurred at the end of university/college school term (last week of April) vs. Demo Tape occurred at the end of primary school term and the beginning of summer holidays for many.
  • Cultural awareness – the original event ramped up in the fading days of the year-long Calgary 2012 event when awareness of cultural events was high (with Calgary 2012 receiving seed money and support from organizations such as the federal government’s Department of Heritage, Calgary Arts Development Authority, Calgary Stampede, Calgary Public Library, Calgary Parks and Recreation and others) vs. Demo Tape which depended upon the connection to Sled Island and Wreck City’s own base who attended previous events.
  • Number of artists – original had approximately 150 artists vs. Demo Tape which had approximately 50
  • Cohabitation – to my recollection the original had more cohabitation happening between artists in the same (this is probably the nature of the more intimate nature of the buildings used, where the spaces were smaller and artwork would cross over perceptually even though they were placed in separate spaces in each house) vs. Demo Tape where each artist had more distinctly separated physical spaces for their artwork and larger spaces in general.
  • Newness – the original concept had the perception that it was new (in some ways it was, and for many attendees it was definitely something new. In other important ways it was not. I state this because it was a derivation of a previous project one or more of the curators were involved with a project that occurred in 2011 a few blocks away from the original Wreck City project in the community of West Hillhurst) vs. Demo Tape being the third project by the Wreck City collective after a two-year hiatus.

Were these reasons enough to make a difference?

Maybe. Maybe not.

These will all be factors that the curators will need to figure out when they do their post-event analysis, debriefing and reporting (if they actually do that). Potentially, I am actually doing it for them (or at least giving the curators something to think about).

Audiences can be very fickle and it is hard to determine what the root cause is that will prompt attendance in one case and not the other.

Media

I also have to mention media. Even the news outlets, didn’t get behind this event like they did for the Sunnyside project. During the 10-day run of the project, I believe that only the Calgary Herald actually reported on the project. There also was an interview with a number of the curators on CJSW radio. Both happened on the first day and nothing else happened afterwards.

To be fair, there was certainly coverage leading up to the week leading up to the event, In addition, the media really helped put the word out about the collective’s search for space back in February.

Whatever happened, and why it was not covered as it was previously, I suppose will remain a mystery.

Of course, it is worth mentioning once again, that the visible absence of arts reporting through the vehicle of FastForward Weekly is still noticeable, especially for special events such as this.

This has subsequently made the act of talking about visual arts and exhibitions, somewhat like talking to an audience (that may or may not be there) in a steel drum. I have said it before. I will say it again. Local arts reporting is critically important for an artist’s career and development. It is the same reason why music reporting is important, why theatre coverage is important and sports coverage is important. At the end of the day, they all serve the same type of purpose – to a point.

But, I guess removing visual arts coverage entirely, and/or having said coverage take place from a different geographical location is all done in the name of progress and it is not my call to make. I just try to add my little bit from time to time – and when my own time allows this luxury (since I don’t get paid to write this blog).

The actual event

I must be honest. Although I went, my heart was not overly engaged. The first night I came immediately after work and spent more time talking to people I knew than looking at art. The second day I spent more time relaxing on site and talking to an art teacher who travelled by herself from Madison, Wisconsin to volunteer at the Demo Tape event. I feel bad, because I spent at least an hour or more talking to her – and now I have forgotten her name. She had never visited Canada before, but came with the intent to volunteer, see some scenery, but also to see the two performances of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a few other groups she wanted to see as part of Sled Island before heading back to Wisconsin. She was a very interesting person to talk to and it was a very enjoyable time.

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There were a number of interesting projects, however overall it gave the appearance of a glorified art school project focusing on installation-based work.

This is understandable, due to the nature of the event. So this is not necessarily a criticism. The majority of work was slated to be destroyed along with the building at the end of the actual event. By that very nature, the works will have an unfinished and raw quality to them. As a result, it will rarely be like something one would see in a gallery setting.

That is both the blessing and curse of this type of event. Expectations potentially can be high, when they shouldn’t be. And the reverse is also true.

As mentioned previously, much of this show had much more conceptual bent than was the case with the two previous iterations – Wreck City (the original) and Phantom Wing. I am unsure why this is the case (and it is certainly not an issue), maybe it was partly curatorial; maybe it was the artist’s interests who applied; maybe it was the nature of a long lead time, with limited amount of time with access to the space; maybe it was just delivery (and how it was perceived); or maybe it was a combination thereof. In the end it doesn’t matter.

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For me, some of the highlights of this event were (and there were certainly more):

J.D. Mersault’s installation/performance/story entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see http://fortyfourfragments.tumblr.com/).

At first I did not pay much attention to what was going on, when I saw the artist sitting at a desk writing, since it was the first piece I encountered upon entering the site and wanted to head straight in knowing that I only had a limited amount of time.

However, once I realized that this was part of the exhibition, and the more I looked at this work, and thought about it – the more I found it fascinating. It was a multi-disciplinary piece that was not static, but combined elements of durational performance, installation, memory, poetry and more. I was very intrigued by what he was attempting to do.

Obviously, what I encountered on the first night was a work in progress. What intrigued me was the dialogue that the artist had with two works that I was previously familiar with – 1.) John Scott’s piece Trans Am Apocalypse No. 2 (1993) which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada; and 2.) Joan Cardinal Schubert’s The Lesson (1989) which was first shown at Articule Gallery in Montreal.

In Cardinal-Schubert’s work (which was included in the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 1990s large group exhibition. In this Made in Calgary show it was recreated and incorporated as part of that exhibition a little over a year ago. In that installation Cardinal-Schubert installed school desks, chalk boards and other related ephemera as it talked about residential school for aboriginal students. There is an image to her work as installed at the Glenbow in 2014 here. Of course, this is timely given the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report. It however should be stated that Mersault’s work does not have the same political edge that Cardinal -Schubert’s has.

In John Scott’s piece, the artist transcribed and etched the complete Book of Revelations of St. John the Evangelist into the entire surface of a black Trans Am. In JD Mersault’s piece he was in the process of writing the contents of a new book onto a steel desk. This was intended to cover the surface of the desk in a manner similar to John Scott’s piece mentioned above. I am somewhat disappointed that it was only the top surface, and the not the entirety as in the case with Scott’s Trans Am. But I also understand, that it is a time-exhaustive process with only a limited amount of time – so I cannot be too disappointed. This work was being written during the duration of the Demo Tape event in his position as writer-in-residence – a piece entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see hotlink above) which he would like to publish at the end of the event. I am very intrigued and curious to see where this work will lead.

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Palmer Olson’s installation My Favourite Buildings. Here the artist deconstructed the office space, catalogued the items; and packed it up. He then attached a packing slip with all the contents of the office listed; provided instructions and renderings, ready for reinstallation elsewhere.

The dialogue involved with this work engaged with the larger concept of gentrification; adaptive re-use of historical spaces; demolition of marginal space; sustainability; and other issues surrounding construction waste as a result of new development (in both greenfield and brownfield areas) which all adds to our landfills.

It is an interesting dialogue to have in the city with all the rapid gentrification (although not to the same extent as was happening even a year ago); and the generally prevailing concept that new is better than old, bigger is better than small.

This dialogue is an important one to have and it lends itself well to this type of project.

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Lane Shordee’s and Desiree Nault’s installation With Sprinkles.

This installation which was located directly beside Palmer Olson’s was a two part installation. I hate to use the word beautiful (and maybe even a bit magical), but sometimes these terms fit.

One of the rooms, presumably an office space of some sort was enclosed and it was possible to only look into it. Above this room was a windmill made from materials salvaged from the car wash. Using this windmill, 24 kg of iridescent confetti was ground up and passed through a hand-made sieve and allowed to descent into the room below like snow. Presumably through wind-currents in the room it created this magical space that had a sense of otherworldliness, but yet at the same time was very familiar. Because the photo was taken quite early on the iridescence is not as visible as it would be toward the end of the 10 days.

When I visited the space earlier today to get a photo of the CP Rail bridge, the windmill was still operational. It is visible in a photo that I took on opening day and have placed near the top of this posting. It is somewhat easy to overlook, but you can see it in the image with bicycles in the front and the building behind. It is on top of the building to the left of the sign that states “The Club is Open”

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Lane and Desiree’s installation tied in well with another magical space created by Ben Nixon and Rachelle Quinn entitled Perhaps this Sound.

I was fortunate enough to have been asked to leave (along with everyone else at closing time on opening night) as I was just entering the room where this installation was located. I say fortunate, because had I actually visited it, I might otherwise have missed what made the space interesting.

The following day, on Saturday, I was the only one in that room.

As a result, I was able to interact with the keyboard that was part of the installation and play around with it without feeling pressure to move on. The interactive element, and there were other installations that were interactive and interesting such as The Cave were interesting as well, but in that case, I encountered it with lots of people around. Perhaps the Sound installation appealed to me on a more personal level and the other may have been different if I was the only one there. With the immersive music; the ability to control lights and sounds (somewhat, even though the outcomes may be unpredictable); and the immersive nature of the space with multiple senses being activated was a very enjoyable diversion and short-term escape that I enjoyed.

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Overall, this iteration was different, and had a more thoughtful feel to it, than was my recollection and perception of the previous two iterations.

* * *

Now that the space is vacant, what is the plan moving forward?

This is something that has not really been talked about to the best of my knowledge.

From sources that I believe to be knowledgeable, the space is slated to be demolished (which is probably common knowledge given the nature of the project).

This is being done to make way for a new residential complex. Unlike most recent constructions of late, this will be built as a rental property. This is potentially an interesting location for a new residential development as recent news has had a fair amount of conversation about the new LRT Green Line expansion.

This all gets back to my initial comments about Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the movie Silver Streak in a round-about way. Let me explain.

Recently, the federal government made a $2.6 billion announcement of new federal infrastructure funds for transit infrastructure in Toronto made by the current Prime Minister in Toronto, the day before Wreck City Demo Tape opened. No doubt, as the journalists who penned the Globe and Mail story intoned in the opening paragraph, this was timed to create warm fuzzy feelings amongst the voting electorate in the critically important Toronto battleground for the upcoming federal election in mid-October. Cynically, but also recognizing the nature of electoral politics (it is a fair assumption, that each party running wants to form government, or at least that is the theory. Otherwise, why would they run?). To do so they will each make announcements to entice voters to vote for them. Because of that, I am sure there will be further announcements in the near future that will be equally as transparent.

Currently there are 23 ridings which are currently split almost evenly in terms of representation between the three major federal parties (9 CON, 7 NDP, 7 LPC). From what  read as well, the polling for the GTA is very, very tight with only a few percentage points between each party. With the new electoral district redistribution the city of Toronto will get two new ridings (and the province of Ontario as a whole will get half of the 30 new seats), it will make Toronto that much more important, for any political party that wants to form the next government, but I digress. As someone who is very interested in the political process (not so much party politics), and given these facts, to my mind, it made perfect sense that the current government made this new funding announcement in Toronto.

Of course, this prompted Calgary to also get on track (I know, I know – bad pun) to immediately seek it’s share of the newly announced federal transit infrastructure funding for the Green Line expansion and the Green Line North (aka North Central LRT) which is part of the 30-year plan RouteAhead project.

If this expansion moves forward, it will be adjoining or certainly within close proximity to this new residential development. I say this, as my understanding is that the Green Line is proposed to follow (at least in the inner city portion) the current CP Rail line which is located only a few metres from the Demo Tape site (a jumping off site, if you will pardon the lame joke that references the Silver Streak movie).

Of course this new redevelopment may potentially reduce the current view of the downtown core from the Esker Foundation space. This is interesting given the recent Calgary Herald story earlier this month, which talks about the purchase of the former Farmer Jones auto dealership which was located across the side street from the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker to save the view from the gallery.

It is probably doubtful as I have included an image from beside the CP Rail bridge (the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump off site) which shows the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker (the four story building that the rail beside the tracks points to in this photo) and the Demo Tape space (Penguin Car Wash site) to the right of the two trees in the photo below. And ironically the jump-off point is right in the middle of the two.

As with all new higher density developments, it will be interesting to see how the new development changes the nature of the communities of Inglewood and Ramsay.

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* * *

24 July 2015 @ 12:45MDT edit:

Further to my comments above regarding the GreenLine LRT and RouteAhead expansion, I read with interest that there was a Federal government announcement made this morning with regards tot his project. According to this posting made earlier this morning in the City of Calgary’s news blog, this announcement is the “single largest infrastructure investment in Alberta’s history.” This project will run from the as yet undeveloped community of Keystone Hills in the far north end of the city through to Seton in the deep south which is still undergoing development surrounding the newly established South Calgary medical centre.

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Calgary’s WWI memorial

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first assassination attempt of throwing a bomb into the back of their open car was unsuccessful, but did succeed in killing another officer instead. A few hours later the Archduke and his wife were shot at point blank range.

The great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, was quoted as saying near the end of his life that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”

Sure enough, within the week the “Great War” had begun.

* * *

Today I want to recognize this historical fact by talking about the WWI memorial sculpted by Coeur de Lion MacCarthy [British/Canadian, 1881-1979] located in Calgary. It is currently located on a plinth placed directly in front of the Memorial Park Library (a.k.a. Carnegie Library) in Central Memorial Park. It has resided there since it was placed in the summer of 1924.

Sadly, I had a lot of information about this work as a result of my research on the Amazon sculpture, but unfortunately much of this information disappeared in a data loss about a year and a half ago. So some of this information is from memory, but most of it is fact.

Coeur de Lion MacCarthy [British/Canadian, 1881-1979] was one of 13 children of the British/Canadian sculptor Hamilton Thomas Carlton Plantagenet MacCarthy [1846-1931]. Since Hamilton MacCarthy, Sr. was sculptor of note, it is fair to say that the younger Coeur de Lion came by his skills honestly.

Couer de Lion is often remembered for his commemorative sculptures, especially of those from WWI. He did a number of variations on the theme of a single soldier with a rifle are also found in places such as Lethbridge, Alberta; Verdun, Québec; and Niagara Falls, Ontario.

A much more dramatic pose of a soldier with bayonet drawn and attacking is found in Trois-Rivières, Québec.

In addition to this the Canadian Pacific Railway also commissioned Coeur de Lion to produce a monumental allegorical sculpture of an angel carrying a soldier in an edition of three as a memorial to its 1115 employees who fell in active service during the war. These CPR commissioned sculptures were installed in Vancouver, BC (1921); Winnipeg, Manitoba (1922); and in Montréal’s Windsor Station (1923).

Another allegorical sculpture is also found in Knowlton (Lac Brome), Québec where the angel is standing behind the standing soldier with a rifle resting on his soldier as if it is protecting the soldier.

The Calgary sculpture was commissioned by the Col. Macleod Chapter of the I.O.D.E. (Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire) and cast by the Henry-Bonnard Bronze Co. of Mt. Vernon, NY. The plaque below the sculpture states the following:

To the imperishable glory / Of / The men of this province / Who fought and died / For / Their King and Country / In the Great War / 1914-1918 / Erected by Col. Macleod Chapter, / I.O.D.E.

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The placement of this sculpture is interesting to me as I wrote a previous article and couple postings on the Amazon sculpture (which I believe was the first situated piece of public art) placed in the city during 1912. I am sure this fact will disappoint others who might suggest otherwise assuming that it would be the other sculpture located in the same park. This viewpoint is a fair assumption, even though it is not true. It is a moot point, for various reasons, namely because it was possibly proposed before the Amazon piece. However because of the commissioning process and funding it probably took longer to install, whereas the Amazon piece was most likely already cast at the time it was proposed. But this position would seem to exist because it is the only remaining public sculpture from that vintage on public display in Calgary and hence the phrase “out of sight, out of mind.” The work usually referenced this way (case in point) is the Boer War Memorial by Louis-Philipe Hébert (1850–1917) of an equestrian rider which I have discussed previously, both here and in print.

In a 1922 letter to a member of the I.O.D.E. from the long-term Superintendent of Parks, William Reader which states (in part):

Since attending the meeting of your committee in Friday, I have examined the proposed site for the War memorial in front of the Public Library, and would suggest that, instead of placing this in the position now occupied by the small statue, it be placed in the centre of the plot midway between the library entrance and the street, as I believe it would have a better appearance in that position.

I would suggest that this letter shows the future direction of the Amazon sculpture which was produced after a work by August Kiss [German, 1802-1865]. I will continue to argue that the original selection was a very good choice as a war memorial, and its location was very thoughtfully placed.

Unfortunately there were other circumstances at play. This Amazon sculpture most likely was damaged and disposed of at some unknown time, probably in the 1940s or 1950s, if I was to speculate. If you want to read more about this Amazon sculpture read my previous blog posting here.

I expect that we will be hearing more about the 100th anniversary in the weeks to come. One of the more interesting things that will take place in Calgary is the opening of a new thematic show Wild Rose Overseas: Albertans in the Great War which opens at The Military Museums this afternoon and will continue until December 15.

 

More on the Amazon sculpture

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Yesterday the new issue of Stephen which is published by Epcor Centre came out.

Recently I talked about a blog post written by Christine Hayes from the Calgary Public Library.  It referenced a previous article that I wrote last Spring, which was published by Stephen magazine. The follow-on story is located here on pages 29 and 30.

Briefly, both articles talked about the first piece of public art placed in Calgary.

An early Parks Superintendent, Richard Iverson, who worked for Kaiser Wilhelm is important to this story.  He was hired in 1910 and subsequently fired (or told to resign, I can’t remember which) in early 1913, which occurred within a few weeks of when Thomas Mawson (of the Mawson Plan fame) was hired as the town planner for the City of Calgary. During that short period of time, Iverson proposed installing a copy of a well-known piece by the German sculptor, August Kiss [1802-1865] entitled Amazon on Horseback Attacked by a Lion (or alternatively Panther) in front of the Carnegie Library in Memorial Park.

Subsequently, it was moved, was put into storage (in the 1940s) and subsequently seems to have disappeared. Hence the mystery.

Now a bit of speculation on my part:

I mention the Mawson Plan as I think this is material fact to why Iverson was let go (at least in part). He also had a run-in with the law in 1912 for violating liquor laws.  I can’t remember the exact specifics, but he was somehow involved in a speakeasy or after-hours club or something like that.  He was taken into custody and in the end was found not guilty of whatever he was charged with.  He also was accused of doing private work using City resources by the group which his successor was the secretary of.  The secretary of this group had also applied for Iverson’s job previously. Based on what I can determine, Iverson was an interesting character. As I recall reading, Tom Baines the long-time zoo educator (or whatever his job title was), wrote that Richard Iverson was probably the city’s first feminist (or something to that effect).  Iverson also was probably polarizing in his personality, as I suspect there was a love-hate relationship with him amongst many. That is neither here nor there, but an interesting back-story nevertheless.

Using that as context, I have a bit of unfounded speculation about the Amazon sculpture and Iverson’s plans. It is entirely speculation, so take it with a grain of salt.

There is a large sculpture of August Kiss’ Amazon located at the Altes Museum in Berlin.  In addition, there also is a large copy of it located in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art which is owned by the Association for Public Art (formerly known as the Fairmount Park Art Association). Central to my speculation, is that both of these sculptures are located to the right-hand side when facing the main entrance of both buildings.

In front of the newly built Carnegie Library, Iverson also placed the zinc Amazon sculpture on the right hand side just like the other two institutions.

At the Altes Museum on the left side is a sculpture by the German artist, Albert Wolff [1814-1892] entitled Löwenkämpfer or alternatively, The Lion Fighter. To the left of the Philadelphia Museum of Art main entrance there is ironically placed a large sculpture also by Albert Wolff, coincidently also called The Lion Fighter. Is this a coincidence or planned? Hard to know.

Based on that information, and furthering my speculation, I feel that Iverson also planned to install a smaller zinc version of Albert Wolff’s sculpture The Lion Fighter to act as a companion to the existing August Kiss sculpture.

Around the same time that the Amazon sculpture was installed, a second public sculpture was proposed by lawyer Major Stanley Jones [1876-1916] et al, for the park. It placed as a memorial for those who fought in the Boar War Memorial.  It is a very fine, major equestrian sculpture by Louis-Phillipe Hébert [Canadian, 1850-1917] which still stands in the park. There also were two medallions commissioned from the artist at the same time – one of Queen Victoria and the other of King Edward VII (which was removed at some unknown time and a replacement medallion was commissioned).  There is quite an extensive write-up about this piece located here, even though there are some noticeable inaccuracies in the content of the website, the content is generally very good.

Given the nature of this park as a memorial, once again I will travel down a speculative road. Unfortunately, I had a huge 800+ page digital file containing extensive research notes and information on public art in Calgary on my old computer.  It evaporated off my hard-drive around this time last year. As a result I must go from memory alone on this. Around the time the Amazon sculpture was installed (or proposed) the Hébert sculpture was also proposed. There is the potential for interesting speculation – I wonder if there was some discussion between Iverson and Stanley for future planned use of the park as a memorial site.

Regardless, we know that the Amazons were important part of Greek mythology as warriors. As such the placement of this sculpture in front of the library, which serves as a seat of knowledge, was quite thoughtful and inspired especially given the future use of the park as a memorial.

It would also be interesting to know given that (if it is fact, which it may not be), whether the organizers and the parks superintendent at the time of the installation of the I.O.D.E. sponsored WWI sculpture by Couer-de-lion MacCarthy [Canadian, 1881-1979] were aware of this context. Of course, we are dealing in second guessing. If this was known, might the MacCarthy sculpture been positioned elsewhere on the park. If so, where?

Back to the Mawson plan. I think that Iverson had grand ambitions for town planning which involved cultural properties and assets. I base this on the ambitious projects he undertook on the time he was here.  To continue my speculation, I assume that when Thomas Mawson was doing his grand tour of Canada, it might have been easier to hire him and make Iverson expendable. As stated, this is rank speculation on my part, but it is an interesting speculation nevertheless.

Based on my conversation with Christine from the Public Library yesterday, she will most likely have more information in her upcoming blog posting on the library site. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.

Now for the sales pitch.

At the time of writing the Stephen magazine article, I became aware of another copy of the August Kiss sculpture Amazon on Horseback Attacked by a Lion (or alternatively Panther that is currently available on the market. Is this the same piece as was once in Calgary? Who knows? Maybe it is still in a crate in a warehouse that has not been opened for decades. Maybe it was sold. Maybe it was scrapped. We may never know what actually happened.

As stated in the Stephen magazine, that this work and others are available in the market periodically.  If someone wanted to step up to the plate and purchase this work as a potential donation to the City of Calgary Civic Art Collection, I am of the opinion that this would be a phenomenal addition to the collection. I would be very willing to help broker this deal and put the two parties together.

This sculpture deserves to be in Calgary. Although neglected at one time and probably defaced and or damaged, this is our history. We should be proud of being essentially a small-town in the early 1900s with grand ambitions and the balls to put a piece of public art on display that was probably risqué at the time. Kudos to all those involved. Who knows, maybe it will be just like the blue ring 100 years from now. It is a very important part of our local history and we should have it here.

Old stuff for a new year

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Why do I have this feeling of being like St. John the Baptist wailing in the wilderness. . .

What do I see today when I look further to other recent Calgary Public Library blog posts? Yet another posting in the month of December 2013, this time on the Calgary Natural History Society and the Calgary Public Museum – both which are a significant and integral part of my self-funded, independent research that I have focused on nearly full-time for the past couple years.

Finally. Finally it is as if someone is actually paying attention to what I have been working on for the past very, very long time. You have no idea how long, but rest assured it is a long, long time.

I note that there is a significant factual error in this article that has been given prominence of place. In the grand scheme of things it is a relatively minor error. It is one that I made as well early on and it took me quite a while to figure out. For a very strong hint, look at the pictures and use the available information at hand to find your way.

This is an important and timely project that should have been partially funded by Calgary 2012, especially looking back in retrospect and given what is happening in the city now. But apparently only people like Harry Sanders to whom I remember telling about the incineration incident featured in this blog post about a year ago, were actually paying attention.

Here is to hoping that others will finally pay attention as well.

The Amazon Mystery Continues

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This afternoon when searching for something else, I stumbled across a blog post that the Calgary Public Library posted about a month ago in December in their Community Heritage and Family History blog – entitled Whatever Happened to the Amazon Sculpture?

It is about the mystery of a missing piece of public sculpture once located in the city, and originally situated a little over 100 years ago. 

The public library article draws from something that I wrote about the Amazon sculpture almost a year ago for a magazine called Stephen (see page 31). It is always nice to receive their acknowledgement for the previous work that I have done, especially since there was a lot of unpaid research undertaken to write that article.

Without going into further detail, all I will state is that the new issue of Stephen that covers the period January-April 2014 should be released within the week if all goes as planned.

I understand from the editor, there will be two articles in that issue about the Amazon sculpture.

One will be a first-hand account of some sort written by a lady who lived across the street from South Mount Royal Park whom I have met, along with some photos dating from the time she lived there.  In addition there will also be an article written by myself.

So in that context, what is the fun of it, if I let others know what is contained in a hard-copy written form before it is published?  We have waited something like a half-century to find out.  What is a few more days. 

Watch for the new issue as there could potentially be some answers in it.

2013 Year in Review

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It is the time of year when one looks back upon and reviews the year that is coming to a close; looks forward to the year that is yet to come; and amend or make plans accordingly.

I know that this will show up on New Year’s Day.  This has more to do with the quirks of this website and when midnight happens at their end, not mine.  Regardless, I worked on this when I could not sleep last night and woke up in the middle of the night, and decided to make the best of it, and review what happened in the visual arts this past year in Calgary.  Unfortunately I had to rush off early this morning and although it was posted, something happened and I had to re-enter it when I got home tonight. 

 

Upon reflection, it was a very active year and a lot of stuff happened in Calgary.  I am sure I am probably missing something blatantly obvious, as is usually the case in these type of overviews.  Here are a few of the highlights in no particular order:

Calgary 2012

After numerous attempts by those involved to nab the title of Cultural Capital of Canada over the prior decade and subsequently losing to places such as Edmonton and others – Calgary finally grabbed the brass ring, an honour it shared with the Niagara Region.  The year-long celebration wrapped up in early 2013.  But not before the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage announced that this programme will end, and that there will be no further Cultural Capitals of Canada named.

This honour was to recognize the 100th anniversary of the (modern) Calgary Stampede; the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Public Library; the 100th anniversary of Calgary Parks and Recreation; the 100th anniversary of the Grand Theatre; the 100th anniversary of the Pumphouse (now a theatre) while recognizing the “western cultural heritage” and “world-class” statuses of these organizations. 

It should also be noted in this context, that 2012 was also the 100th anniversary of the first public museum and art gallery in Calgary which cooperated with, partnered and/or worked together with all these other noted organizations (and others) during the course of its short existence.  Ironically it also corresponded with the 100th anniversary of the first piece of publically situated sculpture.  I spent over two years of full-time, self-funded research on this museum, which closed after hobbling along for a few years prior, in 1927 (along with many, many other related organizations, places, people and venues that have continued the lineage to the present day) – which I still am funding out of my own pocketbook, and continue to do so when I have any available time to commit to this project.  This website, being a small public extension of those commitments I have made to myself.

For the closing party there was a celebration of the filming of the official “lip-dub” video worthy of including in a grandstand show which paid homage to The Stampeders 1971 classic song, Sweet City Woman (the link to the official video is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhJ585Exxao) which had only 29,950 viewers and the most recent comment was from 8 months ago when I checked earlier this morning, which reflects the reality that the entire festival was for the most part, largely forgettable – although some good outcomes definitely came from it.  But as a reminder, the nature of these type of events will always have a certain amount of hits and misses.  It is just the way it is.

InvestYYC

One of the potentially very interesting and dynamic outcomes of Calgary 2012 is InvestYYC.  The people from the Calgary area, seemingly express the desire to see arts organizations supported from their own constituencies and not the public purse; show self-reliance; self-sufficiency; and engage in creating their own funding, as would be expected from a small-c conservative, business-oriented city where many come as financial émigrés or “work-campers” who in turn never really create roots in the community.  This even though they may live here for an extended period of time (maybe even a full-career) or for a project and enjoy the benefits while still considering their home to be elsewhere. It is a work-camp ( a nice one, but a work camp nevertheless).  It all is a state of mind that a certain significant percentage will always have, due to the nature of the primary business in the city and the corporate environments of continual acquisitions, divestitures, mergers and project financing involved in extracting its resources and maximizing asset values. 

InvestYYC had an early buy-in from many people and some projects were very successfully funded.  However, when I checked the website earlier this morning there was only one project listed for the Calgary Wind Symphony.  It had only received $310 over the past two months with another four months left to go in the campaign.

#yycartsplan

Another beneficial outcome of Calgary 2012 is the #yycartsplan.  There were a number of information sessions and consultations undertaken during 2012 and 2013 which I was a participant in for some sessions.  An initial report was presented to a committee of City Council in early June for review and the process is now at stage three.  The amount of people attending in its support was such that the committee had to move from the small meeting room to the much larger City Council Chambers.  This showed how important this process is to those involved in the arts.  A further revision should be going to City Council in March 2014.

The Flood of 2013

A number of cultural venues such as Stride, Avalanche, the Public Library, some City infrastructure and public art and the Calgary Stampede were all affected significantly.  Outside the city the Museum of the Highwood in High River and the historic Medalta Studios in Medicine Hat also suffered significant damage.  In addition there were a few commercial galleries both in Calgary and elsewhere that suffered great losses too, some of which was not fully reported in the news media. 

I spent most of the month of July in the High River commercial zone wearing hazardous material suits and full-respirators, while working 12+ hour days, seven-days a week without a break during that time.  I helped businesses re-establish themselves from their devastation as quickly as possible while there.  Most of that time was spent either directly across the street from the Highwood or within a two block radius from it.  My heart was broken when I hear of the great losses they suffered, which I heard from those working there, which was only magnified by the devastation that I had seen with my own eyes in the projects I was working on.  Fortunately, unaffected cultural institutions sent professionals on secondment to help them out which I am sure was a great help and greatly appreciated I am sure.  Occasionally we would take breaks at similar times, so that I would get occasional updates as a result.  It was heart-breaking to hear of cultural legacies damaged by the destructive power of Mother Nature and how powerless we as individuals are against her fury when it is unleashed.

Valerie Cooper and the Art Gallery of Calgary

The Art Gallery of Calgary finally received closure to its year-long drama that affected the institution deeply, when former president and CEO Valerie Cooper was sentenced to jail for malfeasance and fraud this past November.

Planetarium

Back in April, the city invited tenders for cultural and/or heritage uses for the Planetarium that was vacated by the Science Centre and the Children’s Museum a few years ago with the opening of what is now known as Telus Spark.  A number of proposals were put together and submitted.  To date there has been no announcement yet of the successful project or projects that will be located on that site.  No doubt the flood slowed down the selection process somewhat, as it was temporarily used as an emergency shelter while remedial work was made to their affected premises.  Although I would think that the social agency is probably able to use its former premises by now, it is certainly possible that it may still be in use for this emergency purpose.

As a fan of the Brutalist style of architecture, I am pleased to know that this unique landmark building which defines the skyline from the west end of downtown, will most likely not be torn down in the foreseeable future (which in Calgary as it relates to older architecture, in itself is a win).  The same fate may or may not be said for the old Calgary Board of Education Building or the former Calgary Catholic School Board Building located across the street from each other on the other end of downtown.  We will see what time will bring, along with the desires of the new landlords of the two school buildings.

Public Art

Reading front-page stories about art and hearing controversy about public art makes me happy.  This year it happened during the midst of an election.  I would rather hear people talking about public art than not.  At least when they are talking it is connecting with its audience on a deep, visceral level.  This is what art should do.

I would rather have art that people hate, and have them express that opinion, than have banal and uninteresting work that is safe on all levels and not worthy of any further mention.  To those that sat on the selection jury for the Travelling Light piece (a.k.a. the Blue Ring) – thank you for being brave and selecting it.

Academic Institutions

Near the end of the academic year a student in his final year at Alberta College of Art and Design killed a live chicken in the cafeteria as part of a final critique.  It was shocking to some students, which is understandable.  Since this happened in an art college, normally that would be the end of the situation and life would go on.  However, this time it elicited commentary on local media and got picked up on the newswires and as a result got much wider news coverage than normal.

The resulting furore over this incident resulted in a full-tenured professor and head of the department being dismissed.  Of course this only resulted in a stronger reaction and a more prolonged coverage of this story.  Long story short, the professor got his job back about a month later.

Around the same time, provincial budget cuts come into effect and Mount Royal College and the University of Calgary, along with the University of Alberta and to a lesser extent ACAD all had their budgets cut.  I am greatly simplifying things, I am quite aware, but it generally was a situation where the departments that were affected the most ended up being in the arts.  This of course, prompts the question what role if any does a liberal-arts education play in developing a well-rounded student educational experience?  Should we be focusing exclusively on developing “worker-bees” whose learned skillsets are already obsolete by the time they graduate, or do we want to have students who have the ability to think independently and develop a habit of continual learning at a time when technology and change is increasing at phenomenal rates of speed?  One must ask, how many career paths will those entering undergraduate programs now have in their lifetimes?  Guaranteed, it will be more than those who are the administrators, decision makers and professors at those same institutions.

Art Central and Telus Sky

A new landmark building will soon emerge on our skyline.  It looks like it will be a very interesting building.  If the press reports are correct there will also be a gallery space located somewhere inside.  Hopefully it will happen on a faster schedule than the York Hotel.  The York is still a fenced off gravel expanse which people cannot even access, which is located above an underground parking garage across the street from Art Central.  Although there was certainly talk about developing the York as a cultural space at one time prior tot he building coming down, this is not the context for a further discussion about that.  Regardless, this vacant wasteland (for lack of a better descriptor) has laid vacant for at least the past three years.  Even the construction hoarding facing alongside the 7th Avenue transit corridor still remains from when the structure was still a big hole in the ground dating back to 2007 or 2008.

One thing I do know, is that Telus in the past, has shown that it was extremely supportive of the visual arts in Calgary – case in point, the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA).  Because of this history and how everything ended up between the two parties, I will definitely be interested and curious to see what comes of this new space.  To the best of my knowledge what form this proposed space will take has not been defined – which in itself, could be a very good thing.

Merger of MOCA, IMCA and AGC to form Contemporary Calgary

I have written at length about this recent merger, and I must leave for work soon, so will not re-invent the wheel by writing about it again.  Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how this all pans out in the New Year.

Wreck City and Phantom Wing

Developing audiences is one of the most important things that those involved in the various arts communities can do, in this notoriously difficult city as it relates especially to the visual arts.  Both projects succeeded in introducing new audiences to the visual arts with minimal commitment.   Both projects introduced new audiences and can only be thought of in successful terms as it relates to public engagement.  I wish I had more time to talk further about this, but I don’t.  I have to run.

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks New Space

Last night there was an event celebrating the 30+ years of DJD at their old space near where Truck and Stride are now located.  In the last couple weeks, City Council approved a new space for them.  I wish them success in the new space at the Kahanoff Centre as well. 

 

To all those in the arts community in Calgary, and those that are also interested in the visual arts – I send my best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.  May this be your best year ever.

Mergers and acquisitions in the visual arts

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Something big happened this past Tuesday. The press release went out today.

More information will be coming soon.

Well, actually it all probably went down in late September, but the AGMs from three different organizations which all happened this past Tuesday, only confirmed hearsay that I first heard on September 26. Because it was not corroborated, I chose to not share it (as I do with most uncorroborated news) until today when the news was finally announced.

Briefly the news is that the voting members of the Art Gallery of Calgary; the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) – Calgary; and the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA) all voted to merge and form a new organization under the name Contemporary Calgary. Developments are anticipated to take place between now and the end of the year – only a few weeks away.

I could write a book on these three organizations and the interesting dynamics in the visual arts organizations that have existed, formed or had a brief moment in the sun during the past 40 or so years since the earliest organization was formed.

This is why.

I have conducted significant self-funded research over the past two years on this topic and covering the timeframe since 1911 to present day. This research was prompted by my curiosity about the first museum which housed an art exhibition to open in 1912 and the events, organizations and people that happened or were involved since. I thought it would be an appropriate and timely topic to properly research, with intent to publish a fully annotated publication containing original research to celebrate this historical cultural benchmark in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, the Calgary Public Library and Calgary 2012. This news release only serves to prove that I was correct in its timeliness and significance. It would still be nice to receive funding so that I can finish my research. But I digress.

The first of these three organizations formed was the Muttart Art Gallery which later became known as the Art Gallery of Calgary, a name change occurred when they moved to their present location in the early 2000s. The gallery began around 1975 (a significant year in the City of Calgary) and was housed in the Memorial Park Library for around 25 years. It has suffered because of some unfortunate news relating to a former director that is currently serving time in jail. However, the staff have been very hard-working, provide good programming and have tried to rise above the controversy. I believe they have done very well under the circumstances.

The Calgary Contemporary Arts Society was formed and took over the prow of City Hall shortly after the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics had ended where they occupied a space vacated by Olympics volunteers. CCAS was more commonly known as the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts, until their name change about two years ago when it became known as the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) – Calgary. They have done amazing things with very little money and staff. For the most part they have had new programing almost every single month with only two or three staff during that whole time. As a former gallerist – just that alone is an amazing achievement.

The last organization the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA) has only had a few exhibitions in its existence since it was formed around 1992. These few exhibits if memory serves me correct happened shortly after the turn of the millennium, usually around the ArtWeek/ArtWalk weekends in mid- to late-September. Regardless of this shallow exhibition history, the organization itself has always had grand ambitions, well-connected patrons and connections. They unfortunately were never able to realize their ambition to create a stand-alone arts facility on their own.

This is not the first time where some of these organizations have tried to merge and create a more dynamic presence to facilitate a dedicated arts facility for the city.

It is interesting to see that former Calgary Arts Development Authority President and CEO – Terry Rock, who stepped down this past June, has been named the Interim Managing Director of the newly formed Contemporary Calgary.

Watch for more news in the next short while about the old Science Centre/Planetarium. This past May there was a call for Expressions of Interest by heritage and cultural groups for this facility. It is my understanding that the three organizations submitted a cooperative bid for the planetarium.

Unfortunately the flood happened this past June and Alpha House which houses homeless people and those dealing with addictions was flooded. Since the Planetarium was vacant, it was used for that purpose since. I believe that Alpha House has been fully remediated since the flood and as far as I know has received clearance and is able to be occupied as a residence now.

The park surrounding the Planetarium would make a beautiful sculpture garden. If this joint proposal from Contemporary Calgary is successful for this space, it would be interesting to see if that also happens.

I extend my best wishes to Terry Rock and all those involved in seeing this project move forward.