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

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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

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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

Tower_of_London_poppy_installation

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?

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One year anniversary of this blog, with review

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Today is the blog’s one year anniversary.

In my original post the discussion centred on digging out rocks from what was to become a new garden. I talked about hard work and finding interesting things amongst the rubble. So it seems appropriate that I revisit the same image from a year ago.

I closed out my first post with this:

That is one of the things I want to do with this blog – search amongst the rocky ground of our cultural landscape and find interesting things.

I think I have done that.

Now, a bit of history

The primary reason why I created this blog back then was that I had just applied for a job. In my mind, it had my name all over it. The only weakness that I perceived was that depending on who interviewed me, there possibly could be an assumption that my skill sets were focussed on the commercial gallery world only and not enough knowledge outside of that small word – whether this was correct or not.

However, I knew this assumption was wrong, as would anyone else who had dealt with, or talked with me previously to any extent. Those people would know that my interests are actually quite broad and encompassing.

Regardless, the end result was that I did not even receive acknowledgement of my application – much less an interview. Stuff happens and I am not complaining. However, my interest the subject carried the blog forward nevertheless and it still does.

I still don’t have that job in the arts community, but as seen here my interest still remains. Sometimes being an informed outsider is more interesting, because one can reflect my interests and as a result there is no axe to grind.

I will however continue to carry on with my blog when time allows, as I have done since that time.

* * *

As I look back on this past year there have been some very interesting developments in the cultural landscape in Calgary, not to mention exciting programming which various places have done that I am not even going to talk about.

Some of these things I talked about during the past year. Others I did not.

In some cases I now wish that I did.

Either way, I mention the interesting developments below, and depending on how things go for the upcoming year I may even talk about them this time around.

We have seen the following cultural items between August 2013 and August 2014 (and I am sure that I am missing something – probably significant. So forgive me in advance:

  • Of course it is necessary to mention (as it was the big story locally for the year) that during June 2013, many artists and arts organizations were affected by the flooding in the city. This time last year (two months after the fact) things were starting to get back to normal. I probably mentioned it before, I spent the month of July 2013 for the most part in High River helping those who live there, to get back on their feet again. This is something that is quite close to my heart as a result.
  • Calgary Opera started its initial summer outdoor opera festival in conjunction with East Village. It is called Opera in the Village.
  • A new arts facility opened in Forest Lawn last August. It is a partnership between Calgary Arts Development Authority and the International Avenue BRZ, which is called Art Box on 17E.
  • Beakerhead, after a soft opening and trial-run in 2012 and held its first full-scale event last September.
  • Nuit Blanche had its initial and highly successful iteration in September 2012. It was originally envisioned to be an annual event. However, for reasons unknown, this was changed to become a biennial event at some point during the spring or summer of 2013. To meet programming obligations that a few public galleries and organizations had made for the Nuit Blanche weekend in September 2013, a new festival was formed to fulfill these commitments called Intersite Visual Arts Festival.
  • In September to kick off Beakerhead, Calgary Mini Maker Faire had its first event
  • ArtWalk limped along to celebrate its 30th year. In this city that is quite an achievement. I made a post about it, but for whatever reason it was never published and has been saved as a draft only. I only realized this fact much after the fact. Maybe if and when my blog gets published, I will include it.
  • Also in September, the folks at cSpace Projects initiated a similar type of follow-on event to the highly successful Wreck City event held in the spring of 2013, calling upon many of the same people involved. This project they called Phantom Wing.
  • The New Gallery moved from its location in Art Central to its new location in the heart of Chinatown.
  • The old Seafood Market building which was a vacant building since 2004 was used as artist spaces for a two-year period between 2010 -2012. In the summer/fall of 2013 it was finally demolished at some unknown point. Although it was already scheduled for demolition, it probably was affected by the flood as many buildings in the area were. The demolition occurred to make way for a new condo development in the East Village.
  • A new public art gallery using a different model was introduced called the Art Forum Gallery Association. The two key personnel were previously closely affiliated with the Triangle Gallery of Visual Art and are doing what made that organization successful, keeping its costs down and its options open. One was a former president of the board, Michael Rae and the other was a former director, Jacek Malec.
  • The Blue Ring sculpture by inges idee was unveiled in the midst of the city election. Remarkably, it has remained a topic of discussion and occasional subject of a letter to the editor since that time. I guess in a way it will most likely bear a striking resemblance to the Peace Bridge situation. If I was to speculate, I would expect to soon see it in use in tourist advertising for the city, just like the Peace Bridge now is. Maybe that will be what it takes for it to grow on people, hearing how wonderful it is from people in other parts of the world.
  • Demolition began on the King Edward School to make way for the new arts incubator that cSpace is developing in the community of South Calgary.
  • The chapter at the Art Gallery of Calgary which involved the Valerie Cooper fiasco finally came to a close in November, when she was sentenced to a year in jail for her actions. What that means is with good behavior, she should be released at any time now, if not already.
  • Calgary Arts Development Authority and Studio C both move out of the lower floor of Art Central. Both organizations now occupy separate spaces on the same floor of the Burns Building connected to the Calgary Centre for Performing Arts.
  • The Firefighters Museum of Calgary put its collection into storage in late 2013 and is available by appointment only until it reopens sometime in the next year or so in renovated premises.
  • For the second time in approximately a decade, the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Art (IMCA); the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts (aka MOCA-Calgary); and the Art Gallery of Calgary (AGC) all tried to hookup and jump into bed with each other. This was something that they originally tried to do when I was sitting on the board of the Triangle. This time, unlike the previous occasion the result was a successful consummation and marriage. The new organization is now called Contemporary Calgary.
  • The former vacant building which at one time housed the former Calgary Planetarium; Calgary Science Centre; The Children’s Museum; and TELUS World of Science was put up out to tender by the City which owns it (or owned it), for use as a cultural or heritage space. The successful applicant was Creative Calgary.
  • The amazing sculpture by Dennis Oppenheim’s Device to Root Out Evil was quietly removed after the end of its five-year lease in January 2014. It was situated on the Dominion Bridge Building grounds with much fanfare during Jeff Spalding’s tenure as head of the Glenbow Museum during June 2008. This relocation to Calgary, was partly a direct result of NIMBYism and the surrounding controversy that occurred during its two and a half year residency near Coal Harbour in Vancouver. Of course this whole situation is highly ironic. I have confidence in how smart my readers are, so I don’t need to fully explain where the irony originates, however I find it peculiar that inges idee was commissioned and created a popular new sculpture in the general vicinity of Coal Harbour. It was installed about a year after the Oppenheim piece left for Calgary. This only further illustrates how fickle tastes can be when it comes to public art and how these tastes can vary widely from city to city.
  • In the absence of the Oppenheim piece at the Dominion Bridge compound, a new programming space called Passage was developed and has shown a rotating schedule of exhibitions, usually video, installation or sculpture. Having heard quite a bit about it before it was operational, I believe that it is exposed somewhat to the elements which limits the type of work that can be shown.
  • Stride Gallery which was deeply affected by the flood, spent most of the fall and winter temporarily sharing space with Truck Gallery. In the early part of 2014, they moved back to the space next door to where they used to be, on the other side of the railway tracks two blocks away from City Hall, on Macleod Trail.
  • Back in the summer of 2012 a new organization called Gorilla House Live Art held its first art battle. It continued hosting weekly art battles until around January when they were informed by their landlord that the building they occupied was destined to be converted into a sushi restaurant. Recently, the building was surrounded by metal protective fencing. Presumably this means some sort of development will be taking place soon. Whether the Gorilla House will be resurrected remains to be seen. If it does, I am sure I will write about it.
  • A small and ambitious pop-up gallery space was introduced into the community of Bridgeland called the Tiny Gallery in early 2014. It is unique for its use of a stand-alone gallery space that occupies the footprint of a postal box.
  • After years of uncertainty, the former York Hotel which was originally intended to be incorporated into a purpose-built cultural space, the façade of which was put into storage in 2008, was finally put on indefinite hold. In that news story, the space it was to occupy will now be used as an open plaza instead. Various anchor tenants were proposed for this space from the time it was originally proposed as part of The Bow development, most notably the Portrait Gallery of Canada. The Portrait Gallery, like the York Hotel, also was put into abeyance by the Federal Government which made the announcement via a news release issued late on Friday, Nov. 7, 2008.
  • The old King Edward Hotel (aka the King Eddie) had the sign and bricks removed from its site. Presumably, and it is my understanding that they will become part of the architectural design, once the exciting new National Music Centre building is built on its site and the site across the street. Both sides are doing structural work above grade.
  • Alberta College of Art and Design, after years of trying, finally received approval to offer its first graduate degree program, a Master of Fine Arts in Craft Media beginning in 2015.
  • After a couple years of consultation the #YYCArtPlan came to fruition which resulted in a new Public Art Policy and a document called Leading a Creative Life
  • The last tenant at Art Central finally left at the end of June. The building was closed probably around the time Stampede happened, which corresponds to the time when the announcement that the space would be redeveloped as the new Telus Sky building which was made during Stampede 2013.
  • The Calgary Centre for Performing Arts expanded the amount of display windows for the visual arts, creating new display windows for both the Alberta Craft Council and the University of Calgary. I hear a rumour from a usually reliable source that there might be another new window on the way. From past experience with all rumours, it usually best to wait until the announcement is made to know with certainty if the rumour is actually either truth or fabrication. If it is true, I am sure I will write about it.
  • Alberta Printmakers Society moved to a new location about a week ago. I plan to write something about this in the near future.

As can be seen above, this was an exciting year for the arts in Calgary.

Palais_Idéal_May_2014_from_Wikipedia

To return to the concept of building a rocky environment – just as I dicussed a year ago.

In that regard, I am reminded of the French postman, Ferdinand Cheval [1836-1924] who spent thirty-three years building Le Palais idéal in Hauterives.

He is someone I feel a special affinity to in this regard. His work was championed by the Surrealists more or less after he had died. I hope that is not the case with me. I hope that my passion and building in the arts community will be recognized while I can feel appreciated and that my work was worth all the trouble.

Cheval built a beautiful naïve palace one stone at a time. Every day for thirty-three years, he brought home at least one stone that he found in his day to day work.

In time his pockets were not enough to carry what he found. So he brought a basket to carry the stones.

When that was not enough, he used a wheelbarrow.

It is my hope that this blog will be like that beautiful structure Le Palais idéal.

MOCA’s grand reopening

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The grand re-opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art – Calgary is happening tonight.  It should start in about a half hour.

A lot has happened at MOCA Calgary this summer.  We had the flood.  City Hall was affected by the flooding, but MOCA amazingly even though it is connected to the building was not as it has a separate basement that is not connected to the rest of the building.  It was close.  The water only needed to raise by an inch and it also would have been affected.

The inside of the gallery has been completely refurbished with more space to hang more work.

Mercury Opera (http://www.mercuryopera.com/home.html) will be presenting Autumn Masquerade in the municipal plaza, just outside the main doors of MOCA.  It is presented in cooperation with Downtown Calgary.

Jeffrey Spalding who curated the Glenbow Museum’s 80s iteration of the decade by decade look at the art history of Calgary which opened last week (http://www.glenbow.org/exhibitions/mic1980/), continues at MOCA (http://mocacalgary.org/).  Watch for some more interesting work from the 1980s tonight.  So if attending the Glenbow, make sure that visit also includes a visit to MOCA during the next month.  They are located a block away from each other.

Who IS the real Macoco?

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I unabashedly wear my heart on my sleeve with pride when it comes to opera.  I love it.

There is something about all the entanglements, drama, tragedies, betrayals, music, sets, the languages and how it all comes together that I enjoy.  I must admit there are some performances that I enjoy more than others – but that is to be expected.  I have been looking forward to this first Opera in the Village since last summer when I first heard about it when I was out for a walk with a neighbour.  We happened upon a live operatic performance on the RiverWalk where it was mentioned this new opera festival was planned this summer.  I have been interested since then.

Thursday, a friend from out of town was here on business.  After her meetings, we met up and had drinks on the patio in the sun at Diner Deluxe.  We then went for a walk along the river to attend the evening performance of Arias in the Afternoon in East Village.  While there we heard a well-put together hour-long, narrated collection of works from three separate operas.  It was interesting to see the performance, as many of them I had seen them on Stephen Avenue Mall during a lunch hour earlier this month promoting the Cowtown Opera Company.

Last night (Friday) I was excited to see the movie The Pirate, 1948 starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly which was projected onto the side of the Simmon’s Building after the scheduled Gilbert and Sullivan performance of the Pirates of Penzance had ended. I had never seen the movie before, so was looking forward to it –especially since the music was written by the great American composer of musicals – Cole Porter (who wrote Kiss Me, Kate which was written the same year this movie was produced).

The night before, my friend and I talked to one of the volunteers and they suggested that we should bring a collapsible chair and I am glad that I did.

Like a good opera – this movie had its twists and turns in the plot.

Briefly the plot centred around a trio of people – the village girl, Manuela (played by Judy Garland); the town Mayor, Don Pedro (played by Walter Slezak) whom she is betrothed to marry; and a travelling circus actor, Serafin (played by Gene Kelly).  Manuela had a deep crush on the villainous and infamous pirate “Mack the Black” Macoco.  Both Don Pedro and Serafin at various times throughout the movie, make claims that each of them was the real Macoco.  To find out who is the real Macoco, like a good opera, one must wait to the end to find out.

Tonight the movie will be The Princess Bride, 1987 which has been described as a “classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing (as read by a kindly grandfather)” – based on William Goldman’s novel of the same name.  It stars Peter Falk as the narrator/grandfather; Robin Wright as Buttercup; Cary Elwes as Westley; and Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdinck.  Like the movie last night there are parallels between the twists and turns of opera; and the central role of literature and the written word.  It should be a beautiful night to sit under the stars and watch a movie.

The performance starts at around 10:45pm, and I would suggest bringing a folding chair if possible, although there is some seating available.

My thanks to Calgary Opera for including this type of programming in the festival.  For a full list of programmes that are available during the remainder of the weekend visit http://www.calgaryopera.com/arghh

Hurrah for the Pirate King!

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The pirate ship Black Pearl was proudly flying its skull and crossbones flags in the dry dock today.

Upon seeing this, I frantically looked around for dubious characters and swashbuckling buccaneers sporting eye patches and swords – looking to pillage and plunder.  Instead all I saw was a not very threatening security guard sitting in a half-ton truck right beside it and an older gentleman in shorts and tee-shirt ambling along through the parking lot, seemingly not in a rush to get anywhere.

Then I saw the big white tent.  And then I saw the signs.  I knew something must up.

Sure enough, Calgary Opera will be presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s well-loved comic opera The Pirates of Penzance under the big, 900 seat white tent.  The performances will all take place along the RiverWalk in East Village, close to Fort Calgary – beside the Simmons Building.

Performances are every night this week between, and including, Thursday through Sunday at 8:00pm nightly and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00pm.  Select tickets are available online for all performances and range between $35-100 per seat for adults.  Act quickly as some performances only have a few seats that are still available.

There are other activities in East Village in addition to the opera.  It is all part of the first Opera in the Village festival that promises to be a much bigger summer opera festival in the years to come.

For more information see http://www.calgaryopera.com/arghh

Now to get rid of the earworm that I have had all day – I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.  Hearing it always makes me smile.