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.




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.


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.


A new gallery space in Bridgeland/Riverside

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Something I have been meaning to write about for a while is the new exhibition space in Riverside/Bridgeland. It is a short walk outside of the downtown core. This gallery is unique as it is located on property connected to a private residence while facing the sidewalk and street.

It is a unique and interesting way to introduce art to a broader audience that may never look at art otherwise.

In addition to that, the house also has a Little Free Library located only a couple feet away from the gallery. The first Little Free Library was installed only a couple years ago in Calgary and you can read more about it here. It was developed in Wisconsin during 2009 and has grown rapidly with an estimated 15,000 libraries worldwide. There is also a map of current locations in Calgary here. I am very fond of the Little Free Library project as well, and I am sure I will write about it further sometime soon.

The library and the gallery are good compliments to each other – not to mention the piece of public art outside the front door and the mural on the fence, as seen in the photo below.

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I met up with the owner of the house two nights ago at a reception, and was reminded that I said I would write something about it about a month ago. 

When we first talked about the space, it was recently built and still vacant. They were waiting to have the first artist show there. From what I understand there was some initial casual discussion about possibly coordinating with the Tiny Gallery for programming, which was never formalized. The two galleries are geographically close to each other, although the layout of the two spaces are completely different. In addition the Tiny Gallery is attached to commercial spaces in the community high street, whereas this space is located on a strictly residential street (albeit well used). They are not connected, but there is definite affinities with each other. It would appear as if this space is coordinating its programming alone.

This gallery is very new, and was probably installed near the end of summer. Because of that I am uncertain if there has been a name attached to the space or whether it is just there.

Currently there is a landscape painting by local artist Mark Vázquez-Mackay in the small exhibition space. From what I understand from the owner, the next scheduled artist to be featured in this space will be Lane Shordee. Some may remember him as being one of the artists who was involved in a water installation in the courtyard at Phantom Wing. Before that he had a large installation in a greenhouse at Wreck City. I am uncertain when the new show will be installed, but I am sure it will be coming soon.

It will be interesting to see what Lane Shordee will create for the space.

The gallery can be viewed at 732 McDougall Road NE.

* * *

Addendum (2014 October 21)

I received an email from the owner of the property earlier today. In this email the following was stated:

The blog looks great. We are calling it the Tiny satellite gallery. I’m going to curate the space and Tiny gallery will help promote it. Lane’s show will have its opening Friday November 7th from 4-6.

Hope to see you there,

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.


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.


Calgary art exported to Kentucky

There seems to be a story that has gone largely unreported in the city.  Maybe more correctly – not at all.  This is entirely understandable, as this did not happen in the city.

Lucky for you dear reader (I don’t know why, but I feel like Miss Manners saying this).  You get to find out about this project through me.

That being said, it does fall within my research scope and does very much interest me.  A few of the more obtuse things that I am interested in – Nuit Blanche, The House Project, Arbour Lake Sghool, Wreck City, Phantom Wing, Solar Flare, do-it-yourself projects, public art and building of community through art.  This is a continuation and morphing of these stories.

Recently, I wrote about the Solar Flare installation which was sponsored by Downtown Calgary and is currently installed along Stephen Avenue Mall.  It should be up for another month or so.  This Kentucky installation involves the same two artists – Caitlin r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett.

They have just installed another project which was unveiled at a Ball, about ten days ago.  This time in Lexington, Kentucky.  It, like other similar projects, is a short-term installation that will be installed outdoors during the Lexington Art League’s light-based festival Luminosity during February 21 through March 31.

Those who look at this picture will recognize how a very well-received installation during Nuit Blanche’s initial iteration entitled Cloud, has morphed into new directions over time, while still retaining a certain element of the original conception.  This work is also interesting for a different reason as it appears as if this involves much more collaborative efforts than any of their previous efforts.

When I think of large scale collaborative efforts to produce installations, I cannot help but think of some major installations that Calgary artist Shelley Ouellet undertook during the 1990s and into the 2000s and still informs a certain amount of her art-making practice.  Specifically, I think of the large Mount Rundle work which I believe was shown at the Whyte Museum in Banff and/or the Entomology piece (I can’t remember exact titles, even though I helped collaborate on both pieces) that was shown at the old Nickle Arts Museum.  If I recall correctly, either one or both pieces are now in the collection of either the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton or alternatively acquired by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.  I would expect to see one of these pieces (or at the very minimum a smaller-scale installation-based work of some sort by Shelley Ouellet) in the Glenbow 199os show that Nancy Tousley is curating and will be opening in the next week or two.

This Kentucky work would seem to be following in the tradition of installation-based and collaborative space that Shelley works in.  This is evident through the collection of large quantities of burned out and live incandescent light bulbs required for the installation(s) to be built, which has always been there.  In this case, based on what little information I could deduce, I suspect the Lexington Art League was helpful in directing (or encouraging) the installation and fabrication part of the project towards this direction as well.  Based on my interest in economic development and history, it is quite possible that this may be a community characteristic of Lexington.  This could potentially be rationalized by the long agricultural history in the area which dates to pre-industrial and slave-trade times (with the largest concentration of slaves per capita AND free blacks) combined with its long cultural legacy as well.  If so, these factors would necessitate that the community would need to work collaboratively for a common purpose.  It will be interesting to see if this continues in further iterations as the type of work lends itself to a collaborative effort and a larger community buy-in.

This is more of a footnote for me, but an interesting one nevertheless.  My congratulations go out to both artists.


2013 Year in Review


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.


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.


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.


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.


Solar Flare Installation Stephen Avenue Walk

Solar-Flare-Installation-Stephen-Avenue-Walk-Dec-10-2013 (683x1024) Tonight I was walking downtown along Stephen Avenue Mall in front of the Art Gallery of Calgary quite late. It was fortuitous timing as three artists (Caitlind r.c. Brown, Lane Shordee and Ivan Ostapenko) were in the midst of installing the new Solar Flare light installation, which was commissioned by the Calgary Downtown BRZ.  Moments after I arrived, they wheeled away the lift.  Fortunately, I was able to get in a few pictures of the installation when the new installation was not fully installed and before they moved the lift to park it one of which I used above. The Roots The roots of this solar-powered installation were formed during the first Calgary Nuit Blanche which occurred during Calgary 2012 and was originally proposed as an annual event.  Now it appears to be a biannual event as it did not happen this past year and was replaced the newly formed Intersite Visual Arts Festival that occurred on the same weekend as Nuit Blanche should have happened.  All this contains some speculation on my part, so here goes.  No doubt this happened (in part) so that public institutions which must plan their programming far in advance could fulfill their obligations to the contracted artists during what they previously expected would be the weekend of Nuit Blanche .  But I digress. During the 2012 Nuit Blanche event one of the most interesting events was an installation that contained both burnt-out and live incandescent light bulbs.  These bulbs were all connected to hanging pulls that turned the lights on and off.  It was in the form of a large cloud and it magical.  People loved it and it became an internet sensation – and rightfully so.  From my recollection when I attended the night of Nuit Blanche, it could best be described as enchanting. The images spread quickly.  In fact, months later there was a show at an art gallery in Moscow of a new version of this cloud that no doubt came partly as a result of images that were picked up off the internet.  This new work was constructed in Russia.  A number of months later a smaller commission was completed at what I believe is a gay bar or club in Chicago.  As was the case in Russia and Calgary, this newly formed cloud (truth be told – clouds, as there were more than one cloud installed in this club) also met with success. Phantom Wing Fast forward to the recent Phantom Wing project at cSPACE King Edward School.  The artists involved with the Nuit Blanche Cloud also formed the Phantom Wing signage for that event as well.  The signage subsequently also was modified somewhat and used for the Phantom Wing website. Once the Phantom Wing project had barely wrapped up, they were off to recover the Russian cloud and then re-install it in the heart of Prague, Czech Republic alongside the Vlatava river.  This was for an event similar to Nuit Blanche and probably was as captivating as it was at each other location it has been shown at. Sometimes the history behind something is important.  This is one of those cases.  It is very interesting seeing where this light installation by Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett came from as it might otherwise be easily missed due to the location and the temporary nature of its installation during the next few months. Events There also will be an artist talk with Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett which will take place at the Art Gallery of Calgary on Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 6:00pm. Smart move on the part of the Calgary Downtown BRZ on commissioning this work.  If you are downtown at some point between now and early February check it out.


Phantom Wing vs. Land|Slide

PhantomWing (1024x683)

Much has been written about Phantom Wing this past week or two.  This is entirely understandable given that it was a five day exhibition which ended a couple days ago.  It is a building (or at least the Phantom Wing portion of it) which is scheduled to be demolished at some point, in the next few months and eventually redeveloped as an arts incubator.

In that context it is interesting to compare this project with another that is happening simultaneously at the other side of the country, just outside of Toronto, in Markham entitled Land|Slide: Possible Futures.

Like Phantom Wing, Land|Slide is a large-scale, temporary public art exhibition with a short duration (five days, September 24-29 as compared to three weeks, September 21 – October 14).  The similarities continue where both events:

  • Started within days of each other
  • involve(d) over 30 artists
  • incorporated built infrastructure connected to the public arts and culture sector (the open-air Markham Museum and cSpace’s planned arts incubator at King Edward School)
  • a large number of temporary site-specific works that often utilized resources available on site was exhibited
  • artists from various stages of their careers were involved
  • free busing to the event was offered from arts institutions (MOCCA in Toronto and ACAD in Calgary)
  • have a lineage that ties back to The Leona Drive Project which took place in Toronto during 2009.

On the surface both would appear to be doing similar things in their respective local areas – one in the Greater Toronto Area and the other in Calgary.  As a result it is worth talking about both projects in context with each other.

We have seen the similarities, now what about the dissimilarities:

  • Facilities used in Markham will remain; whereas in Calgary they will be demolished
  • Financial support from all levels of government and private industry was indicated and community partnerships were listed in Markham; whereas the only stated support was received from the building owner and developer in Calgary
  • There was one curator in Markham; whereas there were five artist-curators in Calgary
  • The artists selected in Markham on average tended to be more established, with broader exhibition experience than was the case in Calgary, which tended to be more locally focused and by extension presumably less-established.
  • The artists work with a museum collection in Markham with a long history limits options (or alternatively expands the options); whereas in Calgary those limitations were not present.
  • The work selected in Markham tended to be more socially or politically-engaged; whereas in Calgary there was little evidence of this.

The main difference can be clearly stated by what the curators held up as their intent for each event as stated in the introduction to each project in each website.

Phantom Wing (http://phantomwing.wordpress.com/about/) described its objective this way:

  • PHANTOM WING proposes the creation of an architectural phantom limb – an event designed to resonate long after the building is severed from its adjoining sandstone counterpart.

Land|Slide: Possible Futures (http://www.landslide-possiblefutures.com/site.html#about) describes the event this way:

  • (Land|Slide is a) backdrop for artists to explore some of the most pressing issues facing Canadians today: how to balance ecology and economy, farming and development, history and diversity. . . in a unique community engagement initiative that pays homage to the past and imagines possible futures.

Both events allude to the place of suburban (and urban) development in cities that are rapidly expanding.

It is my wish that I was able to make it Markham before this event ends so that I could make a proper post-partum which would open the door to further dialogue surrounding both events and the issues relating to development and cultural infrastructure, which both cities must deal with.