A quiet performance

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Long ago, probably in late 2010 or early 2011, I first encountered the performance artist Stephen G. A. Mueller.

It was a time of personal crises and substantial upheaval occurring in my life.  At the time I spent a fair amount of time in the area around Art Central where The New Gallery was then located.  The artist they featured during that time was Stephen Mueller.

The New Gallery show was entitled Please Dont Go.  Briefly the show involved a durational performance where Mueller would occupy an illuminated glass box made out of one-way mirrors (reflecting inwards), which he resided in for six hours a day, five days a week for the duration of the exhibition.  There he would repeatedly create the phrase “I miss you” in Braille on a long strip of paper, then meticulously cut out the braille dots and with a pair of tweezers place each dot in the Braille sequence into its own small individual, unmarked petri dish.  And repeat.  There is a review and image of his show at The New Gallery which is available online (see http://www.canadianart.ca/reviews/2011/01/06/stephen_mueller/).

At times there were just the two of us sharing the same physical space of the gallery – he working, and myself as a voyeur, most likely with coffee in hand while taking a break from my own work.  This act of watching Mueller work, somehow was a grounding and meditative experience that allowed me to quiet my own mind and focus amidst the angst-filled period of my life at that time.

I never forgot it.

Fast forward three years.

Earlier this month, on September 13, Untitled Art Society opened a show of Mueller’s work entitled Starting Over in their Satellite Gallery.

Like at The New Gallery, this show is of a durational performance.  The difference is that here, it is presented as a pair of videos which is a record of the private performance.  The performance took place over an uninterrupted period of 55 hours, 16 minutes and 39 seconds of time (Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:34:34 EDT – Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 17:51:13 EDT).  The artist has described the performance during this timeframe, and the contents of the two videos, as this:

  • During that period, I manually extracted every beard hair from my face, one hair at a time, using a pair of surgical tweezers.  Each hair was then placed into a specimen jar.  Immediately following, two photographs were taken remotely: one of the front of my head and one of the back.

This video performance recently, and in the near future, will also be presented at a number of artist-run centres across the country.  This Untitled Art Society show is located in their Satellite Gallery space, located at 343 – 11 Avenue SW and will continue until October 19th .

Once again, Mueller just completed a new durational performance.

This time the performance was at Phantom Wing located at the King Edward School which began on Friday, September 27, 2013 at 20:00 MDT and ended on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 20:00 MDT.

During this performance, entitled A Place for Us Before You Go the artist walked around the exterior of the school, going counter-clockwise, walking continuously with the fingertips of his left hand maintaining physical contact with the building, or objects attached to it (i.e. fences, railings, trees or shrubs) during this 24-hour period.  By the time I arrived and took this photo near the north entrance around 16:00 MDT Saturday afternoon, the circuit the artist had taken alongside the building was evidenced by a noticeable pathway.  This was created by compressing the grass where he had walked many times in the hours beforehand and in time will disappear.

In this 24-hour performance period, he did not wear any timepiece.  By doing this, the artist was talking about how in the name of progress “we no longer recognize time and space, yet our bodies remain instruments for recording them”.

As with the other two works mentioned previously, this work also deals with important issues that are worth talking about and opening a dialogue surrounding them.  It is my hope that some evidence of this performance will remain, outside of the physical indentation of the ground caused by his walking on it.  I am very intrigued to see what will come from it.

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Effigies at Phantom Wing

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As stated previously, I attended the opening night of Phantom Wing.

I talked then about Leslie Bell’s and Chris Bell’s sound installation just inside the main doors.

Now I want to talk about one of the classrooms on the second floor – room 204, the science room.  I happened upon a performance using three members (four actually) of the Six of Hearts Collective whose work Effigy is a time-based work.  It is in progress during the five-day duration of Phantom Wing.

First a caveat, I must state up front that I am not actively involved with performance as an art form – so find many performances easy to dismiss.  The statement “I know nothing about art, but I know what I like” would find currency with many people I have had professional dealings with for the majority of my career to date.  This is both a blessing and a curse and has probably influenced my connection to performance as an art-form more than I might readily admit.

Upon first encountering the performance it took a while to figure out what was going on and I could have easily missed the fact that a performance was occurring in my presence and kept on going.  Maybe that is what is appealing about this work.  There is something compelling about it which made me want to stay.

Some background:

However, having said that, to properly appreciate and engage with this work, it is important to enter with some background on the work.  This is something I hope to achieve for those people who will attend later this weekend.

In the artist statement, there is a little sentence which sums up what this collective is trying achieve.  It states:

  • The performances will consider questions of how a space (constructed, physical or emotive) can be transformed by actions or through symbolic representations of memory and history (the effigy).

The three performers that were present in the science room on Tuesday evening, when I was there were Luna Allison, Tomas Jonsson and Holly Timpener.  In addition a fourth artist (Brianna MacLellan) who was unable to attend was present in the room through video projection.  During this upcoming weekend the four artists mentioned above will be joined by Alma Visscher and Nicole Nigro to complete the Six.

About the performance:

The performance itself, or at least the part I encountered was generally quiet and unobtrusive.  It allows the observer to recollect their own personal histories as a child in schools.  It draws on the history of the King Edward School as both an elementary school and a junior high with students attending between grades 1-9 at various times during its 100 year history.

This history is what makes this performance particularly appealing.  When I entered the room, one of the artists was tracing objects which were situated on the lab table, outlining a moment in history of this room.  In another part of the classroom, a number of decks of cards were on the floor – open, and a couple observers were in the process of using them to build a structure using the cards.  Another artist was sweeping up refuse.  In the corner, just inside the door was a video projection playing a loop of vignettes of an artist in a classroom setting.

As the performance progressed, one of the performers sat in the corner and in a burst of channeling teenaged-angst dropped a few F-bombs in the context of a potential personal history as experienced by a teenager.  This was followed by drawing on the walls capturing a memory of a moment in time where the artist visible in the video occupied this space.

In this context, it is important to note that there is speculation that the King Edward School is haunted.  This adds an interesting element to this performance.  It creates a dialogue and further accentuates this interesting history.  As a temporary installation and performance it successfully achieves what it intended to do.

The memories, the moments in time, the personal histories of former students, staff and observers as a collective, all form an effigy.  This is an effigy which will remain in these spaces, no matter how ephemeral and transitory they may be.  These drawings on various places throughout this room create an apparition of time past, present and also project into the future.

Ringing the bells at Phantom Wing

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As stated yesterday, Phantom Wing opened tonight.

I am glad I went this evening.  Unlike the Wreck City event this project as a group, was more resolved in my mind.  Having less artists involved helped raise the bar on this project and not serve as a dilutive effect, in terms of impact.

One of the first things that I noticed was how magical the small enclosed outdoor courtyard is at night.  A lot has happened in that courtyard since I was last there.  It has been cleaned up, but it also has a lot of art put into it as well.  Two artist groups have transformed the space, Joanne MacDonald is one of them with kinetic sculptures using found objects that bears some resemblance to playground equipment.  When I entered I found two young girls playing on one of the art pieces while the courtyard was filled with their laughter and screams of joy – which must be one of the happiest sounds I know.  She was joined by a group of three artists; Alia Shahab, Lane Shordee and Ivan Ostapenko working in collaboration with a group called ANTYX who together created a water feature using materials salvaged from flood waters this past spring.  The connection to the community, even though the community the school resides in was not affected by the flood, was interesting.  If planning to attend, I would strongly recommend attending in the evening especially if you are interested in seeing the garden.  It definitely benefits from the low and artificial light, unlike the rest of the complex where it would not matter as much.

One of the highlights for me and what I feel most motivated to write about at this time is the sound installation by Leslie Bell and Chris Bell.

The irony of the artist’s names was not lost on me, given the medium they used – a large collection of red alarm bells.  As seen in the picture above, one of the curators Natalie MacLean, is interacting with the installation.  There are approximately 50 bells of varying sizes, all suspended by individual filament wires suspended from the ceiling in what used to be the main floor library.  Some of these bells are attached to handles also suspended from the ceiling, which use a pulley system to make it possible to guide the bells and create various levels of sound in so doing.

I noticed the installation when I first arrived and was very intrigued by them.  As a sidebar, the concept of “ringing a bell” is interesting.  Throughout cultures and time, bells have held a lot of symbolism and significance.  They serve to summon, warn, celebrate, cleanse and communicate.

At first, there was a large number of people around them, so I did not feel inclined to fight my way in to interact with the bells.  Fortunately I came late.  By the time I was leaving, I was more or less alone with the bells and could interact with them as I wanted with the quiet to appreciate the nuances found in them.  I found the work meditative, calming and contemplative as I heard the sounds I created, dissipate and fade into silence.  The bells also brought back memories of a performance I heard at the Sound Symposium in St. John’s, Newfoundland (http://www.soundsymposium.com/) a few years back.

Like the sound in the bells, the addition of the school also was once full of sound of children’s voice, laughter, and cries of joy – and the related occasional sounds of temporary pain and crying.  Like in the courtyard garden, those sounds also will dissipate over time as the demolition crews destroy this part of the building over the next few months.

As such I thought this one of the most thoughtful additions to the project.  For this piece alone, it is worth it to attend – preferably with very few people around.

Phantom Wing takes flight

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Later today, since it is after midnight, Phantom Wing will open to the public for the weekend only (Tuesday, September 24 – Sunday, September 29, 2013) as a temporary installation prior to demolition.

Hours are 6:00-11:00pm Tuesday-Friday; 10:00am-11:00pm Saturday; 10:00am-4:00pm on Sunday.

Some may recall Wreck City.  As a refresher, it was a group of homes along one street at the bottom of McHugh Bluff, in Sunnyside.  The ten (maybe fifteen) older homes dating mostly to the early 1900s were slated for demolition.  With the approval of the developer, a large temporary installation based exhibit took place in the vacant homes.  The event took place last April and the homes have all been demolished since.

This time around Phantom Wing is doing the same thing, except that instead of homes, the artists will be using a school addition built in the 1960s.  I had the chance to view the site in mid-August and the picture I have chosen to use to illustrate this blog post is from the second floor showing the lockers as taken during my visit in August.

On the Phantom Wing website there is a more recent photo of the same subject matter, from the same general area.  In a way these two photos serve as before and after photos – or at the minimum a taste of what to expect this weekend.  From the vantage point that the Phantom Wing photographer chose to use, it would appear as if the two artists (Guy Gardner and Sian Ramsden) are using the locker doors as their medium (http://phantomwing.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/img_5232.jpg) in an installation.  Interestingly, whether intentionally or not, they seem to have borrowed from art history to use the locker doors, through the appropriation of Marcel Duchamp‘s painting Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912 which is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/51449.html) as inspiration.  It is also worth noting that the photo on the Phantom Wing website presumably is a work in progress, so it may have changed materially since the time the photo was taken on or before the 16th.  Regardless of this, the choice of inspiration is pleasantly surprising given my knowledge of Calgary and its artists, even though the Duchamp work holds a pivotal place in modern art history.

If this is indicative of the work that will be on display, it should be a project worth checking out.

There are other artists involved that should make this event quite different from the event held at Wreck City, even though the curators for the most part are still the same.

Phantom Wing is located in the new wing of the King Edward School which is being developed by cSpace Projects as an arts incubator.  The address is 1720 – 30 Avenue SW.

http://phantomwing.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/infestation-of-artists/

 

Diversity in the workplace

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Husky Energy today celebrates Diversity Day.  Some of the events are open to the public in the main floor lobby of their Calgary corporate headquarters, located at Western Canadian Place, 707 – 8 Avenue SW.

The abbreviated program of public events is as follows:

  • 08:00 – kick off and cultural performance
  • 09:00-14:00 – “diversabilities” activities by Champions Career Centre
  • 09:00-14:00 – art exhibition of works by Mona Ahmed

Because this is an arts focused blog, I want to talk about the art exhibition of works by Mona Ahmed and not the other events.

Mona is a student at the University of Calgary in the faculty of fine arts at the undergraduate level.  She is presenting for one day only, a series of photographs on the main floor, and another series on the +30 level.  The series on the main floor is called Incomplete (see photo above) and the larger series on the +30 level is entitled Hello my name is.

I have chosen to write about this for a few reasons.

Most importantly, it is about an artist getting their work out for people to view and have a dialogue with.  This show is a very good choice for a corporate day to talk about diversity.  The works are all photo-based.  Briefly both exhibitions have good talking points about our own personal filters as it relates to diversity.   In the Incomplete series, the same model is dressed in different outfits and it asks us how our perceptions are made by what they wear.  The Hello my name is series shows a series of people who are in various stages of focus (as in blurry or not), which explores the idea of how easy each person’s name is understood.  It is a show that is well worth visiting.  Unfortunately it is only up for a few hours today.  So if you miss it you may not see it again.

The second reason I wanted to write about this show, is this type of event is reflective of a trend that I seem to be noticing more frequently of late.  It is where a corporation or other entity sponsors or initiates a short-term exhibition, arts event or performance under the auspices of a larger umbrella – in this case diversity.  These events usually take place outside of traditional exhibition or performance venues.  This makes these events interesting as well.  As they introduce the possibility of developing new audiences and partnerships for all involved.

But I digress:

Having previously worked in the arts industry as an administrator for a very long time and as a result I miss having to think about esoteric topics sometimes.  Because of that, I could go into an extensive dialogue involving the pros and cons of this theory.  Some of which I was on the leading edge of locally in terms of practice.  I choose not to do so, for many reasons – chiefly, that this is the wrong platform, and that the discussion would lend itself more to academia.

This event and show also talks about the issue of where does public art begin and private, corporate or public patronage end; along with the concept of blurred urban, public spaces in an environment that is increasingly becoming more privatized and the democratization of these spaces – along with a whole raft of inter-related questions.  This is an area I am also very interested in.

Back on track:

For those involved it is a much appreciated gesture, especially those who are fortunate enough to receive funding or benefits as a result.  Some recent events that fall under this type of umbrella are the upcoming Phantom Wing project, corporate parties, in-home concerts, and the list goes on.

Regardless of my diversionary rambling, the sponsoring corporation or entity usually receives benefit and good-will from doing these events – and as a result it generally is, but not always is, a win-win for all involved.

If possible, check out Mona Ahmed’s photos today.  Talk to Mona for a few minutes on your lunch break or coffee break to see and get a renewed understanding of challenges some will face and why it is important to talk about diversity in the workplace.

Wreck City update

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Last night was the final walk-through for a new large-scale arts project forming on the horizon – Phantom Wing.

Phantom Wing is a project that was initiated earlier this month by cSPACE projects – the good folks connected to the Calgary Arts Development Authority that are developing the 100-year old King Edward School into an arts incubator scheduled to open sometime in 2014.  The Phantom Wing project incorporates a physical space slated for demolition.  It is large addition to the King Edward School built in 1967 including the library, approximately ten classrooms and offices, all enveloping a small private open-air courtyard.

cSPACE contacted the people who put together the Wreck City project to coordinate this project as well.  Calls for submissions will be accepted until the 26th with the event to take place around the time of year that ArtWalk has traditionally taken place – the official dates for Phantom Wing are September 24-28.

This prompted me to make a visit to the Wreck City location, since both projects involve physical built spaces slated for demolition.

After the Wreck City event ended, very little has been heard from or about it.  Wreck City was an event held between April 19-27, 2013 and because of the nature of the project this is not surprising.  Once the project is over, and outside of an annotation in a peer-reviewed history paper or a line entry on a curriculum vitae for those artists involved – most people will forget the event even existed.  This is unfortunate, but more often than not – a reality.

Approximately 80-90 artists/performers/arts practitioners of various stripes converted nine residences (and/or other built spaces attached to the properties) out of a row of eleven old homes, that were slated for demolition – into temporary exhibition spaces and performance venues.  These eleven houses or small apartment blocks, dated mostly from the early 1900s, were all located along one street facing the base of McHugh Bluffs in Sunnyside, close to the C-Train station.  It is a bit of an awkward place to find when driving, as there is only one way in and the same way out.  This makes for a quiet location with a small park across the street.

No doubt, this quiet location close to amenities was appealing to a developer. In the typical Calgary way of progress, the developer purchased all the properties and is looking to build a new beige four-storey, 115 unit, residential condo project scheduled for occupancy in fall 2015.

So what has happened since then?

All the eleven buildings have been razed and the debris removed.  There are a few divots left in the ground, where homes once stood and the grass has been allowed to grow.  There is a construction fence surrounding the site and beyond that, the developer is probably waiting for enough deposits to come in so that they can start building.

It is now a quiet memorial to what once was.