Collaboration in Calgary arts community (with a potential new participant)

 

 

Ciara_Phillips_Haight_Gallery_WE_2013

Tomorrow, the trustees of the Tate Britain will announce the winner of the 2014 Turner Prize. One of the four nominees is Canadian-born printmaker – Ciara Phillips.

Normally, an event that is taking place half-way around the world would be a non-event for this blog. However, I believe it is timely for discussion in Calgary, regardless of whether she wins or not.

For those who do not know, I am a former gallerist that operated a member gallery of the Art Dealers Association of Canada which dealt primarily with printmaking and prints. As a result, I have a very deep appreciation and understanding of the printmaking process, even though I am not a printmaker myself. For whatever reason, the printmaking medium, gets very little respect and appreciation in the city. It has been that way for a very long time, which is surprising given the strong printmaking tradition in the city and that there is an amazing collection of block prints (in particular) which is housed at the Glenbow. This all is quite unfortunate situation that I can only hope will change in time.

Secretly, (well maybe not so secretly anymore) I am pulling for her to win. I do see that she probably is somewhat of a longshot, although definitely in the running. In the UK, there is an interesting phenomenon in that people make wagers, and bookies make books on the outcomes of major cultural prizes, along with the usual horse races, football games and boxing matches. The Turner Prize is no exception.

When I checked a few minutes ago the average odds at the time of retrieval, the consensus order of payout (or from most-likely to least-likely) as determined by a survey of various bookies, is as follows:

  • Duncan Campbell is the favourite, a win would payout £7 for every £4 bet (1.75x);
  • A Ciara Phillips win would payout £11 for every £4 bet (2.75x);
  • A James Richards win would payout £3 for every £1 bet (3.0x);
  • A Tris Vonna-Mitchell win would payout £7 for every £2 bet (3.5x).

If only people cared that much on the visual arts in this city that they would bet on and for artists. If we did, we would probably have a civic art gallery and actually support the visual arts and its artists – but I digress.

Getting back to business.

Ciara Phillips was nominated for an exhibition that she held during 2013 at The Showroom, London that ended one year ago today (November 30). The exhibition was described as follows, and I will quote at length (there is substantially more, if you feel so inclined) to help put this posting into context for those in Calgary who may not click on the hotlink and to understand the timeliness. Here is what The Showroom had to say about this exhibition:

Workshop (2010–ongoing) is a new installation made up of multiple screenprints on newsprint and large-scale works on cotton. This new work sets an attitude for a two-month temporary print studio that will take place in the gallery over the course of the exhibition.

Throughout October and November (2013) Phillips will be collaborating with invited artists, designers, and local women’s groups (many of whom have ongoing relationships with The Showroom) to produce new screenprints. Guests will bring their different knowledge and experiences of working collectively to the Workshop, whose structure is open for development as the project progresses. These new collaborations will initiate conversations and actions that aren’t contained within specific disciplines of art, community action, design or activism. By making prints in these new collaborative groupings, Phillips will explore the potential of ‘making together’ as a way of negotiating ideas and generating discussions around experimental and wider uses of print.

We know that Ciara Phillips showed in Calgary previously and I was fortunate enough to have seen the group show which she was included in, during the summer of 2013 at the short-lived Haight Gallery (which has subsequently closed, probably right after the group show ended). The photo above was from that show, and the same exhibition was also shown in January 2014 at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 – an artist run centre.

Now to get to the core of the matter.

Why is this relevant to Calgary?

As seen above, we know that Ciara Phillips has shown in Calgary. We also know that there is a significant artistic exchange that occurs between Glasgow (where she currently lives) and Calgary. I could easily rattle off a good sampling of names without too much difficulty.

We also have seen a significant increase in collaboration in the city’s institutional culture. Here are some examples:

  • Earlier this year it was announced that Calgary will host the MassMOCA produced Oh, Canada show which will open in January 2015. This will be a collaborative exhibition spread between Glenbow, Esker, Nickle, and the Illingworth Kerr galleries.
  • Not so long ago Contemporary Calgary co-hosted a portion of the Made in Calgary: The 1990s show and the Nickle currently is co-hosting the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 2000s show.
  • We can also reference the initial Nuit Blanche show in 2012 where they informally collaborated with MOCA Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary).
  • Then there was the partnership between the Calgary Stampede and MOCA Calgary for a 1912/2012 focused show during the summer of 2012.
  • We can also talk about the long-standing (maybe 15-20 year long) relationship between the Centre for Performing Arts and mostly artist run centres in the six +15 window spaces which has recently been expanded to also include the Alberta Craft Council, Tiny Gallery and the University of Calgary. There may be more in the works as I see construction happening in the same general area.

Even other organizations outside of the visual arts like the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is getting in on the act with a performance which involved students in the MADT program at the Alberta College of Art and Design in their performance last night of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila.

Beakerhead is yet another fine example where it was set up to explore where collaboration can exist between the engineering and science communities with the visual arts.

I know that I have only touched upon a few partnerships, but as seen above it is an increasingly important part of the cultural landscape that is developing in the city for various reasons. It is probably a good thing.

In a recent interview in the Ottawa Citizen where she is quoted as saying, “I think it (the Turner Prize) has drawn a lot more attention to my work, and there have been some really nice outcomes of that, especially invitations to make future exhibitions in Sweden and Canada.” This was also repeated a few days later (earlier this week) in a recent interview with Canadian Art magazine.

Alberta Printmakers Society is one such organization that could potentially host this show in their new facility. Although, having said that, I would think the gallery space might be a bit on the small side.

From a personal observation, A/P has become much more active recently and has shown a willingness to program potentially controversial exhibitions such as the recent Joscelyn Gardner show which ended yesterday, entitled bringing down the flowers. . . I attended the opening of Gardner’s show this past October 24th and had a good discussion with her while I was there. It was my intention to write something about it, but due to other more pressing circumstances, I was unable to find the time to do so. It was a very strong show and it dealt with issues that should have a higher visibility and dialogue in this country. Certainly, more so than what is currently the case. I may still, even though it is too late to see the show at the Artist Proof Gallery.

Given this as background, and understand that this is complete and unsubstantiated speculation as an outsider, does that mean we may potentially see Caira Phillip’s Workshop (2010 – ongoing) make an appearance in Calgary in the near future?

Maybe there is a partnership with A/P and another organization such as the Esker, Illingworth Kerr Gallery, the Banff Centre or potentially Contemporary Calgary or the Glenbow in the works?

Let’s hope so.

*  *  *

December 1, 2014 edit

I checked the news to find out who won the Turner Prize this year. The winner was Duncan Campbell. It is not surprising given that the film he was nominated for was previously shown at the most recent Venice Biennale.

It doesn’t change anything about collaboration, which was the primary focus of this posting. Of course that possibility of a Canadian show for Ciara Phillips is still out there and I think that it would be awesome if it took place in Calgary.

Social Justice Art in Calgary

 

Steven_Cottingham_Truck_Window_at_Epcor_Centre_August_to_September_2014

Steven Cottingham‘s show entitled I’ve Committed Sins No God Could Forgive ended on Sunday, September 28, 2014.

I could have written about this during the midst of the exhibition. I chose not too as the second part of the exhibition will take place today. It is this part that I find most interesting.

As you can see from the photo above, the window exhibition is quite simple containing a wooden pallet; two cardboard boxes; six glass vases and spray-painted(?) text. It is the text that gives the key to the second stage of the exhibition. It reads as follows:

On September 30 I will use the entirety of my artist  fee to have flowers (white lilies) delivered to employees of Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil.

I suspect many have walked past this exhibition and not given it a second glance.

In many ways this blog post is primarily geared toward the average employee of three significant corporate entities with Canadian and/or International headquarters located in the city – Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil. If one looks at the picture above, it will become self-evident why.

* * *

Steven Cottingham is a Calgary artist. He is a relatively recent graduate from the Alberta College of Art and Design. He is also very involved in the Calgary visual art community. He is also writing a book about art and love, which reflects his artistic practice.

Truck, is the gallery that selected the proposal that Cottingham presented for their programming. Because Truck is an artist-run centre, the work is not for sale. This is typical for most public galleries in Canada (and often elsewhere as well). To compensate the artist for the work that they have done, public galleries pay an artist fee. Usually the base amount (some will pay more) has been determined by an organization called CARFAC (which means Canadian Artist Representation and the French equivalent).

This is different from how a commercial gallery works. In a commercial gallery payment usually comes as a result of the sale of the artwork. There are some exceptions, but usually the amount is determined as agreed under contract between the artist and the gallery.

* * *

Cottingham will receive his fee, which was agreed in advance under contract.

Unlike most artists who would typically pay bills (or whatever is their current priority), Cottingham has chosen to disperse this payment in the form of a gift. This gift will be a white lily to random employees of the three companies mentioned above – Suncor, Husky and Exxon Mobil.

Why is Cottingham doing this?

No doubt, this will be the question around the water cooler at these three companies.

I will attempt to explain.

This is an act of social justice art.

This will of course prompt the question, “what is social justice art?”

Lee Bell and Desai Dipti simply defined it as follows:

Social justice art “encompasses a wide range of visual and performing art that aim to raise critical consciousness, build community, and motivate individuals to promote social change.” (Note 1)

As it relates to this show, a key might be found in recent newspaper article from St. John, NB which relates to a recent solo exhibition of Cottingham’s work which was held in Freedericton, NB. There Cottingham has stated that he finds “it . . . increasingly necessary . . . to use art as a way of bringing attention to these areas of inequality, and even discrimination sometimes.” (Note 2)

Of course this leads to the next question, “what type of social change is Cottingham trying to effect?”

First I would like to put some background to this question, before addressing it later.

What is the significance of the white lily?

There seems to be no consistent meaning for the white lily. However, it is imbued with significant religious meaning, consistently. Teleflora states that white lilies signify chastity and virtue. (Note 3) This website then goes to state that they are a “symbol of the Virgin Mary’s purity and her role of Queen of the Angels “. Although it is not stated, surprisingly, other websites frequently mention that white lilies are often associated with Easter which makes sense given the significance stated in relationship to the Virgin Mary in the website.

In a Swerve article this past weekend, Cottingham is reported to have stated that he interprets white lilies as an “empathetic . . . flower of both sympathy and apology.” (Note 4) As a result, this additional interpretation must also be taken into consideration as well.

Why these three companies?

Outside of what was stated at the top, all I have to work with in this regard is what was stated in the Swerve article. Here, Cottingham stated what was stated at the top and continued by saying these three companies are, “companies that I know at least a couple of my friends (which) are employed (at).” (Note 5)

What is the social justice message intended?

In the Swerve article, Cottingham states, “I wanted to start a conversation about the fact that, on one hand, this economy necessitates certain activities that may or may not be morally sound and are definitely controversial and may be shortsighted” (Note 6)

He then follows on to mention three specifics in passing within the same paragraph:

  • Economic self-sufficiency;
  • Destruction of the land; and,
  • Ignoring rights of First Nation peoples

It is safe to assume that this is based on both personal and larger-scale economics and resource development.

This action would appear to be simply about economic disparity and/or resource development. This is an issue that requires further discussion, as we increasingly see in the news of the day.

Social justice art is a form of contemporary art that I suspect we will be seeing more of in the city during the next year. What form that will take, I am uncertain.

Historically, the arts (not all, but certainly the avant-garde) in its many forms (from theatre and dance to the visual arts) holds an important place at the table as artists and their work engage with politics, social justice or change and other issues. These works have not always been popular at the time they were first produced, but over time in some cases have become iconic works in due course (think Picasso‘s Guernica). I am intrigued to see what potentially may be in the works.

 

Notes:

  1. Bell, Lee; Desai Dipti, “Imagining Otherwise: Connecting the Arts and Social Justice to Envision an Act for Change: Special Issue Introduction”. Equity and Excellence in Education 44:3 (August 10, 2011): 287–295
  2. MacNeill, Jon, “Exhibition casts light on social injustices,” [St. John, NB] Here, June 5, 2014, A26.
  3. Teleflora, “Lily: The meaning & significance of lily”, accessed September 28, 2014, http://www.teleflora.com/about-flowers/lily.asp
  4. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham” [Calgary Herald] Swerve, September 26, 2014, 30
  5. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham”
  6. Roe, Jon, “4 questions with Calgary artist Steven Cottingham”

One year anniversary of this blog, with review

Surprises_found_when_digging_in_the_garden_18_August_2013 (1024x683)

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.

My craft-based art proposal for the Western Showcase

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Showcase_Craft-Area_Overview_2014_July (1024x683)

Yesterday, I talked about Yvonne Mullock’s hooked rug and its unveiling at the Esker Foundation.

In that post I indicated that I wanted to continue this discussion as it relates to the Calgary Stampede Western Showcase. This also is a continuation of my previous post from about a week ago that relates to the Artist Ranch Project.

As any reader of this blog can easily figure out I have shown my current minor obsession on craft as art. I am interested (and have been for quite some time) in the dialogue between, at what point does craft end and fine art begin.

* * *

There are all sorts of issues surrounding this dialogue such as, but not limited to:

  1. the necessity of artists to perfect their craft;
  2. craft as a viable medium for artists to explore;
  3. what role art can have in craft production;
  4. the role of language and the use of the term “craft” in art; and
  5. does the term “craft” actually inhibit growth and dialogue in art production and collections.

With this out of the way and as background to this discussion, I can now move forward.

* * *

In my blog post from last Friday (see link provided above), I proposed that the Stampede seriously consider working collaboratively with the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton in the Western Showcase.

In my opinion, this could be a very good collaboration as the Alberta Craft Council has connections to a significant number of professional craftspersons active in Alberta (and being a provincial organization would be involved in networks nationally and internationally); has a large exhibition space with active programming in Edmonton; and has explored possibilities over the past number of years with intent to set up a separate location in Calgary as well. For whatever reason none of those attempts to set up a space in Calgary has come to fruition. Things now seem to be moving forward as they have a soft agreement in place that they will occupy a space of some sort in the new King Edward School arts incubator that cSPACE Projects is moving forward on. It will probably be ready for occupancy barring any delays sometime in 2016.

Overview of the two organizations:

From its website Alberta Craft Council is described as follows:

The Alberta Craft Council is the Provincial Arts Service Organization that develops, promotes and advocates for fine craft in Alberta. Since 1980, the ACC has promoted craft in Alberta through exhibitions, publications, marketing ventures, education, awareness projects and information services to its membership and to the general public. The ACC has a dual role: to support contemporary and heritage crafts as significant art forms that contribute to Alberta’s culture; and to develop a craft sector of creative, skilled, viable and sustainable craftspeople, studio, businesses and networks.

Now the Stampede. The Western Showcase component has been described on their website as follows:

Western Showcase is recognized as one of the major destination areas of the Stampede. We are a vibrant group of nearly 200 volunteers showcasing our Western Heritage and Values. Western Showcase, located in Halls D and E of the BMO Centre at Stampede Park, showcases art, entertainment, presentations and exhibitions that depict our Western Lifestyle.

It would appear that this is how the two organizations envision themselves and what they do.

Now to expand my argument for this proposal:

In a previous post, I indicated in passing that that there is a Western Lifestyles Creative Arts & Crafts Competition. I didn’t call it by that name at that time, but this is what it actually is called. They have 14 categories in which competitions are held.

They are listed below, and I have only included the open division, which most adults would compete in. They are: 1.) knitting; 2.) crocheting & tatting; 3.) needlework & stitchery; 4.) quilting; 5.) paper crafts & calligraphy; 6.) assorted handicrafts; 7.) ceramics & decorative painting; 8.) rugs & weaving; 9.) wood working; 10.) dolls & toys; 11.) framed paintings; 12.) framed drawings; 13.) sugar art & cake decorating; and 14.) eco art.

As one can see from the list above many of these categories lie parallel to many professional artist’s practice. With blurring of boundaries in contemporary visual art practice and production, it is a fair assumption to say that all of the categories above are fair game for most artists to explore.

With that in mind, I thought it is worth investigating the rules for the competition. In the 2014 booklet containing the rules & regulations of this competition, I could only find one section (the last one) which addresses the inclusion of a professional artist or artisan from participating. It is as follows:

19. Participants in the Western Art Show will not be allowed to enter pieces for competition in the Creative Arts and Crafts Competition. . .

In my eyes, this would seem to be a fair rule. Here are some photo selections from the competition that are relevant:

Calgary_Stampede_Rugs_Section_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Window_Display_July_2014 (1024x683)

Calgary_Stampede_Eco_Art_Winner_2014_July (1024x683)

Moving on to the Sales Salons

As I was wandering through the sales salon I very surprised to see some large ceramic vessels in one of the booths. I have included a photo of the booth and it shows work by Robert Behr from Montana who from his website, appears to travel the circuit of other festival events similar to the Western Showcase in California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

From this it would appear as if craft is not an issue in the Sales Salon and as a comment made by Sherri Zickefoose yesterday on a previous post (see link above) she indicated that this may be due to no other artists applying. This is a reasonable assumption to make.

Robert_Behr_booth_at_Calgary_Stampede_July_2014 (1024x683)

Moving on to the Art Auction

I have attended many of these sales over the years. Although I don’t have the catalogues close at hand to reference, however I do have them available should I need to. I do not recall seeing any craft included into the sale. Having said that there is this interesting thing that sometimes happens prior to the sale where they have a Quickdraw event. I can`t remember what it is called. As part of that in the past I recall seeing a sculptor on more than one year working with clay to create a sculpture. I can’t remember what they do with it, but I suspect it is either sold or cast at a later date.

Unfortunately I am unable to attend tonight as the job that I once was working full-time at has now cut my hours to only six hours a week over two days. As a result I am looking for new work. However, the hours that I must work this week are the exact same hours as the auction, tonight. I can`t even get a photo if they do something like this tonight.

Further to this, some time ago (I could be corrected, but I believe it was held between 2007-2010) there was an auction called Pavilion: Contemporary Art Auction. I attended all the sales and have the catalogues somewhere. It was held in September in the Victoria Pavilion in the old Agricultural Building. It was held in cooperation with Christie’s (the auction house) and eight commercial galleries – Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Masters Gallery Ltd., Newzones, Paul Kuhn Gallery, Skew Gallery, Susan Whitney Gallery, TrépanierBaer Contemporary Art and Virginia Christopher Fine Art.

During the 2008 sale one of the pieces was a work by Shary Boyle. She is kind of a big deal as she the following year won the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2009 and later went on to represent Canada in the Venice Biennale in 2013. The piece which was specifically commissioned for this sale was described by Nancy Tousley in the Calgary Herald as follows:

(Shary Boyle`s work) is represented in the Pavilion catalogue by a lace-draped porcelain figurine of a woman, with a bloody stump of a neck. She daintily holds her severed head in her lady-figurine hands.

It sold for $12,000.

Unfortunately the Pavilion sale was not to be, and only three sales were conducted. It was subsequently cancelled on the eve of the fourth annual sale. In this sale there was a definite interest in exploring contemporary art and new media, including craft-based work.

Moving on the Artist Ranch Project

Instead of repeating myself I would suggest that if the reader is interested in reading more, to visit my previous post (see link provided at the top).

However to add to this discussion I have included an image of a work by Wanda Ellerback from this year`s iteration of the Artist Ranch Project for reference. Here she is creating a work that uses craft, while creating a fine art object.

Wanda_Ellerback_sculpture_for_Stampede_Artist_Ranch_Project_2014 (1024x683)

 

The Guilds and Cabins

In the Western Showcase is a cabin which is daily staffed with volunteer members of various guilds. One of the guilds is the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts. Here they show how the crafts that they work with are done. Sometimes, depending on the guild, they will show children and other interested parties how to do these crafts. This is part of an educational initiative to keep these skills from becoming obsolete. It also harkens back to pioneer culture and especially as it relates to women as many of these activities are of a domestic nature or things that have relevance inside the home.

Calgary_Stampede_Western_Lifestyles_List_of_Participating_Guilds_2014_July (1024x683)

In my most recent post from yesterday, I mentioned work by Yvonne Mullock and the Chinook Guild of Fibre Arts (see link provided at the top of this post). It will become readily obvious why I wanted to include them in this dialogue.

They produced a large hooked rug for the Esker Foundation. It is now currently being shown in the gallery as art.

As an aside the current exhibition at the Esker is very interesting and in the context of this discussion should be seen by all members of the Western Showcase Committee. Two artists, Beth Stuart and Cynthia Girard (who worked in collaboration with artists David Altmejd, Julie Doucet, Groupe d`action en cinéma Épopée, Henry Kleine and Noémi McComber) who produced work that uses a number of craft-based media in the work that is on display (I think immediately of quilts, needlework and eco art). Not only that it is presented in such a way that it could almost be dropped right into the middle of the Western Showcase and look like it was intended to be there. If it was to be included, it would certainly create an active discussion. But I digress.

Yesterday, I walked past The Women’s Centre. As I passed, I was invited in to enjoy a Stampede Lunch and BBQ by a lady standing on the step outside the main doors. Once I was in the space I noticed a number of quilts hanging on the walls surrounding the office. This then gave me the opportunity to talk to one of the staff members and inquire if these were any connection to the quilts that I had seen in a window display at the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts a couple months earlier. It was not the case, but it was an enlightening conversation nevertheless.

The quilts I referenced were made as a collaboration with some women that took part in a workshop connected to The Women’s Centre in cooperation with two artists (Cat Schick and Linda Hawke) connected to This is My City Art Society.

This project was a very fascinating collaboration. With the assistance of a Calgary 2012 grant the two artists led a workshop at The Women’s Centre, which answers calls to approximately 60,000 calls annually for basic needs from clients, the vast majority who are dealing with issues of poverty. This workshop was based on the theme of sleep and dreams and it is possible to read more about it here. Much of the work that was included was very powerful. I have included two small details from two separate quilts included in this art exhibition for reference below. Like the other collaboration that I have mentioned above (the Esker collaboration) The Women`s Centre collaboration, likewise crossed boundaries between untrained people and professional artists.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_one_January_2014 (1024x683)

For reference, the detail text from the above quilt states the following:

Sometimes when I should / be asleep, my mind is wide awake. Things I / need to do tomorrow nag at me, great / burdensome lists of thing, each with its own / list of associated details. On really bad nights / the shadowy corners of my life come into sharp / focus. I think about how I would relive / regrettable moments, fix mistakes. I replay / words I have said and haven’t said to people / alive and dead. My internal temperature / is thrown out of whack and I have too many / covers – then too few. I consider getting up but / usually don’t, afraid I’ll disturb some else’s / sleep.

This_is_My_City_Womens_Centre_Dream_Quilt_Detail_two_January_2014 (1024x683)

The detail from the second states the following:

A hawk flew into my dream,

down into my ruined house,

right through walls that weren’t there

and grazed my head.

The bird had a message for me,

but I was protected from

hearing it,

by the orange sunhat,

I wore in those days.

Synopsis and Conclusion

As we can see from the example of The Women’s Centre + This is My City collaboration craft engages viewers and practitioners on a very fundamental and structural level. When one looks at our Western ancestors we know that craft in some cases for survival, comfort or luxury. At some point in each of our family’s existence someone had to know how to darn a pair of socks, make and bead a pair of moccasins, knit a draft snake, hammer out a horseshoe, create a wedding band and set the stone, and make a ceramic plate – or be able to pay someone to do it for them.

We have determined that ALL sections of the Western Showcase have expressed some interest in showing craft as art up to a certain threshold. However there appears to be only very little of it shown at any one time.

There are probably reasons for this. From the vantage point of an interested observer and non-active participant, I would assume that the largest reason for this is a general lack of awareness that craft is a possibility to be shown in the Western Showcase. In other words, for whatever reason, the committee has not connected on some level with this specific audience.

For this reason I proposed that some initiative be created to allow craftspersons to participate in the Western Showcase. The province (and by extension, the larger region of Western Canada and the Northwestern USA) have some significant and important centres of craft production. This is a perfect venue to showcase this important cultural legacy.

The Stampede as a larger entity, has also shown that they are open to cooperative initiatives. I think of the partnerships that they have formed with corporate entities in terms of naming rights and funding for things such as the SAM Centre, the Youth Campus and its partnership with the Calgary Arts Academy along with the new Enmax partnership to relocate the Indian Village.

The Alberta Craft Council has also shown the same. About a month ago the ACC followed the lead of other organizations such as Stride, Truck, The New Gallery, Marion Nicoll Gallery, Untitled Art Society and the Alberta Printmakers Society in having a window in the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts. This is a new, purpose-built space that was constructed in the +15 corridor along with another newly built space for the University of Calgary Department of Art students between Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Martha Cohen Theatre. In this space the ACC, like the others, have begun regular programming of craft-based, fine art or installation-based artwork rotating on a monthly schedule.

In the local area there are isolated pockets of support for craft-based artwork. Unfortunately much of these opportunities are geared more to selling of pots and functional craft, with occasional art-based opportunities available outside of this narrow focus.

What I would like to propose is something like the Artist Ranch Project which I think is an amazing project. Like this, I would propose a thematic residency of some sort. The Western Showcase I propose to work in collaboration with the Alberta Craft Council to develop a new concept that will benefit artists and artisans who are interested in exploring craft-based opportunities further with a show at the end during the ten-days of Stampede.

I have no idea how this should unfold, but I would be very interested in seeing something like this happen. I am also very excited about what it could look like.

I have done my part, now I am passing off the baton to someone else, whoever that may be.

Celebrating Canada on Canada Day

Arianna_Richardson_The_Canada_Collection_Calgary_installation_view_2014_July_01 (1024x683)

It is Canada Day.

What better way to acknowledge this fact on this blog than to post something that is prototypically Canadian.

Right now in one of the window spaces at the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts (ooops, I stand corrected the Epcor name has finally been dropped a few days ago after four years of keeping it without a naming sponsorship in place) is an awesome, over-the-top collection of vintage pop-culture Canadiana from the time period circa 1967. But maybe that is the point, as being slightly over the top can be one way of dealing with nationalism.

The seven window spaces on the +15 level between Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Martha Cohen Theatre feature a rotating series of exhibitions. They usually change on a monthly or semi-monthly basis. The quality of these shows is often uneven. The programming is coordinated by seven different organizations. As is to be expected in small spaces, the spaces are often used by recent graduates or programming that is more experimental in nature. It is always worth checking out. There have been some fascinating and thought provoking shows (and some that are not) presented in those spaces.

This show for the month of June/July is in the Truck Gallery space. The work presented is by Arianna Richardson, a recent graduate from the University of Lethbridge (BFA, 2013). She has described the accumulated collection of artefacts that comprise The Canada Collection as follows:

The artifacts that are collected under this project are everyday, semi-useful trinkets that bear iconographic signs of Canada (ie- salt and pepper shakers, shot glasses, records, games, plates, etc.) as well as decorative souvenirs representing Canadian sites and attractions. More often than not, items fill both of these criteria, existing strangely between both utilitarian everyday-ness and purposeless decoration. These objects are often reminiscent of the Canadian Centennial era: an integral point in the great push of Canadian identity with effects still resonating today. It is important that these items are collected from thrift stores, garage sales and alleyways; discarded and relegated to the backs of shelves, they are the refuse of our very own Canadian consumer culture. They are most often cheaply made and mass produced: not the sort of artifact that would typically be considered worthy of preservation by official purveyors of national identity.

In this exhibition various items have been stacked up on shelving units such as board games, puzzles, china, spoon racks in the shape of provinces or the country, deer antler cribbage boards, salt and pepper shakers, piggy banks, needlepoint seat covers, or any other assorted collection of knick-knacks and tchotchkes. One of the larger pieces mounted to the wall is a large map of Canada used to place hand tools. All variations on the usual detritus found in garage sales, thrift stores or neatly placed beside the back alley trash bin for someone to take away. Some of these items are hand-made and occasionally a bit quirky. It is this odd assortment of accumulated objects that makes this exhibition interesting as a snapshot of time.

This is the third iteration of this show, having previously been shown in the Forestburg (Alberta) Historical Society and Museum and the Mountainview Museum and Archives in Olds, (Alberta). As described in a small catalogue written by David Smith relating to the two previous shows, he states, “(the artist is) exhibiting . . . in the context of the museum (which) allows for a conversation about the similarities and differences between her artistic practice and the social function of the museum.”

Smith goes on to state, “museums play an important role in shaping national identity. By contrast, Richardson . . . bring(s) awareness about how national identity is constructed.”

This is an interesting and important dialogue to have.

We can see how important this dialogue is with the controversy surrounding the current federal government which announced in 2012 a renaming of the Canadian Museum of Civilization across the river from the Parliament Buildings to the Canadian Museum of History. Of course, as to be expected, in the political arena when this sort of thing happens, it brought accusations that the governing party is trying to rewrite or “manipulat(e) history for ideological purposes” as seen in this article.

In this exhibition the context is not a museum.

Rather it is a passageway between two destination points (presumably one’s vehicle and a performance space). The context changes, but not significantly. The Epcor Centre for Performing Arts being predominantly a performance venue so it does seem appropriate that included in this iteration are examples of vinyl recordings by Alberta Slim and compilation albums of songs celebrating Canada or its provinces and territories.

As a cultural venue these questions of cultural identity are important ones to ask.

Of course I must also mention the fact that many of these items are hand-made. This brings an interesting dynamic as well. Adding to this as part of this iteration, Richardson has created a pseudo-craft kit artefact for this show under the Hobbyist Brand. Here it is illustrated below. How appropriate for the city in the days leading up to the annual Cow Extravaganza at the Calgary Stampede.

Arianne_Richardson_Hobbyist_Brand_Craft_Kit_No_3_Calgary (1024x683)

This is an interesting snapshot of Canada at a time when it was finally finding its own national identity. There were many factors which brought together the increased state of patriotism and optimism in Canada and its increased presence on the international stage – notably the baby boomers coming of age; the Quiet Revolution was happening in Quebec; Expo ’67 was held in Montreal; the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup; French President Charles de Gaulle declared from the balcony of Montréal’s City Hall “Vive, le Québec libre” followed by boisterous cheering; Lester B. Pearson stepped down as Prime Minister; and Justice Minister and future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously declared in a scrum in the halls of Parliament that “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Pierre Burton in turn and after the fact wrote a book which was originally entitled 1967: The Last Good Year the title of which was subsequently changed in later editions to 1967: Canada’s Turning Point.

Needless to say, 1967 was an interesting year.

The 150th Anniversary of Confederation is soon approaching. I am happy that this exhibition was selected for the Truck window space. I also note that an organization which former CEO of the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts, Colin Jackson is very deeply involved with is called, imagiNation 150. It is located down the hall from the exhibition in the Burns Building. It will be interesting to see whether their projects will match the euphoria during 1967.

The show closes on Thursday, July 17 between 6:00 and 7:00pm.

Photography, installation art and blurring boundaries

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Over the weekend Phillip Gefter’s article in the New York Times from two days ago, entitled The Next Big Picture; With Cameras Optional, New Directions in Photography crossed my desk. 

This served as a reminder that I had previously indicated I wanted to talk further about this ten days ago, when I stated the following:

  • I would argue that Tyler Los-Jones’ installation-based work entitled The way air hides the sky should also be considered as dealing with photography in an abstract way, even though this may not be the artist’s original intent.

For background to further discussion, I want to talk about the camera obscura.

Utilizing a naturally occurring phenomenon, the camera obscura has been around since we lived in caves and tents – although it may not have been recognized as such until sometime later, probably in the middle ages.  It is so rudimentary, it is how our eye sees objects.  Our brain automatically corrects the orientation of the image.  Pinhole photography and the camera obscura share a lot of the same principles.  I have inserted a schematic which shows the process of how it works below as it relates to drawing.  The principles are still the same.

Basic-Camura-Obscura-Schematic

Basically simple photography works like this:

  • A single person is standing in the sunshine on one side of the yard.
  • The photographer steps into a completely darkened room on the other side of the yard and closes the door behind him/her.
  • Between them is a wall with a small hole in it on the side facing the person standing in the sunshine.
  • After the photographer’s eyes adjust to the darkened room, the photographer notices that on the far wall across from the small hole is an image of the person standing in the sunshine.  The difference is that the person is upside down and appears to be standing on their head and can be viewed in real time.

This is the basic technology for the camera obscura – simplified greatly of course.  I have not bothered to explain how the image is captured.

One of the many advances in photography was the use of mirrors.  Now we have mirrorless cameras.  This is a relatively new innovation and young technology and is viewed as kind of a big deal.  Most likely this is where the marketplace will be going in the next couple years.  Watch for more significant advances here in the near future.  As a result, it is fair to say that the technology now is very much different and much more complex than it once was.

Having said this, any person can build their own camera and take photographs using the rudimentary camera obscura process and there are many that do.  In fact, there is a small group of dedicated photographers that do just that in the city and area and there has been for a while.  In some ways I would suggest that is a backlash against technological advances, retaining past knowledge, combined with the honesty of doing it old-school – although I am sure tat each person does it for their own personal reasons.  In fact I wrote a review published in Calgary’s FastForward last year during the Exposure Festival about two of these people that do pinhole photography – Diane Bos and Sarah Fuller.

To boil down the technology of photography even further – photography is about capturing light (and the absence thereof).

The framework for my argument

Getting back to the New York Times article.  The article is in response to a new show that will be opening later this week at the International Centre for Photography in NYC.  The ICP show talks about the important period starting in the 1970s to present day.  During this period the boundaries surrounding photography began to blur as a result of conceptualism and the inter-disciplinary nature of photography that is not uncommon now.

In the NY Times article, Phillip Gefter quotes Quentin Bajac, MoMA’s Chief Curator of Photography who talks about the identity crisis in photography at present which is a result of changing practices.  He goes on to state:

  • The shift of focus from fact to fiction, and all the gradations in between, is perhaps the largest issue in the current soul-searching underway in photography circles. Questions swirl: Can the “captured” image (taken on the street — think of the documentary work of Henri Cartier-Bresson) maintain equal footing with the “constructed” image (made in the studio or on the computer, often with ideological intention)?

There is a lot more in the article and it is well worth the read for anyone interested in photography.  I would suggest that with it being the month of photography shortly, this article should be required reading before stepping foot inside any exhibition space.  You don’t have to agree or disagree with the writer or any of those quoted – just be aware and use it as food for thought.

Back in mid-December 2013 the British newspaper The Guardian also published an article written by Stuart Jeffries, entitled The death of photography: Are camera phones destroying an artform?  This also is an interesting article, like the one above – for different reasons.  It starts off with a quote from the award winning, Mexican-born, professional photographer Antonio Olmos, who states this:

  • “It’s really weird. . . Photography has never been so popular, but it’s getting destroyed. There have never been so many photographs taken, but photography is dying.”

Now Tyler Los-Jones and his installation at the Esker

As stated above, the use of mirrors is considered to be a significant innovation in the advancement of photographic technology.  So was the use of lenses; the concave and convex forms that they took; digital image capture; and many other advances.  For our purposes however, I am most interested in the use of mirrors.

In Los-Jones’ installation mirrors are also important.  The primary image in this installation is of three pieces of what I assume to be old growth timbers, painted blue on one end.  To properly view the image, one must use the mirrors stacked against the far wall or alternatively move to a far extreme in the window and see it from the side.  The image generally faces away from the viewer and is attached to the backside of what looks like a packing crate and moving blankets.  There also are what is assumed to be a large scale photo of water and nature-based wallpaper rolled up sharing the same space.  The installation gives the impression that it is like a display window that is being set up and those putting it together have left for a short coffee break.

My point is that in this installation the mirrors are important.  It is through using these mirrors one gets a view of or glimpse of the installation.  As it is with photography, so it is with this work.  Some of this installation is photo-based.  This also ties in with the photography theme, although this is more studio-based and as Bajac states, is moving more toward fiction.

Overall this work fits within the greater context of the other three artists showing in the main space.  All are dealing with the concept of utopia – a theme that underlies all the works on display.

Now for the public service announcement:

On Saturday, February 15 between 3:00-4:00pm, Tyler Los-Jones will give an informal talk about this installation.  As indicated in the exhibition guide, “he will discuss questions he has about time, secrets, and the anxiety he feels towards the concept of Nature.”

If I am able, I would like to go.  I am previously familiar with his work, but this appears to potentially be a new direction.  I would be interested to hear what he has to say.