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.

Advertisements

The House Coffee Sanctuary and artist groups

The_House_Coffee_Sanctuary_Calgary_2014_Oct_11 (1024x683)

Earlier today I was in the community of Kensington. I stopped in to attend an exhibition opening at The House Coffee Sanctuary.

I periodically stop in at The House for a coffee and pastry as I like to support small independent businesses if I am able. As a previous small business owner, I find that they are the lifeblood of our communities and that they usually reinvest into the communities where they are based, more than do most of the larger multi-national companies. Whenever I do stop in for a coffee, I have always noticed art on the wall. Like many other independent coffee shops and restaurants they feature art to decorate the space and “provide publicity” to artists.

As a former gallerist, I am of two minds about this practice. Others are as well I am very certain, probably for other reasons. I have provided art to these type of places (coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) and have had the art stolen off the wall. As a result, I have had to purchase the stolen art using funds out of my own pocket. Let’s just say that, “once burned, twice shy” would help explain my feelings toward these type of venues as an art exhibition space. It is hard enough to make a living in the arts as it is, I don’t need the additional stresses of financial success (or failure) that comes as a result of someone else’s whims or desires. I am not a big fan as a result. But that is my own personal experience and not everyone else’s. If it works for others – that is great.

* * *

This is something that I have wanted to write about for some time. The whole concept of small artist groups who rarely, if ever, get any mention.

The exhibition I attended today featured members of one of these groups, The Emmaus Fine Art Group.

Chances are most readers of my blog will not know who these members are. That is understandable as there are many societies or artist groups such as this in the city. There is a long tradition of arts organizations such as this which pre-date the first museum that showed art in the city. As a result, these type of groups are part of my research focus.

Some groups are more well- known than others – groups such as the Alberta Society of Artists, the Canadian Federation of Artists, Burns Visual Arts Society, Untitled Art Society, Alberta Printmakers Society, Bee Kingdom . . . the list goes on, and on. Other groups slip under the radar screen for most that are interested in the visual arts, for various reasons. It is certainly not because they are any less worthy.

What are artist societies?

  • These groups can be a very small group of artists or they can be quite large;
  • They can offer free membership or paid;
  • They may provide studio space – or not;
  • A group could be as simple as a few retirees or stay at home moms who paint. They may form a group out of a need, or an excuse to get out of the house, meet their friends for coffee or a glass of wine, and talk about their work, or paint en plain air as a group;
  • They may meet once a week, once a month, once a year or not at all except for board elections;
  • Alternatively, a group could be a formalized society with its own bylaws, non-profit status and space;
  • The group can take whatever form that they choose, and for whatever reason that makes sense to its members.

Regardless of how they are formed or operate, they are all community-building initiatives. They also serve a number of positive purposes such as:

  • Providing a support mechanism for what is usually a solitary pursuit (producing visual art and/or craft-based work);
  • Provide exhibition opportunities that may not otherwise occur;
  • Provide a reason to produce work;
  • Provide a social network with like-minded individuals.

Locally there has been a strong tradition of artist groups, as seen in the example of both the Calgary Allied Arts Centre and the Muttart Public Art Gallery. Unfortunately both of these organizations are no longer with us, but their legacy does continue in the form of the Calgary Allied Arts Foundation and the Art Gallery of Calgary (now Contemporary Calgary) even that history is no longer relevant to current operations.

Emmaus_Fine_Art_Group_installation_at_The_House_2014_Oct_11 (1024x683)

Getting back to the Emmaus Fine Art Group (see photo above). I had the opportunity to find out more about this group with one of the longest standing members of the group, this afternoon – Sharon Graham. She probably has the highest artistic profile of all the members that were included in the current exhibition. Many of her drawings of suspects in court proceedings have been reproduced in newspapers over the years. If memory serves me correct, she also previously exhibited at Art is Vital when they were once located on the second floor of Eau Claire Market, quite a number of years ago.

She helped me with a bit of the history of this group. The House Coffee Sanctuary is where they most frequently exhibit. They have had a loose association with the coffee shop since shortly after it opened for business.

The thing that ties this group together is that members of the group have religious beliefs. All members (from what I understand) self-identify as being Christian.

I have often wondered why this coffee shop is considered a non-profit. So tonight I investigated this claim. From their website, I read that the coffee shop, “was opened by First Alliance Church in November, 2001.”

Knowing this, it then makes sense why the Emmaus group would show in this venue. There is a mutual support network (or a natural synergy) occurring between the two groups – the church/coffee shop; the artists; and/or the artist society or group.

The church (speaking broadly as a much larger institution of individual localized churches, groups, educational institutions and other related religious communities) has long been associated with visual artists and the arts. This is particularly true for the Roman Catholic Church and one has to only think of the Sistine Chapel and the masterworks found there and elsewhere in their churches to understand how true this statement is. However, to my mind, the Protestant faiths as a general rule, tend not to be as supportive of the visual arts. Rarely does one see much religious art in Protestant churches, except for some sects as seen in their stained glass windows. This is particularly true, especially as it relates to religious art.

Why is this?

If I was to speculate, this probably has something to do with Martin Luther, John Calvin (especially) and the Protestant Reformation; and how religious thought and practice has developed over the subsequent 600 years.

We know that at the time of the Reformation, a new Northern Renaissance in painting took root in what was predominately Protestant countries or areas such as Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Great Britain. This resulted in a demand for paintings that tended more to the secular, taking the form of portraits; history painting; still lifes; and genre paintings. This work from that period, celebrated the agenda of the Protestant movement. Over time, this presumably developed into a fear of idolatry and as interpreted in Protestant faiths that fine art generally is a distraction to religious devotion.

I have attempted to simplify a very complex relationship in religious thought. I have tried to be as respectful of those with different religious belief systems in my simplified interpretation. For those that might feel it is not correct, as the reader interprets it, I apologize in advance.

Nevertheless, given the framework of this exhibition, and the concept of community development in the arts, it is an interesting question and interpretation to ponder.

Regardless of this, I think that this is a good example of how one develops community in the visual arts. It also shows how multiple groups can facilitate artistic growth and career development. This is a necessary ingredient in achieving success as an artist. Generally, an artist’s career does not develop in isolation, even though their practice usually is a solitary pursuit.

Andrew McPhail’s CRYBABY at UAS and a related show at Avalanche

Andrew_McPhail_Crybaby_detail_at_Untitled_Art_Society_2014_Sept (1024x683)

Earlier tonight I attended the opening of Andrew McPhail‘s installation CRYBABY at the Untitled Art Society’s Satellite Gallery. This exhibition is part of Mountain Standard Time – the seventh biennial performative art festival, known more colloquially as M:ST 7 which begins this weekend in both Lethbridge and Calgary.

It is a quiet installation, with subdued lighting. This show contrasted quite starkly with the opening held at the same time at Avalanche! Institute of Contemporary Art in their space directly below UAS.

At Avalanche! Shawn Mankowske‘s and Palmer Olson‘s two-person exhibition momento maury showed bright colours, abstract shapes along with a tip of the hat and awareness of op-art and formalist abstraction from the 1960s and 1970s. It is an odd combination to see in Calgary. Formalist abstraction has never gained significant traction and had very little impact in the city during its heyday (or since). I could probably write lots about this odd disconnect as it is something that has fascinated me for quite some time.

* * *

As stated above Andrew McPhail’s CRYBABY installation at UAS is subdued and accentuates the sublime nature of the work – especially at night when I attended. The absence of natural light lends itself well to the exhibition and the somewhat theatrical lighting made it more dramatic than it probably otherwise would be during daylight hours, when the gallery receives natural light.

This is an ongoing installation begun in 2010 that has been installed previously at two separate locations – Union Gallery at Queen`s University in Kingston (2011) and at TH&B at 270 Sherman (the former Imperial Cotton Mill) in Hamilton (2012).

Briefly this work originated as a result of an experience the artist had while making a trans-Atlantic flight. His seatmate, whom he did not know, suffered a heart-attack while en route and passed away. This work came as a result of this experience. It is a memorial of sorts to this unknown person and the often overwhelming nature of grief.

The work itself is made up of thousands of Kleenex tissues that are individually stitched together. At the opening and various times throughout the exhibition the performative component of the show as part of M:ST 7 has the artist stitching tissues together and engaging viewers in dialogue with issues surrounding the work.

Andrew_McPhail_Crybaby_performative_aspect_and_Detail_at Untitled_Art_Society_2014_Sept (1024x683)

This situation that led to this work is a sad circumstance. However, it is something we all can relate to.

We all will encounter death, sadness and loss at some point in our lives. It may be someone we know, a relative or someone we have loved. It could be a casual acquaintance we once knew. It could be a random circumstance such as what happened to McPhail. Or in a similar way like myself when I was bicycling home yesterday and chanced upon a policeman calling for an ambulance (I assume) while he stood near a fellow who appeared to have fallen, and was lying motionless on the concrete beside an apartment building, with what appeared to be blood in the area of his head. Who knows how long he was there. For that matter, we could even ponder our own failing health or those family members that we are closest to.

It is these together – the all too frequent points in our lives, where we are reminded of our own frailties and the transitory nature of life itself.

Plato wrote a great dialogue in his middle period called Phaedo. It is told from the perspective of one of Socrate‘s students – Phaedo of Elis. Here, Plato using the voice of Phaedo and Socrates’ associates talks about the events leading up to the death of Socrates. He then goes on to present four arguments in favour of the immortality of the soul and the afterlife:

  • The Cyclical Argument, or Opposites Argument;
  • The Theory of Recollection;
  • The Affinity Argument; and;
  • The Argument of the Form of Life, or The Final Argument.

There has been much discussion over the centuries about how we deal with the issue of grief – and death. It is something that we must all come to terms with in our own way. However, this is an important discussion to have, as it has deep resonance with all.

This issue that Plato discussed and related questions are some of the fundamental questions of all religious thought and philosophy. These are questions such as:

  • What happens when our mortal life ends?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What purpose do we have? and;
  • Why do we live?

* * *

This all brings me back to the Avalanche! show in a circuitous and very odd, but related way.

The choice of title momento maury for Mankowske‘s and Olson‘s exhibition riffs off the centuries old Latin phrase momento mori which roughly translated means “remember (you have to) die”. This phrase is interesting as it carries a lot of philosophical, art historical, musical and religious baggage and is frequently referenced throughout the centuries.

The concept of momento mori comes from the Vulgate Latin rendering of Ecclesiasticus 7:40 which reads “in omnibus operibus tuis memorare novissima tua, et in aeternum non peccabis” or as it is translated “in all thy works be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin.”

As an aside, this Latin phrase in the exhibition context with the title, is also mildly humourous – which is probably the intent.

This is especially so, when one reflects further upon the theories of Clement Greenberg and formalist abstraction which their paintings reference.

* * *

Returning once again to McPhail’s work we see that he also draws from the concept of momento mori. Even the materials used – Kleenex tissues – also talk about the ephemeral nature of life.

That is what good art should do – give the viewer something to think about.

Put the UAS show in your list of things to view. While there, make a slight detour, go down the stairs and visit Avalanche! as well.

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.

A quiet performance

MuellerPerformance (1024x683)

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.