Phantom Wing vs. Land|Slide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A quiet performance

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

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

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

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

I never forgot it.

Fast forward three years.

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

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

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

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

Once again, Mueller just completed a new durational performance.

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

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

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

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

Effigies at Phantom Wing

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

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

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

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

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

Some background:

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

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

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

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

About the performance:

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

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

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

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

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

Ringing the bells at Phantom Wing

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As stated yesterday, Phantom Wing opened tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phantom Wing takes flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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