Solar Flare Installation Stephen Avenue Walk

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

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Requiem for Art Central

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Last week I walked past Art Central.  I noticed the signs on the door indicating that effective today, the +15 will be closed to all foot traffic between it and adjoining buildings.

It is a bittersweet day for me – ironically falling on Remembrance Day.  Like when a long-standing relationship draws to a close – one remembers both the good times and the bad.

I used to have a space in Art Central.  Truth be told, I had four or five of them over the years.

This is my story.

Sometime around 2001-2003 the leasing agent for Art Central came to visit both the owner of the gallery I once worked at, along with myself.  He was looking for established galleries to anchor the development.  After his presentation and others I attended in that timeframe, along with discussions with other dealers who were located close by, it became clear that it the location was not suited for a gallery and probably why no pre-existing and established commercial galleries ever a space.  Of course, there was Rob and myself but we both had pre-existing histories with galleries, but started afresh when we opened in Art Central.

The concept itself was very interesting, but as they say in real estate it is all about location, location, location.

Unfortunately, Art Central never had that.

I attended the grand opening of Art Central in conjunction with the grand opening of ArtCity probably in 2005.  There was no power to the building except as hooked up to a generator which gave a rawness to the building which was rather edgy.  The downside was once the party starting to roll, the music was shut off and we all got kicked out early for whatever reason.

Once the building was open in late 2005, I would often visit the First Thursday celebrations with my then new girlfriend.  She had never been exposed to cultural activities or galleries before we hooked up and this was a good introduction for her.  During the three and a half years we were together I was able to introduce her to other cultural experiences, something I took great pleasure in doing.

During this time, I was also running another gallery.  When things started rapidly going south at that gallery in March of 2007, I had to look for new space.  It was during a time when the overheated commercial real estate market had vacancy rates of less than ½ of 1%.  My choices for retail space were extremely limited.

For about week I would drop her off at her job downtown, park the car and then go to Art Central to see what the traffic patterns were like in the early morning prior to opening the old gallery in anticipation of signing a lease.  The foot traffic was very good as the C-Train station was just outside the door and it was still cool outside, so lots of people passed through.

Without getting into the gory details, I moved from a 3000 sq. ft. retail storefront space on one of the best streets for art galleries to a 300 sq. ft. space on the +15 level and was open for business two days later.  On one of the first days I overheard a short conversation during the afternoon foot traffic rush hour which sadly defined the remainder of my time in that building.   Two guys that I assumed were co-workers saw each other on the central stairwell.  One said to the other something to the effect of “I’ll race you and see who gets out of the building faster.”  Like relationships, sometimes when you start on the wrong foot, it influences everything else to come.

I have described my gallery as similar to a corner store on the 401.  Sometimes people need a drink or a bag of chips.  Most of the time they don’t and zoom right past without a second glance.

At first sales were okay.  But then the York Hotel came down across the street the next summer and the construction of the Bow Building and the huge underground parking lot with all the dust and noise only affected business even more.  The construction of the Bow was the beginning of the slow death of Art Central.

I left the building just before the current owners purchased it.  All I can say is that I am glad I left when I did.

Toward the end, tenant turnover was very high.  There were very few occupants in the Art Loop in the basement.  First Thursdays were nothing like they used to be and for the last couple years the basement had their lights turned off and the only activity was the music and a few small openings.

I am sure that by the time I left, the many accumulated disappointments and unmet expectations during my nearly five years there, only served to acknowledge that this chapter of my life had ended.

I look back on my time in Art Central with bittersweet memories.  I did some amazing shows there that few noticed and I met top drawer people.

When I left, I took the summer off and then started on a new passion – trying to figure out why this city is so weird when it comes to the visual arts.  After nearly two decades of running galleries and siting on boards and being actively involved in the community, I don’t believe that I am any closer to figuring out what makes this city tick when it comes to the visual arts.  Maybe I never will.

Art Central was a great concept that failed to deliver.  I am glad that I was part of it.

To an old friend.  Goodbye.

All the Artists Are Here

Today is opening night of Art Toronto.

One of the more interesting news stories to cross my desk this morning is the news story from Canadian Art magazine relating to Art Toronto.  Canadian Art will be providing daily updates as is their custom for the next few days.

The story today talks about the large installation created by Tom Sokoloski and Jeff Lei that is placed just inside the main entrance to Art Toronto entitled All the Artists Are Here.  In this installation we see approximately 1000 photos of artists that are included in the Art Fair.

I am unable to provide any commentary to this work due to lack of time today.  However, this story is very interesting to me and provides a platform for further dialogue.  It also speaks to the changing dynamic in the art world that we have witnessed during the past 20 years.  This has only been accentuated by technology and social media, amongst other societal and economic dynamics.

The news story referenced can be read here – http://www.canadianart.ca/news/2013/10/24/art-toronto-artists/

Thanksgiving and reflecting on the arts as career

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Yesterday, I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with a good friend.  It was just the two of us.

This year was unlike any other.  I have always celebrated Thanksgiving with family of some sort, whether it is my own family, the family of those I am in a relationship with, or both.

It was very nice to spend this time with my friend, who like me is an arts professional.  Also, like me, she is on sabbatical (of sorts) from the field and quite possibly may never return to it either.  It is sad really as just the two of us together have a lot of experience and knowledge.  In fact together we have more experience and knowledge than some public institutions have with the sum total of all their staff.

Thanksgiving is a time when family and/or friends can get together to celebrate and reflect upon all the things that we are thankful for.

Even though both of us have had a very difficult and challenging year for many reasons, in conversation, I know that we both have much to be thankful for as well.

I had a long chat with my little sister this afternoon when I was in the middle of spending the afternoon taking in the last of the garden before the snow falls.  Her oldest is in grade 12 and they are starting to think about where he will go to school next year about this time.  Since they live some distance from me, I don’t see them often and when I do it is not a topic of discussion.  He’s my nephew.  I have known him all his life, it doesn’t seem all that long ago when he was still just a baby.  Now he is taller than I am.

Time just travels on – seemingly faster than I thought.

I guess with the conversations I have been having with my friend and the many disappointments and challenges we have both had this year, it got me thinking.  Maybe that, combined with the reader comments that I have seen in the news stories about the respect that many citizens give to the arts in Calgary (and the visual arts in particular) really did get me thinking even more about this.

I look back to when I was a senior in high school and I was a fresh-faced youth, just like my nephew is now.  The world ahead was full of opportunity and possibilities.  Without getting into the gory details, I ended up in the visual arts where for the most part, outside of the first part of my career, I have worked since that time.

The question is if he was interested in pursuing the visual arts as a career, given what I know now, would I encourage him to do it?

I don’t know the answer to that.

One thing is for sure, it would be a very difficult question for me to answer for him.  The other certainty I know, is that the answer would NOT be a resounding yes.

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.

A pleasurable gardening moment

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I always like finding situations where people do something worthy of note.

I also enjoy gardening.  And, I also enjoy the visual arts.

So, when I found myself in the community of Hounsfield Heights a day or two ago and saw this, I knew I had to take a photo of it.  I have no idea who created this lovely recreation of an artist’s studio in their garden. I just think it is something more interesting than the usual.

To this lovely anonymous person(s) who was(were) responsible for making this happen – thank you.