Hardcopy: call for submissions
10 Places A Murderer Might Hide in your Hotel Room
By Blair Brennan1
- Under the bed
- Behind the curtain (not sheer curtains)
- On the balcony
- In the shower
- Behind the door (when you first come in)
- Masquerading as room service
- In the Closet
- Hanging off the balcony (check for fingers on railing)
- In the adjoining room (check bathroom again)10.
- In the ice machine in the hallway
Writing Edmonton: This Weekend
Last night I had a dream…
Yesterday I attended a presentation by Kendal Henry, the public art curator behind the transitory art exhibition entitled “Dirt City, Dream City” being created for The Quarters this summer. Based out of New York, but involved in projects all over the world, Henry has been working to facilitate public art projects for 22 years. His presentation was rich with some of the most successful public art projects he’s encountered - many were well known and have been featured on the website Colossal.com, while others were unfamiliar to me, but no less inspiring.
For those of you who don’t know, “The Quarters” is the new name that’s being given to the Boyle street area in downtown Edmonton. In particular, it runs from 97 street to 92 street and between 103A ave to the top of the river valley. By rebranding the area and injecting millions of dollars into the project, the city hopes to revitalize the neighbourhood by opening up walking paths and parks, increasing commercial spaces, high and medium density housing and access to amenities like a community garden. The whole revitalization is scheduled to be completed in 15 -20 years. According to the scant information available, the general consensus is that the city has been doing their due diligence by consulting with members from the Boyle street community about their own vision and aspiration for the neighbourhood as the planning progresses.
Henry’s approach is to work collaboratively with the communities initiatives he facilitates. In addition, he defines public art as something that is site specific, rather than a work that exists or is simply placed in a space without thinking about the relationship between the work and the site. Henry also sees public art as a conversation. When he enters into dialogue with a community, he often asks the question “what do you want the art to do?” First he tries to get participants in his projects to think about how art can bring a community itself together, and then envision how the work can connect with people beyond that community so that ultimately each are able to experience spaces in new ways.
In Henry’s experience, the projects or initiatives that have been the most successful are those that instill pride in the community and that transform the perception of how a space is encountered. He claims that about 80% of public art is mediocre (admitting that he too has participated in mediocre public art projects) because they lack leadership, consultation, and collaboration with the community.
There are 15 artists involved in the temporary public art projects being created for The Quarters this summer. Selected from a pool of artists who applied through an open and public call for submissions that circulated in January, this project is being funded and spear-headed by the Edmonton Arts Council. According to Kristy Trinier, the Public Art Director for the Edmonton Arts Council, most of the artists are local (a couple are said to be from outside the city) and some of the artists have lived in the area. The majority of these artist/participants were present at the talk and at one point were invited to stand up. I couldn’t help but notice that they all appeared to be caucasian.
Now it may just have been my vantage point, and appearances can be deceiving, but in a neighbourhood as ethnically diverse as Boyle street I was somewhat surprised to see this. If the goal is to engage in making public art that reflects the people who live and belong to a particular community, it seems somewhat problematic that there were no people of Asian, Aboriginal, or African origin (considering 18% of residents there are of “East, South and Southeast Asian” descent, 8% are of Aboriginal descent, and 6% are of African descent). I’d be very happy to be wrong about this and to hear that there is some cultural diversity in the project (aside from Henry himself who stated that he is from the West Indies).
Trinier promises that “soon” profile pictures and bios for all the artists will be made public on the Edmonton Arts Council page, and I look forward to reading more about each participant and what their transitory art project will be. I also look forward to hearing more about the conversations that the “Dirt City, Dream City” project hopes to initiate - its very difficult to find much information about The Quarters generally and even more so about this particular initiative anywhere online. I think it has a lot of potential, but based on the Q & A period after the talk yesterday, I’m not the only one who is curious to know more. This Saturday afternoon there will be a preview of the projects in their current state on at the Artery and a chance to continue the conversation.
Last night I had a dream about the project and about the future of the arts in Edmonton. I envisioned a place where communities connected, where art was embraced and encouraged and existed in harmony with commercial enterprises. I awoke refreshed, optimistic and rejuvenated about the progress being made.
It’s hard to believe the end of April is already here and that today is my last official day as writer-in-residence. Since I began this position, I’ve been keeping track of great projects and a myriad of things I’d hoped to write about - some have become full fledged posts, while others still populate my lists. This evening I will be posting a full-length piece I’ve been working on about installing exhibitions and the unseen preparators who make it happen, but for now I wanted to briefly share a couple highlights from my writing “to do” list worth visiting or exploring on your own.
The Human Library
Initiated in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000, The Human Library is “an innovative method designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding.” Essentially, readers can borrow “Human Books” for an hour long informal conversation where the “book” shares their experiences with the reader. Human Libraries exist in 32 countries around the world, and there are currently two branches in Alberta. One is through the Calgary Public Library and the other through the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus. The “titles” change every so often as new “books” are added or removed from circulation. There are some great “reads” available that range from practicing artists, writers, immigrants, cultural nomads, experiences from the queer community, and people with disabilities.
12th Royal Bison
In the fall I wrote about the 11th Royal Bison, drawing comparisons between it and an artist’s run centre. This upcoming weekend, May 5-6th, is the 12th iteration and promises to be just as amazing. With approximately 30% new vendors, there is bound to be something new and fresh to catch your attention alongside your trusted favourite vendors.
BFA 2012 Graduating Exhibition
This week is the last week to check out the BFA 2012 Graduating Exhbition Wayfindings,which closes on May 5th.. As typical of these graduating exhibitions, the works are a diverse combination of printmaking, painting, drawing and sculpture. Many of the artists exhibiting there are also participating in Walking on Walls, an exhibition of prints currently on show at SNAP until May 19.
Edmonton has a very small community of people engaged in writing about the visual arts. Latitude 53 has made great steps in fostering written critical engagement with the arts via their monographs and initiatives like the writer-in-residence. This May, a workshop will take place to explore ideas for creating a more vibrant and sustainable writing community dedicated to the visual arts. Stay posted for future blogs about this initiative.
The Whitney Gets Punk’d
Last week I forwarded a link to a press release issued by the Whitney Museum of American Art stating they were returning the Biennial funding provided to them by Sotheby’s and the Deutsche Bank. According to the release, the Whitney couldn’t in good conscience partner with either Sotheby’s or the Deutsche bank given their “recent corporate conduct.”
The full release, which can be read here, details which aspects of their corporate conduct are particularly contentious. It succinctly cites Sotheby’s ongoing lockout of art handlers since the summer of 2011 amidst record breaking sales and profits and the Deutsche Bank’s legal embroilment in several cases of mortgage fraud. Accordingly, the release states that continued association would “tarnish the image of the Biennial” and that their sponsorship would “detract from these serious matters.”
In a powerful and profound statement, the press release concludes by apologising to the participating artists, promising a redistribution of remaining sponsorship stating:
“The Whitney…recognizes that some donors and sponsors may seek to use their partnership with the Museum to whitewash their image and to hide the social costs of unchecked capital accumulation behind a façade of charity. These sponsors seek to capitalize on the creativity, intelligence, and culture brought into the world by contemporary artists even as the sponsors make that world unlivable. The Whitney recognizes that many emerging artists cannot refuse to participate in a major museum show without endangering their careers, and so apologizes deeply to the participating artists for allowing them to be exploited by the former sponsors in this manner. The Museum hopes the participating artists will join us in denouncing the wrongs committed by our former sponsors and trusts the artists will use the resources provided to them to foster a more vibrant, livable, just, and sustainable world.”
Wow. Good on the Whitney for taking a stand and making such a strong statement! Except it seems like the Whitney was Punk’d (and not the first time either - apparently, in 1970, a press release on Whitney letterhead claimed that 50% of the artists participating an annual art exhibition would be women - it didn’t happen either).
Ashton Kutcher - “You’ve just been Punk’d”
The website definitely looks and feels legitimate, in fact I clicked through several of the links on the supposed Whitney page, which sent me to the real Whitney page. However, my suspicion that something was amiss was aroused when I couldn’t get back to the page with the press release denouncing the sponsorships (because it isn’t linked on the actual Whitney page), but could access other press releases announced by the real Whitney.
I was curious to know when the phony press release had been issued, since no date was could be located on the page itself, so I forwarded the URL to a friend of mine who is far more web savvy than I. Apparently, the format of the release makes it impossible to know when it was published, but clues suggest it was sometimes towards the end of February. A quick Google search revealed a couple of articles about the false release and the flurry of responses it received
It appears I was far from the only one fooled and that shortly after its initial release, twitter was abuzz with people congratulating the Whitney on standing up and showing support for the artists and for calling for corporate accountability. Friends posted the link on their facebook pages applauding the actions of the Museum (and then of the people who made the prank possible). For its part, the Whitney is trying to have the page taken down, but so far has obviously been unsuccessful in its attempts.
While the false press release may have been a hoax, the initial outpouring of support for the (supposed) denouncement of corporate control over events like the Whitney points to a growing desire for transparency from corporate sponsors. It also demonstrates a really great example of political action on behalf of the technologically proficient hackers who concocted the whole ruse. most importantly it raises awareness about the side of corporate sponsorship that is often hidden from plain view and challenges people to think more critically about partnerships, and about what they read.
A visit to the Art Gallery
Teaching an undergraduate art history survey is a rather contrived process. This occurs both because at the survey level the history is a superficial overview that generally describes a linear progression of sorts, and because the formulaic process of lecturing about images or objects that are put up on a screen is more than sterile. Divorced from any context, the works float without much reference to original context or how they might be encountered beyond the walls of the classroom, there is no real sense of scale, and only a rough approximation of colour and tones. As I’ve written before, the result is that many students fail to see how (or why) the works are relevant today and reduces learning to merely the memorization and regurgitation of information.
On Thursday, I took my students to the Art Gallery of Alberta where Icons of Modernism is currently on display. This exhibition traces the influence and practices of some of the most influential movements and artists from the first half of the twentieth century. I wanted them to get a firsthand look at works similar to the ones we were studying in class, which appear quite a bit different in person than in the textbook, and to have each student present a paper on a different artist. Using the works on display, they were assigned with discussing how the the work/aritst they selected reflects the aim of a particular “ism” and to address the broader question of whether the work (or artist) merited the label of “icon” (which touches upon the problematic nature of labeling iconoclastic artists as iconic).
My primary goal was experience a space where artworks could be viewed in person. My secondary goal was to get out of the classroom as to engage them in peer-to-peer instruction and inquiry based learning.
One of their biggest challenges was getting them onboard with talking about works that tended to have little scholarly information available, as is the case for those in the exhibition. In other words, there was no relying on what someone else had written about the work. The strategic approach would be to think about other works that the artist produced around the same time and to look at the broader historical context in which the work was created, thereby formulating a visual analysis that was rooted in solid background research and then extrapolating to the specific work in question.
As expected, most of the presentations were decent, showcasing a general knowledge of their respective subject. Also as anticipated, a few were superficial and tentative. These students are those that were either underprepared or afraid that they might be “wrong,” despite being told that I’m less interested in a “right” versus “wrong” visual analysis and more interested in hearing how they read the work and why. I suspect this fear is the result of a school system that devalues creative thinking in favour of high academic scores.
There were a couple of exceptional presentations. What made these presentations stand out was that they were well researched and that the students took risks. First they contextualized the works within the broader history and then they used that knowledge to buttress their analysis of the work. As a result, the statements made about the works were insightful and provocative. I was truly impressed.
After the presentations were over, we discussed Duchamp’s notorious Bicycle Wheel as a class. They were pretty divided on whether they thought it was art or not, so I had both camps justify their reasoning. The ensuing discussion was interesting as they debated some of the larger issues about art that we have been examining in class. It’s a fulfilling experience to hear and see the tools I endeavour to equip my students with actually being used. Of course not every student is as engaged. I know that where I teach this art history survey merely completes a requirement, but my hope is that they will see the world around them with new eyes. Perhaps I am just an idealist (or naive).
I invited them to visit the other exhibitions at their own pace. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they enjoyed some of them so much that they would be coming back after finals to see the exhibitions again. I received kind words of thanks for the field trip which had given them the opportunity to both see work in person, and to get out of the classroom.
Public Art: DIY Field & the Talus Dome
I was reading through the current issue of Border Crossings and came across a short piece about Vancouver-based artist Germaine Koh’s recent public art project for Central Park in downtown Winnipeg. Entitled DIY Field, the work is mediated by viewer participation.
The project consists of 38 steel posts with a 5” diameter which rise up from the ground in a grid pattern, each with an 8” frosted acrylic tube containing blue, red and green LEDs. In addition, each post has 3 buttons that correspond to each LED, thereby allowing people passing through the park to change and combine the colours and illuminate the “field” as they choose. 8 possible colours can be created from the blue, red and green LEDs. “Additively…red plus green makes yellow; green plus blue makes cyan; and blue plus red make magenta…all of them added together make white and, finally, all the lights can also be turned off.”
Because the work exists in a public space (and as stipulated by the Winnipeg Arts Council Public Arts Program guidlines) , it was important to Koh that the work be user-friendly and playful for children as well as adults. As Koh describes in the Border Crossings piece, “I like that it is as inutitive as I hoped it would be. Every time I come along it’s quite different… This is the most crowd-pleasing work I have done in a long time and I’m happy with how it turned out.” (You can find some wonderful images of the project here.)
Beyond public engagement, DIY Field changes with the seasons and the time of day. In the winter, the lit posts will rise out of the snow covered field like beacons, reflecting their colours; and though visible in the day, in the evening the posts will glow and light the dark in brilliantly coloured patterns.
In reading about Koh’s work, I couldn’t help think about our own Talus Dome, which stands beside the newly renovated Quesnell bridge. Both projects were completed in the same year (2011) with similar aims of reflecting and interacting with the specific environmental conditions of their placement. Needless to say, Talus Dome, has been a lightning rod for controversy and not quite as well received as DIY Field.
For me the biggest distinctions lie in how Koh’s project invites viewers to interact with the work in a really dynamic way, and in the placement. Being able to alter the appearance of the work gives viewers to power to shape and respond to the work. Furthermore, its location in an accessible public space facilitates this engagement. The location of the Talus Dome is not accessible in the same way. On their website, The Edmonton Arts Council states that, while “visible from the road, the best way to experience Talus Dome is from the adjacent trail.” While this may be true, I’m not sure that the trails adjacent to the onramp of the Quesnell are not the most conveniently located for most people, unless they’re headed to Fort Edmonton Park (in which case they may still only be driving past). The subject of placement was addressed on this blog, which also contains some really great responses, including one from the Edmonton Arts Council.
As an avid runner, I’m looking forward to being able to run past the work in the summer, instead of just witnessing it from a moving vehicle.
I like that Edmonton is working to create new forms of public art and that this project has sparked some much needed discussion around what exactly that means.
Engaging Audiences & the Telus World of Science
Lately I’ve been participating in some interesting discussions how different institutions in the city engage their visitors, and how the experiences that people have while in these different places become meaningful. I think that fundamentally part of this question revolves around content, part of it considers programming.
Last week I took a trip to the Telus World of Science, formerly the Space and Science Centre, for the first time in quite while. It’s somewhere I really enjoy visiting and I usually make it out about once or twice a year. Every time I go, I’m reminded of the wonderful programming they offer. They pride themselves on creating interactive programming as a tool for both education and entertainment with the ultimate goal of “sparking the imagination of people of all ages.”
It even looks like it’s from space!
Their recent Titanic exhibition was no exception - it created an immersing environment that literally gave visitors a up close and personal experience of what being on the Titanic might have been like. Upon entering the exhibition, visitors were given a replica boarding pass of a real passenger upon the Titanic. While moving through the exhibits, visitors learned about the where their passenger slept and the kinds of things they would have seen. At the end, it was revealed whether the person whose boarding pass you held survived or perished. The result is an experience where visitors are more invested in the exhibition because as they move through, they are connected to a real identity.
The exhibition fulfilled the Science Centre’s mandate in every way. It was interactive, educational, fun and allowed the imagination to fill in the gaps by having visitors create a narrative around the identity on their boarding pass and through the content provided by the exhibition at large.
In addition to travelling exhibitions, like Titanic, there are the permanent displays (fully immersive spaces on their own), each with their own interactive components that supplement the text and images, and the portable displays. If you’ve ever been, you’ll know the ones I’m talking about - they elucidate mathematical or scientific principles in ways that are quite clearly presented and accessible to a broad range of audiences. There are the whisper dishes that allow two people on opposite sides of the room the ability to communicate, the probability dice, and the cantilever bridge building - to name a few. For those of us who grew up in Edmonton, there’s a certain amount of nostalgia tied to these displays. They remind us of the joy of discovery we experienced as children on field trips or family visits. Furthermore, as we age, our engagement with them changes. When I was younger, they were fun to play with; now I better understand the principles at work in each.
A friend of mine who works there laughs at how popular they are - so much so that they get trotted out again and again for inquiring minds, both new and perpetual.
There are a couple of things that makes a trip to the Science Centre so alluring. They present the perfect mix of travelling (or new) exhibitions with the reliable favourites which allows visitors the chance to engage with new material and re-discover (and re-animate) the permanent displays. In addition, much of their content offers concrete answers regarding the world. They address questions that are more universal in nature and that are broadly applicable. This is different from, say, the visual arts, where exhibitions are often about an artist or a specific historic moment that sometimes make it difficult for the general public to relate to because they can’t see how the work relates to their own experiences. This is a major challenge that I face in my work in art galleries.
Traditionally, art galleries offer public tours as a means of engaging visitors, but this model is, in many ways, antiquated. My background is in adult programming, and it’s the perspective I write from. Adult tours can feel somewhat like walking lectures and far too often are quite one sided. The dilemma is that some people like this model. Nay, LOVE this model. Tour guides are often chastised for asking too many questions and for trying to engage audiences in discussion, instead of “just giving the information.” However, there are those who find the discussion portion of tours incredibly valuable, because it allows them to relate to the exhibition in a more meaningful and thought provoking way. Fundamentally though, unlike the Science Centre, visitors to art galleries are typically not allowed to interact with the objects on display in the same way - art exhibitions are generally not designed for that kind of physical contact. In addition, while they do have some programs aimed towards kids, I find that much of their programming is cross-generational.
Once in a while there are these beautiful moments when galleries open up and encourage the kind of innovative and dynamic engagement with content that is typical of the Science Centre. At the Art Gallery of Alberta, I see this happening at the late night Refinery parties where guests participate in making artworks that respond to the exhibitions. With Latitude, things are even more open and fluid with programs like the weekly Rooftop Patio Parties in the summer, interventions in public places like In/Stall/Ed, and Visualeyez.
I’m still working through some of these ideas and anticipate many more discussions to come. Some preliminary questions I foresee are: how can the visual arts engage audiences like the Science Centre? Can programming at the Science Centre be extrapolated to “inspire” visual arts institutions? Is it even a legitimate comparison to make, why or why not?