Throwback: Raymond Boisjoly, Burrard Marina Field House Studio Program, 2013

Vancouver-based Indigenous artist Raymond Boisjoly (b. 1981) is one on a shortlist of four artists nominated for the AIMIA/AGO Photography Prize this year. The prize is valued at $50,000 and the winner is decided by public vote on the AGO website or in person at the gallery. The four nominees participated in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario which opened on September 6th.  In 2016, Boisjoly received the VIVA Award and was also shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award.

Boisjoly was the first artist to participate in CAG’s residency program at Burrard Marina Field House in 2013. During his six-month stay, Boisjoly used the field house as a studio space and as a site for community engaging projects. One such event was a talk and discussion with Nathan Crompton, co-editor of The Mainlander, on the (now more than) 100 year history of colonial displacement of the Kitsilano Reserve that once existed on the very land the Field House now occupies under the Burrard Street Bridge.

Alongside his residency, Boisjoly created two new works for his first solo exhibition in a public gallery, taking over the façade of CAG and our off-site location at Yaletown-Roundhouse station. The two interrelated public works, As It Comes, brought together language from three North American First Nations autobiographies: Black Elk Speaks, Yellow Wolf His Own Story and During My Time by Florence Edenshaw Davidson, Boisjoly’s great-grandmother. Examining the authors’ use of the subtexts of language, of describing objects without being explicitly descriptive, Boisjoly posited with  self-reflexivity on the origins of biography, history and conceptions of the self.

Boisjoly’s practice continues to interrogate representations of Aboriginality, with particular focus on his own Haida and Québécois heritage. He engages with a variety of material and text-based practices, combining pop culture, contemporary craft motifs and street art with various cultural signifiers of traditional Northwest Coast imagery. He currently works as an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studio in the Department of Visual Art and Material Practice at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and is represented by Catriona Jeffries in Vancouver.

Voting for the AIMIA/AGO Photography Prize closes on November 5th, 2017 at 11:59pm.

Raymond Boisjoly, ‘As It Comes’, 2013. Photography by SITE Photography

Objects of Displacement: Keg de Souza’s Installation in Vancouver’s Chinatown

Artist in Residence Keg de Souza has been working on a project entitled Appetite for Construction since September 10th of this year. She created a unique physical structure, inside an abandoned dim sum restaurant, in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown, using found and collected items placed inside vacuum-sealed bags.

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The items were submitted by members of the local community, and they range from discarded Starbucks cups to a dried octopus and take out menus. Together these objects create a collective exploration of themes of displacement and urban change in relation to food culture in the Chinatown area. All of these materials in some way mark or represent the urban and cultural reality of the area.

I arrived early to 544 Main St. on Saturday October 15th, excited to witness Keg’s process during one of her open workshop days, and I decided to walk around the block, to get a feel for the area. I found myself observing Vancouver’s Chinatown in a new light.

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I noticed the differences between the older family owned stores and the newer food localities like Starbucks on busy Main Street. The presence of food permeated the architecture of the old buildings and the smells wafted from the piles of spices in shop entrances.

I was struck by the contrast between this feeling of a deeply rooted cultural presence around the block, and the hustle and bustle of Main Street shops selling tourist items like large Canadian flags.

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As I assisted Keg in placing various items into vacuum-sealed bags, I was struck by the presence of discarded homeless signs that had been created and used to solicit money, and shelter pamphlets detailing food schedules for people in need. This experience was an important reminder that food culture also encompasses the lack of access to food that certain populations face. From the signs, to pamphlets and discarded materials, this network of items creates a unique visual map of the food culture of the area.

– Michele Davey

Engaging Communities in Conversations: Keg de Souza’s Installation in Vancouver’s China Town

During my visit to artist Keg de Souza’s Appetite for Construction,  I overheard various conversations surrounding her site-specific project. Some of the themes touched upon in these discussions were; the utility of artist spaces and the ways in which people interact with the local community at large and with public spaces.

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In the middle of the room was a large map, without street names or landmarks, visitors were invited to identify locations and add personal stories and knowledge about the neighbourhood and food culture in Vancouver’s Chinatown and Downtown Eastside.

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I was impressed by the ideas that Keg shared with visitors in the space. She often expressed her desire as an artist to explore the creation of spaces that give people the opportunity to discuss the realities they actively inhabit, and to visualize and think about this reality in new ways.

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I also enjoyed hearing the thoughts of visitors as they examined and interacted with the work in progress. In my own conversation with a visitor, we reflected on how themes of class, gentrification, waste, politics of space and community engagement are present in Keg’s work.

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One visitor pointed out the relationship between our perceived notions of “old” and “new” culture. He remarked that in many ways it seemed that the “old” and more traditional notions of culture in Chinatown were being represented in items that still have utility, such as dried animals that could be used for food, while “new” culture was represented in discarded items such as coffee cups. This comment highlighted the theme of human waste and our current relationship to food consumption as a society that throws many containers away.

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I left feeling grateful to have witnessed the positive responses of community members to the project that Keg has created. One man remarked at how necessary these spaces are, and how important it is to support the efforts of artists creating them.

– Michele Davey

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‘Appetite for Construction’ Keg de Souza’s Final Presentation

On Friday, November 4, Australian artist Keg de Souza presented the completed structure for her project Appetite for Construction at a public opening. This project began on September 10 and engaged various members of the community in and around Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood.

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I am happy to have witnessed the transformation of this structure. The collection of objects over the past two months culminated in a luminescent, transparent cube-like structure, inside of which people were able to gather around a table wrapped in a map of Vancouver. The map was covered in personal memories and notations about the local food culture in the area.

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Inside the structure, visitors could enjoy hot tea and dim sum while taking in the various objects suspended inside the vacuum-sealed bags. Providing dim sum to guests was an especially nice nod to the previous reality of the location 544 Main Street having been a dim sum restaurant.

While at the exhibition I spent some time in conversation with the public and asked them to share with me some of their thoughts and reactions to the project and final exhibition. One person remarked that Keg’s structure is a mark of revitalization. Another person commented on the importance of having the chance to see the neighbourhood from a different point of view, reconstructing the familiar into something new. It was also noted that the structure renegotiates the urban, by bringing the street inside.

Further comments reflected on the elements of nostalgia and memory, that this project embodied. The structure was thought to have created a unique texture from different aspects of the community and with entry points for conversation spanning from food to consumption, waste, consumerism, and poverty.

The objects, illuminated and showcased within transparent bags, reminded me of evidence, the collection of which created a snapshot and mosaic that made space for the community to come together, recognize and reflect on themes of displacement, gentrification, and food culture.

– Michele Davey

Skawennati, Skins and Second Life

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A screenshot from Th’owxeya: The Mosquito Story, created during the Skins Machinima Workshop in Vancouver

A group of new avatars are learning how to fly. We’re on AbTeC Island, the virtual headquarters for Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, a research network based at Concordia University of academics, artists and technologists whose aim is to encourage the creation of self-determined Indigenous spaces online. In 2015, AbTeC launched the Initiative for Indigenous Futures <abtec.org/iif>. One of their major efforts is to teach various computational technologies to First Nations youth, through the Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Digital Media.

Six participants of the Museum of Anthropology’s Native Youth Program are learning to maneuver the virtual realm of Second Life as part of the Skins Machinima Workshop. Hence, the flying.  They are led by Skawennati , a co-director, with Jason Edward Lewis, of AbTeC, and CAG’s artist-in-residence for August. Assistants Erica Perreault and Darian Jacobs (a Skins “alumni”) also joined us. The workshop, held in Vancouver for the first time, was their longest machinima workshop yet, boasting four days of instruction and production. The word “machinima” is a portmanteau of machine and cinema and describes a technique of making movies in video games. It has been around for several years, and the participants were shown examples of machinima created in Halo, Minecraft and the Sims. In past iterations of the Skins workshop, participants re-created scenes from Star Trek and even a poetic “nature” documentary of alien plant forms.

“We [talk] about Indigenous self-representation in media,” said Skawennati, who has led previous Skins workshops in Kahnawake and Montreal. “An important part of that discussion is to underscore the richness of our traditional stories.  However, AbTeC decided long ago that the participants can tell any respectful story that they want to.”

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The artist Skawennati with participants of the Skins workshop in Vancouver. Photo Credit: Mackenzie Reid Rostad

The participants decided to split into two teams, each focusing on a story special to one of their nations. After deciding on the narrative, they worked on storyboarding and character development. A part of the workshop focuses on animating the characters to “act” and also build the set pieces needed for their stories. The NYP participants created sets that reflected their traditional culture, such as a painted big house and carved posts.

Skawennati chose to begin her artist talk at the CAG with her own avatar introducing the concept of using Second Life as a communicative medium. The clip was originally created to serve in the place of the artist herself, as she was unable to attend a conference and decided instead to send her representative avatar to speak for her. Skawennati also screened episodes of TimeTraveller™, a machinima series that follows a man as he uses a virtual time traveling device to re-visit specific moments in history.

In the Vancouver workshop, each team was given a budget of 2,500 Linden dollars or about $10 in Canadian. The money was spent purchasing clothing, set elements and specific modifiers for key characters. A perk of digital production is the high level of customization, as well as the boundless potential for creative expression.

The machinimas created by the Native Youth Participants will premiere on the CAG website in September.  

–Ines

Interview with Diane Borsato, Part 2

This is Part 2 of an interview with Toronto-based artist Diane Borsato. Click here to read Part 1.

There’s such a range of tensions and contrasts in your work. In particular, I find it striking that although a particular project could take years of research, learning and networking, it might only be up for a day or a single occurrence.

Sometimes there’s no immediate audience, too. Like Terrestrial/Celestial (2009-2010) was just astronomers, mushroomers, and a couple people from the gallery, which is all we needed. We can’t have an audience to something like that, it would interfere. For me they’re conceptual—it was an event, a story for art history, an idea that was enacted. They’re not always performative, like for an audience.

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Terrestial/Celestial, 2009-2010

There’s something very special in that moment when everything comes together and then is gone.

I guess it’s like a dance. Sometimes I think of myself as a choreographer. I can’t control what everyone does, but for that work, I basically said “Mushroomers you do this in the morning and astronomers you do this at night. We’re going to do this in the same day and we’re going to go look down and look up.” It’s a gesture. We’re going to think with our senses and think with our imaginations and do that in one day, so it’s a kind of composition or choreography. But there’s a lot of agency on behalf of the participants. And I learn more about the work while it unfolds, and after looking at the documentation.

Like with the beekeeping, I realized the comportment of beekeepers and their ability to affect the temper of other creatures and vice versa. The more I got into it, tried to explain it and re-enact it as a performance, the more it became clear that this was meditating. This was just meditation. And I’m not a meditator in a formal way, so I couldn’t really do it without the support of a guide.

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Nuit Blanche 2013. Your Temper, My Weather, 2013

But what was interesting was that beekeepers were just so good at it. You can’t just ask anyone to do silent performance art for five hours and stay still. I mean, there was meditative walking in it too, but the beekeepers kind of just got it instantly, which was really amazing. And together, 100 of them sitting silently (for Your Temper, My Weather at the AGO in 2013), focused and calm, breathing slowly—that was a very moving thing.

I was curious about your work Cemetery (2015), in which you eat an entire ice cream cone while standing in a graveyard. What brought that piece about and what were your thoughts while making it?

I sometimes make these huge pieces with a hundred people and it’s really stressful; a year of emailing and establishing trust and practicing, which is exhausting and stressful. And then I have to make these little impulsive pieces that are done in a day, that I have control over. This work was actually made in a few days, but it was one of those impulsive, Ì-just-need-to-make-something pieces because all the flowers were blooming in Toronto in the spring and it’s so short. I made that piece and I sent it to a former professor, a really interesting scholar and an expert in Japanese gardens, zen landscape aesthetics, ceramics, and so many other things like radio and French astronomy, Allen Weiss. And he told me it was the most surprising expression of mono no aware that he’s ever seen.

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Still from Cemetery, 2015

Mono no aware is what the Japanese invoke with cherry blossoms, an awareness of the ephemerality of life. An awareness that death comes, that this is brief, that time is passing. I think it’s something that blossoms will always evoke. I’m not easily in this moment. I’m kind of like “it’s almost over” as soon as it’s the most beautiful. It’s so brief and so wonderful, and the brevity is part of the beauty. As I understand it, mono no aware is a feeling that you get when you have that experience, when you see the cherry blossoms falling like snow. That sad and poignant feeling. And I think that’s what the ice cream was about. The feeling of your body and the pleasure of this sensuous sweetness, creaminess, and cold. Ice cream is such an immediate, almost basic bodily pleasure. And the cemetery is, well, the end of all those things.

In a past interview, the writer mentioned your work Boquet (2006-ongoing), where you steal flowers from a neighbor’s yard. I remember they called your work very gentle, which was surprising to me, because you were still stealing.

Yeah, exactly. I do worry when the work is described as sweet, or dismissed as trite. Though indeed the gestures are very small. I did a piece a long time ago when I was a grad student called Touching 1000 People (2003). I had read this study about how people can be touched really insignificantly, like when you’re getting change from somebody and you don’t even remember being touched, but it actually affects your experience of the situation and how you feel about that person. I was curious about gesture at its most minimal. What is the tiniest gesture that has an effect in the world. I think I’m at a threshold of sensitivity, where I’m really curious about small gestures and the reverberations. So sometimes they seem like small gestures, but when you focus, there’s a lot to explore. It’s almost like a minimalist approach. It’s a unique place for visual art to explore.

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Touching 1000 People, 2003

But in terms of gentleness, it’s actually a mode of moving, of touch—that I do aspire to in work, and study in my pieces, I think. A combination of lightness in an act—that moves and feels, that knows, or cares, that pushes forward or through…Maybe it’s an antidote to aggression, a proposal for an alternative mode of exacting influence or power. It shows how much is possible, and visible—with small openings and discreet rearrangements.

 

Tea at Gallery Gachet

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Gallery Gachet will be offering tea and conversation on August 25 from 1 to 3pm.

The atmosphere is animated with lively, comfortable conversation as the gallery fills with the subtle aromas of tea. For the duration of Dylan Miner’s solo exhibition, Michif – Michin (the people, the medicine), Gallery Gachet is hosting a public gathering once a week for visitors to sit and share. Tomorrow (August 25) will be the last session before the exhibition closes.

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Pine needle and horsetail tea. Photo credit: Kay Slater

The teas are loose leaf, contained in leather containers that might hold a combination of pine needle and horsetail, dried mushrooms or another deeply aromatic selection. With a hot mug in hand, I join the table placed at the center of the gallery; the heart of the exhibition. The conversation flows easily from Star Trek to horror films, sleepwalking to lucid dreaming, indigenous representation to arts initiatives and Pokémon GO.

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Printmaking at Gallery Gachet in early August

The discussion is framed by the prints of medicinal plants created by Dylan and a group of participants in his printmaking shop, held in the gallery earlier this month. Dylan hand-carved images of birch, salmonberry, dandelions and more, then created a natural dye with blackberries harvested from the DTES. The prints stand vivid against the white walls, the rich splashes of pulpy dye lending a near-haptic quality. Some of the plants featured echo the varieties Cease Wyss described during a plant walk through Stanley Park organized with Dylan.

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Prints made by Dylan Miner. Photo credit: Holly Schmidt

The exhibition runs through August 28. For more on Dylan Miner’s activities in Vancouver, click here.

–Ines