During her three-month residency here through the Mondriaan Fund in the Netherlands, Renske Janssen’s plan was to write a short publication of 10 essays exploring how thought leads to action, “how theories lead to material things.” But setting out to explore the relationship between art and nature in Banff, she ran into a bit of a challenge. “At one point I felt the mountains were over-subjectified in a way, it felt to me almost a cliché to do something with the mountains,” she says. In order to approach the challenge she made her focus more personal, ”as I walk around Tunnel Mountain and around the studio I keep trying to erase the big things and focus on the small things.”
Michael Turner is as close as any Canadian author to a punk icon. His 1992 book Hard Core Logo provided the source material for what is routinely touted as the best Canadian film of all time: a mockumentary, of the same title, that depicts the turbulent final tour of an aging Vancouver punk band. I remember my high school English teacher’s section on Turner’s novel, which unfolds its narrative through a mix of prose, song lyrics, and diner receipts, as a singular period of class participation from a group of stoner kids.
With the blood, sweat, and vomit that drip from the pages of that novel, I think those stoners would have been surprised to find that Turner’s attention had shifted to the loftier world of contemporary art. I was. The author gave a recent talk here on Canadian artists Tamara Henderson and Julia Feyrer, whose exhibition Bottles Under the Influence is currently at Walter Philips Gallery. I talked to Turner before the event, and learned how his early punk writings channel the spirit of visual art. Continue Reading →
Artist Gu Xiong was first invited to The Banff Centre for a year-long residency in 1986 through a cultural exchange with China. He remembers being lonely when he first arrived here. “I came without English and I was isolated here,” he says. “I was hard-working, but depressed. Then, later in 1987 I started to open up, and I did some smaller work, and then some larger work, installation and performance. So that turned out to be a great year for me.” He created a work called Enclosures, which he installed outside what was then Donald Cameron Hall.
Gu returned to China after that residency, and soon found himself swept up in the student protests in Beijing that led to the riots and killings in Tiananman Square. The Banff Centre stepped in again, sponsoring a move to Canada in August of 1989, and he created another work here, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. “This shows how people used their own bicycles to try to stop the army tanks on the street. But the tanks just drove over the bicycles, and I stood there and watched it happen. I promised to make a piece about that time.”
This spring, Gu was back at the Centre for the first time in 24 years, working with a group of artists on a project called Immersion Emergencies that’s all about water. A professor in the Visual Arts department at the University of British Columbia since 2000, he’s been working on water- and river-themed installations for the past few years, linking the Fraser River delta with the Yangtze River (and the gigantic Three Gorges Dam) in much of his recent work.
In Banff, he started work on an ambitious installation to bring attention to a recent environmental disaster – 16,000 dead pigs were dumped in the Huangpu River, a tributary of the Yangtze near Gu’s home city of Chongqing. “The government tested the water and said it was fine to drink,” he says about the story, which made international news. “I wanted this work to link to a larger vision around the world about water, pollution, and urban issues.” When it’s finished, the installation will include 16,000 ceramic pigs in 1,000 commercial water jugs.
It’s been almost six months since I left The Banff Centre as a work study. While living in Banff, I was often making work through rubbings from spaces in town or in Glyde Hall as a way to familiarize myself with this place and to make it more my home. The process of rubbing initiates a certain level of intimacy with an object that you wouldn’t normally have. You become familiar with the scrapes and dings on a stool, or how the edges of a table are so much smoother where the finish has worn off. It’s a way to take a space from just being the place you are, to a place you can think of as familiar.
The Walter Phillips Gallery invited me to lead a spring workshop earlier in April as part of springstART, leading a group though different spaces downtown. It was thought of as a way to help people see the parts of Banff that are often overlooked, as well as an invitation to think about alternative ways to create artwork. My art practice is based on alternative methods of printmaking, often making work from found materials or things that are found outside of the traditional art supply stores. One of the works I made while in Banff was a rubbing of a large picnic table at the recreation grounds. After, I traced over the print with ink. The piece was a record of the condition of the frequently used table, but by drawing over it, by altering the image, I was able to claim it.
Twenty people signed up for the day, and thirty people joined us at the Banff Park Museum Saturday afternoon, despite the wet spring weather. There were several families, as well as Banff Centre employees, locals, and travelers who participated. Nobody was afraid to really explore Banff. For me, this workshop was a great reason to come back to Banff. It also gave me the chance to step back from my work, to see people discover the materials I spend so much of my time with.
Sarah McKarney is an Edmonton-based artist who works with alternative printmaking materials. Previously a Banff Centre work study, McKarney was recently invited back to the Centre to run Rubbing Off: A printmaking workshop as part of springstART programming.
My name is Pascale Ouellet, a.k.a. Bigoudi, and I’m an encaustic painter based in Canmore, near Banff. I’ve been a full-time artist for a decade, and in the last three years my life has taken a 180-degree turn following the birth of my two sons and the move of my studio into my house. My artistic practice is at a turning point and I have decided to use this opportunity to create some artworks on the subject of parenthood.
I conceived the idea of doing a series of multi-media works based on the concept of parenthood through the eyes of an artist after Toby (my second child) was born and I lost all my bearings towards my art, towards my family, and towards myself.
Last December I participated in a two-week self-directed creative residency at The Banff Centre to ponder the subject of parenthood. Two weeks may seem very short for an artist… but it’s a long time in the life of a mother of a toddler and a baby. Continue Reading →
“The ways in which our bodies find stability within physical limits, but strive to overcome those limits is an important paradox in my work,” says Ana Belén Cantoni, while wrapped up in some of the snaking strings that compose her work-in-progress Pink and Black. “Though you know what this piece really makes me think of?” she adds, struggling a bit to free herself. “A techno CD!” I spoke with the funny, prolific Colombian visual artist in her airy Leighton Artists’ Colony studio, where she had a five-week residency through a Colombian Ministry of Culture scholarship.
“There’s an idea I’m trying to express with Pink and Black, but it’s also a game, it’s a challenge. It’s like – what if I can create my own universe, with its own rules? But these rules are always in tension with actual nature – with the nature of the material, or the rules of geometry, for example.”
Another tension within Cantoni’s work is her conflicted relationship with art theory. In the midst of a thoughtful response to one of my questions, she interrupts herself to say, “though you might hear me using theory to explain my work, sometimes I want to resist it. I want the work to offer an experience, not an argument.”
She also tends to resist traditional sculptural approaches, drawing on disciplines in which she has no formal training, like geometry and sewing. This can inspire a certain technical inventiveness: “With Hands, I traced my hand on a bed sheet. In creating Pink and Black I also used my body. As well as addressing a bodily theme in my work, I rely on my own body for measurement!”