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Sarah Anne Johnson: beauty and intimacy

Grange Prize-winning visual artist Sarah Anne Johnson was in Banff recently to lead the thematic residency Another World in the Studio. She was also getting ready for a new photography exhibition, Wonderlust, at the Julie Saul Gallery in New York.

The residency was open to artists of all disciplines with a theme of focused time in the studio. “We make work, and then we talk about the work that we’ve made, instead of talking about someone else’s theories or ideas,” she explains. “Everyone seems to respect each other enough to give each other the truth.” The group critique sessions were Johnson’s favourite aspect of the residency. “People finish school and they feel like they have to solve all of their problems themselves, and it’s not easy, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in front of a group,” she says. In fact, the critique sessions helped the group bond. “At the end of the first week, the ‘I love you’s started to get thrown around. This has happened before when I’ve been here too, because I think a place like this brings out the best in people.”

Artist Sarah Anne Johnson in her studio in Glyde Hall.

Artist Sarah Anne Johnson in her studio in Glyde Hall. Photo: Don Lee.

The Winnipeg-based artist’s work has often combined photography with diorama, multimedia, painting, sculpture, and performance. Series including Tree Planting and Arctic Wonderland have led to her current work, Wonderlust, which explores sex and intimacy, burnished with scratching, gouging, and glitter to effect both beauty and intimacy.

Another World in the Studio marked Johnson’s fifth visit to The Banff Centre. She’s participated in three self-directed residencies and one thematic residency, and was at the Centre in 2012 to work with sculpture facilitator Sean Procyk. When I went into her studio, it was filled with work inspired by many different things. Some of the photographs on the walls were from Wonderlust, while others were from music festivals she’s been attending for years. “I’ve only begun to work on this so I’m not sure what direction it will take, but as in all my photographic work I am interested in temporary communities and how we experience the great outdoors,” Johnson says. “By painting, scratching or collaging over the image I’m trying to show what the experience feels like, not just what it looks like. I want to show psychology of the space.” She also said that she’s always nervous about showing new work—especially Wonderlust. “My last work was about the arctic—these cold, vast, looming landscapes—and this is people having sex. So it couldn’t be any more different.”

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In the studio with the little critics

New Crits on the Block was a school program piloted by the Walter Phillips Gallery this past February 2013 to give young people unique opportunities to engage with visual artists in residence here. Small groups of students from the Banff Elementary School were paired with artists to conduct studio visits, unmediated by any accompanying adults. This youth-led exchange was a unique occasion for participating artists to consider how their work is understood by a younger audience, and about how they communicate about artistic practice. For local students, the program offered a wonderful opportunity to meet face-to-face with a contemporary artist, providing insight into the process of making art.

Grade Four students from Banff Elementary School with artist William Brisco.

Grade Four students from Banff Elementary School with artist William Brisco.

The following text was written by five Grade 4 students from the Banff Elementary School about their studio visit with Vancouver-based artist William Brisco, who was in the Visual Arts residency Our Literal Speed

WILLIE BRISCO By Max, Brodie, Logan, Abigail and Megan

On February 6, 2013, the Grade Four students walked to The Banff Centre to meet professional artists and to learn about life as a professional artist. Everybody got split into different groups and each group got assigned to meet a different artist. Max, Brodie, Logan, Abigail and Megan were all assigned to Willie Brisco. All the groups had written down some questions on some paper to ask the artists.

The students asked Willie what his favourite part about art was and he said “Uncertainty”.

When our group got into his studio, he showed us some of the sculpture work he likes to do. On the other hand, the art he also likes to do is photography.

Willie said his favourite piece he has ever done is a photograph of his sister. Then, Willie let us draw so that we could exchange our drawing for his artworks.

There were many pieces of art on his desk and most people had a favourite. He said that how he decides what his art is worth takes a lot of discussion. So, in conclusion, the students’ day with the artist “Rocked!”

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dOCUMENTA (13): A Banff Retreat

Still from Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater’s Modest Livelihood (2012), courtesy the artists

Still from Brian Jungen and Duane Linklater’s Modest Livelihood (2012), courtesy the artists

What does it mean to retreat?

The densely valenced theme of “retreat” was explored by the 33 participants and six faculty who as artists, academics, and cultural practitioners gathered at The Banff Centre for the August 2012 Visual Arts residency The Retreat: A Position of dOCUMENTA (13).

The call for participants proposed “To enter or enact a retreat is to draw together, in refuge, seclusion, separation, and sharing – not in order to abandon active life with others, but to consider ourselves, with others.” Through seminars, public talks, ceramics workshops, participant presentations, social gatherings, and hikes, The Retreat offered an interdisciplinary space for critical and creative inquiry and reflection. Organized by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, artistic director of dOCUMENTA (13), Kitty Scott, then director of Visual Arts at The Banff Centre and a core agent for dOCUMENTA (13), and Imre Szeman, a Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, it was also the second Banff Research in Culture (BRiC) residency. Continue Reading →

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Treading the edges of humour with Experimental Comedy Training Camp

Photo by Michael Portnoy: Taipei Women’s Experimental Comedy Club, 2010, installation and performance. Installation view, Taipei Biennial, 2010.

The Banff Centre hosted the Experimental Comedy Training Camp, a seven-week residency in the fall for visual artists working at the intersections where art and humour usually fear to tread. The residency was led by Michael Portnoy (Director of Behaviour), and featured guest appearances by, Mai Abu ElDahab, Steven M. Johnson, Ieva Misevičiūtė and Reggie Watts.

In this piece of audio we hear from Reggie Watts and participants Neil LaPierre, and Fake Injury Party (Derrick Guerin, Scott Leeming and Paul Tjepkema) about childhood memories, transformation, and the true meaning of knowing yourself.

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Audio produced by Chris Wood.

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Steven M. Johnson – Patent Depending

Used with permission from author. What the World Needs Now: A resource book for daydreamers, frustrated inventors, cranks, efficiency experts, utopians, gadgeteers, tinkerers, and just about everybody else. 3rd edition, Patent Depending Perss. Torrence, California. 2012.


Inspiring creativity:  we’re all familiar with that phrase at The Banff Centre and everyone has a different idea of what exactly is inspiring. Maybe you’re inspired by the scenery, by the wildlife, or by the atmosphere of collaboration. To cartoonist-inventor Steven M. Johnson, the inspiration for his creativity comes from something a bit more unusual: he’s obsessed with designing impractical inventions. As invited guest of The Banff Centre’s Experimental Comedy Training Camp offered through the Visual Arts department, Johnson gave a public talk to share some of his inventions. I was fortunate enough to attend.  Continue Reading →

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Banff Summer Arts Festival Report: Week Five

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