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Walter Phillips Gallery: 1970s snapshot

The cover of the Food issue of the Canadian Whole Earth Almanac (1970).

The Walter Phillips Gallery exhibition To Become Whole (The Whole Issue) opened recently in the west lobby of the Eric Harvie Theatre. It’s a broad look at The Canadian Whole Earth Almanac, and uses the work of the Almanac’s founder, Ken Coupland, to investigate the community, ideology, and structure of the publication and the loose-knit artistic community that grew up around the Almanac in the 1970s.

I met curators Robin Simpson and Danielle St. Amour as they were putting the finishing touches on the exhibition before its opening. Simpson is an art historian and curator currently studying for a PhD at the University of British Columbia. St. Amour is the Walter Phillips Gallery Curatorial Research work study.

Where did you first encounter the Almanac?

DS: I grew up with the Whole Earth Catalogue in my house. It was my father’s, and I was really interested in this Canadian counterpart, the trajectory of which was completely different. The readers and makers of the Whole Earth Catalogue have a trajectory that’s been traced through to Silicon Valley, which formed companies such as Google and other massive technological corporations. With the Almanac, they were more involved in grassroots communities and the artist-run community at large.

Curators Danielle St. Amour (left) and Robin Simpson at the opening of their show To Become Whole (The Whole Issue). Photo: Rita Taylor.

RS: As a designer, he seemed to have his hands in absolutely everything in Toronto. He was designing this almanac, he was an architecture school dropout, he was working for a publishing house, he was collaborating with other artists, he moved to San Francisco, he started making animated films, he was a journalist for the San Francisco Sentinel, which was an early gay newspaper and later, throughout the ’80s, became more of a professional graphic designer. Ken’s style was really noticeable. There is a sensuality to it, and a precision, and there’s a playfulness to it in terms of the juxtapositions and the images chosen. It seemed like it was worth investigating.

Did you find anything unexpected? 

RS: The archival material we’ve been working with has principally been correspondence between men. What we’ve been thinking about, as the project carries on, is how can you rewire this inventory in such a way as to subdue those male voices for a bit so we can take into account the great deal of women involved in that project too?

The Walter Phillips Gallery show To Become Whole (The Whole Issue), in the west lobby of the Eric Harvie Theatre. Photo: Rita Taylor.

DS: There are a few issues mentioned in the back of the almanacs that were never actually completed. We took one of the titles, the Dream Issue, and collaborated with some artists and writers—many of whom have passed through The Banff Centre in the last little while. We put together a publication to complement the exhibition— it’s as much a part of the exhibition as it is a catalog for it. It’s for sale at the front desk of the Walter Phillips Gallery.

I noticed that geodesic dome houses were quite popular during the Whole Earth Almanac days. Would you recommend that The Banff Centre get a dome dorm?

DS: I think we should get a dome! RS: Although they were known to be quite leaky. DS: They weren’t very efficient, though. RS: Maybe we should get a yurt.

To Become Whole (The Whole Issue) is on through January 19, 2014.

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Under the Influence with Michael Turner

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Michael Turner in Julia Feyrer and Tamara Henderson’s Walter Phillips Gallery exhibition Bottles Under the Influence. Photo: Meghan Krauss.

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 →

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Rubbing Off: Impressions of Banff

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.

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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!”

Continue Reading →

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Dip into the new Walter Phillips Gallery exhibition with “A Treatise on Baths”

Parisian artists Chloé Maillet (right) and Louise Hervé talk about their work, A Treatise on Baths, in the Walter Phillips Gallery exhibition, An Ever Changing Meaning. Photo: Kim Williams, The Banff Centre

Parisian artists Chloé Maillet (right) and Louise Hervé talk about their work, A Treatise on Baths, in the Walter Phillips Gallery exhibition, An Ever Changing Meaning. Photo: Kim Williams, The Banff Centre

The work of contemporary visual artists often requires a familiarity with a dense body of theory or literature in order to make the artwork accessible. Parisian artists Louise Hervé and Chloé Maillet, whose work A Treatise on Baths is presented at Walter Phillips Gallery as part of the exhibition An Ever Changing Meaning, have used a novel approach to facing the challenge of accessibility without diminishing the rigour of their work.

During curator François Aubart’s tour at the February 1 exhibition opening and on the following day, two scholarly docents – none other than the artists themselves – emerged serendipitously from the wings to elaborate upon the work for visitors. The performance momentarily inserted the artists and their expositions into the exhibition context, offering the public more background on the work. The presence of these two scholars seemed all the more justified by the particular nature of the piece, a slideshow reconstructing aspects of the social history of natural springs from early Roman civilization to contemporary Banff. Continue Reading →

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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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