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.
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?
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.