Founder of the Laboratory of Feminist Pataphysics, Mireille Perron has created a series of small-scale models of Ateliers of the Near Future. Not fearing time warp, she has invited 13 emerging artists to propose work in response to the imagined facilities. Projects by the Bee Kingdom collective (Philip Bandura, Tim Belliveau and Ryan Marsh Fairweather), Lisa Benschop, Roxanne Driediger, June Hills, Kim Johansen, Eveline Kolijn, Isabel Landry, Alex Moon, Melissa Pedersen, Mikhel Proulx and Romy Straathof will be exhibited alongside the Ateliers. These artists present a celebrated diversity of artistic practices and creative potential.
/MIREILLE PERRON was born in Montréal, Québec. Since 1982, she has participated in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, Europe and the United States. She is the founder of the Laboratory of Feminist Pataphysics, which promotes social experiments masquerading as artworks/events. She has also written and published on a variety of subjects related to representation.
/UTOPIA UNDER THE ARCH
Mireille Perron proposes a utopia where artists train, make things and garden in an appreciative world. Her engaging models serve (as architectural models are meant to do) to clarify concepts and communicate to an audience. Given the right conditions, the environment of a shared vision, the model acts as a seed that can grow.
The name of the exhibition and the name of Perron’s ateliers are the same, signaling the exhibition includes a story within a story. She made a brilliant gesture to extend her atelier prototypes by inviting upcoming artists (and use that word elastically to include craftspeople, makers, storytellers, mythmakers, performers, people who instigate activities as diverse as hiking or research as art forms) to exhibit with her, making a solid argument that this brave new world is possible.
Gardening has a place in each of Perron’s ateliers, and our relationship to the natural world is a sub-theme that pulls the show together. Are there parallels between sustaining life in the arts in Calgary and gardening “under the arch”? Last year, 192 students graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design, hoping to make a living in the arts. What do they need to thrive? Gardening and artmaking have corresponding challenges in Calgary, and there may be shared strategies for survival.
Calgary looks like a good place to live, work and garden, but the situation is a bit complex. The third largest metropolis in the country, we get 2,405 hours of sunshine and aren’t considered cold by national standards. Over a million people live here, a large pool for an audience and market. In longitude, altitude and proximity to the Rocky Mountains, we are comparable to Denver. In latitude and continental climactic conditions, we are in line with Siberia. Our temperatures go up to 37°C and down to minus 40°C. That puts us in the gardening zone 3a. Not easy, but not impossible.
Compare the unpredictable, often rapid changes of the boom and bust economy to the warm Chinook wind that can blow in any month of the year, raising the temperature by as much as 27 degrees in a mere four or five hours, causing an inversion visible as an arch across the sky. On some Chinook days in winter, people can wear shorts. Conversely, leaves froze on the trees before they had a chance to change colour last fall. With jerky shifts in seasons, plant growth is interrupted and set back. Similarly, cultural conditions can swing overnight, and often artists who aren’t well established feel the need to leave Calgary to make a go of it. Even Edmonton and Corner Brook, Newfoundland, have smoother and longer growing seasons.
To be a successful gardener or artist in Calgary, you need a measure of patience, resourcefulness and creativity, good observational skills, a bit of bravery. Support networks are essential. The artists in this show who are new to the Calgary scene exemplify the spirit and skills that can help them get a good foothold.
Phillip Bandura, Tim Belliveau and Ryan Marsh Fairweather banded together in the collective, Bee Kingdom, to work as glassblowers and share studio and exhibition space. Their market is especially strong in Germany, but for now they are staying in Calgary. This year has seen impressive growth for all three individually: Phillip Bandura addresses social concerns under the sardonic banner of FreedomCo; Tim Belliveau, produces glass sculpture and graphic constructions that posit a role reversal between nature and technology; Ryan Marsh Fairweather populates a mythical, post-humanoid, cute robotic universe with enchanting glass creatures.
Some artists meld their day jobs with their artistic practice in this exhibition. Benschop works as Stride’s lead staffperson. During the exhibition, the gallery office is being cross-pollinated with the L.S. Benschop Institute for the Preservation & Veneration of Imagination & Nostalgia (a long, but evocative name that comes with an invitation to talk with the artist, be nosey, get involved). Roxanne Driediger works at In Definite Arts, a creative centre for people with developmental challenges, a valuable oasis in this community. Her response to the positive spirit of the centre takes form in woven mandalas. Mikhel Proulx, who works at Banff Centre, mines the permanent collection of the Walter Phillips Art Gallery and unearths a little known work, bringing it into the light.
June Hills and Melissa Pedersen are both members of the Burns Visual Arts Society, a long-standing Calgary artist co-op that has provided studio space and peer support to many artists. Bring a teacup to Hills’ t(r)ea parties to share in the conviviality and leave with a tree seedling. Trace Pedersen’s process from the observation of carrot seedlings to a necklace fashioned of delicate silver line drawings.
Recognition through awards can be a real boon. Kimberley Johansen, who fabricates colourful pendants evocative of seedpods, received the Board of Governors Award in the graduating exhibition at the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2008 and has since exhibited in Alberta and internationally. Eveline Kolijn won the Governor General’s Academic medal the same year, and also exhibits nationally and internationally. Future Growth of Printmaking is a contemporary analogy, a tug of war between the hand and the machine, with organic pattern and obsessive craftsmanship trumping all. In 2009, Romy Straathof received a Board of Governors Award and the Governor General's Award at ACAD, and was chosen as a promising artist by a senior artist, Jane Kidd, for the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts exhibition at Stride in Calgary last summer. From the official list of 12,789 endangered species, Straathof wrote the names of animals and plants, and twisted them into a single strand of paper thread, 500’ long. Another thread winds playfully throughout the gallery and between everyone’s work, a dotted vine of egg-shaped objects by ceramist Isabel Landry, who is currently studying at ACAD.
Mentors play an invaluable role. Alex Moon showed Uni-Farm: Laboratories Seed Testing Unit at the O.K. Quoi? Arts Festival of Contemporary Media Art, New Music, Workshops and Performance in New Brunswick in 2009, thanks to the encouragement of Governor General Award-winning artist, Rita McKeough. Moon’s ongoing cautionary tale of the future of farming is shown here in its updated form.
Perron’s model ateliers propose a paradigm shift about the world of art and gardens in Calgary. They declare the joys of craftsmanship, social networks and growing your own food. They are populated by hundreds of little artists, art students, teachers and friends, some of whom you may recognize. Perron cheerfully individualizes each standard buff model figure by cutting its tiny limbs and head, posing it, and giving it a personalized painted outfit. These tiny artists live and work in studios and schools that fit in vintage metal toys, mostly small domestic appliances – refrigerators, ovens, an ironing board – but also a Winnebago camper and a cookie tin, each well appointed as a site for a certain kind of art activity, perhaps glass blowing, jewelry-making or even t(r)ea parties, referring to the kinds of studios where the other works in the exhibition are made. The ateliers are outfitted with mirrors, magical portals that pull the viewer (and the other works in the exhibition) into their optimistic space. The Near Future may be closer than you think.
/KATHERINE YLIATLO is an independent curator, horticulturalist, garden historian and writer based in Calgary. She immigrated to Canada after graduating from Stanford University in 1973 and was a practicing ceramist before working as an educator and museum professional in across Canada.