March 24: Installation and Conceptual Art

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Conceptual art,as well as installation art, can be confusing for some people. Heck, even I find it confusing sometimes.  This is one of the reasons why I find this youtube video both hilarious and thought provoking:

The idea of adding false labels to everyday objects within a museum setting makes me smile, but it also encourages me to think about what exactly is being presented to us?  Is the intent of the false labelling to encourage us to reflect on what we believe conceptual art is to be?  Is it making a mockery of conceptual art?  Or is it presenting an idea of guerilla art, the idea of putting false art into a museum to see if people believe and accept it a credible work, solely based on the presence of a label?  Evidently the artists here see this as a project, not a prank, and they carry out this work at more than one museum worldwide.  The work is credited to an artist or a group of artists called Tiny Arrow.  I searched on the Internet for more information about their work but couldn’t find any.  However, the video in itself does a pretty good job on its own.  In a sense, this installation or alteration or addition of existing work was also a performance.  We see the artists intervening with the surroundings in order to place the false labels, we see the reactions of people around them.It is also largely based on conceptual art, so beginning with the MoMA seems natural to me.

The first piece at the MoMA is a drinking fountain.  This appealed to me especially because I visited the MoMA this past November.  While we were there, a student from the Mount Allison group broke a sink.  The first thing I asked my classmate who delivered this bit of gossip to me?

“Wait, so was the sink a display or in the bathroom?”

And of course, because it’s the MoMA, the sink had been on display in part of an installation about Tupperware and the American kitchen.

That’s all!



March 10: Reacting to art

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Apologies for the delay.  I promised to have something really fantastically insightful for you up sometime this weekend, and suffice to say, this did not happen.  So I don’t know if this entry is going to be awesome or insightful, I just know that I have to do it.  A plus, I’ve got a lovely entry based off of today’s lecture that I cannot wait to post tomorrow.  But for now, reflections of the weekend.  We had to write a painting review for class today, reflecting specifically on either a talk by Ben Reeves or a gallery exhibition by Andrea Mortson.  I was at a complete loss of what on earth to write about.  My brilliant, art-history-masters-program accepted roommate, however, polished off a great little review about the technique of thin application of paint in Mortson’s works.  I, on the other hand, felt as though it would be torturous to get a few words out, and whether or not they were good words was to the mercy of Gemey.  Sometimes I wonder how art critics do it.  I went to the Owens and was there for close to an hour, just looking at these paintings and thinking lots of different thoughts associated with each one.  But when it came down to analyzing or critiquing the subject of painting, I didn’t even know which way to look!  Was I supposed to be speaking about the application of paint or the subjects in the paintings?  Colours used? How the painting made me feel?  The possibilities were so varied!  I ended up writing about how the paintings made me feel, but the technical aspects of the art were lost on me.  I love art but perhaps I wouldn’t make a very good critic or art historian.  A patron of the arts perhaps?  To me, what I take away from most works is not technical but how I felt.  Was my first reaction “That’s cool/scary/weird/awesome” or was it “That’s bad/sloppy/messy/poor quality?”  I feel like I have not been immersed long enough in the art world to begin passing judgements on the quality of work.  Perhaps, like anything, it simply takes practice.  Until then, I suppose I’ll be content with personal reactions and reflections.

That’s all for tonight!


February 1st: First Nations Performance

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Ahoy, ahoy!

I can hardly believe it is February already.  It feels like the Arctic out there, with blustery snowy days and windchill of -40C.  Brrrrrr!  I’m happy to sit inside the library with a hot cup of tea and blog while the drifts pile up outside…

First Nations performance art is an interesting topic because too often, First Nations performance is used to demonstrate Canadian culture to the world.  The type of performance I’m talking about is traditional performance, that is, traditional dances and songs.  Often, these performances are done in the traditional dress of a particular First Nations group.  At the Vancouver 2010 Olympic opening ceremonies, every First Nations group in Canada was invited to dance and perform to celebrate the beginning of the games.

This ceremony celebrated the histories of the First Nations peoples, to be sure, but did little to recognize or acknowledge present day First Nations people.  These traditional dances originated with the express purpose of passing knowledge through the generations.  They ensured that the preservation of the legends and customs of their people are passed on.  The First Nations writer, Thomas King, often speaks about how knowledge is transferred from one person to another.  In his mind, becoming entertainment for others is what you do when you have nothing left to offer, when nothing else has worked in order to have your voice heard.  The very fact that contemporary First Nations performance exists demonstrates, to me, that becoming entertainment in this sense has been like a cry for help.  These new stories that are being manifested and performed through these performances are the ones that the next generation of First Nations are going to have to worry about.  The sale of their traditional lands, the contamination of their ancestral rivers and the general dissipation of their language and culture is what is happening, and these performances urge a change.

They are not only demonstrations that exist within the present, they look forward to the future.  These performances about the current plights of First Nations people provide us with information about what needs to be addressed.  Sometimes, when all you have left to do is entertain, the survival of your culture could very well depend on your performance.

That’s all!


November 25th: Abstraction and Emma Lake

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Ahoy, ahoy!  It’s been a very cozy weekend here in Sackville.  The roomies and I have been drinking tea, and doing incredible amounts of homework. We’re all in different programs, but we are always all very busy during the last week of school!  Depending on which one of us you are, you have essays to write, photos to develop, lab reports to finish, songs to learn or conversations to transcribe…always go-go-go and never a dull moment!

So, now to throw us back to Thursday….
Abstraction in the Canadian art world began to take off during the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Paul Emile Bourduas was an influential player in the Canadian abstraction movement and encouraged his pupils to create spontaneous work.  He also wrote Refus Global, which is a social commentary on a call for reform in Quebec, and a separation of Church and state.

You can read it here:

As an early figure in this movement, many of his pupils were intrigued by him and his home in Saint Hillaire became a sort of artistic retreat for him and his students, where they would have discussions and suppers and develop new ideas and techniques related to the movement.  The importance of centres like this for artists to gather was very central to the implementation of the abstract art movement in Canada.

Emma Lake in Regina, Saskatchewan was the site for many summer school art programs put on by the Regina College School of Art.  In 1955, Kenneth Lochhead, one of the instructors of the time, decided it would be most beneficial to have major summer workshops out at the Emma Lake property rather than just the regular summer school programs.  He hoped he would attract some bigger names to the workshops and it would be a way for artists of the prairies, who were seldom paid much attention to by the larger city centres, would gain attention from the public.  The workshop proved to be such a roaring success, that it is still held annually each summer, as a way of connecting artists and bringing them together to share work and ideas.

To me, there is nothing better than a workshop to get creativity, ideas and conversations going.  Workshops can occur within almost any profession, and if they are done effectively, everyone involved walks away with a fresh perspective and new ideas.  They keep things moving, they allow for the evolution of ideas and most importantly, they bring people together who otherwise may not have had an opportunity to meet!  This was the original goal of the Emma Lake workshops and it proved to be more successful than anyone could have ever hoped!

Thats all for now!


November 23rd: Guest Lecture

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Ahoy, ahoy!  I know, I’ve been terrible with updates lately.  This weekend, I owe you two posts!  Schoolwork always begins to pile up around this time of year, but I cannot neglect my lovely blog followers now, can I?

On Tuesday we had the pleasure of having Chris, a guest lecturer come into class.  I really appreciate and value when professors incorporate guest lectures into the curriculum.  Your knowledge of a topic or an idea can be expanded on so much by a guest lecture, or it can even cause you to begin thinking in an incredibly new and different way.  The lecture I enjoyed the most by an artist this year was the opening of Feed, an exhibit by Tonia DiRosio.  This exhibit was all about her experiences with video and learning to cook from Italian relatives and friends.  I think the reason why I liked this talk so much, is because it had so much to do with the artist’s attempt at reconnecting with her own family history and heritage.  It was mostly film that was produced from this project, and the whole exhibit is being wrapped up tonight with a big pasta supper at the Legion.  I know that many people would not necessarily correlate the concept of recipes and learning to cook with art, but the way the work was presented was what made it interesting.

The exhibition was not just about cooking pasta, it was about far more than that.  It was about the traditions that go into cooking an Italian meal, who cooks it, when do they cook it, and how.  What ingredients are used?  Is a recipe followed?  How do these women know what to cook?  Through film and photography, DiRosio explored these and other themes of an Italian household.  Enjoying the meal afterward with family and friends was another part of her study.  I enjoyed her talk and exhibit so much.  It was almost like a visual ethnography project about the concept of cooking practices in Italy.  Her films are for the most part, unaltered, so you are able to view them much like you would a documentary.

Italian cooking may not seem like a very “Canadian” topic, but that is what I think is one of the most interesting things about art in both Canada and the United States of America.  Because these two countries really make up the “new” West, there really is just an unimagineable amount of influence coming at artists from every direction.  In DiRosio’s case, she is influenced by her Italian heritage.  In her work, heritage meets present day and manifests itself through her films and photography.  I always find it interesting how those living in North America of European descent are so interested in their roots.  I find that often, if you ask someone from Canada about their nationality, they are quite likely to define themselves as Dutch, German, French, English, Scottish, Hungarian…a myriad of different associations with European countries, where the only real connection is that this is what they’ve been told by their parents or grandparents.  Seeing someone actively seek out their European heritage is an interesting connection to Canadian art, as so many of us living here are of European descent!

Thats all!


November 16th: Canadian Identity Revisited

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Ahoy ahoy!

As has been discussed at length beforehand, so much of Canadian art was about trying to identify a Canadian identity.  However, this focus on Canada as a country unto itself began to be more central to Canadians everywhere following World War One.  Many citizens of Canada were now second or even third generation Canadians, with very few authentic ties to their mother countries.  Establishing ourselves as a nation was a business, and the search for Canadian symbols began.

The establishment of the Royal Canadian Mint in 1931 marked the establishment of a uniquely Canadian currency, with designs that are related to Canadian identity.  Emmanuel Hahn was mentioned as one of the original designers of some of Canada’s currency, the design on both the dime and quarter are still in use today (the Bluenose and the Caribou).  Our sense of nationalism was developing and the currency designs reflected this.

The other interesting aspect of Canadian culture was the development of our own popular culture icons.  In 1934, at the height of the Depression, the Dionne quintuplets were born in Ontario.  These five little girls were an instant sensation, though the methods involved with their upbringing were highly questionable.  As a result, these five little girls were a new Canadian symbol and often used in advertisements of the times such as these:

Palmolive advertisement

Karo Syrup advertisement

There were even dolls made of the quintuplets, taking the use of the quintuplets image to a whole new level.

Dionne quintuplet dolls

The use of the quints image in advertising was only the beginning of Canadian symbolism being used to promote products.  Over the years, various different Canadian images have been used in advertising in a hope to sell their product, and we can still see it today in very familiar beer commercials.

I felt like this commercial was the most clear example of the use of Canadian imagery.  I’m sure the Group of Seven would approve of the heavy focus on Canadian landscape being the factor in shaping who we are as a nation!

The nation debate still continues today as a point of contention in the concept of Canadian identity.  The art canon itself is undergoing changes related to the revisitation of First Nations art and the inclusion of artists from marginalized groups whose works were not recognized in the past.  Additionally, we also learned that the examination of Canadian sculpture is a largely bypassed area when it comes to Canadian art history, so there is a whole other medium that needs to be explored.  What is being a Canadian to you?

Thats all for now!


November 9th: Social Art and the Eastern Group of Painters.

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Ahoy, ahoy!  I know I have been rather absent in my posts, but don’t worry!  This week you’ll be getting THREE posts coming at you instead of two, because I have to do catch up from class last Tuesday, which was rather centred around more social art and artists of the Depression era in Canada.

The Eastern Group of Painters was formed in 1938 as a response to the Group of Seven.  This newly formed group was much more modernistic, and focused on the concept of art for art’s sake, and appreciating the aesthetic value of what art had to offer.  This is not to say that all of the artists associated with the Eastern Group were abstract artists.  Indeed, Jori Smith, one of the more prominent, female members of this group, found that abstraction didn’t fulfill her and she was much more inspired by nature, but simply in a different way than the Group of Seven’s works.

The Eastern Group of Painters took Canadian art in a new direction, moving it away from the traditional holds of landscapes and bringing it into the modern art world.  In Europe, exciting new works were being executed by artists such as Dali’s The Persistence of Memory and Picasso’s Guernica.  These works were taking the European art world by storm, drawing many critiques, and subsequently, interest from viewers.  It is only natural that a similar movement would take hold in North America, though the art canon of Canada was, at this time, seen as much smaller than that of Europe.  The other point of interest about the Eastern Group of Painters is that many of them were from Quebec, and felt as though their voices were being marginalized by the Ontario Group.  This opposition may have been what drove many of them to create such radically different works from the Group of Seven’s and to look for inspiration in different forms of art.

Pegi Nicol MacLeod’s Descent of Lilies is an abstract, dreamlike work from this group of painters.  It embodies the concept of abstraction that was one of the principles upheld by the group:

A Descent of Lilies

This new Group opened the doors for artists who were inspired by ideas other than nature, and was also empowering to women artists, who were often seen as left out by the Group of Seven.  As the world moved forward into the Depression and War eras, it is only natural that art would begin to change as well.  Canadian identity was shifting and becoming more prominent.  Merely establishing ourselves as a land of scenic views and nature was not enough.  Second generation Canadian artists were taking inspiration from society, not nature.  Nature was not new, it was what they had always known, and thus, society was the new frontier when it came to topics that would be depicted in paintings.

That’s all for today!  I went to New York City last weekend and I’ll share a bit about the MoMA, Guggenheim and Met in my next post!  Sorry for falling a bit behind!


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