A Word 27.02.2015: The Mann Gallery

This week’s episode of the A Word is focused on the Mann Gallery in Prince Albert: there’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, they’ve just mounted their 39th annual Winter Gala exhibition, guest curated by Grant McConnell, and there’s some significant artists in that exhibition (Kathy Bradshaw, Anita Rocamora, Michel Boutin and Allan Clarke, to just name a few). With it being on the cusp of the 40th anniversary of that event that’s major to both the artistic and larger community of Prince Albert, it seemed a good time to sit down and talk to some of the staff there.

The A Word is, after all, the only visual arts themed radio show in the province: so it seemed appropriate to expand its horizons. Over the next while I’m looking to perhaps highlight significant work done by galleries in smaller urban centres like Swift Current, Estevan or perhaps Moose Jaw. Any feedback from my listeners on that is appreciated and you can hear this week’s show here.

I’d never been to one of the Winter Gala exhibitions, and was impressed by the diversity of the works. I praise this on air, as well as mentioning several artists who are new to me, and some that are more familiar. The registrar, April Sutherland, was also kind enough to walk me through their collection, and answer several of my questions. This variance and miscellany was refreshing: seeing works by Cate Francis and Michel Boutin as well as works that speak to the unique (and sometimes eccentric) nature of collecting was enjoyable.

Jesse Campbell is the relatively new Director / Curator there, continuing in the steps of Griff Baker and Brenda Barry, but also bringing her own experience and understanding to the space. She was generous enough to talk with me about some of the initiatives that are happening and some of the plans she – and her staff – have for the gallery. When we spoke, several ideas came up repeatedly: using the public engagement / investment model of the Mendel as an example of what the Mann Gallery can and should be, as well as focusing on relevant local art history as a means to define a current space. To use a familiar trope, this involves looking outside the gallery as well as within its collection: the Wolf Campaign encompasses this well.

It’s exciting to speak with someone who also has an art historical background, as notions of site and history – and how a public gallery functions within that, serving large groups that are disparate yet all relevant – are clear questions.

We spoke about an upcoming exhibition of the works of Andrée Felley-Martinson she’s curating, and how the Mann can be relevant on a variety of cultural levels, to a number of communities in Prince Albert. I was also able to talk to Emma Anderson, the curatorial intern who’s working on an upcoming exhibit of Wynona Mulcaster (April 2 to May 23). Mulcaster’s work should be familiar to you, if you live in Saskatoon: but what I’m truly looking forward to here, and this was a high point of my conversation with Emma, was that Mulcaster’s true legacy seems to be in art education. Considering the poverty and shambles we see in that space now, whether in the elementary / secondary school system or at the University of Saskatchewan, this is a timely focus. Frankly, I think I’ll be going back up to see that show: and I plan to be adding the Mann to my regular rounds of galleries and events I cover here, on the A Word. 

Now, a few things I mentioned on air that I wanted to elaborate on: Friday, April 10th is the fund raiser I mentioned for The Wolf Campaign. This is a significant undertaking not just as a means to expand the public profile of the gallery, but also as a groundbreaking achievement for public art in Prince Albert (it would be worth nothing how this initiative fits within the debates we’ve had over the last year in Saskatoon about public art).  The sculpture in question is familiar to me: I saw a smaller version at Darrell Bell recently.

The fundraiser is called Wolf Back A Beer – A Beer Tasting Event Fundraiser. More information will be upcoming at their web site, and there’s a variety of contact information there.

But I’d also mention that a few of the approaching shows  (Ruth Cuthand, Tim Moore and the previously mentioned Andrée Felley-Martinson retrospective) are more contemporary than you’ll see in other spaces in larger centres. 

The Winter Gala Exhibition runs until March 21. I’m also very curious to see how it manifests next year, for its 40th Anniversary, as its a major part of the cultural landscape in Prince Albert, and the energy and enthusiasm of the staff will undoubtably make it a noteworthy event.


Don’t shoot the messenger: aka and the exploitation of emerging artists

There was a recent complaint regarding my comments on air, on The A Word on CFCR, calling aka artist run a pimp for exploiting emerging artists with its “TBA” space, which I also prefer to call “The Unpaid Intern” space. I was accused of pursuing a “vendetta.” I’d like to take some time to clarify that, although I feel I made my point quite concisely on air. However, this is something that should be elaborated upson, so the larger community is aware of it, and this is an easy way to do so.

aka’s 2014 was not one of their best years: the early tone was set with a significant cut from one of their main funders, the Canada Council.

In response to this, aka decided to emulate paved art’s very popular – with artists but also funders – Toon’s Kitchen initiative. This is a worthy model: but aka missed the main thing that makes Toon’s focus on local artists – sometimes emerging, sometimes experienced – so worthy of praise and support. paved pays artist fees, and pays fees to any writers commissioned to respond to the work. This is not only appropriate for an artist run centre, but is an irrefutable part of its mandate and reason for being.

There was a time when artist fees were not paid, when major galleries would act as though the artists should thank them for the show. CARFAC fought for a pay scale that is still in usage: many ARCs literally shamed mainstream galleries into paying fees (and yes, there is an echo of that public shaming in what I’m doing here). Its sad to see that the fight isn’t just unfinished, but that natural allies, like aka, are choosing to exploit emerging and inexperienced artists, with (at best) delusional or (more likely) cynical arguments, claiming “exposure” and “experience”.

Those are common lines – or lies –  put out by organizations that are looking for a reason not to pay artists of any media (I’m sure you’ve seen that social media post about how to respond to a restaurant that wants you to play for exposure and experience, and how shamelessly exploitative the idea is shown to be when reversed).

It’s even more transparently false here, where the attendance aka gets in two months may match the Frances Morrison Library Gallery space for two weeks. You’ll get more exposure at Unreal City, or The Woods: and though none of these places pay fees, they are NOT artist run centres. They also allow work to be sold off the wall. Frankly, all three places have done a better job publicizing their exhibitions than aka has done with their TBA space.

Experience, considering that the ‘unpaid intern’ artists do their own vinyl and seem to have no installation support, is akin to how getting mugged and learning to be more wary is also “experience”. This is where my cynical re titling the space “Unpaid Intern” speaks to how this exploitation is something we see elsewhere, at magazines or businesses that want the benefits without any investment or respect for the intern. Remember the outrage that was the response to the governor of the Bank of Canada suggesting the unemployed millennial “volunteer” instead? Sadly, there’s more offenders of this variety in cultural spaces than corporate ones, these days.

Arguably, there has never been a harder time to be an emerging artist: whether its the debt load many carry out of their BFA or MFA, or that there are fewer and fewer jobs at less and less pay. There’s no real space in the city specifically dedicated to emerging artists, as in larger urban centres. The art school at the University of Saskatchewan rarely prepares its graduates for post degree action: most MFA students are unknown in the larger community, and the BFA program is poverty stricken in terms of larger community connections.

Traditionally, ARCs have been stepping stones: many have focused on the demographic of emerging artists, who are often seeking a community to continue making work and to exhibit it post university.

Exploiting a group that is inexperienced, and yet often very eager and excellent is despicable. To try and claim you’re assisting them, when your next door neighbour is paying them fees as well as supporting their exhibition both physically and media wise, when in fact you’re using them to make yourself look better to your funders, is reprehensible. Exploitation is defined as benefiting unfairly from the work of others, or to use a person in an unfair and selfish way. That is also, when combined with a focus to use the unaware, trusting and inexperienced, a very accurate definition of a pimp.

To call this a “vendetta” is willful misconstruing. I worked with students and emerging artists for nearly 15 years here, so seeing that they are respected and rewarded appropriately is important to me. During that time I worked with the Visual Arts Student Union to foster professional development, and make them aware of their options, as well as their rights. Perhaps a better question is why an artist run centre is not as concerned about this as I am.

I might also suggest attempting to shoot the messenger is neither an effective or positive approach. Nor is it merited.

After all, I’ve given significant coverage to several artists at aka this past year (Shanelle Papp, Joi Arcand, Shelley Niro, Felicia Gay, Mary Longman), and may continue to do so, if the work is deserving (its an active community, and some things are more worthy of coverage than others). I produced five radio shows this June / July alone to support Sounds Like IV: bluntly, without me, there would have been no media coverage of that worthy festival save a piece in VERB.

The Canada Council has cut aka twice in the last five years. The previous one was significant enough to mobilize the community to prevent a feared shutdown: despite the accusations of a “vendetta” on my part, I have no interest in seeing that. But I also have no interest in fostering the illusion that aka is a healthy, functional space which respects its mandate or fosters its role in this community.

War Rugs of Afghanistan at the Mendel

The Mendel often presents clusters of shows with amenable conceptual frameworks (Shaping Saskatchewan speaking to The Automatiste Revolution, or Sympathetic Magic troubling the nationalist images presented in A Vital Force: A Canadian Group of Painters). Currently, for the next to last exhibitions at the gallery, three shows revolve around a similar geopolitical concern. Although Deep Weather by Ursula Biemann, in the back gallery was recently in the Montreal Bienale, and Monique Martin & Cathryn Miller’s The Absolute Way of Things is appealing (especially Martin’s interventions outside the gallery, along the river), what dominates is Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan.

The works in the front gallery space are numerous (118 total), but there’s excellent guide sheets: there’s also a panel, explaining the recurring images of tanks, guns and various other military ordinance that speaks to how these rugs primarily date from 1979 and later. That marks the date of the Soviet invasion, an empire blundering onto the rock that sinks them…

There are sections with evocative titles: Maps of Identity, A Garden of Weapons, Crossfire and Looming Disaster. The works are anonymous, numbered, without names.

Considering the nomadic nature of the peoples whom produced these works – either due to the grueling civil war following Soviet withdrawal, or the resultant Taliban government or the latest round of invasion / occupations resulting in displacement to refugee camps (one rug has a camp name woven into it, several depict them) – this is unsurprising. Shauna McCabe, Director of the Textile Museum of Canada which originated the exhibition, was eloquent when speaking at the opening reception: for a weaver who’s lost their home, these rugs ARE Afghanistan.

The words of the didactic panel: “When the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Afghan weavers found their world turned upside down, the sky and the earth thick with weaponry. On their rugs flowers turned into cluster bombs, birds turned into airplanes. The disaster continued with ten years of brutal civil war. And it continues today as international forces battle in an ancient land that has exploded. Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan presents catastrophe turned into art”.

There are older pieces: some that date back to its time under British rule, and there’s also a work that in its pictoral composition seems to reference CNN’s split screen / scrolling text format. Near to the front entrance is a work that depicts the murder and castration – in an extremely minimal, but horrifying manner – of a past political leader. Many rugs act as accurate, if subjective records of a bloody and horrifying history. The Mujahideen were financed by the American Empire against the Soviet one, and birthed al – Qaeda, and the beat goes on…

Other rugs display the aforementioned tanks, aircraft and weapons in a manner that indicates intimate experience. An Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter, a Makarov automatic pistol, a Kalishnikov assault rifle, a BTR-60 PB armoured troop carrier: you don’t need to decode these metaphors, in fine art historical manner, like a dog symbolizing fidelity. One large rug depicts 473 different pieces of military ordinance. Or you could be like the moron who wandered in while I was there, commenting “wow, they must really like tanks”: sure, the same way Ruth Cuthand’s beaded works indicates how fond First Nations are of diseases….


There’s portraits of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was from the prophet Muhammad’s inner circle with a personal role played in the post prophet Sunni / Shi’a sectarian rift, or Amanullah Kahn, king of Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929 whose ideas regarding educating women, eschewing veils and polygamy made him more modern than some of the current GOP. And of course, with the Soviet offensive dominating the narrative, we have Ahmad Shah Massoud, a legend who fought against the USSR. His illustrious career as an insurgent and later Defense Minister in the first independent government didn’t forestall his assassination by al – Qaeda in 2001.T2008.1.48


Perhaps the reason why Battleground stands above the other exhibitions I’ve mentioned is because it occupies the same space as an exhibition from St. Thomas More more than a decade ago: Los Arpilleras of Chile, where “women whose husbands, sons, or brothers were killed or imprisoned by the government met each week…on the outskirts of Santiago, where they shared their burdens and stitched small but meaningful tapestries. Their handwork told the outside world of their hunger, fear, unemployment, housing shortages, and their missing men folk who are still referred to in Chile as the “disappeared” and “detained.” Arpilleras served to document and denounce oppression in a country where all normal channels of free expression were closed”. There’s a rawness to both Arpilleras and Battleground: a history of “empire” written by the invaded, whether under the Union Jack or “The War on Terror” or the current neo liberal dance (as in the Mendel exhibition Under a Petroliferous Moon several years ago) with all the same old steps.

This is where Ursula Biemann’s Deep Weather, juxtaposing the tar sands of Alberta with peoples and places in Bangladesh ravaged by climate change, with its whispered voice and gigantic projection fits (“And the acid wind hissing….populations among the coastal areas drown in their sleep”). I don’t consider this work to be art so much as a PSA brought to you by the Suzuki Foundation, perhaps: but the monumentality of the work and the manner in which it still has an intimacy, with the hushed voice and darkness, makes it an appealing act of social consciousness.

This is also where Miller & Martin’s interest in the “newly recognized loss of bee populations and the historical links between bees and humans”. There’s been a number of news stories of the decline of bees, the human causes and the impending backlash that will have on our own species: but I can’t help sense the same zealous march to destruction that the USSR did in 1979, before that all failed in 1989, in our willful ignorance of empire…


A Word 20.02.2015

So, let us deal with some business first: for the foreseeable future, the A Word will go online on Fridays, not Thursdays. You can still listen to the show on CFCR at 7 PM on Thursday evenings (whether at 90.5 FM or cfcr.ca), but the digital updates will happen the day after that.

Speaking of further delayed gratification, the new Planet S has “bumped” my article on War Rugs of Afghanistan. I may simply put it online, but you can check back here to see. At least this time there’s a few good articles regarding heritage spaces and our Mayor’s response to Maclean’s recent assertions regarding racism.


This week’s radio show can be heard here. The article in the Globe & Mail I mention at the beginning can be read here.

I mention a variety of exhibitions, but in my ongoing tradition of forgetting to mention at least one thing: the call for submissions for the next manifestation of Sounds Like Audio Art Festival. This year a new organization is partnering: ED Video, while Holophon will still be involved. Don’t worry, audio artists: its not just aka “doing” this, but paved as well, so artist fees WILL be paid.

I’d like to take a moment as well to add another point: CARFAC National will be doing their AGM in Saskatoon this summer, and there will undoubtably be appropriate praise for their work regarding the Artist’s Resale Right. I’d like to use that as an example of how an organization like the Sask Arts Alliance is a joke: there are board members that are active apologists / silencers of dissent about their U of S employer in a Mark Buckingham style, to other board members whom advocate NOT paying artist fees to emerging artists. When you compare the workshops and other genuine community initiatives by CARFAC, this clearly exposes that SAA does NOT work for artists. I love the quote from Karl Beveridge on the linked (above) CARFAC page: “People think artists’ fees just happened but, no, in fact CARFAC fought for them.”

Next week’s show is going to be all about the Mann Gallery in Prince Albert: I visited there yesterday (a notable conversation, while on the winter highway, was about Dr. Zhivago) and will elaborate on how impressed I am at the vision and initiatives happening there.


Happy Valentine’s Day…

…and, as I’ve said on Twitter, I won’t be going to see Fifty Shades of Grey but will re read Georges Bataille’s L’histoire de l’oeil. I like my smut to be really pervery (it’s a word).

Amazingly enough, I may be doing it alone, but I am open to a reading date, ahem. But I have a tradition of making and sending Valentine’s cards every year. A friend talks about it here. So, in light of that, here’s this year’s version. Feel free to share and share alike and the image links to a larger version.


A Word 12.02.2015

This week’s radio show is about a few different things, two of which have receptions: the opening exhibition at Art Placement and this screening combined with the latest Toons Kitchen exhibition at paved. You can listen to this week’s episode here.

A space I don’t think I’ve mentioned before is the storefront space that the BAM Collective has down on 20th Street. Right now there’s an exhibition of works by Derek Sandbeck and David Dyck, and the space will be open Friday and Saturday. The image below is their poster. I also branch out and talk about this exhibition at The Storefront.

And finally, over the next few weeks I’ll have a piece in the Planet about Battleground: War Rugs of Afghanistan and the upcoming Spring Newsletter from CARFAC will have a piece from me on the Stronger Than Stone Symposium last Fall.


A Word 05.02.2015

This week’s A Word is about a few different things: from the upcoming Winter Annual Juried Art Show and Sale at the Mann Gallery to the latest offering from paved arts for members’ workshops. You can listen to the show here.

My longer essay on the works of Ed Janzen currently at paved is also online here: Good Dog Bad Dog is a show that is both ironic and funny, and a bit disturbing.


Now, the first thing I mention is the curator’s talk at the SCC: and my take on that show is just online today at Planet S Magazine (the image here is from Holly Hildebrand’s video work in that exhibition. I plan to add the video itself later this week, if possible). I was chatting with my editor there last night, and I can tell you that the next issue will feature my thoughts on Battleground: War Rugs of Afghanistan, but also how that show, with its geopolitical focus, meshes well with the exhibitions in back, Deep Weather, and downstairs (the artists by artists titled The Absolute Way of Things).

Otherwise, a more in depth review of In The Making will also be coming soon, as well as a show where I talk to the curator of this exhibition.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a regular episode if I didn’t forget something; and there will be a reception at Darrell Bell Gallery this Sunday, from noon to four PM. It’s an exhibition of gallery artists including Victor Cicansky, David Thauberger, Jefferson Little, Kyle Herranen and Marc Courtemanche, among others.


A Word 29.01.2015 Openings & Closings

There are many things happening right now that I’m pleased to bring to your attention this week, on the A Word. You can listen to it here. Some are exhibitions that are closing, some are opening, and some are on display for the next while.

One of the shows that you have a tight window to enjoy is the one I mention at the Gordon Snelgrove: and I was speaking with Art Historian Lisa Henderson in regards to this show, and she’s got a blog that is worth your time. You can take a look at that here, and hopefully catch her speaking Friday evening.

I should also add that I may be wading into the public morass that is the conversation regarding the closure of the Mendel while preparing for the move to the Remai: the debate at the Star Phoenix has been equally unimpressive and ignorant, and I just don’t understand how individuals who forced a transit lockout think they might speak on issues that they know nothing about….

Now, despite my packing this week’s episode with information about so many shows that I had to ask if it was okay to exceed my allotted time, I forgot to mention two that are out at Wanuskewin: one a group show and another a solo show by Wally Dion. I’ll be taking a trip out to see both those shows soon, and will give some deeper impressions of them at that time. But here’s some images from Wally’s show, to tease a bit.


DSC_0971One last thing to add: I’d like to echo paved arts in marking the passing of Paul Gui Crapeau. There’s some excellent recollections and memories of him here and here.

A Word 22.01.2015 Ed Janzen

This week’s episode of the A Word is a conversation with artist Ed Janzen, whose Good Dog Bad Dog opens tomorrow night at paved. He’ll be giving a talk this Saturday at 1 PM in the gallery, as well, but you can listen to us talk here. Respective images below are Ed’s and Terry Billings.


Toon’s Kitchen will also be starting up again: this excellent ongoing series that features artists both emerging and more mature (and that pays them an artist fee, as an artist run centre should) will debut works by Terry Billings this Friday evening as well. Learn more about that here: and the reception for that, as well as Ed’s exhibition, is at 8 PM.


A few other things of note: a few shows ago I mentioned local artisan Mary Lynn Podiluk being shortlisted for the Niche awards. I recently received the following news: Art Jeweller & Goldsmith Mary Lynn Podiluk of Saskatoon, SK has been selected as a professional winner in the 2015 NICHE Awards for her piece entitled ‘Infinite’. This is a second-time NICHE Awards win for Podiluk; in 2013, her teapot, ‘Metalanguage’, was named a student winner. You may be familiar with her work from a few exhibitions at the Saskatchewan Craft Council but you can also see her work here.

Speaking of the SCC, they have an exhibition that’s open right now: Our Prairie in Fiber. I’ll be visiting that show soon, and in looking ahead, I hope to speak to Shauna McCabe on the show about Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan. My review of concerning recent events at the Mendel is now online at Galleries West, and in today’s Planet S you can see some thoughts on the current exhibition at Art Placement.

A Word 15.01.2015 / The Mendel + HA & L

This week’s episode of the A Word is focused upon the upcoming exhibitions at the Mendel: I apologize for my confusion in saying that this week’s show would feature Ed Janzen, but I got my weeks mixed up, and Ed’s exhibition opens next week and he’ll be on the show next Thursday amidst installing at paved.

But this Friday, a number of exhibitions open for the Winter season at the Mendel: several of note, one that’s a glorified advertorial (what do you call that, when it happens in a gallery? Feel free to send suggestions for that), and an Artists by Artists that I’m anticipating. The image below is from Ursula Biemann’s Deep Weather, opening tomorrow at the Mendel.


A few other notable things: Art Placement’s Winter Exhibition runs until early February, and I’ll have a piece in an upcoming Planet on the works of Ellen Moffat and Jonathan Forrest, the highlights of that show. I give you an installation shot of his works below (on the right), which I am completely seduced by, right now.


And my long piece on ReWilding Modernity, which was at the Mendel, is now in the current edition of Hamilton Arts & Letters. You can read that here. This is a more in depth examination of that show, exploring ideas like regionalist xenophobia and karaoke modernism. Much praise to HA & L for their ongoing interest in covering artists on the Prairies, as they’ve previously published pieces on Joseph Anderson’s work and on Jen Budney’s excellent Beneath A Petroliferous Moon.

Speaking of publishing, I talk about a new artist book from JackPine: I Exi(s)t / exit I. This is a collaboration between C. Isa Lausas and Tyson Atkings and it is a thing of beauty, and you can purchase one of the limited number here, at JackPine Press’ site. They’ve produced a number of excellent artist books (some of which you can purchase at Storefront).