I planned to write a different post this week. Seeing the online version of the play Taking Shakespeare a couple of days ago changed my mind (or course, if you want to follow the cheesy caravan pun.)
I am growing increasingly weary of all things on a screen. Perhaps you are, too? (Oh, I admit there are many advantages to using Zoom and new horizons to explore via YouTube, but, as in all things, a balance is necessary. Acknowledging the irony, I sincerely thank you for reading this post – on a screen.) I have a subscription to the Belfry Theatre and almost reluctantly tuned in to the final production of their spring season.
The realistic dialogue, and the authentic characterizations are brought to life by excellent actors. Patti Allan and Austin Eckert are both experienced stage and screen performers. Allan, as the professor, gave a particularly nuanced performance of a cynical professional woman of a certain age tutoring the seemingly apathetic, directionless student.
As with other visual performing arts, the success of the online presentation also depends significantly on the skills of the the videographer. Candelario Andrade presents a simple, but very effective delivery of the play. I was able to concentrate on the characters’ relationship, as well as focus on them as individuals. (You may want to watch his Video Editor demo reel .)
The good news is that you can watch the play, too. It’s available until Sunday, June 13. Tickets are available from the Belfry Theatre. I highly recommend it.
The headline Donor supports Venice Biennale’s Canada Pavilloncaught my eye. I’m fond of Venice – one big art gallery, really! – and visited the Architecture Biennale in 2016. (You can read a short post about my Biennale adventures here, and a brief description about the Canadian exhibition here.)
Venice Biennale site, image by T. Vatrt
What is interesting about the $3 million donation to maintain the Canadian Pavillon at the Venice Biennale site is that the donor remains anonymous. Instead, the patron wishes to honour a former director of the National Gallery of Canada, Dr. Shirley Thomson (1930-2010.) Barbara Stead- Coyle (National Gallery of Canada Foundation) reports The donor wanted the focus to be on Dr. Thomson and Dr. Thomson’s time at the gallery.
Among her many achievements, Dr. Thomson was the director of the National Gallery of Canada when it moved from an office building to its current (and stunning) purpose-built location along the Ottawa River.
Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 1999 National Gallery of Canada image
National Gallery of Canada, T. Vatrt image
During her 1987-1997 tenure at the National Gallery, Dr. Thomson diversified the permanent collection, acquiring contemporary art, as well as important historical works. Under her direction, the gallery purchased Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire (1967) in 1989 for $1.8 million. It proved to be a highly controversial topic in Canada, outraging Conservative politicians, and sparking discussions amongst Canadians. How wonderful to have citizens talking about art!
Here’s a concise video by National Gallery curator Annabelle Kienle Ponka explaining the significance of this painting.
Voice of Fire, Barnett Newman, Winnipeg Free Press image
In addition to her degrees in fine art and history, Dr. Shirley Thomson received an honorary degree from Université Concordia in 2001. This citation outlines some of her many accomplishments throughout her career, as well as at the National Gallery. Besides diversifying the permanent collection with savvy purchases (imagine what Voice of Fire is worth today) she valued education and accesibility for all: she initiated an internship program for university students, and began the Cybermuse program, which ensured the collection’s online availability. In honour of the donation, the Abstract Expressionist space is now The Dr. Shirley L. Thomson Gallery.
Isn’t it refreshing to have an arts advocate honoured, instead of the usual Mr. and Mrs.Millionaire/Billionaire Memorial Gallery? For a bit of insight into Dr. Thomson’s leadership style and personality, this interview with Rob Labossiere provides some insight into this remarkable woman. Our thanks to the generous donor for maintaining the Canadian Pavillon at the Venice Biennale and for bringing Dr. Shirley Thomson to our attention.
Contemporary artist Ai Weiwei is having another moment right now – or maybe he’s emblematic of our time. If you’ve been following The Art Caravan for awhile, you know that I think he’s a fantastic artist. In an October 2014 post , I wrote This is one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen. Seven years later, I don’t disagree. Here’s a brief summary (with images and video) from For-Site Foundation, about Large, the installations I (fortunately) experienced at Alcatraz.
Pace Prints has a Weiwei exhibition running until May 29, 2021. In conjunction with the show, they are releasing a silkscreen print edition of Year of the Ox, which references his 2018 Zodiac and 2010 Zodiac Heads series.
Year of the Ox, 2021, Ai Weiwei, artsy.net image
Year of the Ox, 2021, Ai Weiwei, paceprints.com
Beginning May 15, and running to August 1, Skirball Cultural Center presents Ai Weiwei: Trace. Part of their programming includes this conversation with Skirball curator Yael Lipschutz. It’s worth a listen to hear Weiwei’s political perspectives. I found the discussion of his artistic process fascinating. It’s a thought provoking interview.
Artnet news announced the November 2021 publication of an Ai Weiwei memoir 1000 Days of Joys and Sorrows. In this very brief video, Weiwei explains the genesis of this book. He ends with these bold words: What is the cost for freedom? If art cannot engage with life it has no future. No surprise that his father was a poet; Selected Poems by Ai Qing will be published in English and released the same day as 1000 Days of Joys and Sorrows.
The art show Not Going to Buenos Aires is over, but remains available online. As one of the participating artists, I’ve come to realize the importance of this exhibition. A visitor commented: I came to the show with my friend; I don’t know any of the artists. I didn’t think I’d want to have ‘pandemic art’ in my home. But when I saw all of the artworks, together, I wanted to buy some work to mark this time. (I’m happy to report she bought one of Janet Brooks’ Zoom Rooms, and five pieces from my wish you were here…. series.)
Zoom Room 3, Janet Brooks, acrylic and pencil on cradle board
wish you were here…. Terry Vatrt, mixed media
Whether or not we acknowledge and accept the reality of the pandemic, we are living in a significant historic moment. Our daily lives and our corporate life have changed for a substantial and unknown period of time. Our movements and interactions – everywhere! – are severely limited by the threat of illness and death. As artists we grappled with those limitations through the Not Going to Buenos Aires theme: inquireinto the complexity of yearning to be anywhere other than the “here” of a pandemic shutdown.
For some of the artists Not Going to Buenos Aires marks a significant change in their personal art practises. Kate Scoones, with a laugh, refers to Before Not Going To Buenos Aires and After Not Going To Buenos Aires.
The spontaneity of the work I found to be just so rewarding and it kept me going. I think that has made a huge shift in my art practise now. I can forever say ‘Before Not Going to Buenos Aires’ I worked this way, and now I work this way – another way – a different way.
Among my Souvenirs, Kate Scoones, acrylic gouache on foamcore
Participating in Not Going to Buenos Aires was notable for Amy Marcus. (@amarcusx) I was always a dabbler who made things. I became somebody who could put something forward and feel that it was good enough to be accepted. I could stand in that, and feel good about that.
My Monkey Mind, Amy Marcus, embroidery
At the very least, participating in NGTBA gave me a project for the covid winter we endured. Less time on screens and more time in the studio is always a good thing.
Like Kate I also learned to be open to new ways of working. I created highly personal pieces. I believed the assumption that being too personal in my work would seem pedestrian – not interesting to others, and only appeal to a limited audience. I discovered the opposite is true. The most personal artworks elicited the strongest positive responses.
bred in the bone, T. Vatrt, 2021, mixed media
In a Not Going to Buenos Aires debriefing meeting (on Zoom, of course!) Kate expanded on my observation. You have to let things happen. They sit with you. They come out. The truer you are to that feeling, the truer the work will be. And in spite of it feeling so personal – like it really comes out of you – it resonates with people. That’s what the person who purchased your work is going… ‘Oh! This is coming from a place inside myself that I recognize.’
Participating in Not Going to Buenos Aires forced me to clarify my thoughts about the reality of living, and loss, during pandemic times. Joanne Hewko agrees. This project – having a framework to think about – and to do a deep dive intellectually into my thinking – was super useful. I liked having something to really sink my teeth into.
Let’s end with Amy’s summary of participating in Not Going to Buenos Aires :
I loved working with all of you. I felt like it was a group effort. I know everyone goes away and does what the do and that’s always one of the things that amazes me about a project – when everyone has the same topic and they create something that’s completely different. It’s just amazing, and fascinating, and so soul satisfying to see what other people do.
Don’t be surprised to see Soul Satisfying t-shirts this summer. I suspect they could be very popular with artists.
Not Going to Buenos Airesopened (in person visits!) last weekend at the Errant Art Space in Victoria, B.C. The previous Art Caravan post explained the genesis of the art show’s theme – six artists inquire into the complexity of yearning to be anywhere other than the ‘here’ of a pandemic shutdown.
Not Going to Buenos Aires group art show postcard
As you can imagine, six artists interpret one theme in vastly different ways. The website for NGTBA provides each artist’s statement and artwork images. The diversity of media is remarkable – you will see embroidery, collage, printmaking, paper sculpture and painting.
Annus Horribilis, Amy Marcus, embroidery on cotton
Jardín di Los Sueños 1, (detail) Joanne Hewko, acrylic on canvas
As I noted in the last post, overlapping ideas, like climate change and environmental degradation, emerged from the works. Other commonalities are evident. It’s interesting to see Janet Brooks and Kate Scoones both reference the ubiquitous Zoom calls we are all enduring. Janet created a series of Zoom Room paintings which mimic the fractured Zoom experience in an emphasized horizontal perspective.
Zoom Room 3, Janet Brooks, acrylic and pencil on cradle board
About her works Among my Souvenirs, Kate says: Each subject is alone and motionless on a colourful background, with no specific landscape or environment. They are intimate yet aloof (not unlike a Zoom call when private space is shared with strangers).
Among my souvenirs, Kate Scoones, acrylic gouache on foamcore
My series wish you were here….. echoes Kate’s observation about uniqueness within a relationship. The presentation of the artwork also reinforces the grid inherent in a Zoom call.
wish you were here…. Terry Vatrt, mixed media
Almost all of the artists commented that the pandemic, while forcing us to slow down, resulted in new discoveries in our art practises. Trish Shwart says she’s been able to… work more slowly, and at a much larger scale than I have worked in the past few years. The continuous day to day practice has allowed me to develop a kind of resilience in terms of how I approach and modify the paintings over the course of their development.
The Air was Still and the Sun was Out (detail) Trish Shwart, acrylic on wood panel
Kate writes I wouldn’t have delved so deeply into a mundane subject and found it so compelling had I not been confined.
In my own studio, I was surprised by the long lengths of time I spent working on the larger pieces. It felt like an extraordinarily contemplative process. Standing on their Shoulders took me several iterations, and months, to complete.
Not surprisingly, Amy humorously summed up her experience working at home.
I have a short attention span so for NGTBA, as a challenge, I took on a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-w-w project.My Monkey Mind was hand embroidered with single strands of thread and that extended the work time into just short of forever. And that was supposed to be the point. At times i experienced it as a meditation as intended, and at other times it felt like a drawn out trial. In those times, if ‘trial’ is a metaphor, I found myself guilty of monkeying around. In the end, fast, s-l-o-w, meditative, drawn out, guilty, or not, it was all part of the dance.
My Monkey Mind, Amy Marcus, embroidery
The show is open one more weekend, (April 17-18, 2021) with covid protocols in place. We’ve provided a website with plenty of visuals, links to a CBC radio interview, and a visual walk through ‘tour.’ Please visit as you are able, and see if any of our responses to these strange days resonate with you.
My favourite mask right now is one that announces Not Going to Buenos Aires. (Let’s pause here and consider that a year ago, you’d be scratching your head, wondering what I really meant by myfavourite mask. These days, wearing a mask in public is almost second nature – an essential item on the mental phone-keys-sunglasses list as we leave our homes.)
Not Going to Buenos Aires masks
On occasion, it elicits comments like I wish I was going to Buenos Aires and I like your mask. It’s fun to explain that it’s the title of a group art show in which I am participating. If people seem interested, I pass them this postcard with all the show details.
Not Going to Buenos Aires group art show postcard invitation
Trish Shwart formulated the idea of this art show. The project was a great way to connect with other artists around a theme (longing, uncertainty, impossible dreams) that I find compelling, she says.
Mid-year 2020, and several months into the pandemic, Trish invited several artists in Victoria, BC to consider our participation. Her introductory proposal outlined possible themes:
Going to Buenos Aires In March (2020) my husband began talking about going to Buenos Aires. Even though he knew it was impossible to travel during a pandemic he was adamant we would go soon. Why not embrace this crazy idea, I thought. Imagine going somewhere green and beautiful. Buenos Aires began to be a fantasy stand-in for somewhere wonderful. It stood in total contrast to the reality of our covid society. I started to yearn for what it represented.
To help imagine more clearly what it would be like to be in Buenos Aires, I started doing some research and my imaginings were disrupted by some hard truths. Because of the pandemic, citizens of Buenos Aires are going hungry and becoming homeless. There are strikes and civil unrest. The economic disparities have grown and for many there is a great degree of economic and physical instability.
So what does it mean to be going to Buenos Aires? What we imagine. What we long for. What we think will bring positive change into our lives is not always simple. Can a yearning for green and beautiful exist alongside the difficulties of others? Is that in fact how we humans cope with challenges? By ignoring some aspects of it?
These images explore the dual nature of yearning. Of longing for the unattainable. And of considering how what we yearn for, long for, is not necessarily a reality.
I jumped at the opportunity to explore these themes. The pandemic gave me time – lots and lots and LOTS of time -to wish, dream and hope in the context of devastating world events. Examining the concepts of yearning and longing appealed to me. Trish provided us with vocabulary, a framework and deadlines (!) to process and express some of our losses as well as our dawning insights.
Over the course of a handful of mercifully efficient Zoom meetings, we distilled the theme and revised the title of the show.
Not Going to Buenos Aires artists’ Zoom meeting
Not Going to Buenos Aires
Six artists inquire into the complexity of yearning to be anywhere other than the ‘Here’ of a pandemic shutdown. From settling in to the gratifications of solitude to the restless urges for escape, and all points between, this show reflects their stories.
These stories show the diversity of their thoughts and feelings and will surely prompt viewers to consider their own responses to these restrictive times. If you’re not going to Buenos Aires, where are you going?
It’s fascinating to see the unique responses from each artist. Six different artists produce six different interpretations, although overlapping concerns emerge. Joanne Hewko says that Before the pandemic, I loved to plan trips and travel….the feeling of anticipation and discovery. I realized that travelling, especially by air, is a privileged activity that has consequences environmentally and culturally….it is something that I can no longer take for granted.
Trish notes that the pandemic created an ideal opportunity to reflect on how the environmental degradation that is the norm is beginning to shift how our world will be.
The Air was Still and the Sun was Out (detail) Trish Shwart, acrylic on wood panel
The pandemic has affirmed my conviction of the interdependence between humans and the natural world. It’s a deadly example of the connection of the micro to the macro in all things.
bred in the bone (detail), Terry Vatrt, etching, embossing, chine collé
We’ll talk more about the artists’ ideas and experiences in future posts. In the meantime, if you’re interested in more images, and reading our artist statements, you can visit the Not Going to Buenos Aires website.
In one week you can visit us in person, too. ( Covid protocols in place, of course.) Let us know where you aren’t going – just yet.
The Art Caravan is celebrating…in a covid kind of way. A year ago we started posting regularly – every two weeks. (Our initial, and very tentative post was in February 2014, with sporadic postings until 2020.)
Re-reading the March 2020 post reminds me how little we knew about life in a pandemic. Sigh. Be reassured this post is NOT going to discuss the all-too-familiar challenging and horrendous circumstances of the last twelve months. Instead, we are going to mark this anniversary (of sorts) with gentleness, one of the strategies Dr. Pauline Boss recommends, to survive in a time of loss. She recommends doing things we enjoy, participating in rituals and being kind to others.
A virtual visit to an artwork isn’t the same as experiencing it in person, but I enjoyed the presentation by the always erudite Xavier F. Salomon, the chief curator at The Frick. He outlines the history and context of this self portrait in Rembrandt’s life. I may not agree entirely with his interpretation of Rembrandt’s self-depiction, but the discussion adds to my appreciation of the painting.
The Frick adapted well to the harsh realities of a pandemic. It generously (most programs are free), and regularly shares its art and expertise through innovative online programming.
If you’re in the mood for more celebrating (and who isn’t?) The Winnipeg Art Gallery opens Qaumajuq, its new Inuit Art Centre, this week. (Here is the post from January 2021 with more information about this gallery hosting the world’s largest collection of Inuit art.) The WAG is kindly inviting us to a two part, virtual opening to celebrate the new 40,000 square foot space.
Qaumajuq, Winnipeg Art Gallery, cbc.ca image
I encourage you to open some bubbly, and salute The Frick and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Despite the formidable difficulties presented by a pandemic, both institutions continue to contribute to society in innovative and meaningful ways. They unstintingly provide easy access to art, beauty, differing cultures, ideas and a myriad of educational opportunities. They are worthy of our appreciation, praise and celebration. Cheers!
A very special abstract artist, Frank Mikuska, died recently. He is significant to me because I had the privilege and good fortune to work alongside him at Martha Street Studio in Winnipeg. I was in awe of him; he was decades older than me, retired from his professional career and respected by established artists at the studio and in Winnipeg.
In our days in the studio, Frank taught me an important lesson. One morning in particular, when I was expressing some doubt about making art (the why am I doing this?what’s the point? kind of moaning) Frank matter-of-factly said to me Just do the work. He didn’t wait for a response, or further discussion. He immediately turned back to his inking table and continued working. Problem solved.
So it was no surprise to read Frank’s response to questions about his time making monoprints at Martha Street Studio. This is what he said in a detailed interview with Gallery One One One at the University of Manitoba:
All of the material was there; it was just a matter of doing the work. This is a carryover from what I was already doing, while I was working for the Corporation because I had to learn back there how to do things quickly, choice of image, and also the ability to say stop, stop the work, make a decision that the work is complete. That’s always come with me and I still think in those terms. I never sketch, so when I start working with these prints, it was a question of “here is a palette, start doing it.” It just kind of fell into place. The images came very intuitively.
Frank’s studio workspace was always organized, compact and clean – no small feat for a printmaker working with multiple colours of oil-based inks. I recall how he carefully wiped every tube of oil after use. He worked quickly, efficiently, and thoughtfully. Powerful abstract images emerged from his methodical process.
Discovery, Frank Mikuska, monoprint, 2007
Divergence, Frank Mikuska, monoprint, 2004
Frank treated me as an equal in the studio. It was a tremendous gift to me – an emerging artist – but, I think, an integral aspect of his genuine respect for others and the creative process. In the interview he also describes the atmosphere in the studio:
Working at the print shop was just phenomenal. I was captured by the number of people who were working there and they were working in a traditional sense. After a while, they were looking over my shoulder, they were looking over each other’s shoulders, and as a result, there was a terrific exuberance, people making art; printmaking. I was really happy then, no doubt about that.
Working at Martha Street Studio was a happy time for me, too. Frank became an unofficial mentor. He encouraged me, provided feedback, and even shared end-of-the-day ink with me. Working with his palette for fun eventually influenced a whole series of my own work.
In reading Frank’s obituary, and the UM interview, I discovered how little I really knew about him. We briefly discussed our shared Slovak ethnic heritage, but I wasn’t aware that English was not his first language. I remember hearing he had a career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation but I didn’t know that when he started, in 1955, he was one of the very first graphic designers at the newly launched CBC Television (Winnipeg.)
Frank’s contributions to the art world were significant. In one of his collaborative projects, he won the Prix Anik Award for Graphic Design of Soundscapes for Trenody – Music of R. Murray Schafer. He exhibited in several significant group shows of Modernist art in Canada. Frank also never mentioned that his work is in major collections, like the Museum of Fine Arts in Montréal and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
I am happy to have one of Frank’s monoprints in my home. An acquaintance once asked How long did it take him to make that? The question was posed with a wry smile and my kid could do that attitude. I was very happy with my calm response. A lifetime, I said.
Dear Frank, thank you. You did the work, and you shared it with us.
When you are making art – any kind of art – you are naturally soothing your nervous system. Creation is really organizing for our nervous systems. Even if you’re writing about something painful, just the formation and artistry of it is really grounding. The point is: make art. All the time.
Molly’s statement resonated with me. I feel better when I’m making art and I see the joy in others when they are (non-pandemic times) visiting and ‘playing’ in my studio. An art professor friend says taking classes, and making art is cheaper than therapy. It seems obvious, and I know this intuitively, but to hear Molly connect creativity directly to the health of our physical bodies seems to add gravitas to the statement.
There is scientific evidence that being creative (including art, craft, writing, music making, and dancing) affects our cognitive, psychosocial and physical health. In this article in Psychology Today by Dr. Cathy Malchiodi, she notes the conclusion from a review of existing literature of over 100 studies:
Most of these studies concur that participation and/or engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses and, in some cases, even improvements in immune system functioning.
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi named the concentrated, absorbed state displayed by artists at work as flow. In 1990, Dr. Czikszentmihalyi published Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikscentmihalyi, 1990
In North America (the Western world, perhaps?) we have devalued creativity in our daily lives. What used to be the norm in public schools (sewing, cooking, art, music and woodworking classes) cannot be taken for granted now. The opportunities for people to learn and enjoy simple creative endeavours are reduced; it’s all considered a luxury at best, and pointless to many.
Not surprisingly, creativity is valued when it can be commodified. Business has embraced creativity for its contribution to profitability. The Flow Genome Project self-identifies as The Official Source for Peak Performance and Culture. It advertises its collaboration with companies like Google, Nike and Goldman Sachs.
It seems obvious that we need to recapture the pleasure of creating things – not for profit, or for performative value – but for our own health and enjoyment. If ever there was a time that our nervous systems – individually and collectively – need soothing, it’s now.
Go ahead and do something creative – every day. Better still if it’s something temporary and not Instagram worthy: living room solo dancing, harmonizing with your favourite singers, making and writing in a private notebook. The writer Annie Dillard wisely said… How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
Speaking of Inuit art, (previous post) who are your favourite Inuit artists? Do you have one….or three? If you’re an Art Caravan follower, you know I have a few favourites, including Kenojouak Ashevak (1927-2013) and Oviloo Tunnillie (1949-2014.)
Kenojuak Ashevak, thestar.com image
Oviloo Tunillie, cbc.ca image
Ningiukulu Teevee is another contemporary (born in 1963) Inuit artist on my favourites list. (Isn’t that the beauty of lists – easily edited, amended, and never ending?) I first wrote about her in 2015. She works in drawing and printmaking, including lithography, etching and aquatint, as well as the more traditional stone cut and stencil. I am attracted to the sense of humour and playfulness evident in her art. The print, Trance, seems especially appropriate to this covid winter. (sigh)
Trance, Ningiukulu Teevee, 2014, stonecut and stencil, edition of 50
Her subject matter is varied; traditional stories and legends are explored, as well as contemporary experiences and life in the Arctic. The works express a beguiling combination of charm and edginess.
You Know your Inuk When, Ningiukulu Teevee, 2016, Madrona Gallery image
Yesterday, Ningiekulu Teevee, 2008, stonecut and stencil, dorsetfinearts.com image
In 2017, the Winnipeg Art Gallery exhibited a solo show of Teevee’s work at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Ningiukulu Teevee: Kingait Stories caught the attention of the Smithsonian Magazine, who described the show as unique and wonderful.
In 2019, Dorset Fine Arts, in conjunction with Pomegranate, published Ningiukulu Teevee: Drawings and Prints from Cape Dorset. Leslie Boyd’s writing accompanies the 80+ images and photographs. Need a last minute Valentine’s Day gift? The book is readily available through your local independent bookseller (I know, because I just ordered it!)