Spawn at Arrata Opera Centre | Judy Chicago at Art Gallery of Calgary and the Weiss Gallery | The Self Portrait Show at Untitled Arts Society posted by Dick Averns - September 29th, 2009.
September is traditionally a launch pad for the upcoming season’s arts events: organizations both large and small mount festivals, open major shows, and hold special events. So for this early fall report I’m going to spread reporting between news of big name artists and a couple of smaller grassroots initiatives.
For newcomer Elephant Artists Relief (aka EAR) the operative word is relief: their mission being to provide practical support “to sustain the health, well being and livelihood of those in our visual arts community who have dedicated their lives to the practice of making art.” I’m not 100% sure where the elephant fits in but imagine it speaks to the Dumbo in the room, that is, the lack of adequate benefits for self-employed artists, allied to the legendary work of Komar and Melamid who put unemployed Thai elephants to work (painting pictures with brushes in their trunks) that together heal the stereotype of the mad starving artist embodied by Van Gogh amputating his ear.
EAR, as a society that is only two years old, has not yet attained charitable status so does not have a sizeable funding pot, but amazingly it has already disbursed some monies to help artists in need. In the interest of confidentiality names aren’t freely circulated, all part of maintaining an ethical approach that indicates the concept of the “poster child” is a vehicle that EAR wishes to avoid. To see how EAR stimulates a vibrant community, check out SPAWN this week at the Arrata Opera Centre. Proceedings comprise an exhibition and an auction (including works by Ron Moppet, Lisa Brawn, Diane McGeachy and Larry McDowell), plus a party with music by Kris Demeanor and the Crackettes and Jay Crocker (tickets are cheaper if you get them in advance!). N.B. EAR’s online Resource Centre has many excellent links that might help many artists locate services.
A show of epic proportions that flenses bodies in a remarkable way is If Women Ruled the World: Judy Chicago in Thread at the Art Gallery of Calgary. Judy Chicago is famed for The Dinner Party installation, a work that was actually exhibited at the Glenbow twenty-seven years ago and drew such record crowds that the show was held over. Now, the AGC in conjunction with the Textile Museum of Canada has organized a survey show spanning four decades. Guest curator Allyson Mitchell has done a stellar job of featuring not just monumental fibre works that are designed by Chicago and then fabricated by collaborating craftswomen, but also sculptures and preparatory drawings that lay out processes including “crochet, embroidery, quilting, macramé, petit-point appliqué, beading and smocking.”
The evidence of apparently successful collaborations that span thousands of hours and so many years could be said to prove the vitality and plausibility of the kind of matriarchy that Chicago so passionately exemplifies. This is summed up in her 2008 series What if Women Ruled the World. Would God be Female? Would There be Equal Parenting? In an earlier work confronting history, millennia of patriarchal destruction and discrimination are literally woven into the eighteen foot long The Fall for which weaver Audrey Cowan is rightly acknowledged as the artisan. Concurrent to the AGC show, the Weiss Gallery is holding Chicago’s first commercial show in Western Canada.
In extending the fraternity –I use this term as a re-appropriation of Sinead O’Connor’s appropriation in Universal Mother of Germaine Greer who opines that “the opposite to patriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity”— the AGC show includes five younger feminist artists: Orly Cogan, Wednesday Lipypciw, Cat Mazza, Gillian Strong, and Ginger Brooks Takahashi. Lipypciw calls her work “vag-art,” something that is supraliminal in her Seasons: Back to the Lesbian Land Movement, a hot pink bivouac womb cave that reminds me of the 1980’s Greenham Common Women’s Peace camp in the UK.
This is a must-see show and a foil to the frontier challenge hangover faced by culture in Calgary. After meeting Chicago at the opening (she had the coolest little orange-citrus tinted round spectacles) I overheard a gallery-goer talking about how he’d flown up from LA for the opening, and that when he mentioned this to a Calgarian on the plane the “tongue-in-cheek response was ‘Art! In Calgary?’ ” As I departed the AGC I felt that progress was really being made. That was until I was confronted with the most concentrated public display of testosterone I’ve seen since George Bush was in town. The street was parked both sides with ranks of hot red and dazzling yellow – wait for it – high end sports cars. What the occasion was I don’t know, but I’ll bet the seven Lamborghinis and twelve Ferraris didn’t number many female owners.
Fortunately, at the other end of these spectra, there is a healthier kind of self-portraiture on display. The Untitled Arts Society (UAS) is one of Calgary’s few studio oriented societies. Its space includes common areas, a wet process dark room and a gallery, the latter of which is currently showing The Self Portrait Show. This thirteen-person group exhibition includes established artists Kim Huynh, John Will and Eric Cameron alongside emerging practitioners such as Michelle Trudgeon and Kim Neudorf. Works impart a healthy range of abilities from artists young and old. The only sculpture in the show, Moi: Anthropomorphic Architecture Series by Ron Kostyniuk is a good metaphor for rounding out this article: it draws attention to the building blocks of art. With UAS offering studio space at $1.40 per sq ft per month, it is refreshing to know there are places where one can afford to at once build and exhibit art and community on an ongoing basis. Long live Spawning Untitled Threads of Real Life!
Dick Averns is an interdisciplinary artist and writer living in Calgary whose exhibitions and performances have been presented internationally. He has written for catalogues, journals and magazines, including Canadian Art, Front and Artichoke, and is currently part of the Canadian Forces Artists Program. Dick also teaches sculpture, performance and installation, liberal studies and first year studies at the Alberta College of Art + Design.
Elephant Artists Relief: http://www.elephantartistrelief.com/
Spawn at Arrata Opera Centre runs from September 30 to October 3.
Art Gallery of Calgary: http://www.artgallerycalgary.org/exhibit/index.htm
If Women Ruled the World: Judy Chicago in Thread continues until January 23.
Weiss Gallery: http://www.theweissgallery.com/default.asp
Surveying Judy Chicago: 1968 – 2008 continues until January 23.
Untitled Arts Society: http://www.untitledart.org/index.html
The Self Portrait Show continues until October 9.