By: Metro Published on Thursday, Apr 30 2015
Concerns around a lack of opportunity for discourse in the arts community has spurred on the second year of the Umbrella Visual Arts Conference in Calgary.
Ginger Carlson, programming coordinator for Untitled Art Society (UAS), said providing a public space for local artists and cultural workers to share experiences and how those relate to art practices is something Calgary doesn’t have enough of.
“There are always art conversations instigated by art galleries and the college and university, but there really isn’t enough dialogue,” Carlson said. “We’re trying to engage people to talk about what’s going on in the art communities here.”
Artist in residence J.D. Mersault said his focus during the conference will discussing his essay, which examines suffering in art and whether or not suffering is, or should be used as, a resource to produce art.
Mersault’s familiarity with suffering in art comes from a three-year period living with an untreated abscess in his jaw. Inhaling painkillers and living in constant pain, Mersault said he produced the biggest chunk of artwork in his life at that time because it was all he was able to do.
“Suffering is pointless,” he said. “For me, I was in so much pain that I almost couldn’t do anything else, but that’s kind of lazy in a way. Because most people have access to suffering, they tend to use it as an artistic bartering chip — but that’s not a reason to make art.”
Mersault said while events like the Umbrella conference are positive forces for engaging with other artists and the public, an inherent struggle still exists for artists living in what’s typically considered corporate Calgary.
“This is a financially driven city, and because of that non-commercial endeavours like art-making are sidelined for commercial gain,” Mersault explained. “The people who make art are isolated. They feel like they’re worthless, and that leads to this problem where they’ve internalized their suffering and start making bad art.”
Teaming up with the Elephant Artist Relief Society (EARS), UAS is hosting the conference May 2 at the Freemasons Hall off 12 Avenue SW.