Artists Events
Artcity Festival 2020
Sept. 4th-13th, Calgary


Syntax by Aaren Madden

October 6th, 2019 0 Comments Login or Register to add a comment

When I first met Nicholas Waissbluth, he was weaving the screen for his architectural installation, Fields of Play between two trees, and preoccupied with the possibility of running out of rope before he had achieved the size and shape of screen he desired. I asked him what his aim was with the project; if his main goal was, to put things highly technically, “muck about with perception”. He said yes, but perception of just one thing: the movement of a C-Train. The projected image of the train’s movement through space as it is reconfigured on the rope screen (which, incidentally, was of perfect size without need for a rope run) did accomplish that goal. So did Jennifer Thorogood’s vertiginous Built By Numbers and Dominique Cheng’s The Purge.

The proof was in watching the reactions of passersby. A young couple with a toddler approached Built by Numbers head-on, bemused then delighted when confronted with the images of their feet at eye level. The toddler danced and bobbed, mom and dad slid from side to side, watching themselves manipulate space as if in a funhouse. Others walked back and forth at various paces, trying to keep balance, or laid right down on the platform to see a convoluted reflection of the surrounding space. Many people engaged fully with the space, the reflections and the structure.

People were more curious about – and perhaps bewildered by –  Waissbluth’s screen. Those who saw the late-night projection of the passing C-Train got the full effect of his intention, but the rope stretched across the trees demanded notice – eyebrows were raised, steps slowed and heads turned to the incongruity of the bright white rope stretching like a sideways hammock between the rough bark of the trees. Viewers were perplexed, something Dominique Cheng commented on as being one of the most interesting aspects of the piece. It’s true: people may not have known exactly what they were dealing with, but it pulled them in and gave pause, suggested a different – more conscious, perhaps – experience of a typically-silent particle of public space.

Cheng’s The Purge made similar suggestions. I hoped to find someone seated under the structure’s sheltering reach, but pouring rain kept most people simply walking and looking as I did. What I did see was compelling: some brows furrowed in seeming concern, some once again bemused, some thoughtful, following each frond of pipe to its conclusion, trying to make sense of the structure – just as on a daily basis, to varying degrees and in varying consciousnesses, all of us negotiate the architectural spaces that surround us.

While we try to make sense of our built environment, passages – points of physical and  cognitive entry – become the resting places where individual cadences emerge. This is where we can create our own syntax for a spatial vernacular that is, as reactions to these projects were (and each of our relationships to the city remains), personal but shared. By ‘mucking about’ with perception, with our understanding of the visual language of architecture and the continuing transformation of public space as these three works did, there is the potential to see the quotidian spaces of downtown Calgary as language that is often shifting and sometimes evasive in meaning, but other times verging on poetry.


-- Aaren Madden

A Week Plus of A-plus by Sarah-Adams Bacon

September 16th, 2019 0 Comments Login or Register to add a comment

With Artcity festivities winding down and so many artists and art workers sitting down for the first time in weeks, let’s take a sec and reflect on how great it all was, shall we?

Opening day, Friday the fifth, included The Readers by the Social Evolution Research Gang (SERG), and of course, the Opening Gala Celebration. Beginning with The Readers, artists Lori Gordon, Ashley Neese, and Robin Lambert read excerpts from favorite stories to public participators. The series of readings took place at several different locations throughout week, including the library, the opera centre, and the art college. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been read to, and I was surprised by how indulgent it felt. Someplace between politeness, altruism, and childish fascination, both reader and listener relied on the other to enjoy the experience. Although a relatively simple event, the range of social commentaries that the The Readers took on was both expansive and complex.

It hurts me to report that there was one minor hitch in the brilliance of Artcity. The Opening Gala was kind of a fog, literally-- the main dance/bar area was cloaked in smoke machine fog. This year the Gala was free, which, while a generous move on behalf of Artcity, also toned down the commitment factor for anyone attending. On the plus side, Ryan Sluggett’s installations and animations on exhibit inside the opera centre were fabulous. The work showcased the impressive turn the young prolific artist’s practice has taken, popping his much appreciated painting style off the canvas and into new sensory possibilities.

I was fortunate enough on my busy Saturday to catch a peek at Megan Morman’s Calgary Super Bingo in action, as a group of bingo-ees crisscrossed our paths. I later picked up some bingo cards of my own, and almost couldn’t bring myself to blot out the superb little pictograms. My favorite cards included “white cowboy hat”, “absence of sidewalk”, “construction” (all perhaps the easiest to spot), and the rarities like “bookstore”, and “farmer’s market” (how silly to expect to see these things downtown). I also found myself searching for “stroller mom” until I sheepishly realized that I was it. Haha. The work was certainly a clever and subtle poke at what kind of city we live in.

On Sunday I attended Jennifer Delos Reyes' Choral Society (for Wednesday Lupypciw). The idea was to honor a wonderful person through singing to them their favorite song. Reyes chose Lupypciw, and Lupypciw chose Madonna’s “Into the Groove”. Participators assembled into a choir formation with Lupypciw seated facing them (us), and we proceeded to sing and groove our love out to her. The performance was a truly feel-good celebration of an admired community member. In retrospect, however, I hope that our amateur voices singing the song over and over hasn’t ruined its place as Lupypciw’s favorite.

Another totally outstanding bit of Artcity magic was Crystalbeard’s Adventure Land Fun Balloon by Stu Hughes, Ben Jacques, with music by Chad VanGaalen. Part of Artcity Video Screening Night and Petite Enveloppe Urbaine Launch, the animation unfolds like a bright fantastic dream, making such excellent nonsense that one must strictly assign the “fun” section of one’s brain to take it in. These artists have kept their hyperactive kid sides alive and well inside their man-bodies, using their highly sophisticated talents to pour out dazzling jubilees of color and messy humor. Very fun stuff.


-- Sarah Adams-Bacon

Cityspace Conversations by Aaren Madden

September 12th, 2019 0 Comments Login or Register to add a comment

Over the course of a day, the northwest corner of Olympic Plaza gave way to a set of architectural exercises, all reflections of this year’s Peepshow theme: apostrophe, the phenomenon of spatial collapse. By happy accident, the installations exist within close range of one another, and contrast in form and material as much as they create a coherent microcosm of different spatial experiences that extrapolate into downtown Calgary itself.

Standing next to Jennifer Thorogood on the simple plywood platform she has constructed, I look directly ahead, eye-level – at my feet. A wooden frame supports two mirrors set at angles to reverse the viewer’s reflection; look down and you will see the tops of trees, a patch of sky. Walk across and be confronted with a jarringly new perception of your own body moving through built form.

The elegantly simple piece, titled Built By Numbers, yields a strong visceral reaction, an unexpected vertigo. It contains what Thorogood describes as an intimacy, stemming from her interest in private experiences of public space. Intimacy combined with disorientation generates a concentration of experience that leads to a certain vulnerability. In turn, that vulnerability gets reinvested into the piece as a consideration of wood-frame construction, a naked structure that, while humble and ubiquitous, demands and creates experience. A few blocks away, the impossibly deep hole that will be filled by Norman Foster’s Encana Towers elicits its own vertigo. Seen fresh from the experience of Built by Numbers, it echoes a formal vulnerability in the cross-sectional exposure of its underground parking levels, its structural secrets exposed for the moment. Space is reconfigured, convoluted and experienced on a personal level, like a secret revealed.

Across the pathway, Dominique Cheng’s The Purge is organic in both process and product. It became, for him, “like a charette;” its evolution was as spontaneous and instinctive and his reaction to the material. His impromptu choices of man-made pvc piping and plastic zip-ties should hold no connection to nature, but the way in which he has connected long lengths of pipe, woven and extended them through each other and over a fence separating a parking lot from the park, there is a strong sense of the relentless growth of vines belonging to some oversized vegetation. A great tension erupts when the curving pipes reach out and seem to engulf a nearby tree, even as they create a sheltering canopy. There is a question about which elements will prevail – natural or manmade – and how the piece will be received by passersby. Threat or shelter, a place to linger or avoid?

Dominique tells me that an interesting afterthought occurred to him when surveying the finished work, how the piping is, to him, reminiscent of the bamboo poles used as structural reinforcement in Asia. The notion of armature is very present in The Purge, but one that is subservient to the processes of natural decay. There is a sense of elapsed time in Cheng’s installation that suggests we imagine how it would be if the rebar emerging from the concrete pillars seen in so many city construction sites were organic and left to wilt. The tension between natural and man-made elements of the cityscape is further heightened.

Like Cheng, but to different effect, Nicholas Waissbluth incorporates weaving into his piece, titled Fields of Play. Lengths of black and white rope stretch between two trees and form a multilayered screen, throwing the surface into relief and suggesting perspective. In the foyer next to the Glenbow Museum, two of his large monoprints have a similar effect, in that fragments of line and colour create perspectival depth. All at once, the aerial view of a city rises from the shards of colour. After dark, when images of moving C-trains are projected onto the rope screen, relief also deepens as fragmented light shifts from one layer to another. Dimensions are pulled together and apart, space is collapsed and expanded, and as actual C-trains rumble past and then fade from earshot, sound and therefore the passage of time become intrinsic in the work.

Standing at the site in daylight, cast a glance back toward the retreating surfaces of the hyperbolic staircase that is the Calgary Municipal Building and you will see a fragmentation of the Calgary Tower’s reflection cast back in uncannily similar fashion.

Even as they address the same theme and use simple and eternal building methods – weaving, wood frame, the tying together of poles – these three studies in space, structure and perception invoke shelter, pause and movement – all ways we more subtly interact with more quotidian architecture on a daily basis. How they converse with Calgary’s build environs invites new considerations of the city space as it exists today.


-- Aaren Madden

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