January 6 – February 24, 2012
Helen Christou Gallery
A Bowman Arts Centre/ University of Lethbridge Art Gallery partnership.
The University of Lethbridge is renowned for its excellent art collection. People on campus and throughout the city take pride in knowing that a wonderfully diverse range of art work is housed here. The high profile of the collection also means that there are many rumours that circulate about it. One of my favourites is that the collection is stored in a vault under the lake. Given that it is important to maintain constant humidity and avoid catastrophic damage, why would we store a collection of art under a body of water? This kind of outlandish story does not concern me because it adds to the interest in the art collection, but I am concerned when I hear that people think the collection is inaccessible and people are not able to see and engage with the works. The truth is quite the opposite: the U of L Art Gallery has a remarkable record of providing access to the collection with our innovative on-line database; supporting class visits and other tours – 2486 participants in 48 different events; 72 works loaned to other galleries in 2011 including to Paris and New York; touring our own exhibitions; and including 103 works from the collection in our exhibitions on campus last year.
There are many ways that the art collection plays a active role for people on campus and in the local community. In order to help make these connections more visible, and to encourage new routes of access, I started the art + people = x series in 2009. The series has already included an exhibition, texts written about individual art works, and the commission of a 4 song EP and music video by the artist duo the Cedar Tavern Singers AKA Les Phonoréalistes. For the latest installment in the series, I was interested in supporting research by local artists and at the same time creating a project that would allow the broader public to have a sense of the importance that public art collections play in generating ideas and sparking artist’s creative practice.
To make this idea more specific and feasible, I contacted Darcy Logan at the Bowman Arts Centre. I had been impressed by the exhibitions he had done out of workshops for local artists that focused on a specific topic, a Lethbridge Bestiary, and a specific technique, monotype printing. For this project, the main goal was to provide in-depth access to the collection for local artists so that the collection could support their current practice or generate ideas for new direction in their work. As well, I hoped that we would have a strong body of work from which to curate an exhibition. Darcy came up with the idea to channel the study of the collection through the process of written notes as the source for the creation of new work. Jane Edmundson provided the expertise to assist all the artists with viewing their selections from the 14,000 works in the collection while identifying works in the collection that related to their interests. Pushed out of their accustomed practice of making sketches or other visual points of references, the artists in Notebook responded with surprising shifts in their usual practice or completely new directions for their work. The result was a resounding success both for providing research access for local artists and creating an eclectic, engaging exhibition.
- Josephine Mills, Director/Curator, U of L Art Gallery
When I was approached by the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery Director/Curator Josephine Mills about working on a joint project for her art + people = x series, I was excited by the potential. I have organized numerous professional development workshops for artists at the Bowman Arts Centre, including drawing and monotyping, with the resultant works being included in exhibitions. Josephine felt that there were some parallels between our respective initiatives, and asked if I had any ideas for research and workshop-based projects that would allow community artists to engage with, and learn about, the University’s art collection.
I began thinking about the tradition amongst both student and established artists to create work ‘after’ other artists that have resonated with or inspired them. I posited the question of how the faculties of observation, memory and writing inform this tradition. Visual arts and writing have many similar characteristics. Both trace and record the activity of the hand and body in an attempt to communicate with an observer. Both have a set of internal rules, and both rely on compositional conventions to try and make their messages clear. Often the two disciplines pollute each other in a myriad of ways.
After discussions with Josephine, we decided to invite all interested artists to visit the gallery, learn about the database as a research tool, and discover new works that inspired them. The artists were provided notebooks in which to write about these objects, and over many months visited the gallery, engaged with the collection and recorded their impressions textually.
These notations, and the artists’ memories, formed the foundation of a series of workshops held at the Bowman Arts Centre during the summer and fall of 2011. Armed with their memories and notes, the artists worked with their peers in re-imagining their chosen works. The whole project was one of translation; from the visual, to the written, and back to the visual.
- Darcy Logan, Curator and Gallery Manager, Bowman Arts Centre