My Fort St. John Adventure
Fort St. John May 29
We arrive around 9 pm. It’s light.
Awake 5 ish perhaps 4:30.
It’s light out.
Basically I did not see the city after dark. We are far enough north for this.
I am here along with my trusty assistant (husband Richard) to mount an exhibition of solar prints at the museum about my uncle Dr. Kearney. He was a beloved doc, the second one in the area and famous for his many acts of generosity plus performing an operation remotely by radio (the man survived) and modifying his Model T into the town’s first ambulance.
He delivered me, along with most of those born between 1935 and 1960.
So while the trip is an art/heritage project it’s also a chance for me to revisit this place. My parents returned to Ontario while I was still a baby and I visited here once when I was 18, getting to know my uncle a little. In those days it was CNR to Edmonton, Northern Alberta Railway to Dawson Creek and a bus to FSJ. Nowadays there’s a bustling airport with regular flights to Calgary and Vancouver.
I was hoping to run across a few people with memories/relatives/connections that I could chronicle but I am probably a decade or so too late.
The exhibit takes several days to install in this museum setting, surrounded by artifacts that chronicle North Peace history. My work tells about my uncle through my art practice, making solar prints of early family photos on family linens. My first view of the museum confirms to me that this is the ideal setting for this body of work.
The main museum building contains a series of set pieces that reproduce aspects of fsj history from teepee, through trappers cabin, doctor’s office, hospital room, school, post office, even a section that demonstrates the great WW2 Alaska Highway project. I am scratching the surface here. There’s also a reconstructed version of Ma Murray’s Alaska Highway News, miraculously still in print with excellent coverage of my installation I must say. In digression, my sister says that it was Ma Murray who stopped and told her of my birth.
The museum has several buildings outside of the main one that have been moved on site. They include, among others, early police barracks, a homesteaders' house, a fur trading cabin. As I walk out after a day’s work I am struck by the first one because I have a photograph of it in my trove of family pictures with a woman posed in front of it. She is Monica Storrs, an Anglican missionary who was a family friend. She apparently built her “abbey” herself, and often housed youngsters so that they could attend school.
While in my mind I am revisiting an earlier Fort St John, the modern one is a busy world where truck and workboots replace Miss Storrs' horse. The suite hotel we are staying in is mostly populated with workers who leave in the early morning after a more generous breakfast offering than hotels usually provide, and return tired and dusty at the end of the day. On the weekend there are women and children visiting Dad or picking him up. It's very quiet although there is a guy above us that wrestles with his pitbull when he gets home from work. The first time we heard it we thought that there was a brawl or at least serious renovations but it turned out to be doggy joy, only lasting for about 15 minutes before they tumble down the back stairs and out for a run.
We are told that there is a park at Taylor Flats, a few miles south of FSJ, so we take a little trip down the Alaska Highway. We chat with an elderly woman at the tourist centre who tells us that Doc was her family doctor, delivering most of the family children, with one even given the middle name Kearney. "We were all so poor, and he would take anything in payment" vegetables, the proverbial chicken etc. He charged $2 a visit throughout his career but treated people whether they paid or not.
to be continued ..
It's been a while ....
Now that the Legacies exhibition is up at RMG my attention is turning back toward my own artmaking and catching the few remaining fall days with sunshine strong enough to make one or two more solar prints for my Summer 2018 exhibition Solar Prints of Doctor Kearney, Fort St. John North Peace Museum, Fort St. John, B.C. Garnet Kearney was my uncle, and a famous character in the Peace River district.I am lucky to have the photos that he sent back to Ontario to his sister Marion, and have been trading with the museum archives to produce this work. After his time in WWI he went west permanently, sending pictures and letters describing his life.
I find it interesting that it is a solar project which requires endless experimentation and tinkering, something that I think is a family trait and that he might have liked as well.
The idea of doing these prints on linens comes from another inheritance, a bag of embroidered hankies, towels, napkins etc., some of which would have come from their home in Renfrew Ontario and may have actually been used by Garnet at one time. This original cache of material has since been supplemented by the inherited linens of various friends and relatives.
I am thinking about the juxtaposition of Victorian finery and the frontier life that Garnet went on to live and wondering whether he consciously rejected small town gentility in the east in favour of the rugged and exciting world of northern B.C.
What I am working on . . .
At present I am experimenting with solar developing, creating negatives then printing on various materials. It has been a lengthy learning curve and I have learned that more isn't better in terms of time in the developer, that our hard water makes it very difficult to wash out the undeveloped dye, and that Borax helps with that (thank you Sally). Also high contrast negatives are imperative.
I was introduced to the dyes through a studio visit to Cris Winter in Saranac Lake NY, where she was making botanical prints on fabric for her work. This process hasn't really taken off in Canada and so I have to bite the bullet and pay the exchange and shipping for what are actually low-priced materials -- if you live in California -
One lucky break was a store in North Vancouver selling them off and my Katie just happening to be travelling home to Ontario at the time. So my stockpile is OK for now.
My subject is an exploration of pre and early 20C family photographs that offer socio-historical windows into those times.
Do you download for free?
We are often made to feel guilty about reading various newspapers magazines and other print media on line for free rather than buying a copy or continuing home delivery, thereby contributing to the demise of print media.
In my community the main local paper is mostly an organ for advertising, and wholly a component of an enormous media empire, while the locally owned dailies are long gone. Loyalties aside, it has occurred to me that our very large internet and cable bills are actually how we purchase media these days.
So - shouldn't the cable companies pay royalties to those newspapers etc that one can access through their stream? And then reporters and journalists in print and other media can receive their fair share of revenue from their work from all of us by way of our internet providers.
October 09th, 2015
The great linguistic professor Noam Chomsky reminds us that we replace awareness of larger societal issues with sports fandom to our detriment.
Quoting TV critic John Doyle in yesterday's Globe:
"A city gripped by a postseason run by its favourite team is a happier place and there’s a purity in the emotional attachment of the fans. It is a truly shared experience, something that is rare in a fragmented society, and only the dullest heart would be unmoved by it."
GO JAYS GO !!!
My New iPhone
Unfamiliar with the concept I turn it on the first morning to a message that goes something like
"You f***ing bi*ch I'll kill you. How could you break up with me through a cab driver?
Shocked I immediately blocked the caller and deleted the offending screed.
To my regret.
In repeating the story I can only paraphrase what he or she wrote at 2:47 a.m., where if I had saved it there would be an additional ring of authenticity, and that it could also make an interesting beginning for a story or poem. So much better than what my memory throws up.
I could also have written back explaining that I am a 70 year old grandma and as far as I remember I wasn't out in a cab in the middle of the night but who knows? I don't think have taken up wandering --yet.(HUMOUR)
Or that I am so sorry that your girlfriend has deserted you.(EMPATHY)
Or a film noir screenplay where the message comes from a really bad guy who proceeded to kill the messenger, the girlfriend, and then come after me.
So in the end maybe I did the right thing.
*Organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Hamilton and The Robert
McLaughlin Gallery in collaboration with the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Windsor, The Collaborationists is curated by Linda Jansma and Melissa Bennett.
The collaborationists are Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, and they are collaborating with the pantheon of modern artists, in a continuation of their cheeky innovative work that intersects modernist references with current technologies. Their interactive, kinetic installation Pavilion of the Blind has been travelling across Canada and is scheduled for the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMOCA) in May 2015.
Truly twenty-first century artists, they graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2001 and since then have had significant impact on Canadian art both at home and south of the border. Nuit Blanche darlings of 2007, their Event Horizon set extraterrestrial images from popular culture within religious symbolism, with ET and Yoda as centrepieces. Following this was a trajectory into a dynamic career, fueled through an ambitious production schedule that has seen them mounting installations at the National Gallery of Canada, Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, as well as venues in New York, Louisville, Miami, and Basel.
The current exhibition embodies both minimalist geometric abstraction and hilarious parody. Appealing to toddlers and sophisticates alike, the artists have created a cleverly esoteric crowd pleaser. The fun part is in the motion-sensitive installation that dominated The Robert McLaughlin Gallery's largest gallery space, so enormous that gallery staff had to walk the piece through the building since it was too large for their loading dock. Titled Pavilion of the Blind, it calls up the window blinds section in a big box store. As one approaches, the brightly coloured stripes lift and lower, reforming mechanically. Unbridled childish delight bubbles forth as the blinds go up and down as viewers move about, reconfiguring the colour sets to create seemingly endless arrays.
This central piece in the exhibit is accompanied by several fine paintings that recall the minimalist abstractions of high modernism by artists such as Guido Molinari or perhaps the colour studies of Josef Albers. Bands of colour not only connect to the present as bar codes and a much-advertised world of window fashions, but could stand alone as examples of high art from an earlier decade.
Carrying the trope of industry further, one can think about Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, which was derogatorily called "explosion in a shingle factory" by its critics. In contrast, Pavilion of the Blind, in its reference to a ubiquitous material world, exhibits a deliberate and controlled restraint where hard edge paintings as well as mechanically derived ones do not invite a commensurate level of abandon. Control is on the agenda.
Within the context of kinetic work the installation resides in a more ambiguous dimension. The exhibition reads as both an homage and a playful satire that in a larger sense questions the nature and value of aesthetics. But beyond an esoteric discussion of formal issues lies a darker current. As blinds rise and fall the question of surveillance emerges, and while it is lightly touched upon by the artists, the suggestion of the gaze, of spying, of a continual sense of being watched, even if it's only by multi-national retailers, all comes to the forefront.
Admittedly, the exhibition has many layers and goes in many directions. Whether this creates a blurring of focus and intent, or interesting complexity, is for viewers to decide.
100 Small Paintings at VAC Clarington
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