Thursday, February 19, 2009

Q&A on New Vancouver Art in today's Nat Post

It's a sad irony of Canadian geography that I've just been to Madrid, but haven't checked out Vancouver in person for more than 10 years. So I'm feel the shame, national-unity-wise. But I'm still very interested in what's happening out west.

So I was excited to talk with Vancouver Art Gallery curator Kathleen Ritter on the phone last week. She organized the VAG's just-opened "How Soon Is Now," a survey of artmaking in the BC region. The National Post ran our condensed convo today. Click here or read on after the jump for the goods.

Painting by Noah Becker from National Post

Questions & Artists: West Coast represent!
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 (Online) - Thursday Feb 19 in print

Last week, events nationwide marked a one-year countdown to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. But as a new survey exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery shows, there's already plenty to celebrate about British Columbia. Here, curator Kathleen Ritter tells Leah Sandals about How Soon is Now, a key event in the province's ongoing cultural olympiad.

Q This exhibition features 34 B.C. artists. What excites you about the West Coast scene right now?

A There's an incredible diversity of work being produced. So what excited me about putting together this exhibition was seeing how a range of artists could speak to each other. There's no one theme, but there's a sense of recurring motifs, like the architectural space of the gallery, of music, of the unexpected.

Q There's a sound work on a boat outside, a star taped to the foyer floor, toilet-paper drawings installed in washrooms. Why such variation?

A For research, I talked to a number of art professionals through the province and did 120 studio visits. And one of the interesting conversations that came out of all this was that a number of artists are moving away from standard interaction with the art object. Rather than standing away from a painting and appreciating its beauty, there's interest in creating a whole interaction with the work of art and challenging the gallery space.

So the Bomfords, a father and sons team from Bowen Island, have created a huge installation that goes from the second floor all the way up to the third floor. They use recycled wood that they find around where they live, and you can actually climb up and move around in their structures.

Vancouver artist Mark Soo has done an incredibly subtle work called Second Hand Story. As you walk through the gallery you may or may not hear the sounds of a low frequency bass - a sound like a neighbour having a party, or of a protest. That's interested in challenging the authority of the gallery as the place for art, creating a sense that things are happening elsewhere.

Another artist who's done that is Holly Ward. Her project, called Island, is a large pile of soil that gets moved around the gallery during the exhibition. Part of her interest is community, so she has a group moving the sculpture. It's playful, because curators usually place sculptures carefully, something we can't control here.

Q Sounds fun, but there's a very noticeable lack of big B.C. names like Jeff Wall, Roy Arden, Tim Lee, and Rebecca Belmore. Why?

A Well, almost all of these artists have been represented in recent exhibitions here. So we wanted to show new works that would give insight into different aspects of art production from this place.

Q Many viewers will compare this show to the Quebec Triennial, another regional art survey that happened recently. What's your take on that?

A Well, I would say that the Vancouver Art Gallery has a strong and continuing program of solo exhibitions by B.C. artists, as well as a long history of doing group shows like this one, like 1996's Topographies. This is part of that tradition. And this exhibition doesn't try to represent every single part of art production in B.C., so it's not like a triennial. Rather, I would say it tries to focus on a work that is new and unexpected.

Q A few of this show's artists, like Kara Uzelman and Hadley & Maxwell, are actually living in Berlin. What makes them B.C. artists?

A I think artists today travel quite a bit and do residencies in other places. So Hadley and Maxwell are based in Vancouver, but they're doing a residency in Berlin. The community itself if quite mobile but many still consider themselves to be B.C. artists.

I also think ideas of community are more complex than they seem. Artist Brendan Tang combines Ming dynasty vases with manga figurines. He was born in Ireland, his parents are from Trinidad of Chinese and East Indian origin, and he's working out of Kamloops. And he's a B.C. artist.

Q This show could be considered an opportunity to promote Canadian art. What's your take on a different kind of promotional effort, the controversial and recently announced Canada Prize?

A I don't know how much that relates to this exhibition. I'd hate to compare different kinds of arts funding, and I'd say any money put towards the arts is good in this economic climate.

-How Soon Is Now continues to May 3 at the Vancouver Art Gallery (

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