Thursday, March 15, 2012

Scratching Beneath the Surface: Q&A with Andrew Querner out in today's National Post

Many art careers begin in the sheltered confines of college classrooms.

Not so for Andrew Querner, who started by photographing his own vertigo-testing rock-climbing expeditions.

Eventually, Querner forsook carabiners for cameras, taking assignments for Time, Monocle and the Wall Street Journal. Recently, with his first museum exhibition on at the Whyte Museum in Banff, Querner talked to me about his work.

The resulting condensed Q&A came out in today's National Post. An excerpt:

Q You founded your art and photo career in an unusual way: by shooting your own rock-climbing expeditions. What, if anything, do photography and rock climbing have in common?

A They offer different things, in some ways. With climbing, you’re really in the moment. In photography, there’s a lot more pre-planning you have to do before you can get to that place of being in the moment. And climbing is a very selfish kind of pursuit, whereas I hope the photography I do in the future can contribute in some small way [to other people’s lives].

Q Your current exhibition focuses on Kosovo’s Stan Terg mine. What drew you to this place?

A It started with my longtime interest in international current affairs. My dad is from Austria and my mother is from Japan; I think, growing up in Canada, I had an awareness of what was going on beyond my own borders. More recently, a friend pointed me to Kosovo, the first place I’ve ever worked abroad. Originally, I’d hoped to look at the resurgence of blood feuds there, but that didn’t work out. However, visiting Trepca, the home of Stan Terg, aroused curiosity; there was so much more to it than what lay on the surface. The history of the mine also seemed to reflect power struggles of the region; whoever controlled the region controlled the mine. I thought this might be an interesting point of access to explore larger issues flowing through the nation’s veins.

And here's one more quote:

Q In general, what do you think makes a photograph worth taking or displaying?

A In my photography, vulnerability is the main quality that I’m looking for—whether that be in a portrait, a person, an inanimate object, a still life, or a landscape. To me, vulnerability offers a point of access, a human quality, something other people can relate to.

To read the rest, look to today's National Post Arts & Life section.

Also, if you want to find out more about Querner, I really enjoyed reading the posts he wrote for the News Photographers' Association of Canada blog. It's got some great excerpts of work from his climbing days and reflections upon the transition to other kinds of photographic work.

His website also has links to other interview he has done.

(Image from Andrew Querner's series The Bread with Honey via Photo Life)

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Valérie Blass Q&A Out Today in National Post

I'm not going to mince any words here: I love the work of Montreal sculptor Valérie Blass. Seeing her current show in Montreal at the MACM was one of the highlights of my winter.

While in Montreal, I had the privilege of talking with Blass about her work. A condensed version of that exchange was published today in the National Post.

Here's an excerpt:

Q What life experience of yours has been most influential on your artwork?

A Well, it has to be the experience of creating the art itself. I start out with some ideas and visualizations, but it's only through working with materials that a piece really comes into being. One of my motivations for making artwork is to end up surprising myself.

Q You use clothing very effectively in a lot of your sculptures. How does fashion affect your process?

A Two things come to mind. First, I like fashion; I look at its images, colours and aesthetics on a formal level. It's not like, "Oh, hemlines are rising this year. I'd better go buy a new dress!" Second, working with clothing is a way of talking about the body without actually showing the body. Classical sculptures often concentrated on the form of the body alone. Contemporary clothes, accessories, hairstyles and fabrics are things that hide the body, but at the same time transform it. It's a way of creating a rhythm, a theme, and speaking a bit about humanness without showing it in a very academic way.

Also here is the slightly embarrassing (for me) question I wanted to ask Blass the most, and her response:

Q A lot of good contemporary art makes me feel bad about life. But your art, which is good, makes me feel good about life. What do you think of your art having this kind of life-affirming effect?

A Well, I do hope it's kind of funny without being naive. When you're young, you think that happiness is an absence of disagreeable things. But in fact, it's about a contrast: there being pleasure in life, but pleasure along with pain, along with difficult things, along with sexuality, along with desire. I hope my work contains all those things - including love, and a little bit of irony, too.

For more about Blass' past in movie-prop making and her new obsession with body-painting (in her art!) read on at the Post.

(Photo of Blass' Femme Panier by Richard-Max Tremblay courtesy the MACM)

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Can a Secondary Market really be created for Contemporary Canadian Art? Q&A with Concrete Auction's Stephen Ranger at

Last night, one of Canada’s oldest auction houses, founded in 1850, launched what it calls “the first truly contemporary auction of Canadian art ever held for commercial purposes.” On March 8, Waddington’s slick, new, poured-cement space on King Street East hosted the debut gavelling of its latest venture, Concrete Contemporary Auctions and Projects.

Though there is much that is fresh about Concrete Contemporary Auctions and Projects—like its emphasis on post-1980 Canadian artworks, and its creation of an “acquisition fund” program that covers 50% of select public-institution purchases—it is also home to a familiar face on the national auction scene. Waddington’s created Concrete in partnership with Stephen Ranger, a former president of Ritchies who has more than 20 years’ experience in the Canadian auction business.

In an interview posted yesterday before the auction at, Ranger (now president of Concrete and vice-president, business development at Waddington’s) talked with me about current challenges, past scandals, and trying to grow stronger markets for Canadian art.

Here's an excerpt:

Leah Sandals: With this auction, you’re trying to initiate a secondary market for contemporary Canadian art—something regarded by many Canadian arts professionals as nearly impossible, and something that seems particularly daunting given the economic slowdown of the past few years. Why is now the right time to try to develop this market?

Stephen Ranger: The short answer is that there’s never going to be a perfect time. And, although times are tough in a lot of places, the art business has, on many levels, been insulated from that.

As a longer answer, I’ve been thinking about doing this project for at least a couple of years, if not more.

Looking around the world, I saw thriving secondary markets for contemporary work—not just in major markets, like New York and London, which are the obvious ones, but in places like Chicago and Los Angeles, in Amsterdam, in Italy, in Australia, pretty much everywhere.

My longtime involvement in a number of charitable sales, like the Casey House Art with Heart Auction that I’ve been doing for 19 years, was really what tweaked my interest in contemporary work. It seemed to speak to people of my generation and younger.

I care about contemporary art. It’s work that speaks to me. So to be able to put together an auction like this is a real thrill and honour. Having seen so many people come through auction halls and previews through the years, I thought, Why aren’t we doing this here? There’s no good reason. Somebody just had to do it!

LS: On a slightly different timing issue, the Concrete auction is set for March 8, the same day as the opening of the 2012 Armory Show. As a result, most of the serious contemporary Canadian collectors will be in New York on the night of the auction. How are you dealing with that scheduling glitch? Why did it happen?

SR: That was an unfortunate coincidence. We picked our date way back; it just was a date that worked for us here logistically.

Not all the action at auctions happens the night of. In fact, most of the work is done beforehand. That’s why we’ve had lots of preview time—at good auctions you generally have a pretty good idea what’s going to sell before the sale. And I think our community is small enough that we’ve managed to get the word out.

Also, there are some people who don’t like going to galleries, who are intimidated by galleries. Then there are some people who don’t like going to auctions, who are intimidated by auctions. We’re trying to get at least the former in here.

For the full interview, read on at

As the Globe and Mail's James Adams reported this morning, sales last night ended up being disappointing on many counts, though there were some works that sold above their estimates.

In the interview, Ranger says he is in for at least three to five years with this endeavour, so it will be interesting to me to see if results can improve over that time frame. We'll see!

(Image of a visitor at one of the Concrete Auction previews via

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Q&A with 15-year "Overnight Kidslit Success" Cybèle Young in Latest Quill & Quire

Cybèle Young may have seemed like an overnight kidlit success when her most recent picture book, Ten Birds (Kids Can Press), won a Governor General’s Literary Award last fall, but the Toronto-based artist actually began working on it more than 15 years ago.

Young first made her name in the art world, where her miniature paper sculptures have attracted galleries and collectors in Vancouver, London, and New York, and landed her a recent residency in Paris.

In the March 2012 issue of Quill & Quire, Young talks with me about how her art informs her literary work, the transporting power of story, and what readers can expect next.

Here's an excerpt from a short version of the Q&A published on Quillblog:

It might surprise some to learn that you trained as a sculptor. How did you get into publishing?
From a very young age, there was no question in my mind that I was an artist. At the Ontario College of Art, I did all sculpture courses. But in my final year of school, when I was pregnant with my daughter, everything shifted. I took a book-arts class and discovered that books were sculptural, too, on a private yet accessible level. I found myself going to kids’ book sections a lot more than I would go to galleries. And I still do.

You started Ten Birds in 1996. How did it finally come to fruition?
I drew most of the pictures for Ten Birds right after my daughter was born. I went to Groundwood Books with it 15 years ago because co-publisher Patsy Aldana is a friend’s mother. Then I illustrated a bit for Groundwood while focusing mainly on art – I felt I could only have one focus in addition to parenting.

Three years ago, after Groundwood had agreed to publish another picture book of mine, A Few Blocks (2011), I thought, “Well, I already showed this to Patsy, and we’re working together on something else,” so I showed it to Kids Can publisher Karen Boersma, whom I’d met at Groundwood. It clicked. We added one or two pages at the beginning and one or two at the end, but other than that, we used only the original drawings.

I have to say, I find it quite remarkable myself that the drawings Young won her GG for were created when she was just out of art school! A good reminder not to throw early projects away, perhaps!

For more answers from Young, read on at Quillblog, or seek out a hard copy of the March 2012 Quill & Quire.

(Image of Ten Birds' cover via Kids Can Press)

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Connecting the Arts and Business: Sonia Sakamoto Jog profile up at Yonge Street Media

One great thing about doing arts-related profiles for Yonge Street Media is it opens my eyes to a variety of different people working in the Toronto arts scene.

My latest profile, published this week, had me meet up with Sonia Sakamoto Jog, a Rotman MBA and Computer Science BA who went the somewhat unlikely route of helming a small nonprofit arts festival after graduation—the Reel Asian Film Festival.

I found Sakamoto Jog, who has increased partnerships and sponsorships for the fest by 40% in just three years, to be very articulate around potential connection points between business and the nonprofit arts community. Here's an excerpt from Yonge Street story:

"I think it's easy in the arts to start to see yourself within a silo, and maybe not appreciate how complex industry as a whole can be," Sakamoto-Jog tells me when I visit her at Reel Asian's sunny 401 Richmond offices. A long to-do list sits in the middle of her desk, while a sponsorships flowchart, dotted with colourful Post-Its, hangs on the wall behind her. When she talks, it's with confidence and no small amount of energy.

"There's a lot of common goals within [the arts and business]," she says. "But I think that we in the arts can feel like we're on opposite sides of the equation, like 'We need this from you. How can we sell it to you?' rather than 'What are you trying to do that we we're trying to do, and that we can do together?'"

To find out more about Sakamoto Jog and her perspective on arts management, read on at Yonge Street.

And if you want to join a conversation with Yonge Street about emerging leadership in our city, cultural and otherwise, be sure to RSVP for its free March 22 panel on the topic.

(Image of Sonia Sakamoto Jog by Tanja-Tiziana for Yonge Street Media)

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Poster Perfection: Q&A with Seripop's Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau out in today's National Post

Could be that I'm just a diehard print-head (yes, that's me in the morning trying to read a full-sized newspaper section on the crowded 501 streetcar) but I really love the poster/paper installations of Seripop, aka Chloe Lum and Yannick Desranleau.

Lum and Desranleau started out doing street posters for their band AIDS Wolf in Montreal, but lately have switched to doing gallery installations. I really enjoyed their installation at the Quebec Triennial, and was excited to hear they would be doing something in the GTA this winter, specifically at the University of Toronto Mississauga's Blackwood Gallery.

I was lucky in January to be able to meet with them at the Blackwood and ask them some questions about their work. The resulting condensed Q&A is out in today's National Post. An excerpt:

Q You guys made street posters for eight years, and when I step into your paper installations I often feel like I'm stepping into a giant poster - very immersive and fun. What's it like for you?

Desranleau We try to be playful; it keeps us from getting bored. One thing we really like is working with the ephemeral aspect of postering. You put something up on the street and it gets covered and destroyed.

Lum And so all our installation work is made to be destroyed. There's often elements on the floor that people will walk on, that get more and more beat up as more people visit.

Desranleau Our installations are also a nod to this idea that the poster is one of the only ways for people to express themselves in an urban context.

Lum And express themselves freely - I mean free as in not costing money, because we can't all hire a billboard or commission an architect. Other than postering, people in cities are pretty powerless to affect how the surroundings look. So we're interested in posters as markers of space.

Desranleau Posters are interesting as community-oriented art objects as well. If you are in a neighbourhood, the posters kind of speak to that neighbourhood. We're interested in how posters can create an environment.

Q You started postering to promote your band, AIDS Wolf. What comes first for you - music or art?

Lum It's shifted back and forth a lot over the years. When we started collaborating together it was just playing in bands. Starting to do posters was a happy medium between our separate lives and art practices.

Desranleau There's also something romantic about being a poster artist that was really attractive to us.

Lum Yeah, your work is, from the get go, all over the city. You don't have to get an exhibition, because everybody sees your work anyway. And that worked out great for us because within six months of deciding to dedicate ourselves to postering we were in conversations with giants of the field who were taking us on in informal Internet mentorships. In the world of contemporary art, that just would not happen!

For the rest, track down the Arts & Life section of today's National Post.

And to learn more about Seripop's work, visit the Blackwood for a roundtable on March 2 (tomorrow!) from 1 to 3pm. The show runs until this Sunday, March 4. It's worth stopping by for a taste of the general OTT-ness in their work, which I really enjoy.

(Photo of one of Seripop's installations at the Blackwood by Toni Hafkenscheid)

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