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On the Move

Michelle Fu is an artist and designer who has arrived in Prince George as the March artist-in-residence at the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George. Earlier this month, Fu moved the 786 km from Vancouver to Prince George, but since then, the idea of moving has become a metaphor of sorts for the processes and methods she has begun to engage with in the studio on Third Avenue. In a recent Skype conversation with the artist, she described this time as one where she has begun “unboxing the things that were boxed away before.”

Michelle Fu. Stacking experiment. 2017. Photo by the artist.

Rather than peeling the newsprint from dishes, plates, and cutlery, Fu is re-visiting several older components of her practice that have been laying dormant for the last few years. Pulling these ideas out from under the layers of other projects and initiatives her creative practice has been shouldering, she has been dusting off the things that fell to the bottom of the stack. One of these initiatives has been to revive an experimental process that involves piling, hanging, stacking, balancing, and stretching everyday objects into complex assemblages. These unusual soft infrastructures are often assembled out of the things that are on hand, including sponges, strings, pens, stationery, and other found objects.

Michelle Fu. Large Stack. 2017. Photo by Michelle Fu.

These temporarily counter-balanced configurations have a precedent in contemporary art practices, including Marilou Lemmens and Richard Ibghy, Real Failure Needs No Excuse (2012), or Fischli & Weiss, Equilibres (1984-1986, 2006). But, inspiration for Fu has also appeared in more quotidian ways in the downtown of Prince George. She has been capturing unusual appearances of these “stacks” in stores she visits, and streets she passes by, creating a mini-archive of instances where there is an anti-utility to the objects we see all the time. You can’t use a sponge if it’s tied to a string; you can’t use a golf ball if it has become the smiley-faced head of something else. Challenging the conventional uses or pragmatics of the designed world around us is something that funnels through Fu’s practice.

Fu’s design expertise and expansive knowledge on public and community-minded organizations will be feeding into the work Fu will be partnering on with Innovation Central Society’s Hubspace location, and Downtown Prince George’s “Good Neighbour” project. As co-founder of 221A in Vancouver, an artist-run organization that develops public infrastructure from social, critical or philosophical perspectives on designed media and space, Fu has made a substantial contribution to the arts that have had wide-reaching, international effects. This wealth of experience in community and collaborative design will support her two Community Partners. Moving into these institutions, Fu has already begun to unpack the various inventories of these local spaces as a way of thinking through how these organizations want to move forward, and where they want to go.

Michelle Fu looking through storage flat files at Hubspace. Photo by Roanne Whitticase.

Tactile Collaborations

Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton have been taking the residency at the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George as an opportunity to more deeply explore the role of materiality in their shared practice. The duo are award-winning interdisciplinary visual artists, facilitators, and community organizers, whose work invites audiences to become active agents in the creation of community. Throughout their extensive collaborative practice, they have poked into many areas of craft-based production, but for the past month the two artists have been focusing on a series of textile and quilting-based experiments.

Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton. Collaborative sewing experiment. Photo courtesy of Eric Moschopedis.

Their present studio-based production is part of an ongoing developing trajectory in the artists’ work where the collaborative quality of the project is not only a conceptual framework, but a manifestly physical component of the artwork as well. Several years ago, the artists “began a year of research with the expressed purpose of learning how to translate ephemeral social engagement into static art objects”, which resulted in the durational text-based quilting project, Because even under the cover of darkness we are haunted by the past (2011). In the studio space on Third Avenue in Prince George, Moschopedis and Rushton have picked up on this line of work once again, but their present experimentations seem to be more nuanced towards the role of collaboration in creative practices. The studio is filled with small, intimately detailed patchwork pieces, artworks that visibly display multi-directionality. The complexity of the patterning and the detailing of the stitching creates an intense dynamism despite their small scale. The process involves each artist starting on their own small quilt sample, which they work on independently for a period of time. Then, they switch, and continue the piece where the other artist has left off. In many ways this practice is reminiscent of the Surrealist exquisite corpse game, where several people contribute to a single drawing in a playful and hybrid activity. To add to this parallel with Surrealist strategies, the movement’s doctrine popularized by André Breton, “as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table”, is a phrase that marks a similar attentiveness to the stitching together of seemingly disparate parts.

Collaboration, in its most romanticized form, is designed to be a process whereby many authors appear as one. The interests and objectives of different individuals are fused in such a way that individual priorities are subsumed to the workings of the greater group. It is not so often that the uncouth messiness of collaboration, including the fractures, fissures, and seams between ideas and personalities are highlighted. The artists spoke of both the thrills and challenges of this kind of making. Rushton noted the difficulties of overcoming the preciousness of the things we make by hand, of being able to let go of something you have put effort and care into. Moschopedis expressed the pleasure of being able to rip things apart and cut things up, to reshape and modify a piece dramatically. While referring specifically to the physical act of making these artworks, these sentiments also speak to a broader and deeper understanding of collaborative processes.

Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton. Sketches and collaborative sewing works in the studio space. Photo courtesy of Roanne Whitticase.

There are many versions of what collaboration looks like, and these sewing experiments provide the artists with another entry point into understanding complex relationships. As pieces in process, these works have loose and unfinished edges. For now, these unhemmed sides remain indicators that the work still has room to grow. Moschopedis remarked that a part of their interest in developing tactile works during this residency was because of a desire to think about works that have a lifespan, or lifetime, of their own. The kind of generative animism suggested here is much less clinical than the version proposed on Breton’s operating table, and more in-tune to a kind of growth and development that appears to be sensitively swaddled up in the warmth and comfort of a quilt. 

Intergenerational Learning

The work of the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George resident artists spilled out of the studio a few weeks ago, and into the city for the Downtown Winter Carnival hosted by Downtown Prince George. The recently-arrived February artists-in-residence, Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton set up a booth in the Legion Winter Market, while January artist-in-resident David Jacob Harder made the drive from Wells back to Prince George to install several outdoor sculptural works for the festival.

Harder worked prolifically during the residency in January, producing an extensive body of work that incorporated the immediate environment into his material and conceptual concerns. Much of Harder’s practice involves collecting the elements of his artwork from backwoods, river beds, or along isolated logging roads around the areas he lives nearby. While travelling along Gregg Creek, Harder came across a sixty-seven year-old evergreen tree that had been felled, but inexplicably left. Grandfather: Now and Then (2017), installed in front of City Hall during the festival, uses the tree as a protective structure around a young sapling. The artist describes the work as an exploration into the way an “embrace can foster comfort and growth”. Suggesting an anthropomorphic narrative, Harder envisions the relationship between the two organisms to be one that is mutually supportive.  

Intergenerational concerns are something that also drive Rushton and Moschopedis’ socially-engaged art practice. At a recent open house at the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio, the artists presented a free screening of their work The Resemblance is Undeniable / Footnote to Everything (2016). In the two-channel video portrait, the artists’ grandmothers, Laura Tuomi and Anna Moschopedis, tell stories, sit in stillness, laugh, and express their beliefs. The artists note, “the stories that our grandmothers tell on camera are stories that we grew up hearing. They are case studies in building community, examples of social justice, strategies for creating social relationships, and critiques of class, age, and gender” [artists’ website]. As social conditions radically shift from decade to decade, understanding the transformations that were underwent by previous generations can help to inform and support the kinds of legacies we aim to foster today.

Screen still of Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton’s work, The Resemblance is Undeniable / Footnote to Everything (2016). Photo from the artists’ website: http://www.ericandmia.ca.

At a Winter Carnival booth at the downtown Legion Winter Market, Rushton and Moschopedis offered an all-ages activity where visitors were able to stamp out their own thoughts and stories with the artists. Starting with the simple prompt, “This is the place where…”, responses indicated a span of lived experiences. This is the place where “I remember the wooden sidewalks”, or “I read in the library”, or “Bean makes a living”. From long-time senior residents, to youth, and a spectrum of individuals in-between, the collection of responses on the circular cardboard discs read like a spiraled account of the city; oscillating from the past to the present, from the general to the personal.   

Rushton and Moschopedis will be continuing to create work in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio until the end of the month. On February 26th, they will be hosting an experimental sewing party, and community members are invited to drop by and participate in their final project. Check our Facebook for more details on the event.

Photo in the 3rd Ave studio space for Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton’s experimental sewing party on February 26th, 2017. Photo courtesy of Roanne Whitticase.

Shape Shifting

David Jacob Harder, the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George January artist-in-residence, is approaching Prince George’s frigid cold-snap as an unusual opportunity to further develop his art practice. Based just a short drive away from Prince George in Wells, British Columbia, Harder is no stranger to the climatic conditions in the Central Region of the province. Harder’s immediate environment has long been an influence on his art practice, which often incorporates natural materials such as logs, soil and rocks into sculptural installations. Recently, Harder has expanded the realm of natural resources he uses to include ice- in large part enabled by the seasonal abundance of that material in Prince George over the past few weeks.

David Jacob Harder. Bridget Moran in Conversation with the River. 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.
David Jacob Harder. Bridget Moran in Conversation with the River. 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Since mid-December, the City of Prince George has been dealing with major ice clogging the rivers, which includes managing the ongoing associated risks of flooding and infrastructural damage to bridges and shorelines. At the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako, parks and trails have been closed off, diverting people away from the hazards they present. Harder has been collecting some of the ice floes that have beached inland and transports them to other parts of the city, providing moments where residents can encounter the ice safely and more personally. On a downtown bench commemorating Bridget Moran, which features a bronze of the women by sculptor Nathan Scott, Harder placed a human-scaled, mini-glacier of river ice. Bridget Moran in Conversation with the River provides a speculative example of human-environment relations, a subject Harder is personally invested in. As a grandson whose inheritance is tethered to his grandfather’s countercultural participation in the Back-to-the-Land movement, and the son of a logger, Harder is attuned to the terrestrial elements of human life.

 

While much of Harder’s work is reminiscent of the pioneering Land Art experiments that began to emerge in the 1960s, what differs in Harder’s re-interpretation of the genre is his figurative approach. Whereas Land Art at that time was often conceived on a geologic scale, or one where the human figure was present only in order to be lost in a sublime experience of the landscape, for Harder, the human figure is not so inconsequential. The human body repeatedly appears in many of his works, whether as a silhouette, a contour, or a reference of scale. In the studio, Harder has been recently conducting tests that include freezing logs. The artist noted his interest in using the elements (water and organic material) that can be found in the human body. Using small cross-sections of fallen trees, the prone experiments are vertebral in their appearance.

David Jacob Harder. Experiments in freezing logs and water. 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.
David Jacob Harder. Experiments in freezing logs and water. 2017. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Alongside the pointed interest in the relationship between the body and the environment is also a reflection on the character of that relationship. Ephemeral and transitory compositions are something that have piqued the curiosity of the artist. Harder draws inspiration from the qualities of the elements he finds himself working with. Things like soil and water are constantly in flux, a pile of rocks will eventually fall, and leaves or bark will turn brittle. The impermanence of much of the world that surrounds us allows for a meditation on presence in the midst of continuous transformation. Rather than building solid and enduring artworks, Harder’s interest in natural materials allows space for the question: “How can you commit to something that will eventually fall apart?”

David Jacob Harder. Window installation of branches at the Third Ave studio. Photo courtesy of Roanne Whitticase.
David Jacob Harder. Window installation of branches at the Third Ave studio. Photo courtesy of Roanne Whitticase.

The thawing weather forecasted for the upcoming week in Prince George will have a major impact on the work Harder has been doing with ice. The difficulties this sudden change in temperature will present only further compels the artist. Ice has an ephemeral quality that is particularly complex. Harder notes it can be destructive, unwieldy, (and in the case of the piece for Bridget Moran in Conversation with the River… incredibly heavy), but it is also remarkably vulnerable and easily destroyed. When working with ice, time is a medium that shapes the work in untold ways. Like the most skilled conversationalist, the ice will shift, change, and slowly shrink away at an imperceptible pace until you realize that somehow, suddenly, they have made a graceful exit.

 

For the month of January, Harder will be working with Community Partner, Downtown Prince George, working on an ice-based installation for the 2017 Winter Carnival which will be taking place on February 12th. In the meantime, Harder’s works in progress can be seen on display in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio.

Following Yarns

The Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George took a brief hiatus during the often-disrupted month of December. Rather than hosting an artist-in-residence, the project made room for a takeover of the studio space by community members. The residency program’s Project Coordinator Roanne Whitticase organized several locally-inspired events, including an exhibition of work by Prince George-based artist Joanna Smythe, and other evenings filled with music, art and craft-making. Despite the freezing weather, many came out to share in the cultural activities taking place in the studio.

An active artist for many years, Joanna Smythe holds a MAA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design as well as a joint BFA in Creative Writing and Visual Arts from Emily Carr University of Art and Design and the University of Northern British Columbia. The artist’s writing and visual art practices share a permeable boundary, reminiscent in some ways of  theatre’s tendency to merge literature and performance. In fact, the exhibition inspired a reflection upon many aspects of “staging”, marking out an arena from which to evaluate human and non-human actors in environmental relations. The exhibition at the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio space featured sculpture, projection, photography, and a narrative poem that was available as a printed leaflet and also read aloud by the artist in the soundtrack of a video work. The words filled the belly of the space with thoughts of streams, rocks, the rustling of leaves, and the falling of snow.  

Joanna Smythe. A Clot of Yarn. 2016. Photograph. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Joanna Smythe. A Clot of Yarn. 2016. Photograph. Photo courtesy of the artist.

To “spin a yarn” is to tell a long, perhaps wavering, story that leads many places. In Smythe’s installation, this yarn travels through the exhibition as a bright red bundle that literally reappears throughout the many multimedia artworks. Near the entrance of the exhibition is a wall-mounted circle of astroturf grass. Clinging to it are fistfuls of red yarn, the only adhesive being the inherent velco-like relationship between the artificial grass and the soft wollen fibres. This uncanny form of attraction by, or to, the artifice, is a concern that tends to reappear throughout Smythe’s art practice. Her work frequently examines the romanticized and constructed way we interpret our relationship with nature. The exhibition is united by works that are highly mediated and carefully anchored into the space.

Joanna Smythe. Installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Joanna Smythe. Installation view. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Walking further into the exhibition space, the red yarn tethers together a tripod of towering, wiry branches. As the yarn wraps the boughs, it is wound over and around itself so many times it begins to resemble the ball of yarn it perhaps once was. Projected over this sculptural piece is an image of the exact same structure, but set against the backdrop of the leaf-littered autumnal forest where we suspect these elements originally came from. Here, the yarn, or the narrative, begins to echo. The structure in our physical presence is also presented somewhere else; the shadows of one instance rub off on the other. These visual and narrative echoes and repeated motifs reverberate off of all the elements in the exhibition, both inside and “outside” the gallery space, destabilizing the viewer as to where one piece begins and the other ends. Rather than the neat and tidy divide that Western philosophy has made between the natural and the cultural (an artifice of its own that deserves examination), Smythe complicates this binary. How much of our experience of nature is simply what we tell ourselves about nature?

Joanna Smythe. Installation view of video piece. Photograph courtesy of the artist.
Joanna Smythe. Forest Suite and Clot of Yarn. 2016. Installation view of video piece. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

This question is articulated in the narrative poem read aloud in the video, which begins with a young girl in a bright red knitted scarf in the heart of the woods. She finds the end of a piece of yarn and grabs ahold of it. As she moves throughout the woods, it becomes in equal parts a guide (tethering her to the places she knows, where she has been), and a hindrance (catching and snagging on everything she walks by, making it all the more difficult to move forward). This complex entanglement, between story and movement, is central to many of the works. 

Throughout the exhibition, both knots of trees and knots of narrative are shared sites from which to explore the social lives of stories. How these stories inform our relationship with nature is an increasingly relevant concern in contemporary culture. Taking a cue from the exhibition, perhaps a part of this is to learn how to listen at the edge of looking.

Loving Conversations

The confluence of the Nechako River and the Fraser River in Prince George is both a literal and a metaphorical meeting point, or “coming together”, that has significantly influenced Alana Bartol, the November artist-in-residence at the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George. As an artist working with natural and environmental conditions across her practice, the meeting of the rivers are evocative as a signifier of a kind of cultural meeting point as well. In the downtown area, Bartol has noted a lot of compelling work being done by local organizations around the studio space on Third Avenue, prompting her to deepen her understanding of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Prince George.

Photo of November artist-in-residence, Alana Bartol, in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio.
Photo of November artist-in-residence, Alana Bartol, in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio.

Community-engaged art is a large part of Bartol’s practice, alongside performance, video, drawing and installation. Her work often aims to make visible the invisible forces, bodies, and histories in our everyday environments. As a visual artist, questions of representation are at the forefront of any work. When artists work with people or communities specifically, these questions expand to include: who gets to be represented, how do they get represented, and who does the representing?

Her artistic process involves responding to place, which is ultimately a highly social and dialogical undertaking. Since arriving in Prince George, Bartol has taken part in conversations with Nusdeh Yoh Elementary School, The Fire Pit, met with local historians, spoke with local women at UNBC’s Inspiring Women Among Us panel, and has developed relationships with many other individuals committed to telling their own stories of Prince George. These conversations form a significant part of Bartol’s artistic research, and continuing to spend time meeting with the many different communities that make up Prince George will be an integral part of the rest of her residency.    

The Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George community project Bartol is partnered on will unfold through Downtown Prince George’s Love Downtown campaign. Love Downtown is an initiative aimed to support local and independent businesses in Prince George, and Bartol has been asked to assist with developing a seasonal storefront display. As a visitor to the city, Bartol is interested in hearing from residents: what does it mean to love downtown Prince George? What role is there for love to play in developing cultural sensitivity, understanding, and inclusivity? Part of the Love Downtown project has involved looking in local archives for materials that depict cultural activity in the wintery season of the Northern city. While the project is still in development, it is anticipated that the Downtown Prince George window display at one of the downtown’s local businesses, Topaz Beads, will feature a composition of archival material.

As a spin-off to this project, the artist is also endeavouring to explore what loving downtown means to the community members that live and spend time in the downtown, particularly those whose voices are not always considered. The artist has been creating cards where individuals can write down their thoughts, feeling, and expectations of the place they live. Some of these cards have been left at downtown community service organizations such as Active Support Against Poverty, The Fire Pit, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Drop-in Centre, and there are also cards available in the studio space for people to fill out. At the end of the month in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio, the artist hopes to exhibit the responses in the cards. For the artist, a focus on examining the way the city’s context has changed over time, and where it imagines itself to be in the future is one of the compelling aspects of this project. This is perhaps a gesture towards looking at another “meeting point” as it were – the juncture between the past and the future.

Image of the Prince George Resource Directory. Photo by Alana Bartol.
Image of the Prince George Resource Directory. Photo by Alana Bartol.

In constant flow and flux, the rivers in Prince George suggest transformation and renewal rather than stagnancy. The legacy of Indigenous dispossession throughout Canada is one that we as Canadians are undoubtedly faced with today. Opening a dialogue on these issues through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the beginning of the public inquiry of missing and murdered Indigenous women (including those lost on the Highway of Tears), and addressing the ongoing politics of assimilation in resource and energy policies, locates the nation in the midst of a transition or turn. At this meeting point between past and future, between multiple cultures, the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George artist-in-residence reminds us that we have an opportunity to answer anew questions of representation, and can do it while thinking about love.

Building Capacities for Art

The month of October has wrapped up, and with that comes the end of the term of Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George’s second artist-in-residence, Lily Mead Martin. During the month, Martin was paired with Community Partner, Two Rivers Gallery, working on an outdoor Sculpture Court improvement project. Two Rivers Gallery is a vital centre for visual art in Prince George and the central interior of British Columbia, and the outdoor sculpture court is an essential component of the Gallery’s programming. Assisting with this project was a unique opportunity for the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George to engage directly with a major cornerstone of Prince George’s art community. Martin noted one of the most rewarding parts of the experience was the opportunity to meet the many dedicated individuals at Two Rivers who make the regional gallery possible.

October Artist-in-Residence, Lily Mead Martin, working on the outdoor Sculpture Court at Two Rivers Gallery. Photo by Roanne Whitticase.
October artist-in-residence, Lily Mead Martin, working on the outdoor Sculpture Court at Two Rivers Gallery. Photo by Roanne Whitticase.

The Sculpture Court, which has been an exhibition site at the Gallery since 2000, is unique in that it is a small, outdoor space that is unsheltered; work must be able to withstand exposure to variable and sometimes severe weather conditions. Artists are encouraged to think about seasonal changes and the surrounding environment, meaning the exhibited artworks need to be particularly sensitive to local conditions. Some highlights of the artworks that have been exhibited in the Sculpture Court include a kinetic sound sculpture by Don Dickson, Emily Mattson’s boat with a sail made from a cow placenta, and Life Pod by Karl Mattson. Life Pod, which was shown at the Gallery in 2014, is a response to the lack of a proper emergency response plan to certain aspects of the oil and gas industry in Northeastern British Columbia. The pod, fabricated out of an old fuel tank and scrap iron, is a self-contained breathing apparatus designed to hold and supply air for up to 4 hours for the artist and his small family.

Providing an important platform for showcasing unusual, unique or spatially demanding art practices, the Sculpture Court prioritizes the exhibition of local and regional artists. This focus is crucially important for building capacity for contemporary art in Northern British Columbia, not least because it enables the Gallery to support a wide variety of art practices.  

With a few finishing touches, like a coat of paint, Two Rivers anticipates the Sculpture Court will be open to the public when the snow melts in the spring, if not before. There are already plans in the works for upcoming exhibitions in the newly renovated space, including the exhibition of work by Cercle des Canadiens Francais and UNBC which will involve building a birch bark canoe. 

Lily Mead Martin nearing the end of construction for the Two Rivers Sculpture Court. The space will open to the public in the spring of 2017.
Lily Mead Martin nearing the end of construction for the Two Rivers Sculpture Court. The space will open to the public in the spring of 2017.

Where is “Here”?

Lily Mead Martin, an interdisciplinary artist currently based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has settled into her new surroundings in Prince George where she is now living and working as the October artist-in-residence for the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George. In a Skype conversation with the artist about a week into her residency, we discussed her initial experiences in the city, and how her first few days in Prince George has affected her artistic processes.

Lily Mead Martin working in her Vancouver studio. 2016. Photo by Andrew Querner.
Lily Mead Martin working in her Vancouver studio. 2016. Photo by Andrew Querner.

Martin’s art practice is often derived from site-specific investigations. Through the production of drawings, photographs, sculpture, installation and performance she draws from the tensions between urban development and the individual, architecture and the body. Investigation into residential spaces and questions around home, displacement, and belonging are based in her lived experience of growing up as a tri-national citizen with a transient and dispersed family. So for Martin, moving is not so much a finite process of simply starting somewhere and ending up somewhere else, but is a continuous experience that involves actively seeking out points of access that help to define what is “here”.

 

In Prince George, Martin’s points of access in the city have been the conversations she has had with residents, the organizations she has worked with, and the archives she has been exploring. She has described this residency as an “accumulating process”, which resonates closely with her artistic practice as well. For the last several years, collecting strategies have been a central proponent of her work. During walks around the city, Martin would pick-up discarded items from construction and demolition sites, and use them as materials in her own artwork. In Prince George, Martin has expressed more of a focus on what kinds of things generate a collection, or how to more critically examine a collecting process. Martin expressed her present interest in some of the historical maps she has seen of Prince George, which is beginning to inform her artmaking in new ways.

Lily Mead Martin's interview by Britt Meierhofer on Britt A.M.
Lily Mead Martin’s interview by Britt Meierhofer on Britt A.M.

In the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio, Martin has been working mostly with fabrics, paper and ink. Using a starchy, netted material, like gauze, she has been making drawings that incorporate a staining process she is hoping to investigate more. She begins by laying the fabric on a sheet of paper, washing ink over the fabric, and peeling the fabric off of the paper once the ink has dried. The ink stains the paper in varying opacities, depending on the weave and absorbency of the textile. The result is a highly sensitive drawing that conveys volume, and even a sense of space, through a gridded pattern. Conversely, the gauzy fabric, having been stiffened by the ink, becomes more like a piece of debris once removed. Martin has been thinking of these works in relation to mapping, and has referred to some of the drawings as “small geographies”. Thinking about the gridded lines of latitude and longitude that typify Western geography, the way in which these horizontal and vertical lines are produced in the drawings is quite revealing. On the one hand, the lines of the fabric block the ink from fully flooding the page, and on the other hand, the lines and the conveyed space in the drawing are created through a removal, through the pulling back of the grid. At first glance, these highly abstract monochrome works seem to share an affinity with the exploration of the grid in the art historical canon, but on closer inspection the hills, valleys, plateaus, craters, crevices and impressions on the earth seem to emerge more clearly.  

 

Martin will have a final exhibition of the work she has produced in Prince George on Tuesday, October 25th.

On Rivers and Activators

One of the central tenets of the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George residency structure, and one of its biggest challenges, is, in fact, time. Artists have just under one month to orient themselves in Prince George, to make connections through their Community Projects, and to develop their own studio work. The Seburns took this challenge head-on, thoroughly diving into the life and culture of Prince George. Connecting with the Seburns soon after their return to Vancouver, they enthusiastically reflected on the experience. The duo completed two community projects, hosted many public events and exhibitions at the studio space, were invited as jurors for the ReMakeIt Challenge at Two Rivers Gallery, to list only a few highlights of their time.

Rachel and Sarah as invited jurors for the ReMakeIt Challenge.
Rachel (left) and Sarah (second to the left) as invited jurors for the ReMakeIt Challenge.

 

Community Project: My Downtown, Downtown Prince George

 

The artists’ work with Downtown Prince George’s new initiative, My Downtown, led to some unexpected and extremely valuable collaborations. My Downtown is an innovative program designed to activate the downtown core, and Rachel and Sarah were invited to contribute to the program by animating a vacant building. The artists proposed to use some of the existing qualities of the site as a starting point for their work. Inspired by the beautiful public space surrounding the building, including the bright and freshly seeded green grass that is already being regularly used for informal community gatherings, the artists and Downtown Prince George worked to make that site more inviting to the public. Setting up scaffolding on the day the artists were about to begin their work, some individuals from the Prince George Activator Society approached them and offered to assist with the labour.

Established in 1971, the Prince George Activator Society is a community service provider that supports men as they transition from incarceration to balanced community living. The Society supports these individuals as they work towards social and financial independence, providing various programs and activities that lead to achieving viable employment, education and a safe housing environment. The artists and several members from the Prince George Activator Society painted a long, vertical blue stripe on the side of the building, and built a small platform near the foot of the band of colour. This spatial intervention was designed to encourage gatherings and dialogues, providing a point of interest for public assemblies. The experience of producing this project alongside the Society members, who shared their own life experiences and relationships to the feeling of belonging in a place, was a serendipitous precursor for what might come at the site. The meaningful conversations that occurred between the Society members and the artists as they worked with one another on this project was a tremendously valuable and lasting experience for both Rachel and Sarah.  

 

 

Community Project: Rivers Day, REAPS
The other Community Project the artists contributed to was the 2016 Rivers Day celebration. The artists were asked to provide a creative contribution to the day’s festivities, and the artists both revealed that their experience during the event has informed their ideas about their wider art practice. The artists began by building the infrastructure for the work in the studio, a raft that was to be draped in silk and slowly floated down the river. The artists fine-tuned and tweaked the structure as much as possible, until satisfied with the details of the piece. Arriving at the bank of the river on the day of the festival, the artists quickly realized that they would be working against the elements of rain, high winds, and a fast current. The artists struggled to fight with the conditions of the day, but to no avail. Forced to revise their plans, the artists’ re-evaluated the natural conditions the river provided. The artists revealed this was a moment where their process of working really fell in-line with the spirit of Rivers Day. Honouring and adapting to the river, as is advocated by the many organizations that support Rivers Day, shed light on the artists’ need to similarly honour and adapt to the materials they were working with. Transforming the installation into a weighted band of silk, which floated just below the surface of the water, required a conceptual shift into thinking about the water as a support rather than an adversary. The bright red silk ebbed and flowed with the water, unexpectedly conjuring the bright colours of a school of salmon. As though being asked politely by the river to revise their installation, the artists also felt as though they were being asked about some of their larger conceptual concerns. How constructed does an [art] practice have to be? How do you resolve an idea when the material is too heavy? How do you learn to stop executing, and respond to what is there? Rising to the fore, these questions directly resulted from the artists’ experience at Rivers Day, but the implications for their own practice perhaps reach much further.   

September Project Launch

Launching our program of new artist residencies with Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George, Rachel and Sarah Seburn are the inaugural artists-in-residence for the month of September. In the newly transformed downtown storefront at 1119 Third Avenue, Rachel and Sarah have been stretching their practice and exploring the impact their temporary relocation to Prince George has had on their artmaking.

Rachel and Sarah Seburn in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio.
Rachel and Sarah Seburn in the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George studio.

Originally trained as sculptors at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, the Seburn’s practice also bridges installation, performance, film and photography. One of their major recent works position the collaborative duo as founding CEOs of an ongoing spurious real estate platform, Temporary Investments. The platform explores renegade real estate practices, where modern protocols of buying land and developing urban space are practiced under the auspices of the individual citizen’s agency. The pair look to the existing practices of staking and claiming land in highly coded civic space, manipulating those models for use in areas of neglect, disrepair, or vacancy. The two draw heavily on the understanding of their position as European settlers, and the problematic speculation of any kind of land claim on unceded Indigenous territory. Temporary Investments indulges in all of the absurdities, contradictions and inconsistencies of development in British Columbia.

 

Temporary Investments’ recent expansion into Prince George has shifted the artist’s role from real estate agent to urban planner. In the days since their arrival, their work in the downtown has drawn their attention to the noticeable lack of any kind of residential space in the city’s core. Looking to reanimate this missing space, the duo will be spending the rest of the residency creating plans and models for the insertion of a new development in the area. Recognizing the existing architecture in the neighbourhood as predominantly short, flat, single story buildings, the artists plan to draft plans for an add-on to these buildings through an architecture that can be plopped right onto the existing flat roofed areas. This theoretical superstratum would play slightly with a “dogpile” experimentation in civic space. Nearer to the end of the month, the artists will be hosting an open house for these development plans as part of the concluding public event of their residency.

Rachel and Sarah Seburn. Re-Skinning Land Claim. 555 Great Northern Way, Vancouver, BC. February 2015.
Rachel and Sarah Seburn. Re-Skinning Land Claim. 555 Great Northern Way, Vancouver, BC. February 2015.

In addition to their burgeoning studio practice, Rachel and Sarah have been working closely on two important Community Projects. On September 25th, the artists will be taking part in the River’s Day festival, presented by the Water Gratitude Project, Recycling and Environmental Action Planning Society (REAPS), Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Spruce City Wildlife Association. Rivers Day 2016 aims to bring together community members in appreciating local rivers and salmon in a variety of ways, forging connections through recreation, spirituality and stewardship. Rachel and Sarah will be developing a performative installation to contribute to the day’s programming, which will focus largely on the interaction of the current of the river with various sculptural materials. The surface tension of the water and the malleability of the installation will provide a living and responsive performance for those attending the festival.

 

The Downtown Prince George BIA has also invited Rachel and Sarah to contribute to My Downtown, a multifaceted initiative aimed at activating the downtown core. Downtown Prince George identified a need to animate some of the under-used, disenfranchised spaces in the city–a perfect alignment with Rachel and Sarah’s own research concerns. The artists will be working to beautify vacant space within the downtown core to create excitement around the potential for theses spaces in the near future.