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The Dunes Expands

Eye-catching addition adds more display and gallery spaces

by Pan Wendt

The owner of The Dunes, Peter Jansons, stands in the upper level of the new addition to his establishment in Brackley Beach. The lower level is devoted to a new exhibition, entitled Island to Island, which features artwork from Prince Edward Island and Bali.

Sitting down for an interview was a rare opportunity for Peter Jansons to actually throw some pottery. The business of expanding his Dunes Gallery has been occupying all of his time lately. Needless to say, however, within minutes Peter was attending to yet another urgent matter, probably related to the handsome new addition to what is now a labyrinthine indoor/outdoor complex.

The new extension to the Dunes, extending to the left of the previous main building, was formally launched July 8th at an opening featuring a fashion show and juried prizes for artworks from Prince Edward Island and Bali. Designed by Peter Jansons with structural engineering by his father Harry Jansons, the new space accomodates two levels of display and gallery spaces, including a lofty section in the back of the gallery downstairs, meant to give prominent place to large paintings. Most of the displays were designed by Island craftspeople, including Albert Schellen, Boyd MacKenzie and John Atkins, but many of the materials used come from Indonesia, especially including teak and other tropical woods and the elegant tiles on the ground floor.

When asked what prompted the move, Jansons pointed to the need for more gallery space, the desire to devote the original building to Prince Edward Island art, and his interest in displaying his latest furniture designs. “I’ve dabbled in furniture design all my life,” says Jansons, “but until now I’ve only been able to show a few of my day beds.”

More importantly, however, the new building is a place for partner and fashion designer Nash, originally from Indonesia, to show and sell his clothing. Most of the garments Nash sells are made from cotton, linen or silk, and make use of traditional Balinese materials and textile techniques, though in terms of style they are very contemporary and cosmopolitan.

Island to Island, the art exhibition which decorates the walls of much of the new space, captures the theme of the new expanded Dunes, which as Jansons states, “is about the two Islands in my life, [my] principle inspirations….” Half of the paintings in the show are from the island of Bali, Indonesia, and the other half are by Prince Edward Island artists who were invited to present work to jurors Shauna McCabe and Don Stewart for selection. The jurors also assigned $5000 in prizes, divided 50/50 between the Islands, and distributed to the winning painters. Island to Island is on display until early August.

Alive and Well

Anne of Green Gables —The Musical™

Review by Pan Wendt

For a musical that features an overexposed icon, not to mention loads of sentimentality, this show is still pretty fresh, especially if you bring your six-year-old daughter along. It’s tough to beat the catchy tunes and general up-up-up, and Jennifer Toulmin makes the best Anne I’ve seen, often dominating the proceedings with her calisthenic physical comedy and sharp delivery.

As well she should, since “if it wasn’t for Anne,” well, would the Charlottetown Festival be such a huge attraction? I think for Islanders it can be a bizarre experience to watch our heroine in the grey and white outfit, straw hat and red braids skip in front of the wonderful cartoonish original sets they’ve resurrected in the last few years. On the one hand Anne embodies plucky originality and flouting of convention; on the other, she’s like a walking trademark, a singing and dancing Coke sign. While the musical is rocking at high speed (and cheer), as in almost the whole first act, this is a good thing. You feel like you’re part of a collective basking in Anne’s wit and glow. But when things get slower and heavier, as in some of the second act’s lessons in growing up, it can be a bit tedious. Two years ago I thought it was just the length that put my then four-year old to sleep. Now I’m pretty sure it’s that the musical starts to run out of steam and surrenders Anne’s hard-won principles. It’s sad to see Anne go from the gleefully over-the-top “Humble Pie” collaboration with Matthew Cuthbert to the real humble pie of scholarship competitions and bland old Gilbert.

But this is mostly finding things to complain about, since even if you’ve seen it a dozen times Anne is still a great show, alive and well in its current edition. The cast was full of total pros (Michael Fletcher’s Matthew Cuthbert, Judy Marshak’s Marilla, and Robin Craig’s Rachel Lynde stood out especially), the script and nearly all of the songs were sharp and superbly paced, and the direction flawless. Every detail seemed to have been given plenty of attention, but this time I really noticed the sets. Often choosing the negative space around a window frame to stand in for a whole wall, or a two-dimensional cutout for a tree, the economy and subtle wit of the set design, which helped the action on stage (especially Anne’s) stand out all the more, was representative of the strengths of the musical as a whole. Anne hasn’t achieved classic status for nothing.

Curb Appeal

Review by Pan Wendt

Arranged throughout two floors of the Confederation Centre Gallery’s east wing, Curb Appeal, organized by curator Shauna McCabe, is a grab bag of artistic reflections on contemporary urban experience. From found sounds, slide shows and large-scale photographs, to abstract paintings and works in coloured pencil, the diverse works in the show all revolve around mapping, perhaps the postmodern trope par excellence. Here mapping is generally envisioned as a highly subjective way of reorganizing experience, of staking a claim to one’s own way of observing, walking through, understanding, or perhaps just coping with the city. Many works offer focused glimpses of the most ordinary, but often overlooked aspects of urban life. Germaine Koh’s video installation “Side Piece” follows the activities and conversations of people around a sidewalk bench. The bird’s eye viewpoint of the surveillance camera is coopted by the artist as a means to a kind of ethnographic exploration of social interactions. In the slide show installation “Sleepers II,” by Mexican artist Francis Alys, small images documenting Alys’s wanderings through Mexico City are humbly projected at ground level in a corner of the gallery. And even the lowly pavement itself is mined for its imaginary potential in Evan Lee’s “C-prints” of the abstract patterns made by oil and other stains on the street.

As might be expected in a show containing the work of around two dozen artists, employing a great variety of mediums, and focusing on meandering, selective experience, the work is fairly uneven, and most viewers will come away with their own favourite moments. For me, most of the highlights were on the first floor, which featured quite a bit of work in traditional 2-dimensional formats. I loved the crude narrative maps of Canadian artist Jason McLean, which catalogue the movements of a semi-fantastic night subculture, seen through the eyes of the artist, and Chris Johanson’s wonderfully-titled conglomerate, “thanks for looking at this contemporary cityscape 2d installation, I hope it affects you in a way that you are comfortable with.” Other favourites of mine were Jon Rubin’s monochrome coloured pencil works, which describe various interior and exterior settings linked together fantastically through the artist’s concentrated line and attention to the play of ornament, and Ingrid Calame’s layering of found patterns that resembled actual maps more than any other works in the show.

Curb Appeal is sometimes chaotic and contradictory, but in general the chaos works to the show’s advantage, tying into its overall theme. Some works offer complex and mysterious byways into forgotten corners of the city, while the more obvious pieces make sense within the show as a whole. Overall, the exhibition offers a convincing picture of contemporary artists’ continual search for spaces of freedom in the urban landscape. For a local example that might prove the point, keep your eye out this summer for the tiny gallery called The Zetetic Elbowroom hidden in the bowels of the Confederation Court Mall.

In Limbo

The future of Arts Atlantic in doubt

by Pan Wendt

This March I received an email from Mimi Fautley, then Acting Editor of Arts Atlantic, informing me that the long-running magazine was postponing production. There would be no spring/summer issue. For the second time in the last five years, the journal was to be restructured. For the visual arts community of the Atlantic region, this is a devastating loss, even if it is only a temporary one. While Arts Atlantic will never be able to please everyone, it has consistently provided a critical forum around the visual arts, as well as other artistic disciplines, and has been the only dependable journal of record in this field since its first issue, published in 1977. Apart from the obvious long-term effects such a delay might have on relationships with subscribers and advertisers, Arts Atlantic’s temporary disappearance means that there is very little, if any, serious coverage of the visual arts at the moment in Atlantic Canada.

According to Shauna McCabe, a member of the board of Arts Atlantic, and curator at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, funding is the main problem. Public funding sources have been drying up over the past decade, and the magazine simply could not continue functioning in a constant state of emergency. McCabe described a situation in which a skeleton staff spent nearly as much time dealing with fundraising issues as they did putting out a top-notch publication. The long-term solution to these problems needed creativity and a lot of thought and research.

Arts Atlantic is now in a state of limbo, and all staff have been laid off. No decision has yet been made about the future of the magazine, but McCabe is actually quite optimistic. She feels that the magazine is still quite viable, despite its recent problems, and is absolutely a necessity besides. “There has to be a space for critical writing on the arts in the region,” she states. From her point of view, support from foundations or institutions such as public galleries in the region might provide a stronger financial basis for a revitalized magazine, as they have done in the past. Although she warns that institutions can be confining, stating that “art isn’t necessarily institution-bound,” she stresses the importance of maintaining links with artists, galleries and artist-run centres, rather than looking to advertisers and a wide popular audience as primary supports.

I spoke with Joe Sherman, editor of Arts Atlantic from 1979 to 2000, and now a regular Buzz contributor, about the future of Arts Atlantic. I asked him to speculate about how such a publication might find a firmer footing in a region that has had trouble keeping many of its cultural institutions alive over the past twenty years and more. Sherman provided many interesting and wide-ranging comments, only some of which I’m able to reproduce here. Like McCabe, he felt that a magazine devoted to maintaining a critical voice could never survive if it was too dependent on the whims of advertisers and the fluctuating number of subscribers, though these two groups had to be carefully cultivated. Sherman pointed out that long delays of the sort occuring now, and following the restructuring of 2000, when the magazine was moved to Nova Scotia, have potentially devastating effects on client relationships. Sherman was less than convinced of the wisdom in the direction taken by the magazine when it moved its headquarters from Charlottetown to Halifax in 2000. While pointing out that certain aspects of the journal were unquestionably improved by fresh blood and the renewed energy of

contributors, especially from the Halifax scene, Sherman felt the magazine jeopardized its chance of long-term survival in the region by sacrificing the eclecticism that had characterized its first two decades. “Much of the support for the arts comes from people who don’t actually produce art,” Sherman stated. “The first question has to be, who is your sustaining audience?” Describing his tenure as editor as always a “balancing act,” Sherman worried that, in the absence of assured and stable institutional funding of consequence, or a philanthropist or patient investor willing to bankroll a pure “high art” magazine, Arts Atlantic might need to bring back some of its previous devotion to covering the performing and literary arts and cultural issues, as well as a broader sense of accessibility. “And it would still mean consistently hard work and the rejuvenating imaginations of an able staff,”adds Sherman.

I’m an art geek myself who actually read every issue of Arts Atlantic cover to cover, and I’ve written for, and enjoyed both pre- and post- 2000 versions of the magazine. As such, I was equally partial to the second version of the journal, but I found myself agreeing with much of Sherman’s analysis. In a certain sense, the Halifax version of the magazine has been too much of a good thing, too centred around the bigger art centres in the region, especially Halifax itself. While a location near many of the regions top art institutions and a long-running and lively art scene was no doubt crucial in bringing some of the strongest voices in the Atlantic Provinces to the publication, it has also led to a narrowness, even a myopia when it came to the actual characteristics of the Atlantic region’s most exciting cultural production. It sometimes felt as if Arts Atlantic was to be another C Magazine, or Canadian Art, rather than the distinctive voice of a very distinctive place. This region will perhaps best be reflected by a publication that acknowledges its isolation, an isolation that produces a widespread confusion and mixing, for better and worse, between “critical” and “popular” culture, and a healthy eclecticism born of the need to work across boundaries of medium and taste.

Pleasing Focal Point

A miniature steel model by sculptor Ahmon Katz for the proposed installation of a large public sculpture in the town of MontagueAhmon Katz seeks support for a public sculpture for Montague

by Pan Wendt

This May Island sculptor Ahmon Katz was chosen to represent Kings County for the Confederation Centre’s onSITE Artists-in-Residence program. Like his counterparts in Prince and Queens County, Katz spent the month working in a highly public site, in this case the Down East Mall in Montague. Katz received money for materials, a salary, and working space as part of a program which brought the process of artmaking into the public sphere while supporting the work of local artists.

Katz’s response to this brief was to spend the month developing a piece of public sculpture for the town of Montague, fittingly through interaction with visitors to his site at the mall. The artist initially drew visitors into his darkened workspace by creating a light show that made use of old record players to project images on the walls. He then requested suggestions from residents for subject matter for a public work of sculpture, and began making clay models of those motifs that were mentioned most often, or which most intrigued him, including a giant lobster, a stage surrounded by musical instruments, a pair of dancers, an abstracted piece of driftwood and an angel. A steel model of an angel is proposed for a public sculpture for Montague by Ahmon Katz.

Katz has always been drawn to the notion of public sculpture, and he has completed many successful large-scale works in public places, including an award-winning snow sculpture, many bicycle-based pieces, and works employing welded steel, lathe, stucco and/or wood. That many Montague residents have been calling for beautification of the town in recent years added impetus to Katz's inclinations to think big, and public. As Heather Moore recently pointed out in a May 12 editorial for the Eastern Graphic, Montague needs “an aesthetically pleasing focal point.”

Katz, who hopes to complete his proposed sculpture this fall, has thought about several sites, including City Hall. Perhaps the most attractive site, and one which would truly make the work a town focal point, would be the pretty little park on the edge of the river mouth, just below the bridge and museum that mark the historic centre of town. Katz has already completed a series of models and drawings of the work and its site (including the above photo), but the always tricky issue of funding remains the sticking point for the project. The town government, its residents, and even the Down East Mall have been quite supportive of Katz’s plans in general, but a lot of work remains to be done to acquire the necessary funding, as well as to secure formal approval of any plan. Katz hopes to spend the fall drumming up support for the work, and is excited to hear further input from Islanders, especially the people of Montague.

Garden of Dreams

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Review by Pan Wendt

If you’re going to do Shakespeare outdoors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream seems a natural fit. This year Play in the Park, Inc. chose to follow up last summer’s successful debut, a delightful version of Twelfth Night set in Victoria Park's tennis courts, with the Bard’s most famously woodsy play. This year producers Laurie Murphy and Jason Rogerson opted for two venues. The show had a short run in Victoria Park, followed by two weeks at the New Glasgow Country Gardens.

Word of mouth travels quickly in Charlottetown, so although I only caught the New Glasgow show I gather that Victoria Park was the slightly more idyllic venue, whereas the second run featured more solid performances from the actors. In truth, I’m not sure that the use of an outdoor venue was a strength in the case of the New Glasgow show. Surely the whole point of presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream outdoors is to suggest the feel of a fairy-filled, magical forest grove. Director Laurie Murphy made for a fun, varied viewing experience by leading the audience through the paths of the country garden, but I’m afraid the sound of feet shuffling along gravel paths, the sight of stubby spruce trees and red dirt, not to mention distant cars passing beneath sloping potato fields during the opening and final scenes, didn’t produce an effect that justified the distractions.

That said, after a shaky opening scene the show was a delight, moving at an exhilarating pace through Shakespeare’s high-energy script. Strong individual performances by several commanding actors

kept things moving while nonetheless allowing for enjoyment of some of the treats of amateur theatre—children horsing around in elf costumes, an informal, relaxed theatre experience, and a lack of slickness that sometimes brought out the great goofy moments in the dialogue so often missed by, for example, movie versions. In particular, Dennis Trainor’s calisthenic Puck constantly poked and prodded at the scenes to keep things focused and funny, and Rex McCarville’s nervous and pompous Peter Quince set the stage for the show’s most consistently hilarious sections, which involved a pathetically inept theatre troupe led by the central character of Nick Bottom, played by Graham Putnam. Putnam practically stole the show as Bottom, and his interactions with McCarville and the other well-cast members of the troupe were great examples of comic timing and subtlety.

This was, after all, amateur theatre, so one had to make allowances for the occasional weird accent, missed line, shaky scene. But what was truly unexpected was just how strong most of the acting was. The show was able to feature a range of actors, from total beginners to seasoned veterans, without feeling either motley or dissipated. It may even be that bringing unpolished actors together with pros kept the show fresh, and prodded everyone to reach new levels. I look forward to another season of Play in Park, Inc., especially if it is, literally, in the park.

Strong Showing

Three contemporary exhibitions make a good impression

by Pan Wendt

Photograph by David Askevold of the Prince Edward Island shoreline from the exhibition Littoral Documents at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery

The Confederation Centre Art Gallery is offering three very contemporary, and very strong exhibitions in its main galleries this summer, as well as an interesting selection of Centre memorabilia selected by Kevin Rice, downstairs.

The large west galleries are featuring one combined show, adjunct curator Andrew Hunter’s To a Watery Grave. Hunter has pieced together a variety of objects ranging from 19th century paintings (yes, there’s a Robert Harris or two in there somewhere) to photographs of burial sites, culled from collections across the country or produced by Hunter himself. All of the objects relate to the theme of death at sea, and to the stories such deaths have produced. Hunter finds that even the most humble objects carry powerful, if half-forgotten stories, and the juxtapositions in his exhibition show how these narratives can be refracted over time by the many ways they are represented. The dependable solidity of gravestones, to take an example, is shown, in fact, to buttress a mixture of fact and fiction. To a Watery Grave is convincing and compelling, and it's made even stronger by the presence of Edward Burtynsky’s powerful large-scale photographs of giant beached ships being broken down for scrap metal in contemporary Bangladesh.

Littoral Documents, curated by Shauna McCabe, is a consideration of the shifting nature of the shoreline landscape and how it is represented (and reshaped), visually and textually. The show features the work of artists David Askevold, Sara Graham and Doug Lewis, interwoven with shoreline maps, charts and diagrams produced by Canada’s Department of Public Works. All of these works deal with the shore of Prince Edward Island itself, from Askevold’s mosaic of photographs of Prince Edward Island’s coastal landscape to Sara Graham’s witty take on attempts to control and conceptualize the shifting sands of the Island’s edge. Combined with a beautiful catalogue that features the writing of artist-cum-Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, Hermenegilde Chiasson, this exhibition is a worthy complement to the more melodramatic sea stories featured on the other side of the gallery.

Beauty Queens, co-curated by Shauna McCabe, is a selection of contemporary works by island-based artists. “Island-based” refers here to a number of islands, and not just “the Island.” This exhibition features works by artists from Ireland, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Hawaii, Vancouver Island and Trinidad. The show is a cooperation between three galleries, including the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, and the Confederation Centre. While the works are only loosely connected by a relatively low-key theme, individually there are many wonderful surprises, including Kings County artist Gerald Beaulieu’s entry, and Jim Hansen’s drily humorous “detective” photographs, among many other strong pieces. Overall, another great summer for contemporary art at the Centre.

Memories We Never Had

Artist-in-residence David Gifford works as sculptor and magician

by Pan Wendt

After watching a dust-covered David Gifford painstakingly carving a sculpture of a bear out of a 400 lb. block of jade, it's quite a surprise to see him working crowds of children as a stage magician a couple of days later, from the same white tent no less. “The Great Giffoni” is the alter ego of the British Columbia-based sculptor, the present artist-in-residence at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. Gifford learned the art of stage magic and took on the persona following his graduation from art school in the early 1990s. Now he is both a traveling magician and a practising artist, David Giffordrecently touring the James Bay shore and communities in Northern Canada. His afternoon magic show, which runs daily until the end of July in front of the Confederation Centre’s outdoor amphitheatre, makes one think of 19th century traveling sleight-of-hand shows. Gifford wears a black suit and employs a highly stylized self-presentation. His repetition of pseudo-authentic Italian phrases and words such as “fantastico,” as well as his impressive substitions of radishes for tomatoes, his conjuration of live lobsters and pieces of broccoli recalled a lost era while still managing to delight an enthusiastic crowd of children.

It is this sense of a half-forgotten past, or a lingering memory, that links Gifford’s work as a sculptor and a magical entertainer. Presented together, the two crafts fulfill common images of the trade of sculptor and the old-time prestidigitator, but, as Gifford explains, “they bring to mind memories of things we’ve never actually experienced.” In fact the two trades used to share a common task. In Western culture, the artist and the magician have shared the work of making illusion, of mimesis. Hidden within these social roles, and the public production of artificial realities for entertainment, edification and pleasure, are remnants of the ancient figure of the enchanter-trickster, whose most important activity was the interpretation of the universe. The Great Giffoni is thus a purposeful phony, David Gifford’s elegant and humorous attempt to reenchant the practice of art and return to it something of what may be its essential role.

Events Calendar

February 2019
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