Interactive, creative, and those bloody crows
by Henk van Leeuwen
The bloody crows were everywhere. Sinister, glorious and cawing awfully, they emerged from the belly of the Confederation Centre of the Arts to provoke and preen for the people of Charlottetown. Some had splendid beaks; others trundled over sidewalks on large, rubbery toes. They threaded through the crowd on Richmond Street, owned the boardwalk towards Government House, and perched triumphantly atop the battery at Victoria Park. The crows’ performance surfaced our city’s conflicted relationship with the dark, scavenging, raucous birds, just as the Art in the Open extravaganza surfaced the dynamic, multi-disciplinary artistic and creative force at work in Charlottetown’s capital.
Art in the Open was hands down the most fun we had in Charlottetown in 2011. My 11-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter nervously kept their distance from the crows, yet by evening’s end were excitedly whispering about how desperately they wanted to join the crow procession next year. We were the Art in the Open audience, yet we were invited to help be its literal vehicle of storytelling: Artist BJ McCarville took me for a spin on her two-seater bicycle, a bike which, when pedalled, barked audio about Charlottetown. In Rochford Square, we joined in the Jane Ledwell and Stephen MacInnis orchestration of the poetic Rumour Mill, billed as a “gossip powered human machine.” Our group contributed this line for the final poem: “the unpredictable monkeys are heroes.” Faux-official municipal signs dotted city squares and streets, the clever creation of Sandi Hartling. One sign declared “It is prohibited by law to move in a slow and idle manner.” Another warned against making “purposeless stops.” We witnessed Gail Hodder in a welder’s mask, forging monkeys from hot metal. Connaught Square’s exhibits positioned the environment prominently within art, as art. We marvelled dicters at and touched the grass, clover and coleus flowers sprouting from the exterior of an Atlantic Living Walls home, and contemplated two tractors, parked benignly on the lawn, with their intricate plough of hoops and stretched-cloth hides.
As the sun disappeared, the place to be was Victoria Park. Charlottetown’s prime recreational acreage was transformed into a bewitching and flickering cauldron of sculpture, fire, light and television signals, the latter provided by video and performance artist Amanda Dawn Christie. She had nested and hung video monitors in a tree, all spookily broadcasting live, flickering channels, the symbolic last hurrah to Canada’s waning analog signal. In the middle of a field, Gerald Beaulieu tended to his hypnotic, colourful phosphorescent tree sculpture, answering questions about its installation while photographing its changes in light. We warmed to all of the exhibits in Victoria Park, cozily encircled by a constellation of small fires—the literal Field of Fire from Scott Saunders. The park glowed, and on the walk back to our car, so did we, imaginations and excitement sparked. We hope for Art in the Open’s return. Even the crows.