In the dialogue
Profile by Jane Ledwell
For the Art in the Open festival one year, Monica Lacey created an installation conjuring an abandoned house in the woods. “Drunk teenagers stumbled into it,” she recalls. “I don’t even know if they knew it was part of the festival—but they started to have a house party…The suspension of disbelief they had was so magic.” Eventually, she had to kick them out to take the artwork down. “They all could have just fallen back out into the forest,” she laughs, “But they all went out the door.”
Monica says, “I like to create environments people can enter into,” and while her varied art practice isn’t all installations in the woods, her artwork and work as this town is small’s program coordinator create space for art and dialogue.
Monica’s new studio is in The Vessel, the new rent-a-studio art space and concert venue downtown in Charlottetown, alongside founder Becka Viau and other artists.
“My daughter is three in March,” Monica says, “and the past three years I have focused almost exclusively on photos and video… I’m glad I did zero in,” she says, but in her new studio space this winter, she left her computer home. “Moving in here, I thought I was done with painting, but now I’m painting and drawing again, things I haven’t done in so long… I’m getting back into actual materials… I’m letting myself play, and I don’t even want to attach an outcome to it. Putting that on it affects even how tightly I hold the brush.”
A graduate of New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, Monica started art school “quite late, relatively speaking,” at 27, after a decade of wanting art school but worrying about the viability of her plan. “I wish I had gone ten years sooner,” she admits, “but when I did choose where I wanted to go—it was perfect for me.” She was the first student allowed to craft an interdisciplinary degree—working in clay, printmaking, textiles, felt, surface design, encaustic, watercolours, acrylic, and installation work. “I was doing too much,” Monica laughs. “The feedback was always, ‘I like what you’re doing but rein it in—polish.’”
Monica loved that art school legitimated her art practice “It gives you a context; you’re surrounded by people on the same path. You’re not just an anomaly in a sea of accountants.” What she has been missing about school since being in The Vessel studio is “being in dialogue.” She says she can’t imagine being a doctor and having no one to talk to about symptoms and diagnoses and developments in the field—and yet “a lot of people (artists) are working in a vacuum… We need more spaces where artists can just bump into each other, and have those catalyzing conversations that don’t happen as much.”
As a result, she is coordinating this town is small monthly “crit nights,” hosting critical dialogue focused on a particular artist’s work in visual art or other media. “Feedback from someone else with a critical eye will push (your work) in ways you’ll never get to yourself,” she says. Even after participating in one crit, Monica says, “my work is more interesting to me.”
With Art in the Open now incorporated as its own independent festival “in a process of evolving,” and no longer a program of this town is small, TTIS is focused on year-round programming and professional development for artists. For example, the gallery in The Guild this summer will pay artist fees for exhibitions for the first time, something Monica calls “a game changer.”
Monica will be working this spring on a conceptual portrait series, with “pop-up portrait studios, school-picture style.” Subjects will get a list of experiences that shaped Monica’s identity and choose those experiences they’ve also had. It’s a chance to “explore commonality,” Monica says. “I’m not looking to oversimplify connectivity among humans, but I love getting into that dialogue.” Like the house in the woods or crit nights, Monica Lacey loves how much art pieces and artists can “grow and change through interaction with the public.”