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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

The Year In Art

Bart Gazzola
Published Monday December 22, 05:15 pm
Saskatoon’s scene saw more good than bad in 2014

What’s worthy of marking in 2014 was very good, and broke new ground against the usual banal “good enough” litany that too often pollutes this city’s cultural discourse. Whether XYE keeps that up I leave to others.

 

I’ll begin with Stronger than Stone. This multi-city event ended in Saskatoon and explored topics from Mother Tongues: How Does Language Shape Public Space to What Are Our Challenges in the Local Context? (Consider Tony Stallard’s Land of Berries on the side of the Persephone in that context, or Spirit of Alliance’s regional “placing” of the War of 1812).

 

Speakers included Rebecca Belmore (who performed, as did Ursula Johnson), Ruth Cuthand, Steve Loft, Candace Hopkins and Paul Chaat Smith. Generally, I avoid panels or talks, as they’re often as irrelevant as they are self-congratulatory. But the respectful and incisive arguments regarding notions of “traditional”, for example, had relevance in light of the conference’s theme (Re/Inventing the Indigenous Monument) but also in the ongoing debate around public spaces and narratives both literal and conceptual. 

 

I’m glutted on the public art debate, almost to nausea. STS provided some fine gems, however, such as how the “publics” that most monuments serve are blind to them, or how most state approved monuments have nothing to do with memory, but actively act to suppress it (Ed Poitras has explored this, with Batoche).

 

 

 

But never before in Saskatoon has there been as much conversation and progress as regards public art. The Placemaker Program has presented award-winning works by sans façon, and featured artworks by artists of note at a local (Keeley Haftner), national (Tonya Hart) and international level (the aforementioned sans façon or Tony Stallard). There were at least three public forums on public art: one was worth your time (Street Meet). 

 

 

 

Funny story about the next event: a friend was joking that he was annoyed at the “cheerleading”, as he saw it, around Nuit Blanche Saskatoon, and amused me greatly by expressing disappointment that I wasn’t my usual critical voice. I responded that Nuit Blanche ran on minimal budget, with volunteers and organizations that made a massive event happen faster and better than one could have hoped for, considering the short time frame. 

 

Granted, there were failures as well as successes, but I’d say that NB doesn’t know what it is yet in Saskatoon, and needs a few more incarnations to figure that out. Significant participating artists were Cam McKay or Julie Oh. Frankly, the powerful waves of audio coming off PAVED’s balcony, by Mehta Young, were almost a religious experience, and NB transformed 20th Street for an evening in a manner that spoke more of the degree of change in that area than anything else. (That can be taken as a positive, but also a point of considered reflection about that change…)

 

Modern Visions, the exhibition themed around the Mendel’s half century, wasn’t a “traditional” collections show, but much better. It more accurately illustrated the multiple and often differing audiences inside and external to the Saskatoon visual arts community: Lawren Harris’ idealized painting of Jasper as the start of a story that is now Rebecca Belmore’s blood on the snow, and moving forward to something else. 

 

Outside Saskatoon, CARFAC won the Supreme Court ruling regarding the resale right for artists. This fight was long and hard and CARFAC deserves praise for this. Remember that the idea of even paying artist fees is not as old as the Mendel — nor as respected as it should be. 

 

A few other things: we saw the Wall government scramble to fund the Corner Gas movie to avoid the embarrassment of it being filmed out of Saskatchewan. This open admittance of the need for the Sask Film Credit is blisteringly clear, but that LEAN money had to come from somewhere, I suppose.

 

Kimiwan became the art magazine of note in Saskatchewan and Felicia Gay curated five shows this year (!) that showcased aboriginal artists contemporary and historical. 

Much of what mattered in 2014 broke the official calcified spaces: NB, STS or public art. Much that is questionable (TransformUS, the fight for resale rights and the ongoing fate of cultural spaces at the U of S) faced (or are facing) institutional hurdles. So, good luck in 2015, Saskatoon: it should be an interesting year.

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