Visualeyez 2010

Performance art has always seemed a bit elusive to me – more than anything else, it probably has to do with my lack of familiarity with the medium rather than the art itself.

So when I found out that the 11th annual Visualeyez Festival, put on by Latitude 53, had adopted a theme of food this year, I was excited. Nothing like a topic that I love to get me interested and more willing to take the leap into the unknown.

Unlike an art gallery, where the pieces are static and accessible, for the most part, during operational hours, and unlike the Fringe theatre festival, where every staged production is performed multiple times, the Visualeyez Festival is not only brief by comparison at six days in length, but also, performances of some works were only scheduled to take place once.

That said, on the day Communications Assistant Alaine Mackenzie invited me to the festival, I was able to get a taste of three very different interpretations of the theme (and still can partake in one piece not bound by time – by downloading an audio tour of the Sobeys Urban Fresh).

Alaine was also really excited about this year’s theme of food, and really thought the banner would help break down the barriers of those daunted by the idea of performance art. The gallery was quiet when I arrived, but by the time the afternoon’s main event was underway, the main space was nearly full.

First, she introduced me to Alison Reiko Loader and Kelly Andres, who described their project titled kinder/garden as a “food laboratory”. Different from most of the other performances, both were on-site tending to the lab every day, and made a point of changing the space daily.

Alison and Kelly are based in Montreal, where they applied for and received space at the Concordia University greenhouse. They used the greenhouse to explore the idea of manipulating life, including Alison’s creepy but fascinating project of force-growing vegetables into moulds that resembled fetuses.

Pickled tomato

Pickled fetus-moulded tomato and cross-sections

The installation also featured other “live” foods, including yogurt (packed in plastic containers resembling test tubes for patrons to take home), a “doughbie” (a loaf of bread in a baby sling), and bacteria cultures in Petri dishes. Kelly was even serving up wheatgrass martinis (wheatgrass pulp + sparkling mineral water). Alaine and I decided to indulge. More than tasting like grass, it smelled like grass, but it definitely seemed to cleanse on the way down.

Wheatgrass pulp

Kelly at work making our martinis

Alaine and me

Cheers!

Alison and Kelly were more than happy to talk about their project, and this struck me as the most exciting thing about performance art – the dialogue between the patron and the artist. Sure, some galleries host evenings with the artists, and some theatres offer talk backs with the actors, but here, the very point is the exchange itself.

Next, I chatted with Cindy Baker, the Festival Animator. Her role was to attend all of the performances and blog about it, in the hopes of generating buzz and documenting the festival itself. She has done a great job, filing several thoughtful posts a day. She did comment that for a festival about food, however, there wasn’t much food being served.

I also wandered into Chun Hua Catherine Dong’s rice painting set, called Hourglass. Cindy did an exceptional job elaborating on some of the themes of her piece, so much so that I feel like I don’t have anything to add. Except to say that while the task of attempting to fill the bowl with painted grains of rice was futile, I enjoyed the experience. I liked the fact that there were only two chairs (even though many more hands would have resulted in lighter work), and that I was able to connect with another person, even for a brief moment, by sharing in the same task.

Hourglass

Two patrons taking on the task

Though Food Wars was delayed a couple hours due to the sheer number of dishes the two artists were putting together, I have to say, the food was worth the wait. The performance was billed as an Iron Chef-esque showdown: “Armed with only amateur cooking skills and each family’s secret recipes, Mexican artist Manolo Lugo and Guatemalan born artist Naufús Ramirez-Figueroa cook up a storm to prove which nation has the best cuisine!” The intention was for patrons to sample food from both countries, and vote for their favourite.

Todd Janes

Latitude 53 Executive Director Todd Janes introduces the artists

Manolo and Naufús both did an exceptional job setting up their display tables, Manolo with a colourful fruit garnish and Naufús with an intense fondant-covered cake shaped like a Mayan pyramid (it was handy that a chef from Junction next door was in attendance, as she ended up helping Naufús with the fondant).

Preparing the cake

Dressing the Mayan cake

Guatemalan table

Naufús’s Guatemalan spread

From reading the description of the show, I did expect more exposition before the food free-for-all – someone in the audience had to prompt the artists for explanations of the dishes. Between the two, I thought Manolo did a better job, which was probably the main reason my vote went to him (because really, the food from both sides was equally good). An idea I was hoping they would explore further was substitutions in spite of their quest for “authenticity” – though some of the ingredients needed for their dishes were available to them here, Manolo expressed that he had to use similar but not the exact ingredients as specified in traditional recipes.

Mexican table

Manolo’s Mexican spread

Standout dishes for me included the Guatemalan stewed bananas in spicy chocolate mole, the Guatemalan cake (it was supposed to taste like Guatemalan egg nog, but I just thought it was delicious), Mexican stuffed poblanos with pecan sauce (the pomegranate seeds on top are such an inspired idea) and the Mexicn pibil chicken topped with pickled purple onions (you can check out the full menu here).

Mexican plate

Mexican plate

Guatemalan plate

Guatemalan plate (as you can tell, I reused the plate)

I think everyone was in a delirious food coma by the time I left, before the winner was declared (for the record, it was Mexico, though apparently some ballot box stuffing went down). And though a part of me still wanted more of a “performance” from Food Wars, between the food and the conversation, did it really matter?

Thanks again to Alaine for the invitation – I’m not sure I would have made it down to the festival without a push, and now that I’ve been to Visualeyez, I will likely return in the future.

Latitude 53 Summer Rooftop Patio Series Finale

I don’t know where the summer has gone – I had great intentions to attend one of the earlier dates of Latitude 53’s Summer Rooftop Patio Series, but before I knew it, their final engagement had come upon us. So though Mack had an early start yesterday (having woken up at the crack of dawn for his segments on Breakfast Television), he was a trooper and accompanied me to the gallery to have a drink.

I loved the laid-back vibe of the event, encouraging patrons to peruse the art with a drink in hand, while volunteers brought around trays of food (in this instance, appetizers were sponsored by Blue Plate Diner).

Rooftop Patio @ Latitude 53

Rooftop patio!

It was a weird evening, weather-wise, however. The above photo was snapped just moments before the skies opened up for a huge downpour…only to clear a little while later. So though the intention was to enjoy the cool summer breeze, we spent most of our time there wandering the gallery spaces and chatting with other attendees indoors (Jonas St. Michael’s Gore, Quebec was creepy and stirring all at the same time – how about that cow’s head next to the axe?).

It’s always fun to meet new people at events such as these, and Thursday was no different. We also saw a few familiar faces, and one in particular – my sister Amanda, who was in the area and had decided to join us.

Rooftop Patio @ Latitude 53

Amanda and Mack (shilling for Alley Kat in the photo, apparently)

Though I’m a little sad that this was the last patio date of the season, I’m glad we were able to take in the Rooftop Patio once this summer! See you next year!

Refinery at the Art Gallery of Alberta

Two weeks ago, the Art Gallery of Alberta hosted their second Refinery Late Night Art Party, a new series of events with music, food and drinks aimed at making art more accessible for the “next gen” set. I love the idea, particularly because I think the gallery space, with such a fantastic location, is underutilized in the evening hours. And, really, who doesn’t love a good party?

Refinery

In place of a welcome sign

Mack was offered two free tickets in exchange for twittering during the event – a fair request, and one he happily accepted. We arrived promptly at 8pm, then realized it was one of those functions where it was chic to be fashionably late. On the bright side, it meant we had ample time to explore the exhibits before the other guests arrived, and had the gallery spaces mostly to ourselves.

Refinery

Perfect night to enjoy the terrace

Each Refinery party is themed around one of the current gallery exhibitions – this one highlighted The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons, which will be displayed until October 11, 2010. Related activities included: the opportunity to contribute to a film reel, which would be screened later that night; a lecture from artist Josh Holinaty, who had created fun “ACME pocket companions”; an improv show out on the terrace featuring Rapid Fire Theatre’s Amy Shostak and Arlen Konopaki; and amusing condiment portraits with Sarah Jackson, one of our favourite local designers (she was a trooper, drawing non-stop for several hours).

Refinery

Working on the collective film reel

Refinery

Amy Shostak and Arlen Konopaki, improvisers extraordinaire

Refinery

Sarah hard at work

We even had our photo taken in front of a Warner Bros. backdrop, complete with props!

Refinery

In our own cartoon

ZINC Catering took care of everyone with non-stop trays of food. We were a little aghast at the constant flow of servers who doled out over a dozen appetizers. Most were variations of crostini, but there were some other interesting bites, including rabbit and wild boar patés, and a jicama slaw. The best food item of the night was hands down the ice cream bar – it was difficult to choose between chocolate, strawberry, and strawberry banana flavours, so I took one for the team and sampled all of them (strawberry won out).

Refinery

Caramelized onion and goat cheese crostini

Refinery

Jicama salad

Though tickets were on the pricey side ($55, and $45 for AGA Ultra members), between the food and drink, opportunity to view the exhibits and added entertainment, I think it works out to be a pretty good deal. I’ll definitely consider attending the next Refinery party, slated for November 20, 2010.

Refinery

The crowd after dark

Thanks to the AGA for the tickets and to the organizers for a great night!

You can read Mack’s recap here, and see our photoset here.

Spring Gallery Walk 2010

Mack and I have lived in west Oliver, just five minutes from the Gallery Walk district, for nearly two years now, but have never taken the time to visit any of the galleries. I suppose it felt a bit daunting to just walk into the intimate spaces, all exhibiting art available for purchase. However, I knew that the Spring Gallery Walk, a twice-yearly event encouraging the public to tour the galleries, was just around the corner, so planned to go.

Gallery Walk sign marker in front of Electrum Design Studio

It was a beautiful day on Saturday, and it was great to see many Edmontonians taking advantage of this pedestrian-friendly event. Signs and festive balloons were a welcoming sight, and marked the entrances of each of the seven member galleries. Cookies and beverages were served at many sites, a nice reward for the children we saw along for the ride.

Inside Peter Robertson Gallery

The exhibits were diverse, with some galleries focusing on just one or two artists, and others that showcased dozens. Our favourite galleries overall were the Agnes Burgera Gallery and the West End Gallery, which for us, had more accessible art, and some memorable cityscapes and sculptures. Tu Gallery was also notable for featuring some stunning handcrafted furniture.

In an inspired tie-in, patrons were invited to collect stamps from each of the member galleries on a postcard-sized passport. If five stamps were collected, the bearer would be entitled to free admission to the Art Gallery of Alberta (we saw AGA Executive Director Gilles Herbert and AGA Board Chair Allan Scott pounding the pavement today).

My completed passport!

Of course, the area businesses also benefited from this event, with many patrons stopping by area shops on their way to the next gallery. We decided to celebrate the sunshine with some stellar gelato from Bueno Gelato (12325 102 Avenue).

Raspberry and banana gelato

We also stepped into Flur Designs (10260 124 Street), a lovely little floral and gift shop that has been in business for two and a half months. A clean, bright store filled with gorgeous flowers and great gifts (like Vanishing Creatures Chocolate, where the packaging can be repurposed into a floating candle display), it’s a great addition to High Street. I couldn’t resist picking up a bouquet of fresh white flowers.

Flur Designs

The Gallery Walk (and the excuse to take time to explore the neighbourhood) was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I’m also happy to say I feel like I wouldn’t need the pretense of the Gallery Walk to visit their exhibits in the future.

The Walk continues on Sunday, April 18 from noon-4pm – check it out if you can!

A Gem for the Core: the Art Gallery of Alberta

I haven’t always been sold on the new Art Gallery of Alberta. When Randall Stout’s design was announced as the winner, I remember flinching at the thought of such a jarring steel structure anchoring Edmonton’s arts and culture district. Over time (and recognition of the “big picture”), I’ve begun to really appreciate the structure and what it might mean to the city. When I attended Stout’s presentation on his inspiration for the design back in September, I was even more enlightened – even though he is not from Edmonton, Stout seemed to understand what we needed – from an architectural perspective as well as a community engagement standpoint. Not only did the building make a statement visually, but the incorporation of more public space (including an outdoor terrace), classrooms, and an underground entrance that connects directly to the LRT should encourage better usage and visitation of the gallery as a whole.

The new Art Gallery of Alberta

I was really excited when Mack told me that the AGA would be extending social media folks a sneak peek of the facility. Although the gallery spaces would be off limits (we have tickets to the grand opening this weekend anyway), it would still be a great opportunity to preview the building, construction and all.

The crowd

Mack behind the camera

Executive Director Gilles Hébert and Media Relations and Communications Coordinator Sarah Hoyles acted as our tour guides, and led our group of thirty or so to all of the public spaces.

Sarah Hoyles and Gilles Hébert

No question – the new AGA is an absolutely stunning facility. Between the sweeping steel aurora borealis, four stories of glass panes, unadorned Douglas fir panels, and alternatively lustrous/matte zinc blocks, the gallery is the building equivalent of a photogenic superstar. In the next few weeks, the public will be treated to an endless image parade of its shiny, pretty interior – and I have to say that I for one won’t get tired of looking at any of them.

Looking east

Glass, steel, Douglas fir, zinc

Collecting snow

I was most excited to hear that the AGA doubled its public/events space, something I think that is sorely lacking in the core. Besides the great hall, I loved the third floor terrace – it’s about time Edmonton has another rooftop patio downtown (the cafe adjacent to the patio will be installed in February).

Terrace reflections

The view from the terrace

Many are also looking forward to the new downtown dining option of ZINC. Walking into the space, I was immediately reminded of Cactus Club Bentall 5, but I couldn’t fathom how 76 people could be seated inside. Staff were busy being trained so we couldn’t stick around, but I loved the blue glass against the bar and all of the natural light. Menu details have been sparse (you can see the teaser here), but the chef has said he will be sourcing ingredients locally.

With fellow food blogger Chris in front of ZINC

The bar at ZINC

Soon to be a cafe (on the basement floor)

Last but not least – the art. Though we weren’t able to view any of the exhibitions (most of them were still being installed anyway), Sarah and Gilles provided us with what to expect. Besides the Yousuf Karsh portrait exhibition (photos include Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill and Audrey Hepburn), I am also looking forward to the multimedia piece called Storm Room. The ten minute installation will treat parties of ten to the experience (showers and all) of an approaching storm. The AGA’s  innovative partnership with the National Gallery of Canada will also mean that the AGA now has access to the National Gallery’s collections, and will be able to design their own exhibitions to display in Edmonton. First up: Francisco Goya’s prints.

Thanks to the AGA for organizing this preview! I didn’t think I could anticipate the official opening any more, but after this teaser, I am counting down the days to the weekend.

There are numerous posts on the tour, but here are a few: Mack’s blog, Chris at Eating is the Hard Part and Bruce at Moments in Digital. You can see our photoset here.

Take it to the Streets: Old Strathcona Fashion Extravaganza, Street Sale & Art Walk

I remember having intentions to visit last summer’s Whyte Avenue Street Sale, but never got around to it. So this year, I jumped at the chance to kill three birds with one stone – namely, the Old Strathcona Art Walk, Fashion Extravaganza, and of course, the opportunity to shop on pavement.

The weather was perfectly glorious for outdoor activities of any kind on Sunday, including the open-air catwalk that greeted us at 82nd and Gateway Boulevard. As my sister predicted, the fashion show turned out to be rather “lame” – the DJ had a preference for one-hit dance tunes from the 90s, some of the models left the stage before the announcer was finished with their outfit label rundown, and tags on some items were clearly visible from the crowd. On the bright side, much improvement can and will happen should the event be repeated in the future (here’s a video clip courtesy of Mack’s Flip if you’re interested).

Crowded runway

Model

We continued down the street, pausing on occasion to peruse discounted wares in addition to displays set up by local artists participating in the Art Walk. Perhaps it’s too cliché or tourist-oriented, but I was expecting to see more pieces devoted to Edmonton’s land or cityscape for sale.

Street sale

A kayak, anyone?

How about a turtle?

Art Walk

More art for sale

Mack can never avoid the beckoning call of mini doughnuts

We also wandered into a number of stores. Notable was Ten Thousand Villages (10432 82 Avenue), where Mack found a visor that was perfect for him, and Eden Lilly (10416 82 Avenue), which carries a line of locally-designed cards that were too cheeky not to photographically commemorate.

Coke visor!

 

Double take? (Cards by Brulak Design Studio, available in 11 locations in Edmonton)

On our way back north, we noticed that the High Level Bridge waterfall was on as it had been earlier in the day (yesterday was also the Sourdough River Festival – it amazes me how many events took place on one day). We scrambled to park the car so we could take pictures (and a video!).

Beautiful

By late afternoon, we had built up quite the appetite. Thankfully, we had tickets to Edmonton’s Countryside Taste of Summer event.

Art Gallery of Alberta: China Sensation

One of the city’s best kept secrets is the Art Gallery of Alberta‘s free admission on Thursday evenings from 4-8pm. So on Thursday I headed to the temporary gallery location (100, 10230 Jasper Avenue) with a few friends to view the current exhibits.

As the Enterprise Square space is merely provisional, I wasn’t expecting much. As it turns out, with expansive white walls and bright spot lighting, it is a definite improvement upon the dingy, dark halls of the previous building.

I was especially interested in the pictures that were a part of the China Sensation display, as I had read some of the media coverage surrounding these “cutting edge” works. Though I can’t say I understood most (okay, almost all) of the pieces, it was definitely interesting to be exposed to Chinese art that was anything but landscapes and flowers. Between the flamingo-human hybrids, cannibalistic pigs, and neon portrayals of child pest slayers, it was quite the barrage of images. I had no idea art on this plane was being produced in China.

The exhibit runs until June 10.