Artful journey brings activity to 16 Canadian communities
Art is making its way into 16 communities, traversing every province and territory in Canada, as part of Art Express’d / Art Exprimè:
- North to South: Inuvik, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Churchill, Rankin Inlet
- West to East: Alert Bay, Lethbridge, Saskatoon, Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes
- East to West: John’s, Halifax, Charlottetown, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa
Artists Jessie Buchanan, Evin Collis, and Becky Thiessen were selected to lead this collaborative art-making project. The containers they designed will make their way back to the country’s heart, Winnipeg, joining a fourth container in time for Nuit Blanche, where a series of art-making activities and demonstrations are envisioned.
Art Express’d / Art Exprimè will see three 20-foot metal shipping containers transformed into mobile art studios travelling the nation via train, truck, and cargo ship over the summer months. With the help of local galleries and grassroots partners at designated stops, artists will create a collaborative installation designed to maximize community engagement and participation. A fourth container is located at The Forks National Historic Site in Winnipeg through a partnership with Parks Canada, where it will feature art-making activities for the public.
As a lead sponsor, HTFC supported the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Art Express’d / Art Exprimè initiative with planning and design expertise. HTFC’s staff members, Mark Bauche and Jason Syvixay, were involved in preliminary meetings with the WAG to review relevant design and marketing objectives, from site visits to construction timelines to brainstorming of container uses throughout the summer. HTFC assisted in translating the artists’ visions from drawings into 3D renderings, providing an opportunity to correct any technical or spatial challenges, and in ensuring safety/code standards were met.
A workshop was facilitated by HTFC to bring together various downtown partners interested in programming the fourth container with activities, and to ultimately determine its use and design directions. The first exercise (“Winnipeg Can’t be Contained”) provided participants from various stakeholder groups with an opportunity to identify Winnipeg assets and existing programming that could make use of the fourth container’s design. Participants noted how Winnipeg is an entertaining, artistic, and multi-cultural hub that encourages people to stay, rather than just to pass through.
They noted the following as Winnipeg’s greatest strengths: the vibrant arts scene, musicians, abundance of festivals, creativity, story sharing, history, and personal expression.
In the end, the theme “6,000 years can’t be contained” was chosen, and was placed on the fourth container. The second exercise showcased precedents of how containers have been used for programming in other cities. Participants were asked to draw ideas for the container’s design and use.
A bevy of programming opportunities were identified and recorded for the WAG to draw upon for their summer activations at the fourth container, with a focus on creating a welcoming experience, creating connection and conversation around The Forks and its history, and creating more than just one use.
Selected from dozens of applications from across the nation, the three artists represent the spirit of the project, which aims to reflect the broad spectrum of Canadians – from Indigenous peoples to new Canadians to ethno-cultural communities, with a focus on engaging youth. In their own way, each artist will connect with participants across Canada as they create art together.
Inspired both by her Anishinabe (Ojibway) heritage and by her Euro-Canadian ancestry, Jessie Buchanan’s paintings are guided by the Woodland style and by the work of Emily Carr, Daphne Odjig, Nathalie Parenteau, Ted Harrison, and others. For her ART EXPRESS`D project, she will invite the public to illustrate through paint their connections to the land/environment, together rendering the spiritual geography of the northern Canadian landscape. Buchanan will be travelling on the North to South route: Inuvik, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Churchill, and Rankin Inlet.
Buchanan’s next stop on the Art Express’d / Art Exprimè tour will be Yellowknife, then Churchill. Her Ojibway ancestry and a spiritual connection to Canadian landscapes inspire her work as an artist.
“The artwork created for this project has been largely influenced by the questions I present to the participants: ‘What does being Canadian mean to you? Do you feel connected to this land/environment?’ The participants paint or draw their answers on 6”x6” canvas,” said the artist. “I have learned that people everywhere are kind and always eager to help. In each community visited so far, I have really noticed how willing people are to chip in or even just to chat and share their stories.”
The artist has collected 40 canvases from Inuvik and Whitehorse, and anticipates the same turnout in her next stops.
She sees art as a necessity in today’s society: “There is so much that we can understand about ourselves through art, whether we are seeking to preserve our histories or creating new forms of expression in response to the changing world around us. It is connected through common goals and community.”
Becky Thiessen experiments through painting, drawing, textiles, assemblage, sculpture, and digital media. Her vision for ART EXPRESS`D is a collaborative project that will connect community to community using handmade stencils created by participants that feature themes of cultural and ethnic identity, Canadian landscape, local animals, and vegetation. Thiessen will lead the West to East route: Alert Bay, Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes.
While in Alert Bay, Thiessen used stencils representing mountains, trees, animals, waters and peoples of the West Coast, to engage community members. “The idea behind my project is communal and collaborative. We share the stencils with each other. Those who don’t want to create stencils, use the already designed ones to build their own art piece, those who feel inspired will cut their own stencil and leave it with me to share and pass it forward. This way, once I move from community to community, I will have a large collection of stencils representing western Canada.”
She added, “People leave my workshop feeling confident and inspired.”
The journey has been a learning lesson for herself as well, seeing new communities for the first time.
“I was fortunate to connect with the Kwakwaka’wakw people of “Namgis First Nation, and the villagers and tourists of Alert Bay. The ‘Namgis First Nation invited me to join residents and participants at numerous locations including the rec centre, after school programs, hospital, lifeskills group, girls group and elementary school. In the Village of Alert Bay, I was situated at the Art Loft which is a community run art gallery and workshop space. Comorant island is one of the best places on earth, and not only because it is where the mountains and ocean meet and I saw a pod of orcas, but its where the people are the most outstanding, generous and welcoming.
Evin Collis, from Winnipeg, creates paintings, drawings, sculptures, and stop-motion animations investigating the complexities of history, identity, survival, and the degraded landscape. His container has since visited St. John’s, Halifax, Charlottetown, PEI, and Moncton, and is now en route to Joliette.
“We have been transforming the container into a wacky, art installation of a passenger train car,” said Collis. “At each community we are building larger than life sized colourful papier mâché characters that will travel inside, painting an assortment of imagery and landscapes on the interiors and we have been making a series of stop-motion animations that we project inside the container so it resembles something of a playful, artful cinema. The inspiration is rooted in the vastness and great diversity of the many communities and the landscapes that stretch across ocean to ocean to ocean and how the railroad, as complicated as it’s origins in Canada are, physically stretches to all 3 coasts connecting people and goods.”
He reflects, “Art is intrinsic and the glue to any community’s sense of identity and health. It can connect and unite us and teach us all so much about place and our similarities and differences.”