CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
Current Issue Cover

Your page could not be found.Let us help you search for it:

SEARCH
Page Not Found – Canadian Art
CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
Current Issue Cover

Your page could not be found.Let us help you search for it:

SEARCH

Canadian Art

Feature

Timeland: Alberta Calling

Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton May 29 to Aug 29 2010
Scott Rogers <I>Variable Composition for Clocks (Autistic Arrangement)</I> 2010 Scott Rogers Variable Composition for Clocks (Autistic Arrangement) 2010

Scott Rogers <I>Variable Composition for Clocks (Autistic Arrangement)</I> 2010

To curate “Timeland,” the 2010 Alberta Biennial, Canadian Art editor Richard Rhodes travelled the province, reflecting on psychogeography, history and identity. Here, he shares his introductory essay for the exhibition, which elaborates the lessons learned.

The title “Timeland” is a synonym for Alberta, a distillation from a dozen trips to the province since the 1990s. In all of those trips, time has been a protagonist, shaping first experience, then memory. “Timeland” is meant to convey a sense of atmospheric character. It describes a landscape that feels suffused with another dimension, a place where pasts, presents and futures are in motion all at once.

The notion has been forming since my first trip to Alberta in June 1990 when I was invited to give a talk for a publishing residency at the Banff Centre. What struck me in that moment had much to do with the way the new immersive communications environment had altered my sense of time. Travel used to involve periods of disconnection. Travel time was quiet time, away time, but that was changing. Television sets had become ubiquitous at airports, not the banks of tiny, private, pay-per-minute sets but large hanging monitors with live coverage, the precursors of today’s flat screens. They were tuned to either news or sports and that day, a Saturday, I got to watch the Liberal leadership convention that elected Jean Chrétien. It was being held at the Calgary Saddledome, which already lent my trip a sense of travelling towards the news rather than away from home.

The flight from Toronto was in the early afternoon. In the airport, waiting for the flight to board, I could see and hear commentators talking about the firming support for Chrétien and the impact his election would have on the precarious fate of the Meech Lake Accord. By the time I arrived in Calgary, Chrétien had become leader. On a YYC television he was delivering his acceptance speech. A lot had happened during the three-and-half hours of flight time, but it was actually only a little later in the afternoon: barely an hour had gone by on the face of my adjusted watch. When I looked out the window, even the shadows had hardly changed. They cut nearly the same angle on the ground as they had in Toronto. I had travelled 1,700 miles west, almost faster than the sun, but time had slowed down.

A personal fact: this time zone sensitivity is a given for those who have grown up in Winnipeg, as I have. “The Heart of the Continent,” as the city is often called, makes one ever-alert to the where and when of events on the peripheries. (This is the secret, I think, as to why Winnipeg has managed to generate more than its fair share of artists for the Canadian art scene). In the 1960s, for instance, the CBC news anchor Norman DePoe would sometimes hold a cigarette when he read the news at 11:00 p.m. central time in a Toronto newsroom. In Winnipeg, the smoke would curl into the studio lights a child-friendlier hour earlier. Such were the mysteries of time zones and network broadcasts, but they laid the foundations for my travel to Calgary on a Saturday during a Liberal leadership convention and for understanding time as an unruly kind of standard, no matter what the crisp, sharp facts of shadows or internal body clocks said. Time is the great constant, but it is also the great shifter.

The most memorable experience of this dual time sense was also part of that first trip to Alberta in 1990. It came a few days after Banff when I met my wife and son and we rented a car to go to Drumheller. How could we resist “the best Badlands scenery in Canada?” We were the same young family that had once stopped on the way to Florida to see the Great Dismal Swamp, named by the Elizabethan adventurer Walter Raleigh. The swamp straddles the border between Virginia and North Carolina, just south of the huge naval installation at Norfolk. The month was January, the skies were grey, the water was black and there were no alligators in sight. It was dismal, but not greatly, and not very swampy either. Drumheller was a better bet. The month was June, the sun was hot and before the road dipped down to a town where you have to look up to see the horizon, we passed a craggy city of yellow dirt where dozens of prairie dogs had come out to watch the afternoon turn into evening. One couldn’t imagine a more different place from the sober evergreens and looming grey rock of Banff. Even better, once in Drumheller, there was a world-class museum, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, a gateway to ancient Alberta and the dinosaurs that once roamed its tropical wetlands 75 million years ago in the Cretaceous era.

At the time, the exhibit area was prefaced by a giant, hanging reproduction of the famous NASA “Blue Marble” photo, the image of planet Earth taken on one of the Apollo moon trips that shows wispy weather patterns making elegant cloud spirals across the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In a museum of scientists, they had a poet on staff, a person who had picked the most eloquent image to establish a profound viewpoint to carry forward into the exhibits. A blue circle swimming in black space, it was a macro perspective that progressed from an aerial view of the eternal planet to earthly objects in a museum that bore the truth of its very long past. One of those exhibits, not far from the entry, was a flat piece of rock, a fossil from an early Albertan geological period. Its surface had frozen with the imprint of 400-million-year-old water plants curled with the same spiral impetus as the clouds in the photo from outer space. Was this coincidence, the physics of the planet, or something more? Certainly golden section or divine proportion spirals have captured intellectual imagination since the Greeks. It is the measure of an organized universe, of an embrace that operates through deep space to the minutest inner space. What the Tyrrell made clear was that it also implied a universe organized across time.

So this is the prologue to an exhibition called “Timeland,” a biennial exhibition that explains itself as a counting of time, a measure of the state of contemporary art in Alberta that takes place every two years. My experience at the Tyrrell waited 20 years to find an outlet, which must be why it took no time at all to say yes to the " rel="external">Art Gallery of Alberta’s invitation to curate this 2010 biennial. Alberta has an allure in relation to time. It is a place to see time, a place where it feels palpable. The landscape memorialized on the provincial flag—a foreground, middle ground, background stacking of fields, foothills and mountains—is a time landscape. The image compresses the province’s notable landscape features and promises a compressed experience of them in time. For someone from Toronto, there is a thrill in arriving in Calgary and seeing snow-capped Rockies to the west. They might be 100 kilometers away, but they are available all at once in the line of vision. It is a view not unlike the image on the flag, an image decidedly biased in favour of this view of the west from the east, a view embedded in provincial identity. Yet what about the view looking towards the east? The horizon recedes; distance is a far-off glimmering line or a strangely closer sky space where blurs of falling rain or broken shadow from passing clouds are arrayed in some sort of suspended future that will arrive when the wind is ready.

These are the intangibles of place, the elements that exert a subtle pressure on both how we see and what we see. They are visual conditions and contexts that operate like a backdrop to the passage of time. Nothing is more noticeable to a traveller than the clarity and brightness of the light in Alberta. It comes with a widened contrast range that can generate an uncanny sharp-edged intensity of colour (much the same way that the contrast ratio of a flat-screen television determines the vividness of the screen image). Part of the equation for this light has to do with simple facts of elevation. Edmonton is 2,000 feet and Calgary is more than 3,000 feet higher in elevation than Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. They are without the atmosphere-softening humidity of an ocean, a Great Lake or a wide, low-lying river. The North American jet stream moves across the ice and rock of the mountains and arrives clean. Latitude and seasons also shape the light at the start and the end of the day. As I learned this winter, a sunrise in Edmonton in February can be a protracted affair. Colour arrives slowly out of a dark sky, adding many minutes more to the experience of dawn. At dusk it is the same. Colour evolves slowly in a tide of variability and as it changes so do forms, taking on their own mutability.

This is the perceptual terrain and the experiential frame for Alberta and its art. They are the qualities of place that establish a common identity between artists in their studios and viewers in the gallery, as well all those who play a role of support in between. This broadest of contexts leaves as much an imprint on the art as do the social contexts of culture, history and personal psychology. An exhibition like the Alberta Biennial is an occasion to ponder the intersection of these influences and weigh how time, culture and place come to shape the imaginations of artists and their audiences. It is a sorting across categories, a measuring of the near and the far, the local and the global, finding a point of view to see what is shared within the wider world of art, ideas and contemporary history and what is unique to Alberta.

While “Timeland” engages the long shadows cast by the physicality of a place, it also looks to the equally long shadows cast by our shared moment, marking our entry into the second decade of a new century. Part of the aim is to be alert to the heightened sensitivity to time that is attached to our experience of the new century, a 21st century that marks the beginning of a new millennium. It is a time when the achievements and securities of modernism are challenged by globalism and supported by new information technologies that offer near-instant access to an expanded consciousness of worldviews, histories and cultures. As the first World Trade Centre attack of September 11, 2001, was captured live by a young French documentary filmmaker’s camera and the second attack on network television, it was only minutes before news websites also showed cheering school children in the Middle East watching replays and the billowing clouds of white ash on an otherwise cloudless New York fall day. This is a new and volatile instantaneity where cellphones and the Internet have brought an end to time lags and delays that were once compensated by speculation and imagination about a passing world of events elsewhere that existed in a definitive past. Now, everywhere is here and virtually present. Via media, we live in a speeded cultural geography where distance has been made largely irrelevant by fibre-optic cables, FireWire capacities and server download times. We are only just learning the implications of this change. Politics, economics and the environment have all entered new eras of simultaneity, and so has the art world. Where there were once time lags for developments in art to circulate, art scenes in New York, London, Berlin, Moscow and Beijing are now accessible with a few well-directed Google searches. The traditional divides between centres and peripheries have become muted. Stock markets now react on a single 24-hour clock, and so do art scenes. The world is smaller, but not simpler.

That recognition, and the space/time technologies that support it, are the roots of what we call globalism. Like NASA’s “Blue Marble” photo, globalism is an understanding of our planet’s reach and containment, a situation that carries implications for all aspects of human life and the environment. The encapsulating scale of this globalism subsumes the idea of local identity within a new information-fed internationalism that reflects the real-time complexity of a multi-dimensional world culture. Yet, at the same time, the local has also taken on a new significance relative to its intimate, community-conscious, small-is-beautiful scale which functions as a life-blood of diversity within the global framework. “Timeland” tries to mirror this multi-dimensionality. It bridges Alberta communities by highlighting the shared achievements of their art and presumes this art’s continuity with developments in contemporary art elsewhere, both in Canada and abroad.

Within Canada, Alberta has carried the banner of the biennial exhibition format since 1996. For much of that time it did so alone, until a new set of promising biennials and triennials have recently shown a growing adoption of the platform across the country. This biennial bloom has occurred beyond Canada, too, with the past two decades seeing them staged around the world. Places like Gwangju, Madrid, Istanbul, Santa Fe, Liverpool, Berlin, Sharjah, Singapore and Bucharest have taken cues from the long-running Venice, Sao Paulo and Sydney biennials. Together, the shows—concurrent with a parallel growth in art fairs—have signalled a boom in attention for contemporary art that has brought an unprecedented market and visibility for recent artistic practice. Most of the new biennials are international in context, presenting changing guards of internationally known artists. The Whitney Biennial in New York has been an exception. Since 1932, its mandate has been to show America’s art to Americans. This nationalist/localist model is especially pertinent to the Alberta Biennial and other Canadian biennials, which share the same situation that New York originally faced in building acceptance and recognition of a homegrown art culture. Yet whether global or local in their orientation, early or late in their launch, all biennials serve as time markers that signal the growing modernization and sophistication of a culture, society and marketplace. They all function as claims of arrival into the world culture of art.

“Timeland” proceeds in this context. In 2009, the Art Gallery of Alberta issued a call to artists for submissions. Of the 200 original applications, I made a shortlist of 40 to do studio visits with last August, and then arrived at a final list of 24 artists. Together, they and their works create a snapshot of contemporary Alberta art in 2010. An aspect of the overall list that I was conscious of creating was a cross-generational biennial, not just a biennial focused on artists under 40, as is the usual guide for most biennials. A cross-generational mix of artists is appropriate to the theme. It is also appropriate as a reflection of the Canadian art scene, where established artists and younger artists often share a level playing field in terms of public, commercial and artist-run gallery programming mandates. Together, this can set the stage for a fruitful exchange that carries a built-in historical perspective on the shifting nature of art over the past several decades, where central themes appear, disappear then reappear with engaging variation. No generation has exclusive ownership of currency; their voices are in dialogue, which is one of the reasons why there is an emphasis on the artists’ voices in the following pages of this catalogue. Each of their voices has also been a prompt for my own commentaries. They are voices that bring a wealth of insight into their practices. They are also the voices of neighbours who wake to the same light and drive the same highways. Together, they speak to the issues and congestions of contemporary culture, the mysteries and beauty of local colour, the consciousness of meeting the world in vital but vulnerable bodies and in sharing a land that wears its past on its surface while changing restlessly in time. These are the voices and this is the art of “Timeland: The 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art.”

This article was first published online on August 19, 2010.

RELATED STORIES

  • Newsfront

    ROM Gains African Art; Art for the 2010 Winter Games; AGNS Looks South and West; Weber Wins York Prize; Richardson Shines at National Arts Awards in New York; Diamond to Head OCAD Until 2015; Gilles Hébert to Run New AGA

  • The New Art Gallery of Alberta: Honour, Horror and High, High Ceilings

    Alberta’s abuzz with the opening of the redesigned Art Gallery of Alberta, including its inaugural Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller show. As Diana Sherlock reports, there’s some fear and loathing set loose amidst the museum’s new, and quite laudable, finery.

  • The New Flâneurs: A Stroll with the Sublime

    With a combination of historical images, modern street photography and contemporary graffiti, a new show at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton takes a run at revamping the street-level sublime and the prosaic picturesque.

Page Not Found – Canadian Art
CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
Current Issue Cover

Your page could not be found.Let us help you search for it:

SEARCH
Page Not Found – Canadian Art
CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
Current Issue Cover

Your page could not be found.Let us help you search for it:

SEARCH
 

FOUNDATION NEWS

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

ONLINE

  • Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Black Birds

    New York critic Joseph R. Wolin heads to the Park Avenue Armory where Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller are creating a buzz (and other sounds) at the US premiere of a dark, nightmarish installation originally created for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney.

  • Grange Prize 2012: Hot Shots

    One of Canada’s largest cash-value art prizes—$65,000 in total with $50,000 going to the winner, $5,000 to three runners-up—announced its finalists this week. Take in their wide-ranging works in this slideshow.

  • Wanda Koop: Into the Woods

    A visit to Wanda Koop’s cabin near Riding Mountain National Park in southern Manitoba proves intriguing for Vancouver critic Robin Laurence. There, Laurence writes, Koop bridges old Grey Owl myths with a new series of paintings on our increasingly digital culture.

  • Brad Tinmouth: Survival Strategies

    The basement of an art gallery may seem an unlikely place to create an emergency shelter. However, Xpace's lower gallery is an ideal setting for Brad Tinmouth's “If Times Get Tough or Even If They Don't,” which evokes a cold-war bunker.

  • Wim Delvoye: Blame it on Paris

    Silk-covered pigs, lattice-cut car tires and a tattooed man are just a few of the works that Belgian artist Wim Delvoye has shuttled into the old, Gothic wing of the Louvre this summer. Jill Glessing reviews, finding a terrific amalgam of high and low.

More Online

Page Not Found – Canadian Art
CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
Current Issue Cover

Your page could not be found.Let us help you search for it:

SEARCH
Page Not Found – Canadian Art
CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
Current Issue Cover

Your page could not be found.Let us help you search for it:

SEARCH
Page Not Found – Canadian Art
CURRENT ISSUE | FALL 2017: THE IDEA OF HISTORY
Current Issue Cover

Your page could not be found.Let us help you search for it:

SEARCH
Report a problem