Quebec City ceramics artist Amélie Proulx took home the $10,000 first prize at the RBC Emerging Artist People’s Choice Award last night. The announcement took place at a related exhibition at Toronto’s Gardiner Museum, which invited the public to cast votes deciding the winner.
The other artists nominated were Robin DuPont (representing British Columbia), Michael Flaherty (representing Newfoundland and Labrador), Monica Mercedes Martinez (representing Manitoba) and Linda Sormin (representing Ontario).
Proulx, who graduated from NSCAD University with her MFA in 2010 and also studied art at Concordia University, is known for works that make unconventional use of the ceramic form. For her 2011 work Glissements, she created a life-sized industrial pulley system out of porcelain. For Poussières de langage—another work created around that same time—she created an eight-foot-long ceramic surface that moved and undulated like the surface of a river.
Proulx’s winning artwork at the Gardiner Museum, Jardinet Mécanique, merged microcontrollers with porcelain flowers and a steel table to create a kind of moving garden.
“When clay is fired, it irreversibly becomes ceramics,” Proulx said in her artist statement. “The process of firing renders this material stable and permanent, thereby conserving its characteristics of stability and immutability for millenia. My explorations with this material lead me to develop different strategies for unsettling the inherent characteristics of ceramics and suggesting that this material could be perpetually transformed.”
Rachel Gotlieb, interim executive director and chief curator of the Gardiner Museum, said in a release that Proulx’s “masterful installation work empowers ceramics with a new sense of agency and design.”
“Amélie Proulx frees herself from the utilitarian and decorative connotations often associated with the ceramic medium in order to create works that transport us into a dreamlike world,” nominator Jean-Pierre Labiau, curator of exhibitions and decorative arts at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, wrote. “In her work, excess, apparent lack of composition and elements of surprise are united in harmony. Proulx offers a reflection that is anchored in our contemporary world without, however, neglecting a poetic dimension.”
In 2010, Proulx also received an honourable mention from the Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture competition organized by the International Sculpture Center in New Jersey. In 2012, she co-founded a collective studio space for ceramicists, Les Ateliers du Trois Cinquième, in Quebec City. She also teaches ceramics and visual arts at the Maison des métiers d’arts de Québec and Cégep Sainte-Foy.
This was the third year of the RBC Emerging Artist People’s Choice Award, which provides each nominated artist with an opportunity to showcase their work at the Gardiner. To be eligible, participating artists must have been Canadian citizens or permanent residents, out of school and practicing for at least three years; no more than 10 years. They also must have participated in at least one exhibition at a recognized gallery, museum or other arts organization.
Labiau was one of five nominators this year, who also included Katrina Chaytor, ceramics faculty at the Alberta College of Art and Design; Bruce Cochrane, ceramic artist and former head of ceramics at the Sheridan Institute; Gloria Hickey, curator and writer on crafts in St. John’s; and Grace Nickel, professor of ceramics at the University of Manitoba.