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Concluding ART EXPRESS’D

Concluding ART EXPRESS’D

Wrapping Up ART EXPRESS'D October 31, 2017 by Stasa Veroukis-Regina I was sitting on the floor in my office, sorting through all 150 canvasses that were created along the North Route of the ART EXRESS’D and I found two canvasses featuring big red hearts. At that...

Artist Jessie Buchanan Reflects on her Completed Cross-Canada Journey

Artist Jessie Buchanan Reflects on her Completed Cross-Canada Journey

Jessie Buchanan with ART EXPRESS’D driver Kevin

Artist Jessie Buchanan Reflects on her Completed Cross-Canada Journey

October 23, 2017

by Jessie Buchanan

For me, ART EXPRESS’D was connected to the changing landscape of Canada. As a First Nations artist and art therapist, I viewed this project as important because I believe in the power that art has to transcend and unite cultures. Specifically, art creation has been used not only to heal, but has also proved to lend visibility to individual and collective voices. All of the communities I visited were northern Canadian communities, and with our country being the size it is, I think this project is a way for these communities to be heard and represented in the south. So in a way, I view ART EXPRESS’D (and my container exhibit, entitled Voices of the Landscape), as a way to bridge the distance between communities and have new conversations. What I learned from this experience is that no matter where you go in Canada, there are always people who are willing to help. When faced with challenges, I felt very supported by the participants and locals at each stop. I was offered volunteers, help with organizing participants, and even invited over for dinner!

The spirit of Canada 150 was about national pride and transparency, in positive ways and in a spirit of honesty. The celebration of Confederation was received ambiguously in the places I stopped; in many of the indigenous communities I visited I found people had different, sometimes opposing, views of Canada 150. In fact, it is difficult to summarize how people ‘as a whole’ felt about the ‘Canada 150’ thing. Generally speaking, everyone I spoke to was very proud to be Canadian, and almost everyone who came out to the workshops was very enthusiastic. At the same time, there was definitely a sense that there were both positives and negatives when considering the past 150 years and how things currently stand in Canada. I was very interested in ART EXPRESS’D being a vehicle for participants to use their voices to represent how they feel about Canada 150, and so some of the artwork is political in nature. With this being said, most participants used the artwork as a way to show pride, regardless of background, social-economic status, or gender. Pride not only in Canada, but also pride of traditional ancestry, lifestyle and connection to the landscape.

There was so much about the journey that was exciting, but I would have to say that being able to travel across northern Canada was the highlight of it all. I realized that there are many similarities between northern communities, (midnight sun, fireweed, short spruce trees or tundra) but also many differences. The differences are interesting to me, and are what kept me excited at each community I visited. For example, I didn’t realize there were so many different groups of Inuit people and Indigenous people in the north, who all have their own unique languages and traditions. Getting to meet the wonderful people in each location was something that I will take with me always.

Driving the Dempster highway from Inuvik to Whitehorse with my driver, Kevin, in a 22-wheel semi, pulling the ART EXPRESS’D art studio was one of the biggest highlights for me. The Dempster Highway is a must see because you drive through both the Richardson and Tombstone mountain ranges. We had a blast! When we arrived in Whitehorse the shipping container-transformed-art-studio was a mess! It was completely covered in all the dust and mud from the Dempster Highway. We spent a solid afternoon power washing it before the day of my first workshop at the Yukon Arts Centre. Again, I should say that each of the communities I visited had amazing people who came out and participated in the project. I can’t say enough good things about the kind and wise people that I met along the way (and hopefully I will stay in touch with many of them). That’s another highlight for me.

There was this sweet, young girl, October, who came out every day in Inuvik. She would ride her bike over and meet me almost every morning (before school— remember, this was the beginning of June), even if it was just to say hi, but she usually wanted to stick around. She did the most beautiful painting of a sunset. For some reason, we just connected. I often wonder what she’s up to way up there in
Inuvik, and I hope to see her again someday. In some ways, people like October are one of the main reason I decided to take part in this project: I thought that if I can inspire even one person along the way, then it would be worth it. And the funny thing is that October (and many others along the way) wound up inspiring me in ways I hadn’t even anticipated!

This experience has definitely changed my previous perceptions of Canada. I realized how diverse and welcoming our northern neighbours are. In some ways this country is divided between the vast majority to who live in the southern areas, and those whose lives are lived in the immensity of the north. It can be easy to forget both the wisdom and the hardships of living in the north. For many of these communities, what food there is must be flown in or hunted from the land; the prices of ‘fresh’ produce, or in some cases of accommodations, are extremely high. Also, in many ways our northern neighbours are the people who feel the seismic shifts of a changing climate. I just think it’s something that we ‘southerners’ need to remember: these northern people are up there and they deserve our attention. Before going up on the project I definitely didn’t know how much wisdom and beauty and hardship went into life in the north.

I would like to thank the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Government of Canada, for this wonderful, once in a lifetime opportunity. I will always be very grateful for this opportunity as it has forever changed me. There are too many people to name here, but each of the people I met during my journey has made an impact on my life and how I see the world. This country is vast but also full of closeness. We are separated by long distances and yet we rely on each other every day. I feel privileged and honored that I’ve been able to paint and laugh and learn in places that most people do not get the chance to go. In June, during a CBC interview, I was asked what Canada 150 meant for me. I replied then that Canada 150 was ‘truth and reconciliation’. I still feel the same way now: we live in the best country in the world, but in order to make it even better we need to make sure everyone is included as we move forward. We need to be honest about the wounds of the past and the pain of the present, but if we do the hard work, we just might be able to create a future together that brings reconciliation and togetherness. Even though we are all different, we are still one. I feel like northern Canada will always be a place I will return to!

Visitors exploring Jessie’s mobile art studio on Nuit Blanche.

Artist Becky Thiessen Reflects on her Completed Cross-Canada Journey

Artist Becky Thiessen Reflects on her Completed Cross-Canada Journey

Artist Becky Thiessen Reflects on her Completed Cross-Canada Journey

October 23, 2017

by Becky Thiessen

Travelling and making art with others, is a dream come true. We have such an interesting country. Such variety in geography and people. I think about all the various places in Canada that I have gone and marvel at the extreme differences in landscapes and weather and waters. I think about this diversity and then I think about the people. We do live in a special place. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and make art with many Canadians, young and old with so many different stories to tell.

I love when a parent comes with their child and initially think that the art making is for the kids. My goal in my workshops, is to engage everyone. I always encourage the parents to participate and not just with the child, but on their own as well. Many adults have lost that excitement with art making, and I love bringing it back to them. I designed my art project to be very accessible. I adapt it so that the very little can participate, the people with mobility issues, the older people and the ones who haven’t touched paint since grade 3. We all started to draw before we learned our letters and numbers, and I think that people can find their drawing skills again as an adult. My project also engages the most technically skilled, it is a process where anyone, if they want, can participate with success.

I have many stories to share. I have a collection of stencils and each one of them has reminds me of the different people I met along the way. The stencils pay it forward to the next community. In Alert Bay a soon-to-be mom, was making a stencil of a butterfly. She told me that she comes from the butterfly clan and wanted to make a baby bag with a butterfly stencil. That stencil then travelled with me to many other places and used many times over. In Notre Dame-de-Lourdes a young woman, who was also pregnant, was drawn to that butterfly stencil and started using it, I was so thrilled to tell her where it came from and who made it. A little girl on her tenth birthday came and made art with men Saskatoon, she was a little bit apprehensive about the project. She drew a puppy and I cut it into a stencil. That stencil became one of the most popular stencils. I got to meet up with her later and tell her, that her art inspired so many others. It was so fun when two teenage boys wandered into my workshop in Lethbridge and ended up staying for hours.

I had so many joys working with people, teaching them a technique that they might never have known before. It really can be such a joy when the art under the stencil is revealed, so much cheering and laughter. I had a great time sharing my art with so many Canadians. I want art to be accessible and I want people to explore and learn new things and have confidence in themselves to create.

The more I travel Canada and meet others living in this country, the more excited I am to learn about my country and the people who live here.

Becky Thiessen

Visitors explore Becky’s mobile art studio on Nuit Blanche

Becky’s mobile art studio

Artist Evin Collis Reflects on his Completed Cross-Canada Journey

Artist Evin Collis Reflects on his Completed Cross-Canada Journey

Artist Evin Collis Reflects on his Completed Cross-Canada Journey

October 23, 2017

by Evin Collis – East Route

The ART EXPRESS’D project was an important initiative to unite various communities across Canada together through the spirit of free, accessible, collaborative community art making. It was an opportunity to further learn about the great expansiveness of Canada and its richness, diversity, regionalisms and enduring complexities that exist.

There were many exciting moments during the journey. By the nature of the project, there was a strong element of improvisation and spontaneity. The vibrant, colourful murals painted by the participants from Art City that enveloped the container demanded a lot of attention and curiosity.

Each community was very welcoming and eager to animate the project. Many participants liked the idea of contributing to an evolving travelling community art project. We had a multidimensional studio set up where people could choose to paint, work on the life sized papier mâché sculptures or create stop-motion animations. There were plenty of activities for participants of all ages to engage in and jump between!

We began our journey in St. John’s, Newfoundland with the Eastern Edge Gallery who generously hosted us and from there travelled to Halifax where we set up by the water front for Aboriginal Day Live, where we easily worked with hundreds of participants. The following day, we drove the truck and container to a youth centre in the North End, which caused a great deal of excitement in the community and we made some wild art. The next day we drove out and pulled up at an elementary school in Lower Sackville, which was amazing. The level of genuine engagement and the exhilaration of the participants while seeing the funky truck pull up amplified the mood and contributed to the creation of the artworks. After Nova Scotia we travelled to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island where we had a steady stream of participants and created some fantastic animations and a giant papier mâché fox. The group from the C3 icebreaker – which was enroute to the Northwest Passage – stopped by on Canada Day and we made a wacky animation together about their journey.

Moncton was our next stop at the Musée Acadien. Moncton is such a great artistic city and we had a number of groups of fearless young artists who leapt into the art-making. Joliette, Quebec followed where we worked at the Musée d’art de Joliette, which is a fantastic art museum. We had an overwhelming and dedicated response from Joliette and the surrounding communities.

We concluded our tour in Ottawa, in the container village. La Machine, a street robot puppet troupe was in town from Nantes, France so the streets were thick with people out enjoying the spectacles. We had an incredibly popular booth and worked non-stop, making dozens of animations and created a huge cat person out of papier mâché. It was very rewarding experience and having the opportunity to meet with a wide range of people from throughout Canada and the world was special.

There are many different perspectives of Canada and Canadian identity so it was a privilege to listen to everyone’s ideas and experiences as they shared them in the context of the travelling collaborative art project ART EXPRESS’D.

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