Impressions of the Audain Art Museum, Whistler

Since our visit to the Audain Art Museum in Whistler last week, I have been trying to decide why I feel some ambivalence about my experience there.  The Museum is in a forest, and overlooks a meadow and woods.  It is beautifully integrated into the natural setting and is a spectacular building, about 55,000 square feet, which includes six galleries for the permanent collection and an exhibition wing with galleries on two floors.

The Museum is the generous gift of Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa, and includes a large part of their personal art collection, an eclectic combination of British Columbia art, with a strong focus on northwest first nations art, and Canada’s largest permanent display of the works of Emily Carr.


“Forest Light”, Emily Carr, c 1931

“The Dance Screen (The Scream Too)”, by Haida Master Carver, James Hart was the highlight of the tour for me.   It is the only free- standing dance screen in the world, and the only one carved to this level of detail.  Principal animal figures from Haida legends have been brought together in this piece.


The Dance Screen (The Scream Too) by James Hart in the Audain Art Museum

Although I saw many other beautiful pieces of art in the spectacular new museum building, I was surprised that I did not have a stronger connection with the Museum, and wondered why that might be.

I have been comparing my reactions to those I had the first time (and subsequent times) I have visited the Haida Heritage Centre near Skidegate in Haida Gwaii.  From my first visit there in 2007, I was inspired and enriched by my engagement with the works of art, and by the people I met there.    Although it is similar in size to the Audain Art Museum, it serves more diverse purposes.  It houses the Haida Gwaii Museum, Performance House, Canoe House, Bill Reid Teaching Centre, two multipurpose classrooms, a Welcome House area, and Eating House.  It had been a dream of the Haida people for decades to build a place where they would be able to preserve and celebrate their past, as well as celebrate the living culture of their people.  In 2007, when the Centre was finally opened at the ancient village site at Kay Llnagaay, people could take pride in this achievement as the result of the collaboration of the whole community, reflecting the values of that community.  Every piece of art in the museum has meaning to the Haida, as it is part of their history and culture, and that makes the experience, even for a non-Haida person, very powerful.



Haida Heritage Centre Museum, Haida Gwaii

The current holdings of the Audain Art Museum reflect the artistic choices of Michael Audain and Yoshiko Karasawa over many years, and of course, reflect their values and tastes in art.  The Museum was built at Whistler, in part, because the Resort Municipality offered a 199-year lease for $1 a year, not because the donors or the artists had any particular connection to the area.  Although Emily Carr is prominent in this collection, there are few other women whose work is displayed. This is starting to change, according to Darrin Martens, Chief Curator.  A new work by Susan Point, Salish artist, will become part of the collection in the Fall of 2017.  Although not part of the Museum’s works, but right outside the Museum, is Point’s joyful installation “A Timeless Circle.”  It is the newest addition (March 2016) to Whistler’s Public Art Program.


  • “A Timeless Circle” Art Installation, Whistler, by Susan Point, Salish Artist

When James Hart was carving “The Dance Screen (The Scream Too)” he said that doing this work was proving “that we are still here.  We are not gone.  We are not a dead culture.”  If I had seen that work in Haida Gwaii, I would have felt his message very clearly.  Although I loved the piece, I didn’t feel that context in the Audain Gallery.   I think this missing context is what made me less connected to many of the works, than I might have been.   In Haida Gwaii, the works are part of survival of a people and a culture.  In the Audain Gallery, they are beautiful pieces of art, which have been purchased for their beauty.

The Museum has only been open since March of 2016, so will inevitably change over time.  It has developed, out of necessity, as a “top down” project, not a community project.   I hope that when new acquisitions are made, more British Columbians will have input to the direction of the museum, and will be able to make suggestions for educational and cultural events that could be held in that space.  Using the donated works as a base, I hope that the Museum will evolve to be truly reflective of the work of the artists of British Columbia, and will develop to take its place as an integral and critical part of the larger British Columbia arts community.

Pianist: athlete

My eyes wandered back once again, involuntarily, to his forearms.

No elegant, long-limbed evocation of romantic Chopin here. Andrew Czink, pianist, could have been a boxer. Certainly his concert is as much a dramatic athletic feat as a musical exploration. But isn’t that how it is? Isn’t playing any instrument the culmination of long years of intense physical training? Didn’t I have to give up rock climbing when I started learning the standup bass?

Czink’s primary stated goal was to explore a sonorous practice.

”It’s really exploratory. What can happen if I play this note as fast as I can for five minutes? What kind of impetus and motion does this scale compel me into?” the audio engineer, teacher, GLS doctorate candidate and classical performer said of his structured improvisation. “It’s about movement, tactility and sound.”

And so he pummelled. As fast as he could. As loudly as he could. As fiercely as his forearm muscles would allow, and all the while as attenuated, differentiated and delicately phrased as those self-same, well-trained muscles would allow.

Andrew Czink is interested in the embodied physicality of playing music, or “musiking,” a term used by Christopher Small to underline that music should be thought of as a verb rather than a noun. Czink is interested not only in the pitch and duration of notes, but also the noise of the piano hammers hitting strings. “This is a compositional resource,” he said in a pre-performance presentation.

Czink’s 30-minute musical performance seeks to combine his physical body, his mind and emotions, the entire physical piano as well as its conventional ability to create musical tones, a pre-composed musical outline and in-the-moment/in-the-location improvisation.

I heard eight movements. The first consisted of increasingly long and complex variations on a short motif, each separated by held notes which allowed the piano strings to ring and waver into discordant distortions. It was an exploration of pacing and space. I began to worry if I’d last the full 30 minutes.

The second movement involved repetition of a note and variations. The third movement introduced physical, repeated hammering on some notes and included a transition to a more melodic line.

The fourth movement was clearly melodic with the introduction of chords. As a listener, I was now grateful for the more obvious melody and 4/4 rhythm. I found it intriguing that Czink made a mistake in this movement. His face twitched but he kept going. I wondered how many in his audience detected this mistake in a performance piece that was so complex and unpredictable.

The fifth movement may actually have been an extra long 4th movement. Did I miss a transition? He started using a bass note to lead the melody.

The sixth movement had a clear flow. There was phrasal movement in the non-stop flood of repetition and chordal notes.

The seventh movement returned to the clear, physical hammering with roots and fifths in the bass interspersing an ever higher drone reminiscent of The Flight of the Bumblebee. The physical virtuosity came to a climax as Czink shifted on his piano bench to play higher and higher registers.

The eight movement started moving back down toward the bass registers. For me, the sheer physicality of the feat dominated my response. Finally, Czink dropped his entire forearm onto the piano and waited for the sound to subside. I felt as though I’d watched an extended, tension-building athletic feat, and I was grateful for the release.

So here’s the rub. My engagement was largely a matter of watching Czink’s engagement, and Czink’s engagement was inward. Czink didn’t seem to mind, but I think I did.

Czink’s perspective?

“People say you’re expressing yourself in your music. I don’t know if I’m expressing myself. I’m configuring myself,” Czink said. “I have no stories. I don’t think that way as I’m making this stuff.”


— Jenny Lee

6-7 things about the Audain Art Museum

  1. The pile of drums in one corner of the Audain Art Museum is a piece by Indigenous artist Sonny Assu. Curator Darrin Martens explained on his tour that this piece was called ‘57 things’, and that there were 57 drums, one for each year the potlatch was forbidden, and I thought, ooh, that’s good.  I wrote it down.  Later, however, I learned that the piece is not called ‘57 things’ after all– it’s called Silenced: The Hidden.

the hidden

2. I decided to use that information to write a piece for our class blog called 57 things      about our field trip to Whistler. But then I googled artist Sonny Assu and realized there is no basis to the ‘57 things’ idea.  The piece is indeed representing the years the potlatch ban existed, but that was 1886-1951—67 years.  I counted the drums in my photo and that seems to be the number.  (67 is way too many things for a blog though.  Hence my title of 6 – 7).

  1. There was another Sonny Assu piece in the gallery, same theme, and this one is in fact called 1886-1951:


I remembered seeing it at Audain and looking around for the title and artist name and not finding it. It’s only now that I’ve googled Assu that I know it’s his.  Again, the 67 years of the potlatch ban are represented, this time by coffee cups (the status symbols of modern Vancouverites); they’re made of copper because that was a valuable material the Kwakwaka’wakw people used to share.  The cups have been abandoned on a Hudson’s Bay blanket that depicts the colonialism the Kwakwaka’wakw people were forced to endure.

4. When the curator was asked if the First Nations whose masks were displayed here had been consulted on how to display them, he said “I had no time to do that.” I could feel our entire class collectively wince at this answer.  The curator did, however, tell us that the museum makes time and space available for First Nations who want to borrow or use the masks that tell the story of their heritage.  Magnificent!   I want to assume the nations have been told that they can do that, and hope they borrow these pieces and share them if they find them meaningful.

5. The new First Nations masks by a variety of artists and the pieces made by Brian Jungen out of Nike Air Jordans and golf bags are a hopeful wonder. I saw there some of the same cheekiness we read about in Michael Yahgulanaas’s work and I want to see more.

6. Stephen Waddell’s large photograph Termini, stopped me dead in my tracks.


 It’s not First Nations art but it’s also not out of place here; old women wearing plaid blankets and plastic bags on their feet overload their wheelchair cart, and arguments could be made for themes of excess, and shame, and ignorance and relentless progress in this picture.  But the truth is I’m drawn in because I know Waddell.  We went to high school together and he was funny and smart.  Thirty years ago we went on a day long date to the PNE and then shared a kiss the night before I moved away to university and I never saw him again….

 7…. and I think I was supposed to contact him when I came back to visit and I never did. I didn’t make time because I was a dumb teenager. So, while I apologize for this overly personal reflection and weighty metaphor, I will say this: as the Audain Art Museum curator stated, the role of art is to create a dialogue and to communicate.   It’s easy to fail and to let things slide since we’re all busy.  But learn the names of the pieces in your gallery and the pertinent information about them.  Make names of artists and art easy to find.  Open that dialogue with the nations whose masks are displayed at Audain.  Maybe you were too busy before. Start now.

  • Cathy Collis


Statement of Intent for a Creative Project

Final Project Proposal – Essay

Art for Art’s Sake

Art is said to be an expression of the human heart. Art tells us stories about ourselves, a particular time in history, and it leaves an indelible record behind of humankind since we walked out of Africa to other continents over 100,000 years ago. During this course, we have been asked to consider what role the arts play in a city like Vancouver. With the help of many gifted experts like Peter Dickinson, Max Wyman, Susan Mertens, Charllotte Kwon, Tim McLaughlin, Michael Yahgulanaas and other talented artists, critics, scholars and performers, we have opened Pandora’s box and confronted the depth and richness of art and how it reflects life, no matter what city we are in. Art is a portrait of history, whether the current moment or an event in the past, or something buried in the imagination. Painting, dance, sculpture, music, literature, weaving, mosaics and other arts are thought to be the soul of society’s collective memory and very much alive over the centuries in Vancouver and cities around the world. Art in this sense is communication as it allows people from different tribes, cultures and different times to communicate with each other with ceremony and ritual, imagery, sounds and story telling of all kinds. Art is often credited for being a vehicle for social change.  Art can give voice to the politically or socially disenfranchised. It can be a call to activism of all sorts. Art reflects life – past present and future.  Art can capture an event, clarifying a moment in time and giving witness to it. Does art make the world a better place? Has art had an impact upon society and if so what have we learned? Has it fashioned or molded us and taught us to look at each other, the world, and perhaps our city a little bit differently? Has it shaped our opinions and altered how we feel and think?  These are some of the questions that I hope to answer in this paper as we explore art for art’s sake with the help of a few historians, social geographers and various authors over the centuries.


“Art’s Impact on Society.” Accessed May 20, 2017.

“À Une Passante (To a Passerby) by Charles Baudelaire.” Accessed April 16, 2017.

“Baudelaire. Pdf.” Accessed April 16, 2017.

“Benjamin. Pdf.” Accessed April 16, 2017.

“Book of Judith – New World Encyclopedia.” Accessed April 16, 2017.

Brockman, John. Culture: Leading Scientists Explore Civilizations, Art, Networks, Reputation, and the Online Revolution. Harper Perennial, 2011.

Gannon, Megan. “Where Does Art Come from? Indonesian Cave Paintings Deepen Mystery.” Christian Science Monitor, October 9, 2014.

Langer, Susanne K. “The Cultural Importance of the Arts.” Journal of Aesthetic Education 1, no. 1 (1966): 5–12. doi:10.2307/3331349.

“Microsoft Word – Against Interpretation.Doc – Sontag-Against-Interpretation. Pdf.” Accessed April 16, 2017.

“No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear.” The Nation. Accessed April 16, 2017.

Performance, Place, and Politics.” Accessed April 29, 2017.

“The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry – Conclusion (by Walter Pater).” Accessed April 16, 2017.

“The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (by Walter Pater).” Accessed April 16, 2017.

“Walter Benjamin.” Accessed April 16, 2017.

Walter, Chip. “The First Artists.” National Geographic. Accessed May 22, 2017.

“William Morris – Art Under Plutocracy.” Accessed April 16, 2017.

“William Morris, Art and Idealism (PDF Download Available).” Research Gate. Accessed April 16, 2017.

More Than Dance

Wen Wei Dance

Dialogue opens with just enough lighting to see six male dancers sitting at the back of the Scotiabank Dance Centre’s stage facing the audience. In the dimly lit theater they are sitting uncomfortably with each other, silent and postured in the masculinity and tension of young men unsure of themselves. Each from different cultural backgrounds, skin colour, and language, embodying Canada’s multiculturalism. They are dressed in black, ranging in size from slight to brutish, all in the beautiful bodies of dancers.

Communication and the human need to connect inspire Dialogue, by acclaimed Vancouver choreographer Wen Wei Wang. In this work he finds a masterful way to express individuality, cultural difference and sexual orientation as the tension of the first moments of the performance begin. I am reminded of my youth, my insecurities, and of a primal need to compete with the pack.

If what we normally see is dance through a western lens according to Peter Dickinson, Wen Wei Wang is careful to allow each dancer their individuality with themes of ancient classicism woven into modern dance and self-expression. Throughout the seventy-five minute production the dancers; Ralph Escamillian, Andrew Haydock, Arash Khakpour, Tyler Layton-Olson, Nicholas Lydiate and Alex Tam find their own rhythms, form, shape, and movement in their own unique way. There is a vulnerability in each, a tenderness and rage as they put words and feelings to their movement and expression in their moments of aloneness and togetherness.

There are some lighter moments in this production that helps to relieve the emotional tension felt throughout this production and while likely not what the dancers were trained to do, it allowed the audience to breathe. The complexities of the performance are tied together beautifully as Wen Wei Wang captures the heart and soul of the dancers and a very human story with careful attention to every detail and nuance including the music and environment. Dialogue is more than dance, and not to be missed.

Splendours of the Cloth


Wow!  A recent class visit to the Maiwa Handprints atelier accomplished two things for me: a behind the scenes look at the operation and product at one of my favorite stores on Granville Island (even though we visited only the atelier/workshop/research lab area and did not venture into the retail store) and a whole new learning and appreciation for the skill, determination and effort required to marry humanitarian interest and motivation with the complex challenges of working in the traditional context of rural India.

Charlotte Kwon is the owner of Maiwa Handprints Ltd, which she founded almost 3o years ago, selling artisanal cloth, clothing and jewellery, handmade in India. The product is beautiful and unique; a wide array of fabrics both functional and ornamental; wearable works of art, the kind which conjure up for most of us the mystique and romantic lore of colonial India; jewels, the Raj, kings, queens, antiquity! Most of the inventory is made available to the international, particularly North American public, through Charlotte’s ongoing passion for the support and promotion of artisans in India, specifically of the artists involved in the intricate art of hand dying and printing and her status as an international expert in fiber arts and natural dye techniques.  In addition, she is a researcher and documentarian, constantly seeking to preserve the techniques and recipes of the practitioners of this unique art form.  Her nuanced knowledge and love of her life’s work shone through the demonstrations she provided of the various cloths, shawls and fabrics of intricate stitchery and embroidery.  I felt the intense rush of the desire to acquire; the almost physical impulse to possess and own everything we touched.  Such colours; such artistry; some of the handprints sublimely intricate and ornate; others subtle and of beautifully muted elegance: I wanted them all!  William Morris’ sage old advice to acquire and possess only that which is “either functional or beautiful (or both)” suddenly made perfect sense and it didn’t hurt to consider that such a Maiwa purchase would be functional as well as lovely, not a speculative commodity purchase as is common in today’s overheated art world.

Ms. Kwon’s work with the indigenous peoples and artisans of India’s rural areas is both inspirational and humbling; she seems to have succeeded where so many other well intentioned individuals and organizations have failed.  Maiwa’s business plan and mission have been effective in their goal to advocate for the preservation and promotion of traditional artisanal handiwork as well as address humanitarian needs in the communities they work in by raising money through their Maiwa foundation for the small but necessary ‘helping hand’ kind of grants.    In the process, they have managed to navigate the treacherous shoals of humanitarian work while forging a business, evidently profitable enough for them to continue for these many years, as well as the artisans they work with.  Ms. Kwon, along with Tim McLaughlin, business partner, writer and photojournalist, have forged a demonstrably successful model of combining the emotion and passion to save and preserve an art form and the theoretical framework for doing so and presumably, how it could be done again.  Maiwa,  in Cantonese and Mandarin means “a word used to name the language through which art speaks”.  How very appropriate.

Breaching the Red wall

When something is so unfamiliar to me that it feels like a brick wall, I start looking for crumbly places in the mortar. And so, with my knowledge of Haida art and Japanese manga measuring about two on a scale of 10 (and only because I knew both existed), my first move when I got Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’s Red: A Haida Manga, was to check whether there was anything in it I recognized.

With its bright colours and graceful flowing lines, it was beautiful to look at, but its asymmetrical panels that didn’t necessarily read left to right made it seem chopped up and hard to follow. Characters changed size, shape and even colour from panel to panel, and some were so odd that I wondered if they were human, animal or alien creatures altogether. Time and place bounced around unpredictably, and the storyline – for someone unfamiliar with Haida tales – left me filling in blanks and guessing.

It was the critters that first helped me through the Red wall. As someone with a weakness for birds, I began enjoying Yahgulanaas’s very-human expressions on their faces, such as the shocked one on page 9, during young Red’s quest. On page 65, the birds flee just as Red’s brother-in-law is becoming aware of the “whale” following them, and on page 94, they dramatically and forebodingly announce the arrival of visitors to deal with Red’s offence. For me, nature was another entry point to the book. A background swirl of bouncing ocean, big skies, and moss-dripping cedar giants was familiar territory, beautifully rendered.

But humour — in the book, in Yahgulanaas’s class presentation, and in Nicola Levell’s The Seriousness of Play excerpt — was the best way into the story of all. Yahgulanaas’s tale of his very strong forebear who held a leaky canoe together while urging her companions to stop lamenting and get paddling was the story of a man who loves to laugh. I realized I was likely not mistaken that the little green character who greets the visitors to the village of Laanaas was meant to be a figure of fun (pages 51-54), sticking his tongue out and throwing rocks, and finally being hauled off to bed by an angry-looking mom. Levell’s excerpt included Yahgulanaas’s The Head Waiter, with its bored-looking customer apparently ready to trip an obsequious waiter; and Packing Old Raven’s Pole, a deconstruction of Bill Reid’s commemorative totem pole that has penis-like objects slyly scattered here, there and everywhere.

Once I tuned into the critters, the nature, and the humour of Red, the brick wall crumbled. Even though I still don’t get all its nuances, it turns into a recognizable tale of fear, revenge and tragedy. As for the art form, while Haida images and Japanese comic book influences are there, I would argue that there is so much else there too that the book should be viewed as one giant, gorgeous mash-up. How else do you categorize a tale that includes a submarine/whale being depth-charged; a flying canoe; and a greeting straight out of a Western comic book (“So, wot do you two fellars want ta drink?” p. 53)?

There’s method in Yahgulanaas’s fun, as the very title of Levell’s work points out. The portrayal of villages with their totem poles, their salmon-drying racks, their unique customs and characters, forces us to recognize that a complete culture exists there. The depiction of nature and wildlife reveals a different way of looking at the environment – not as something to be subjected to human whims, but as a force of its own to be lived with and in. Yahgulanaas, with his long history of environmentalism and political activism, may have left politics to focus on his art, but he’s using every tool in his artist’s palette to continue that work in another way.

— Carol Volkart

Statement of Intent for Creative Project–Documentary–“Susan Point–Bringing Salish Art Back to the World”

 “Many of us have stood before a painting, listened to a piece of music or watched a piece of choreography and felt a sense of inexplicable, even inexpressible, understanding or revelation.  Our emotions or thoughts—what we might even call responses of the spirit—may have no rational source, yet they reverberate within us with a strange conviction.” (Wyman, 3)

These words of Max Wyman have guided my journey in approaching art over the past weeks, as I have made a conscious attempt to remain open to the possibility of being swept away by the works I have experienced.

Last year, in the GLS travel study tour of Italy, I made every attempt to remain open to the magnificent works of art we visited, and hoped to find the pure joy that Wyman describes.  It was, however, at the Vancouver Art Gallery in May 2017, that I first experienced the gift of a deep and significant emotional connection with art.

As I engaged with the works of Susan Point’s exhibition, “Spindle Whorl” at the Vancouver Art Gallery, I felt an inexplicable sense of joy and inner understanding.  I was connected to the art through the different materials, shapes and colours, and my spirit was touched.

I was also moved by the story of the artist.  At the age of 9,  by government decree, Susan Point was sent away from her home and family to live at the the Sechelt Residential School, where she stayed for five years.  She describes that period of her life as a “heartbreaking time”.  Her powerful installation, “Butterfly Grid”, represents her disconnection from the traditional wisdom and teachings of the Salish, and the loss of her Hul‘q’umi’num’ language. (Point)

At age 28, and with three small children, she began her life as an artist.  She initially didn’t know that Salish art still existed.  The cultural heritage that had existed for thousands of years had been lost after contact with Europeans.  Smallpox and other diseases had reduced the Musqueam population, estimated to have been 25,000 before contact, to fewer than 100 people by 1920.  What might have been left of the culture at that time, was further destroyed by Canadian government law that forced first nations children to attend residential schools from the 1840’s to the final closures in 1996. (Kew). For 150 years, indigenous children were prevented from learning the languages, customs, teaching and practices of their ancestors.  Salish art had almost been lost to the world.

After training in the techniques of the northwest First Nations traditions, Point did some research at the Museum of Anthropology at U.B.C. and discovered some ancient Salish artifacts.  These pieces inspired her, and have guided her artistic practice to this day.  She resolved to bring back the lost Salish art of her ancestors.  (Point, 2007).

In a recent panel discussion at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Jim Kew, Cultural Representative for the Musqueam, described the results of the decimated population and the imposition of residential schools this way.  “We were pushed to the edge of eternity by colonial genocide, but our world staggered on.”  Speaking of Point’s extensive revival of Salish art over the past 36 years, Kew says, “Susan has breathed new life into our future.”

Wyman has described culture, in part, as “the collective awareness, experience and memory that we share with the people around us”, and that artistic creativity becomes the tangible expression of the culture in which it exists, a living affirmation of the shared hopes and visions of a group of people who have chosen to live together.” (Wyman, 14)

With the loss of that awareness, experience and memory, the Salish people lost their culture, and their suffering was intense.  Susan Point has become “a force and a living legend”, (Young), and has motivated and mentored a whole new generation of Salish artists, including her four children.

I knew that through my interaction with Susan Point’s work, I had experienced something exceptional, and wanted to find a way to share this.  I felt that by using images of the art, and providing some of the stories narrated by the artist herself, I would be able to express my emotional connection and experience most effectively.  Rather than a traditional essay, I decided to produce my first documentary film, “Susan Point—Bringing Salish Art Back to the World” (7 minutes, 40 seconds).

This is a personal interpretation of the beauty of Susan Point’s art, and a story of the artist.  It is a story of heartbreak, resilience, strength, creativity and the re-birth of Coast Salish art.   It is a story of a woman who has created masterpieces of beauty we can now experience here, in the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish people, and these can be found in galleries, churches, parks, and public spaces.  It is an assertion of the cultural presence that was almost destroyed, but is now thriving, due to the artist’s genius and persistence.


Works Cited

 Kew, Jim.  “The Influence and Legacy of Susan Point.” Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver. 2 May 2017.  Panel Discussion. (Unedited video supplied by Vancouver Art Gallery to Linn Teetzel)

Point, Susan.  Butterfly Grid (2016).  Art Installation.  Vancouver Art Gallery.  Vancouver, B.C.

—. Susan Point. 2007. Film. BC Achievement Foundation–BC Creative Achievement Awards for First Nations Art.

Thom, Ian, Senior Curator—Historical and Arnold Grant, Audain Curator of British Columbia Art.  Spindle Whorl. 2017. Vancouver Art Gallery.         

Wyman, Max. Defiant Imagination. 1 edition. Vancouver, B.C:  2004. Print.

Young, India.  “The Influence and Legacy of Susan Point.” Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver. 2 May 2017.  Panel Discussion. (Unedited video supplied by Vancouver Art Gallery to Linn Teetzel)



Contemplating Contemporary Art: Michael Nicoll Yaghulaanas at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre

Yahgulanaas’ art engages in social commentary and offers us a post-modern glimpse into our visual culture. How can art disrupt our perception? What makes art more accessible? Why is art relevant?

I’m listening to Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, contemporary artist and political statesman, touch on collective, connected interests in amongst a larger, global community. He readily ties in conversation a range of current issues from climate action to missing indigenous women. While simultaneously, he embodies the tradition of First Nations’ oral history and the lineage of story telling.

A broad public interest in the media of comics, graphic novels, animated cartoons, anime, manga, and computer/video games continues to grow exponentially in contemporary art production. Yahgulanaas’ Red 2009, a classical Haida story in its hybridized form combines Northwest Coast design elements and Japanese manga, is a marker or spirit of its time. It plays on the perceptive shift from a book into a mural; and transforms from a series of formline templates into a collective artwork.

In the theatrical space of the SFU’s World Art Centre, Yahgulanaas asks us to question monumental art. The exploration into a first draft sketchbook to new commissioned work has us look at the fluidity of the collective whole in relation as a book into a large-scale mural. The detailed frames of the story, each with captions in text and designs in watercolour, are abstracted forms of Haida manga showing the artist’s discipline and intensive practice of the accessible, comic form.

When Yahgulanaas references a mobile artist engaged in the world, he speaks to those technological advances and the responsibilities of being connected. Our freedom as a viewer to choose how to engage with collective artworks has links to the traditions of large-scale works. Totem Poles carved and not yet raised gives us pause to see sections of formline designs in more detail when laying a work horizontal. Similarly, a Chinese landscape in a scroll form with sections visible to the viewer at any one time can also focus on a selection of details that delights and creates intimacy in contemplating works.

In a story or the larger, gestalt ability to acquire and make meaning out of a chaotic world, it goes beyond the sum of its parts to a shared human understanding. A work in progress from 2013 is an apt analogy of Haida crests of clans interconnected in a circular form with no primary horizon line. By deliberately engaging with the drawing to turn it either in a counter clock-wise or clock-wise fashion, there are multiple points of viewing.

Yahgulannaas’ rights and privileges to tell First Nations’ stories are on the legitimacy of his lineage. In bridging the Haida story through an “exotic other”, it firmly holds a universal truth there are shared conditions of self-interest, revenge and tragedy when it presents itself. We bear witness to the stories we hear and the telling nature of our collective history in our everyday lives that is deeply woven into the fabric of our cultural heritage.

Listening Beyond Expectation: Andrew Czink at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre

I am bombarded by sound. Staccato notes ricochet around the room, filling my ears with deep tones, then abruptly end. I expect quiet and am instead left listening to an enduring, echoing reverberation. Before silence has a chance to settle, the bombardment begins anew. This time I am attuned to it, more prepared to sift through the layers of sound. I can hear the clear tones of the hammer strike and the lasting ring of its sound. I can hear the percussive flatness of the felted strike itself. This time the end of active sound creation blends more smoothly into the echoing in between. I become aware of pondering spirals, how the beginning of sound flows past the echoes left before it and reaches into the echoes that come after.

The next movement feels more familiar, a melody more distinguishable, and I am able to relax into listening. The tinkling mid-tones mimic a mandolin and I peek through slit eyelids to remind myself that I am listening to a piano. I find myself wondering what instrumental category a piano falls into – strings, percussion, or something else?

A third movement catches me off guard, the higher tones of the upper register less able to blend into the vibrations left as their after effect. I am unsettled by a vague static hum and I long to reach out and still the piano strings with my hands. As the pianist moves back to the lower register, I become aware of the droning sound of an airplane. I settle on crop duster as the most appropriate name I can give this noise. I am looking at a piano and I am hearing a noise I associate with the dusty edges of a wheat field. As I begin to wonder how this sound is being produced, I detect the lower, rumbling hum of a locomotive. This is the deep thrumming buzz you feel in your feet long before you can see an approaching train. I identify the feeling of unease this brings as the knowledge that I am too close to a potential danger. Suddenly, the piece crashes to an end with a tumultuous slamming of hands and arms on keys. I am left with echoes and vibrations and memories and emotions.

The piano that had been arranged for Andrew Czink was misplaced prior to the beginning of his performance at SFU’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre. Had I not been staring at it while he played, I could have been convinced that the piano was never found. Mr. Czink crafts a soundscape through a rapid-fire interaction between his hands and the piano keyboard. He challenges his audience to suspend their expectations of what a piano sounds like and to be open to hearing unexpected things. Consequently, each audience member must draw upon their personal history to inform their experience of his work: when I hear a crop duster, another hears a didgeridoo. Mr. Czink’s structured improvisational style results in a unique performance combining artist, audience, and venue. There is a particular beauty in knowing that the work you are hearing cannot and will not be replicated. In his fleeting, evolving, responsive frenzy of vibrations and echoes, Mr. Czink offers us a series of reminders. We are reminded to pay attention. We are reminded to be curious. We are reminded of the importance of experimentation and play. We are reminded of the potential for connection through shared experience and the energy generated by turning to a fellow audience member and wondering: “What did you hear?”