The Burrard Inlet Trail Shrine is an art installation that represents the intersection of a number of ideas and concepts from this course, through it is centered on 2 major conceptual themes; play and animism.
The inspiration for play comes from the work of Michael Nicoll Yagulanaas. I am also using formal studies of play to inform the work such as Ludology the study of game playing, and play psychology. The second major theme guiding this work, Animism, is inspired by Walter Benjamin’s ideas in Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction where he suggests that both natural and art objects have an aura that radiates from their beauty and authenticity. Benjamin’s ideas that art has ritual, magical, and religious functions combined with an aura stemming from authenticity have some distinct resonance with Animistic spiritual beliefs, rituals, and practice.
In the Burrard Inlet Trail Shrine am using play in a number of contexts: play as in an attitude of whimsy and fun, playing across media, playing outside of what is considered traditional art showing spaces (like a gallery) and how that space interacts with art, playing with the interactivity of audience, playing with collecting, the theatricality of play, playing with preconceived ideas of what art is, and playing outside of my comfort zone by trying new things. I am attempting to create a space that distances itself slightly from reality that evokes fantasy, myth, and ritual that celebrates the aura within both natural and art objects. I have set up the installation on the Burrard Inlet Trail (hence the name.) As a location it appeals to me as the Trail is in both a residential area of the city of Burnaby and in a natural area at the same time. This Trail is also in the vicinity that I call home so it has a certain feel and familiarity to me. In Burrard Inlet Trail Shrine I worked relatively intuitively allowing the process to guide the form of the installation that was anchored in research and inspired by visual images of Japanese Shinto shrines and other animistic nature shrines, the work of Andy Goldsworthy and some imagery from the video game Skyrim. To create the shrine I used a combination of found objects and things that I sculpted. I recreated some small Skyrim inspired objects by sculpting them with clay and painting them. I also displayed some of the items in bowls and glasses that I purchased from a thrift store. In addition I went to the site beforehand, collected some rocks, brought them home and painted them, then re-incorporated them back into the shrine. I am attempting to engage the audience (anyone who happens to walk this trail) into an interactive Seeing or deep observation as inspired by Anne Dillard. I will revisit the shrine every few days for a week or so to see if any interaction or participation happened with the piece. I’m not sure if or when I will take it down or not, I will decide once I see how people have reacted to it and how it reacts to the elements.
There is a posture to fine art that implies that it is only art if it is elevated to a place where few will see it, and even fewer will understand it. Art’s aura, as described by twentieth century cultural critic, Walter Benjamin, is the cult value and relative distance that make it unattainable. How does the fact that it seems just out of reach for most of us make it more valuable? And why does the value of art seem to be intrinsically tied to this inaccessibility, rarity and exotic nature?
The Audain Art Museum opened in March 2016 in Whistler’s Upper Village. This is a not-for-profit institution founded on major donations from Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa. The building, designed by Patkau Architects of Vancouver, takes delicious advantage of its forested location and mountainous “nest” with gorgeous views from its walkways. It boasts “one of the world’s most important collections of Northwest Coast masks”, two dozen Emily Carr works and a collection of impressive works by E.J. Hughes on loan from Jacques and Margaret Barbeau. I was able (I will avoid saying “privileged”, even though privilege was exactly what it was) to view the museum with a group under the guidance of Chief Curator, Darrin Martens on a recent Saturday. It is a relatively small, but impressive collection of about 200 works.
James Hart, The Dance Screen (The Scream, Too), detail. Photograph by Casey Hrynkow.
I came away with a feeling of discomfort that I am having trouble resolving. I have less of a problem with this new collection than I do with how it came to be collected and how and where it is being displayed. The works in the Audain Museum cover British Columbia art, from time immemorial to present day, within a narrow window of one collector’s tastes. Everything from Nuu-chah-nulth masks of well in excess of 100 years old, to works barely one year old, made by Rodney Graham. The majority of this collection most recently belonged to one family. They had the wealth and the knowledge to accumulate the works that are now the backbone of the Audain Museum. These pieces were kept in the the private homes and offices of a small group of people until the Audains decided to make this collection a legacy to the public. It is a noble gesture. And if I posit that one of the implied roles of the wealthy is sprinkling bits and pieces of their good fortune down to the common folk, then this is indeed a grand gesture. The ecology of art in western society runs on this top-down feeding of the system, and it also makes it less available to the rank and file. This particular museum is located an hour and a half by car from Vancouver, in Whistler, to be “found” by those who have a level of education that arouses them to seek it out, in a destination known for its expensive accommodations, restaurants and sporting pursuits. And, of course, there is an $18 admission fee to pay. This art is elevated by its inaccessibility, its rarity and its exotic nature. Some of it had been purchased directly from the artists, some (in the case of First Nations art) from other collectors who may originally have acquired it nefariously and then moved it up the value chain through barter and sale.
When we view this art we see it, consciously or unconsciously, through a lens coloured by perceptions of exoticism, rarity and wealth — perhaps even envy. This isn’t unique to the Audain Museum, but the choices that were made in this modern setting do nothing to turn the tide of elitism in art circles in our culture. The true accessibility of art in our society is a discussion worth having.
Much as art is described by Walter Benjamin as having its own aura, the space it’s situated in too has its own unique aura that affects the way we experience the art. There is a relationship between the art, the space it is situated in, and the identity of the audience. It is through this relationship that I will review Maiwa as both an art and a business space.
Maiwa is located on Granville Island. I worked on Granville Island in the public market for just over 2 years so my relationship with the space is both tainted by, and knowledgeable from that experience. The overall feel for most people on Granville Island I would say is a relaxing, slower paced, and entertaining environment. It is a partially staged environment, like a mild Disneyland for arts and craft. The staged space has been readopted and re-contextualized by the people working there every day which in a sense makes it authentic. Many people visiting the island, particularly in the summer months are on vacation, or in weekend mode. This touristy vibe guides the pace of the island. It is so influential that people forget about simple things like not to walk in front of moving cars. The experience of browsing in and out of locally owned small stores and studios full of art and artisanal items provides an entertaining experience for tourists, and a low aggression sales environment for them to buy their unique souvenirs. Most of the locals coming on errands do their shopping early in the morning before the crowds, and have a pre-planned trajectory for getting in and out fast. Conceptually the space and feel of Granville Island is a fitting location for Maiwa as a business/arts space.
Our class was directed upstairs into the Maiwa ‘library’ of fabrics to be read. As soon as I entered the space I felt completely welcomed by the transformative beauty of colour, pattern, and textures of fabric. As a person who compulsively collects thrift store scarves (and covers their walls, lamps, and tables with them) the space felt extremely comfortable and at home. I was also immediately aware of how blandly I was dressed and was overcome by a desire to reinvent my wardrobe with the beautiful fabrics around me. The handmade, one of a kind, labour intensive cloths at Maiwa are heavily embedded with the cultural memory and identity of the places they were made, and with the personality of the textile makers. The cloths aren’t being used for traditional purposes as they once may have been. They have now partaken in the ceremony of (a perhaps gentler) capitalist exchange. However, I would feel no guilt in buying one of these beautiful garments as I find the Maiwa business model ethically preferable to many clothes shopping alternatives for a multitude of reasons. Alas my budget does not allow it. While being surrounded by the Maiwa textiles my mind led me to the Japanese idea that the wearer of a garment embeds a piece of their soul into it. I am comforted in thinking about this when thinking about the future of each neatly displayed and price tagged piece of wearable art in the Maiwa store. There is an evolving relationship in each textile between the traditional cultural and ritualistic contexts of each Maiwa garment and the continued re-contextualization through the cultural and ritualistic experiences of the new wearer. I would recommend to anyone who has respect for the knowledge, history and labour of craft, and an eye for beautiful things to visit Maiwa. If the wallet allows, and the desire grabs you, you too can participate through a wearable performance, in the dynamic life of a Maiwa Textile.