Monday, 30 November 2015

The Salton Sea Eco-Disaster - I cannot look away

Phyllis Schwartz—Vacant
This series of photographs by Phyllis Schwartz  is a departure from her work in abstract alternative process photography. The images are monochromatic and stark as well as rivetingly close to their subject matter. What has caused this departure, especially when the work has been simmering since the winter of 2011? Having witnessed the ecological destruction on the shores of the Salton Sea, California’s largest body of water, the images were just too graphic and unworldly. How does a visual artist work with a set of images that seem implausible, yet at the same time so captivating? What are the implications of creating a series around these images that wander between a work of art, a statement of witnessing and a political commentary on our economically driven ecological disasters?
Phyllis Schwartz — Evidence

In the end one cannot really look away, as Phyllis Schwartz expresses in her subtitle, without becoming even more complicit than one already is creating these images. To look away is to do what is so often done, to pretend we are not part of the problem. We are collectively the authors of this series; even in Vancouver, the food grown in this area that flows 15,000 tons of phosphorus and nitrogen into this landlocked sea is the food we shop for on our grocery shelves. The cars we drive that are made in Mexico in the maquiladoras just across the border, emit a toxic stew mixed with sewage, and this flows down hill across the border into the Salton Sea. This artificial river is now the most toxic waterway in North America, we should not be looking away.

Phyllis Schwartz — Diminished
Schwartz's images are simple yet draw in the viewer; they are micro-compositions of areas no larger than a dessert plate. Abstract in presentation and mostly black and white with hints of colour, one can not help but think of Edward Weston’s work and the intimacy he expressed with the objects he photographed. Yet the images are not as subtitle, and unlike Weston, the images are much less rooted in the post modern culture that favours irony while making allusions to knowledge. It also seems to lash out at the pseudo-modern world of around us where iPhones and social media often gives the impression that one is immersed when often one is overtaken or swallowed up.

Phyllis Schwartz — Frozen

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Telling Stories — inside the exhibition catalogue

BestB4 Collective launches their exhibition catalogue for Telling Stories — a visual arts exhibition this Saturday. Sassamatt Images has produced this catalogue with contributions from all exhibiting artists. The bi-lingual exhibition catalogue, translated by Toni Zhang McAfee and Sophi Liang (courtesy of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver), includes a curatorial essay by Alison Keenan and Phyllis Schwartz, exhibition images and artist biographies. 

Telling Stories — the exhibition catalogue has been designed by Edward Peck and Jim Friesen. Both Peck and Friesen draw upon their respective backgrounds as writers and photographers who design books. Their sense of photographic composition is translated into a rhythmic sequence of images between the covers of their books. Edward Peck’s publishing career began in the 1970s as an editor of Canadian fiction, poetry and drama anthologies and assistant editor of the Canadian Fiction Magazine. His recent publications include exhibition catalogues and photographic documentation of artist studios. Jim Friesen studied journalism and creative writing at Red River College in Winnipeg and digital photography at Langara College, in Vancouver. As a poet and independent photographer, he has collaborated with Stephen Gross, of Gravity Press, to design and print books of their own work, as well as volumes of poetry for other writers.

This limited edition exhibition catalogue will be available at the BestB4 Collective's Artist Tour and Exhibition Catalogue Launch on Saturday, 29 November (2-4 pm) in the On-Tak Cheung Exhibition Hall in the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum (555 Columbia Street at Keefer, Vancouver). The catalogue will be available  for purchase at a special event price ($20). It is also available for purchase on line

Monday, 23 November 2015

Water and Mountain — an inspired installation

June Yun: Water and Mountain Installation detail
Mountains and Water June Yun's installation, was inspired by Banff’s sounding mountains and water and created during her  six week an IntraNation Artists Residency program in Banff Art Centre in the Summer of 2004. Aboriginal artist Shirley Bear Canadian introduced her to traditional papermaking; the process started with tree bark and then flowers, leaves and grasses were embedded into the paper. During the papermaking process, Yun transformed her experiences into the following poem.

Like jade
Soft, heals your heart
Gives you life and comfort
No one can live without it
It is Yin
It is female
Soft flannel
Like with friends or lovers
Sweet, lingering…

When the moon is reflected on such water,
Waves galloping like white horses
Mountains loom with peaks
Like strong, solid shoulders
They are Yang!
When the great billows roll and smash against rocks
Mountains frame water a garden,
Give water a home
They are talking to each other for thousands, thousands years
A partnership forever…

Water, mountain (soil), wood, metal and fire are different
They all exist in the same world
and are a part of world
Water plays music for mountains
Mountains stand beside water, always
They are Yin and Yang’s harmony
Nature’s harmony.

The “Mountains and Water” poem inspired drawings, words and symbols on the paper, using ancient Chinese pictography style calligraphy to draw Yun's thoughts and what she saw in Banff (deer, clouds, river, birds, flowers, Yin and Yang, mountain and water). It extended and enriched her poem, and also reconnected her to her own ancestral tradition.

Mountains and Water is a three dimensional installation poem above. It may be read as a metaphor of Canadian life, nations within nation (IntraNation), a reflection of one's personal nature and culture [water, mountain/soil, wood, metal and fire], and the harmony of community sharing the mountains and water. Like the bark that eventually started a new work of art, June Yun started her new life in this landscape. The lights in the installation lead the way to a hopeful future to built in a new country. 

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Strathcona Elders Telling Stories — Strathcona Elementary Students on an Interview Assignment

Joe Wai tells Strathcona students about architecture in their community
(image courtesy of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver)

Strathcona Elders were interviewed by students from Strathcona Elementary School's as part of a Best B4 Collective community project. Participating students on this interview assignment are from Annie Simard and Cristina Fogale's grade 4/5 class.  They interviewed George Chow, Hilda Ho, Peggy Lee, Beverly Nann, Leander Szeto, Joe Wai, Bill Wong, Bing Wong and Larry Wong.

Telling Stories—a visual art exhibition presents stories by nine visual artists working in photography, fibre, painting, sculpture and installation is an exhibition designed to invite viewers into the gallery space to tell their own stories. Strathcona students had the opportunity to explore the visual stories as well as listen to stories from elders who grew up in the community presenting the exhibition. 

The students interviewing elders and listening to their stories have woven connections across generations and cultures. They have heard details about long, interesting lives that help students learn community history. Most of the elders attended Strathcona Elementary School, and in their interviews, students learned about what has changed and what remains the same. These interviews will be published on a future blog and displayed in the foyer of the Vancouver School Board in the New Year. 

George Chow tells his story to Strathcona students on assignment
(image courtesy of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver)

Larry Wong Interviewed by Students from Strathcona Elementary School
(image courtesy of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver)
Bing Wong tours Stratcona students through the Chinese Canadian Military Museum
(image courtesy of the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver)

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Jim Friesen — Poet Photographer

Jim Friesen: Pitt Lake — Insuflation
Jim Friesen’s photography reads as a metaphor of oncoming disaster or the release of tension, implying the cyclical nature of storytelling. Having studied both literature and photography, he is interested in the dynamic between words and images and how the imagination is stimulated by their collaboration. Friesen's landscape series in Telling Stories is an experiment in that direction. His titles are doors to works of art, invitations to dwell in the visual space and contemplate. The sky, particularly, becomes a character in his photographic narrative.  The tension, meteorological and emotional, awaits a rapid pressure drop. 

In his own words, Photographs are an exploration. Photographers explore the world, and through their choices they explore themselves. The viewer enters the process which creates a narrative. Insufflation was the word that triggered the idea for the four-photo series in this show. It describes a process in both forensic sciences that has to do with revealing fingerprints. It also describes an arcane practice in the exorcism ritual. I hoped for titles that added a layer of meaning and inspired the imagination without limiting the responses of the viewer.

Best B4 Collective Artist, June Yun
speaking to Strathcona Elementary School visitors
about her appreciation for  Jim Friesen's Pitt Lake — Insuflation

Sunday, 15 November 2015

School Tours Begin ~ Strathcona Students Visit Telling Stories — a visual art exhibition

Daphne Harwood welcomes students from Strathcona Elementary School

Students from Strathcona Elementary School visited Telling Stories—a visual art exhibition in the On-Tak Cheung Exhibition Hall on Friday 13 September. Grade 4/5 students in Annie Simard's class were  toured by visual artists Daphne Harwood, Alison Keenan and Phyllis Schwartz.
Questions about Imagination Market Quilts

Daphne Harwood challenged students to consider the story about impact of neighbourhood change in her quilts documenting of the demise of the building that housed Imagination Market. Alison Keenan posed questions about her series Avian Fables, paintings about the territory shared by avian and human inhabitants. Phyllis Schwartz asked students to consider the back story of food production and industry in North America, showing photographs of resultant environmental devastation.

Best B4 Collective artists will work with these students and their classroom teachers to learn interviewing and story writing skills for a project about Chinatown Elders. These students will return to the Chinese Cultural Centre to meet these elders to  interview them so that they can write stories about their lives. These interviews, along with photographs, will appear in subsequent blogs.
Looking for stories in Edward Peck's On the Wall Series

Students notice camouflage and landscape features in Debra Sloan's Rider to the Coast
Alison Keenan listens to students telling stories 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Story behind the Story

Alison Keenan, Avian Fables 3 (2015)
Alison Keenan’s paintings explore stories in the surreal bodies of land and water, aided by avian guides, harbingers of seasonal and environmental change. These avian guides alert the viewer to a territorial power struggle. The constructed story shows a change in scale and perspective: angry birds eye their occupied territory from this perspective. From a bird’s eye view, there is a claim to land currently occupied rather than shared for mutual coexistence, and an aggressive stance invites speculation about each bird’s next move.

In her own words, Alison Keenan tells the story behind the story of her series on show in Telling Stories: a visual art exhibition. 
When I create a new body of work I often think of the possibilities of a series of paintings or drawings. Images/ideas start to percolate at the research level- although the process often starts with note taking, loose papers/jottings, conversations.
A gift of binoculars was the entry point for sweeping the skyline and focusing on wildlife. At some point I began to recognise bird migrations in spring and fall and realized that the life patterns and survival of birds was completely reliant and to some extent controlled by environmental climate changes. During many conversations/discussions, my observations on the changing weather patterns and human behaviour now shifted to the plight and narrative of birdlife.

Alison Keenan's work is currently featured in the current Emily Carr Alumni Calendar.  

Friday, 6 November 2015

Happy to Meet You

Colette Lisoway, Happy to Meet You (detail)
Creative and inspirational printmaker, Colette Lisoway's six-pannel print  installation says it all on opening day: Happy to Meet You. Her screenprints interweave her connections in the community and that of shared stories, camera-captured observances and chance encounters. The pannels buzz with activity and urban commerce, all connected together in a heartfelt welcome to all.

In her own words, Colette Lisoway says: The people and places I have yet to discover have always been my greatest fascination. Throughout life and wherever I am in the world, I have always been compelled to create connections with people in the communities in which I find myself. I am constantly awed and inspired by the generosity of strangers and their willingness to share their lives and their stories with me. These relationships continue to fuel and inform my personal narrative; the basis of my current work. Contained within layers of ink and images, Happy to Meet You, is the entwining of shared stories, camera captured observances and chance encounters in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

The Best B4 Collective are happy to meet the public at our opening Saturday, 07 November (2-4 pm) in the On-Tak Exhibition Hall at the Chinese Cultural Centre (555 Columbia Street at Keefer). Check out the Best B4 Collective Events Page for more community events throughout November and December.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Daphne Harwood Continues the Great Storytelling Tradition

Non/Traditional Quilt: Scraps from Urban Source & Me
The Imagination Market Quilt Story by Daphne Harwood is a continuation of her work in the great storytelling tradition. Her quilt series exhibiting in Telling Stories: a visual art exhibition nuances the clash of urban erasure using panelled images as a means of comprehending the transformation caused by an uncontrollable urban development process. It begins with a quilted map of Vancouver pinpointing the location of Imagination Market and in the quilting form transforms to map urban transformation.
Daphne Harwood's Much Depends on This Quilt is a ten quilt series honouring the people and things that make quilt-making possible. This body of work is part of a permanent collection belonging to the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Mass. It was exhibited in Great Quilts, Great Stories (2012). Follow Sew Daphne for more quilting stories. More about Great Quilts, Great Stories.