15 June 2019


Exhibition Reviews | Joanna Wreakes 

For this Exhibition Review we venture out west to Edmonton and the McMullen Gallery, located inside the University of Alberta Hospitals. An intriguing space, the free public gallery looks to reach a wide audience including medical staff, patients, and the greater public. Currently showing at McMullen Gallery is The Future All At Once, a solo exhibition of work by Lauren Crazybull, Alberta’s first provincial Artist in Residence.

View of The Future All At Once in Edmonton's McMullen Gallery. Photo courtesy of Joanna Wreakes

The exhibition features 10 portraits she completed during a recent residency at McLuhan House in Edmonton. Each portrait represents someone that the artist knows personally.

With windows facing into the hospital, Crazybull’s vibrant work draws in visitors passing by who may not have realized that the gallery was there at all!

Looking into the gallery from the hospital's main hallway. Photo courtesy of Joanna Wreakes
Upon entering, viewers are immediately greeted by a large introductory text panel, featuring a reproduction of one of the portraits in the exhibition and the same bright colours found throughout. The introductory panel was written by the artist. In it, she speaks of using portraiture to confront (mis)representation of Indigenous peoples. The title of the exhibition, The Future All At Once, was inspired by thinking both back to her childhood and towards shaping Indigenous Futures - on this topic the artist says "today is a future for our past selves."

The artist and Tyler Sherard, executve director of Friends of University of Alberta Hospitals and McMullen Gallery, work on installation of the exhibition while being filmed by a local journalist. Photo courtesy of Joanna Wreakes.
The majority of works in the exhibition are acrylic on unstretched canvas and all are unframed. Each piece is installed in such a way that it appears to be almost floating off of the walls. By not installing the artworks flat to the wall, beautiful shadows and slightly curled edges of the canvas are visible. The effects that are created here only add to the depth of the work. Though the gallery is relatively small, it’s easy to lose track of time gazing at the expressive portraits.

Crazybull's work is also extremely appropriate considering the location of McMullen Gallery and mandate of the Friends of University Hospitals, the non-profit that overseas the gallery, collection, and other arts programming in the hospital. The benefit of art on people's wellness is beginning to be discussed in both the arts and healthcare realms - remember when the news broke about doctors prescribing museum and art gallery visits? The bright colours and use of portraiture in this setting can be extremely beneficial in aiding patient, staff, and visitor well-being. 

"Power and Vulnerability" by Lauren Crazybull. Photo courtesy of Joanna Wreakes.

Crazybull will also be completing a short residency at McMullen Gallery during the exhibition. From July 24th to 26th, she will be working in the gallery from 1 to 3 each day. Members of the public are encouraged to visit during this residency to see the exhibition and engage with the artist.

To finish this review, a powerful quote from the artist that is included in the introductory text:

“I believe that our choice to be vulnerable in our healing & uprising has created power."

"Self Portrait" by Lauren Crazybull. Photo courtesy of Joanna Wreakes.

The Future All At Once
opened on June 8th and runs until August 4th. If you find yourself in the Edmonton area make sure to take a trip to McMullen Gallery to see it!

14 June 2019


Heritage Moments | Selin Kahramanoglu

Ready to test your knowledge?

This month's post will focus on the varying levels of significance associated with cultural heritage. Now, we could easily write a whole book series on this subject, but I want to give you a light-read for the summer. So... here is another quiz to get you thinking about it!

As mentioned in the last post, this quiz is a little challenging because the significance given to a cultural heritage item will be different for everyone. Often, museum professionals and archivists (my other love) are faced with the problem of limited storage space and resources. As much as we'd like to, we can't keep everything! This quiz will hopefully give you an idea as to why some cultural heritage is worth keeping over others.

Image result for holi
An image depicting Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colours. Source.
For the following items, decide whether we should SAVE or TOSS each example of tangible or intangible cultural heritage. Remember: Cultural heritage can be material or immaterial, and it represents the legacy of a group of people, which has been preserved for future generations.
  1. Oral History of Lake Saint Anne: A Métis story about the healing properties and spiritual energy associated with the waters.
  2. "The Entombment": An unfinished painting by Michelangelo, depicting the burial of Jesus Christ after the crucifixion.
  3. "Purple Rain" Cassette Tape: A 1984 song by Prince.
  4. Two thousand pieces of pumice stone: These tiny 3 cm x 3 cm pieces of volcanic debris are from Pompeii.
  5. Mapuche Language: Spoken primarily in parts of Chile and Argentina, there are approximately 100,000 speakers in the world.
Here we go! Answers will follow!

Oral History of Lake Saint Anne: SAVE

The whole purpose of oral histories is to keep telling them to the next generation! We cannot discard an example of intangible heritage that is closely linked to the present-day functions of a culture. Storytelling that is representative of a culture's ideologies and practices can be preserved by talking in-person, or by audio-visual recordings, and should be considered a priority. This is particularly important for indigenous groups, but intangible heritage is generally valuable for every culture.

"The Entombment": SAVE

Now, if an artwork is incomplete and we cannot communicate with the owner, there are all kinds of debates about whether the piece should be sold or displayed at all. However, unfinished work by a famous artist, such as Michelangelo, now that's definitely a keeper. For art historians, it is rare and fascinating to study the creative process of a well-known painter. To add, it is rumored that Michelangelo stopped working on this painting, because he was commissioned to start his best known work, the "David" sculpture. The context of the cultural heritage item is important!

"Purple Rain": TOSS

I'm not saying that Prince's music is bad. I'm saying that cassette tapes are not worth keeping. In this technological era, music is digitally preserved. If an archive chooses to keep a cassette tape, this means that they also need a cassette player, and they need to keep it in good condition for a long, long, time. How many cassette tapes should they keep? For how long? There will be a time when these formats are no longer accessible, so we should update these records to their latest versions, before discarding the old ones. 

Pumice Stones: TOSS

Do you know how many pumice stones exist from the eruption of Vesuvius? Many. I don't have space in my storage closet for all of those rocks. Not only that, but pumice stones are created all the time, and are not unique to just Naples. (You can even buy them at the drug store.) It's true that the ancient site of Pompeii is historically significant, which is why I suggest the local museums keeps a couple of stones from that particular event, if any. No more than that! It's interesting to preserve a piece of history, and perhaps new information can be discovered about the artifact in the future. Most importantly, this piece of natural heritage needs to stay at it's site of origin, preferably in situ.

Mapuche Language: SAVE

Real talk: The sad truth is that you don't always have the power to save cultural heritage. The amount of money your institution may have, the number of resources, or the level of expertise of your staff does not matter. Much like oral histories and ceremonies, languages are difficult to preserve because it depends on the participation of the public. You cannot keep having Mapuche speakers, if no one is willing to learn the language. We cannot force people to see the value in preserving cultural heritage. The best we can do is educate others on why it is important to keep, work as a team, and try to save it for as long as possible.

That's it for this month's post! Deciding to save or toss cultural heritage is never easy, because we hope to keep it all. Everyone has their own opinions on what is important to preserve. To help facilitate our choice, we assess the needs of the public, the item's importance to future generations, and our available resources for preservation. See you next time for our final quiz!

Further Reading
- "Lake Saint Anne" as told by Marge Friedel, a Métis Elder from Edmonton
- University of Saskatchewan Indigenous Studies Portal for oral histories
- More examples of unfinished artwork
- The Guardian's list of endangered languages in the world

12 June 2019


A Muse Bouche | Jordan Fee

Squinting my eyes from the sunlight, I step over a small wire fence and approach a large grouping of animals, all of whom are breathing heavily between bites. Just moments before this, a farmhand has tossed a box of eggs into the pen, letting them all shatter on the ground. Staring at the collage of brightly coloured shells and yokes, I wonder why the decision was made to throw all of this valuable produce away. Noticing my perplexity, the farmhand informs me that the calcium in the eggshells holds great nutritional value for the animals. Smiling, I think to myself how consumers in the downtown core of Toronto would happily pay seven to nine dollars for a carton of the very same eggs. What a life to lead.

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Fee
Why is it that these animals were eating so well? Perhaps it is because of the story they tell; theirs is a story that could have ended a long time ago had it not been for the efforts of a small handful of passionate farmers, dedicated to conserving the biological wealth of a time long gone. It is a story of intangible cultural heritage, one that is generally overlooked in a time when the word agriculture is met with general disdain.

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Fee
Tamworth, Berkshire, Old Spot, Saddleback, Hereford. Do any of these names ring a bell? Perhaps not, since we tend to know them all by one name: pig. It is not unreasonable that we think of pigs in the singular; in fact, there has been much effort put into ensuring that producers and consumers alike have had a singular view of these animals. In 1955, following the end of WWII food rations, the British government issued the Howitt report, which claimed that the largest threat to the British pork industry was the diversity of breeds that existed throughout the country. The report advised farmers to limit their production to just three breeds: the Large White, the Landrace, and the Welsh. 

To be honest, I had never thought that the words “pig” and ‘biodiversity” could be placed within the same sentence. That was until about three years ago, when I visited a small farm, located about an hour and a half west of Toronto. I had heard of some specific breeds of pig at this point, like the now relatively famous Black Iberian pigs, which produce the most expensive ham in the world. 

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Fee
When I arrived at this farm three years ago, I noticed immediately how unique and colourful the pigs were. Tamworth pigs have reddish-brown hair (hence their nickname, the Ginger Pig), while Berkshires are black like the Iberico pigs, only with white hair around their hooves. The Saddleback pigs, which as I have learned are a particularly rare breed, have a long pale stripe running along their shoulders. Each of the breeds also have distinct ears and snouts by which you can distinguish them. I was amazed when the aforementioned farmhand listed off all of these names, none of which I had really heard before. Just two weeks ago, I found out about yet another breed of pig, the Meishan, which is at this point critically endangered.

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Fee

I understand that this topic may seem like somewhat of an odd choice, but I honestly believe some of the breeds that I’ve mentioned are a part of Canadian heritage, and that these animals should be acknowledged as such. In some cases, I am saddened by the lack of communication between Toronto and the surrounding areas. Anyone with access to a car (which, I understand, can be quite difficult) can spend time on a summer day learning about the amazing agricultural work taking place just outside of the GTA in Ontario's Green Belt. I may have learned more at that farm than I ever have at a museum.

Photograph courtesy of Jordan Fee

Finally, I want to say that I completely acknowledge and understand the ambivalence that some people feel towards the agricultural industry. However, the farm that I have written about in this article is not engaged in mass production in any way, shape, or form. In fact, he is part of a global population of farmers that are working very hard to sustain their livelihood for years to come.  It is certainly true that industrial agriculture has become somewhat of a sprawling mess, but I do think that one could probably make the same argument about cities like Toronto.

10 June 2019


The Grad School Guide | Emma Puddicombe

While I'm sure all of you will take the time to read this post, I would like to call out a few people in particular who I will be talking to for the next five hundred words or so:
  1. Those of you who have never been to Toronto.
  2. Those of you who have only been to the Airport in Toronto.
  3. Those of you who have never lived in a city the size of Toronto before.
Hi. How you doing? Have no idea what to expect when you move to Toronto? Great. Let's discuss this by identifying the five stages you will go through upon moving to this city.

QEW Toronto sign
Toronto Sign (Source)
Stage 1: Excitement.

“This is going to be amazing!” Yes, we have all thought this, and it’s a fair thought. Toronto is an amazing city full of cool new things to do and experience. One could even say it’s the Canadian equivalent of moving to NYC. You spend your time fantasizing about what your days will be like and how amazing your life is going to get. And why not? You’re young and you have a bright future ahead of you. This is the time when you start to research the city and make lists of everything you want to do and everywhere you want to go. The sky is the limit!

Stage 2: Denial.

So you’ve moved to Toronto, and it’s...different. You think back to your fantasies and realize it’s not anything like you pictured. You don’t let yourself think too much, though, and focus on only positive energy and thoughts. Sure, you don’t know how to get around the city because you’ve never taken the subway or buses before. Sure, you don’t know where the closest grocery store is and haven’t bought groceries in a week. None of that matters! You are in Toronto and everything is going to be amazing!

Stage 3: Fear.

Positivity is dead. You are in full survival mode now. The idea of traveling anywhere other than Bissell Building and the route home sounds like a deathwish. Any time you watch a crime show you end up sleeping with the lights on for a week. The city is just so big and you don’t know how to take everything in. Logically, you know nothing is really going to hurt you, but the other day you took a wrong turn trying to find a Staples and your heart rate still hasn't come down.

Stage 4: Bargaining.

It starts with small things, like telling yourself that if you run outside every day, then you don’t need to go to the gym that you still aren’t used to. Next, you tell yourself that it’s okay to use all the groceries money on takeout because it’s still buying food. Soon enough you’re making all kind of promises to yourself that deep down you know aren’t true. If you see your friends every day in class then you don’t need to make plans to see them off campus. Once you finish the new season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine then you’ll go check out those museums you wanted to see. The stage 3 fear begins to set in more, and you withdraw to what makes you most comfortable. But that’s okay because all those things which would help you expand your comfort zone? You’ll do those next week...when you have more time...ya.

Stage 5: Depression.

You will get overwhelmed. You will cry. You will be better for it. This is when The Big Cry™ happens. All of a sudden, all those emotions you have been pushing down since you arrived come rushing forward and you can’t hold it in anymore. You don’t know where anything is. You don’t do the things that bring you joy anymore. You can’t sleep at night because the city around you is so bright and loud. Nothing feels like home and you don’t think anything ever will again. You feel like everyone has adjusted to the city except for you. You feel lost, alone, and begin to wonder if you really made the right choice coming to the city. So you cry.

Stage 6: Acceptance.

The best part about The Big Cry™ is how it manages to reset your whole outlook. Suddenly, you are spending more time on campus with your friends after class. You begin to travel one more block further than you have before, and a flood of excitement rushes through you when you finally discover a new coffee shop you love. You begin checking things off the list of yours from stage 1, and even add a few more while you’re at it. You buy groceries. Toronto, for the first time, begins to feel a little more normal, and you can honestly say you are happy to be here.

It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to bargain. It’s okay to cry. Toronto is a big change and is not something you can adjust to overnight. Just know there are always people who will be happy to help you if you need it, and everything will be alright soon enough!