Category Archives: 2016
Lou-ann Neel from the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe, was born in Alert Bay in the 1960s. She moved to Victoria with her family in her early years. Coming from a family of artists, she was introduced to art at a young age. She got her basic training in Grade 9 and started to created original designs then. She attended Emily Carr University for her Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Arts and during her time there, she learned various techniques and inspired her to explore other types of art like digital imaging and animation.
Her grandmother, Ellen Neel, a well known carver, and her great great grandfather, Charlie James, were big influences to her. Her designs are inspired by traditional stories as well as personal experiences. Lou-ann’s artwork includes traditional Kwakwaka’waka designs on wood carvings, paintings, textiles and jewelry. She has also worked and helped launch projects such as Authentic Indigenous – a project she collaborated with other Indigenous artists that promotes protecting Indigenous artists’ works as well as informing the public about their art. She strongly believes in the importance of authenticity and high quality works.
Lou-ann was recently in Vancouver for the Matriarts: Indigenous Women’s Art Exhibition which she curated and participated in. Lou-ann is currently working on a 3D sculpture honouring women.
These excerpts are from the full audio file of an interview between Nichola Hernandez and Lou-ann Neel (March 14th, 2016).
Lou-ann Neel on her works: (1:27 mins)
Lou-ann Neel on artists’ role in society: (00:15, 1:05 mins)
A Conversation with Lou-ann Neel
Full interview – 41:02 mins
Transcribed and edited by Nichola Hernandez.
Text in square brackets indicates additions or subtractions from original interview as recorded in the audio file above.
Nichola Hernandez: I’m Nichola Hernandez and I’m here today with [artist] Ms. Lou-ann Neel […], and it’s about 1:40 pm on March 14th and this interview is taking place at University of Victoria’s Cornett building. Good afternoon, how are you doing today, Ms. Lou-ann?
Lou-ann Neel: I’m very well thank you.
NH: I just want to start of by asking you about your background. What was your childhood like, what was the environment, etc.?
LN: Well that was a long time ago [laughter], in a galaxy far, far away. I was born in Alert Bay, and I was in Alert Bay until I was six years old. I was about five was when the first traditional big house was built (after anti-potlatch law was quietly erased from the Indian Act) in Alert Bay. It was part of the [Canadian] centennial [celebration]. I guess there was a lot of funding for these kinds of things, so our chiefs lobbied with the government to build a traditional big house so our ceremonies can start again. All the big houses were in the outlying villages, where all the traditional feasts took place. Early on, I got a glimpse into our potlatches and regalia and I was so overtaken with amazement over especially the button blankets and of course I had never seen a house that big in my life so I felt like I was really surrounded by our culture and to me that was the world. That was normal. And so to me the baseline of what was normal was pretty strong there in Alert Bay. I went away to residential school in Port Alberni at age six and I turned seven there. At that time they didn’t call it the residential school they called it the boarding school. But, that’s just semantics, we actually lived in school and we were bussed everyday to the public school. So [our experience in my generation] was a little bit different with the previous generation. Then, we moved to Victoria. I pretty much spent most of my life in Victoria. I come from a big family and my mum who was a single mum [who] brought up the six of us on her own. After she went to school and did her LPN – Licensed Practical Nurse training, she met our stepfather. He joined then and kept us sane: one big family.
NH: One big family, happy family.
NH: When did you decide to pursue being an artist? I know you went to Emily Carr, how was that experience for you?
LN: Well, I decided when we were [still] in Alert Bay. I guess in Grade 1, we did some painting one day and the teacher sent me home with my painting. My mum started showing it off to all of the neighbours saying, “My daughter’s an artist.” I always remember that because I believed her and always thought, “Oh I’m going to be an artist.” When I got really serious about [art] was when I went into junior high school so Grade 8 and 9. SJ Willis was the junior high school in our neighbourhood, and they offered the first what was [going to] become First Nations Studies 12. So out cohort of students were kind of the guinea pigs of the program and we were delighted to be the guinea pigs because we got Native Social Studies, Native Language (three languages were taught), and Native Art. I got all of my basic training in Grade 9, and I haven’t stopped since.
NH: Oh, that’s pretty young.
LN: So Emily Carr somewhere around there, I also learned about what university was. I was really excited about my lifelong dream to pursue several degrees and I knew I was going to get several. I actually started here at UVic in public admin because I worked in government at that time. I thought it made sense for me to do that and so that was good. I came into public administration of Aboriginal Governance program and diploma in Public Sector Management. Then just continued working in government for a few years and I just practiced my art along the side. I just took whatever I learned in high school and just kept doing that and kept practicing it. Every now and then I try different materials and experiment a little bit but it didn’t feel like I knew enough about how to experiment with different materials. I really wanted to try more technology. I wanted to try really large scale works and was really interested in animation. When I decided after my certificate and diploma, public admin here doesn’t have an undergrad. For Public Admin, you have to go away somewhere else and come back [here] to do your Masters. When I realized I was [going to] have to finish my undergrad somewhere else I thought, you know, I worked in government long enough to know that it didn’t really matter which degree you got, you just needed a degree. So I applied to Emily Carr. I just bursted into tears when I got the letter saying I was accepted because it was such validation that the portfolio I already had was sufficient. I know I was on the right track. So that was it. I packed up and moved to Vancouver.
NH: That’s awesome and you liked it there?
LN: I loved it. I’ve always said I’ll never live in Vancouver and you just never say never. I really appreciate that because it was the first time that I’d ever spent so much time surrounded by other artists. I’ve never had that opportunity, not since Grade 9. It just opened my mind and I didn’t want to specialize in anything… I thought, “You know what I’m over forty I’m almost fifty I’m going to try whatever I want.” So I just picked a whole bunch of courses and asked the advisor “Tell me what I need to graduate I’ll just fit everything.” I probably ended up doing six months extra worth of courses but I jammed it all into the four years and finished with a [B.A] Fine Arts in Visual Arts.
NH: And you had fun.
LN: And I had fun.
NH: Yes, exactly. That’s the most important part.
LN: I ended up following this path into digital design that I never expected. That was probably the furthest thing in my mind. I’ve been practicing and becoming a lot more fluid with my digital design.
NH: Your family is pretty well known as artists especially your grandmother Ellen Neel, a well-known carver, what role did she play in your life as an artist?
LN: Oh, she has played a huge role. We never got to meet. She passed away in ’66, and I was only three years old when she passed away. Actually, I grew up under my stepfather’s name, Glendale. So I was Lou-ann Glendale up until I was nineteen years old. It was at about age seventeen that I found out who my surviving members of the Neel family were. So as soon as I knew about them and knew where they were, I went and located and met them and found out about my grandmother. Everything I’ve done since I found out who my grandmother was has been a very deliberate effort to continue what she started. I felt so devastated that she died at such a young age, she had just turned 49, so I already outlived her. I really honoured the work she was doing. She fought; she was not only a carver when nobody believed that women were allowed to carve or allowed [laughter] – I don’t know where that came from very much a colonial construct. She also really fought for the rights of indigenous artists against appropriation for the rights of women to be engaged in the arts. She was one of the only native women who not only ran a successful business in the arts, she had her own gallery in White Rock, she [also] trained all of my aunts and uncles plus anybody who came by the house to learn, she taught them and that includes Phil Nuytten who wrote the book The Totem Carvers. He was one of the guys that hung out – him and my dad and my uncles were all buddies. I guess [he] lived down the street and so he hung out with them and he learned from her too.
NH: So she was like a teacher to everyone.
NH: As an indigenous artist, what kind – or do you have any responsibilities and practices that are unique or special to indigenous people in regards of your kind of work?
LN: Yes. I think everything I do is a responsibility. First of all, to continue the traditions, to continue the form and to maintain it in its original form, that was what I was taught right when I was learning in Grade 9. We learned that these aren’t just shapes and crests, and figures that anyone can pick up and do. They all belong somewhere within our cultural mosaic. We learned right at the start that there are certain designs that belong to your family and those are the ones you have the permission to replicate or recreate. You don’t reach into other people’s belongings and take them unless they commission you. And even still you’re a hired artist, you do the work just like any artist would [but] you don’t have any hold on that piece afterwards. We have really strict rules around that. A lot of people don’t know that those are our laws.
NH: Yeah, I didn’t know about that.
LN: So when I teach up at my nieces and nephews for the last 20 years and that’s the number one rule I teach them so they get it already.
NH: Tell me about Authentic Indigenous.
LN: Oh, Authentic Indigenous was something I worked on while I was going to school. It was actually an initiative that was started by Shane Jackson – he’s from Sechelt. He’s an artist and arts entrepreneur as well, he runs an arts business. Him and I turned out have mutual friends and our mutual friends would always say, “Shane, have you talked to Lou-ann? Because she’s trying to do the same thing as you” and people would say to me “You should meet this guy Shane.” So we finally met and realize we’re both after [the same] kind of range of things. Authentic [Indigenous] was about creating authenticity label system that indigenous artists can use to show that their work is authentic. A big reason for that was to counter the fact that all these [shops] in Gastown in Vancouver, Government Street in Victoria and any tourist trap you can find across North America, has all of these knock offs that were made elsewhere in the world. They’re usually done very poorly, poor quality and really bad designs. We wanted the public to be aware because legally in Canada we haven’t been able to stop people from appropriating our designs even though copyright legislation is clear. We have a lot of work to do in our community to make sure people know, that our people know, to protect your work in the first place by signing it, putting your copyright symbol and those best practices. But the public isn’t aware of it. We figured if we did an awareness campaign with this labeling system people could see that there was something different visually and they could at least inquire and then it would be up to the buyer to decide. Do you want something authentic or are you satisfied with this trinket made in somewhere else? We got the initiative started but had a hard time getting on the Federal and Provincial Governments, they were very interested and always liked what we were saying but they would never put money on the table and it takes money to do these things. We still haven’t been able to take Authentic [Indigenous] to the next level and haven’t widespread across BC but people are aware and the website is there so things have started. They had a few dollars to keep me on contract to get things rolling so that’s what I did – I helped launch it. I’m on the website as well. I have a closet full of stickers that go on all my stuff but unfortunately I haven’t been able to continue work on that, yet.
NH: I think most people are aware of that. Hopefully.
LN: Of Authentic or?
LN: They’re getting more aware. But its something I think we need a good two solid years of really strong marketing and advertising and consumer awareness.
NH: Yeah. I’ve read from your First Peoples Arts Map website that you love “transforming stories into painted, or textile, or jewelry work.” Are these stories your personal experiences or is it other people’s?
LN: Up until I went to Emily Carr, they were mostly traditional stories that I heard from my mum. My mum is a fluent speaker of our language. [But also] from my aunties and uncles. Just from different people that I’ve had a chance to do a little bit of apprentice work with over the years and then research I’ve done on some of the books that have been written. The trouble with the books is that they’re all been written by non-native people so they tend to do their own interpretation and you have to sort of re-interpret knowing what you know. What I know as a Kwagiulth person I get what they were trying to say and know that they got it wrong so I have to reinterpret and turn that into my work. After Emily Carr though, the grad cape that I did was my story but it was all based on traditional beings, spirits, supernatural beings. It was to tell my story of how I journeyed to that point in Emily Carr to kind of work my way to that level in artistry and being reborn as this new artist. So it’s a young Thunderbird and in the body of the Thunderbird is me being born and then all along the bottom of the cape is a double headed serpent which is my mum’s family crest but it’s also a crest in my dad’s side. The double headed serpent is a representation of balance, it’s the good versus evil, it’s all of those things in our lives that we struggle with. I put that all at the bottom of my blanket is because my mum and her side of the family is how I was brought up and that’s always been my foundation and I wanted that to be the foundation and that the young Thunderbirds comes up from that foundation and giving birth to me.
NH: That’s very pretty.
LN: So that was neat. The other part that really inspired me to expand my mind around that is that my uncle used to always tell me “Your grandmother [Ellen Neel] used to be so good at telling stories, she knew all the traditional stories.” So when someone asked her to do a totem pole like, could you put this jaguar or something not from our culture, she could do it because she knew the forms so well and she knew the legend so well that she could adapt. One of the iconic pieces that people refer to in her in being able to tell those kinds of stories is the pole she did for White Spot. White Spot was launching its new menu and its new look or something like that back in the ’50s. They asked her to do the totem pole for them, so she did this totem pole: its about four feet high. It’s got all these traditional figures and it talks. I haven’t seen the written legend in awhile so I don’t remember how it goes but all the legends lead up and the top is the White Spot chicken.
NH: Oh. That’s funny!
LN: [Laughter] It’s hilarious. I couldn’t believe it, when I first heard it I thought, “My grandmother did the pole with a chicken on it? What?” But when I saw it I thought of course she did. Of course she did. I think this is what made her so unique in her time. There’s so many things that she did. She’s been able to balance being in the white world and in our traditional world. She spoke our language she knew all those things, she was involved in ceremonies and she had the rights and the prerogative to take those things and reshape them respectfully and with honour and always correctly with all the art rules. She did that and nobody questioned that. Some people didn’t like it very much; some people thought she was playing with our art. But you know, there’s always naysayers out there so whatever.
NH: You can’t agree with everything. Yeah. That’s pretty cool. It’s very creative. I like it!
NH: How long is the process of making a single design or an artwork for you, typically?
LN: Well, there have been times where I have a design floating in my mind for weeks and I don’t actually have the pencil and paper in my hand but I’m working it in my mind so it can usually take at least – at the very least – a couple of weeks to months. Just to conceive of… because I have to think about those variables you know. What I’m trying to create. What it’s going to be: am I making for a button blanket, am I making for jewelry, is it going to be a carving or a painting? If it’s going to be a painting, is it going to be oil, is it going to be acrylics. I have these little drop-down menus that pop down in my head with all these check list of things that I need to consider. When I actually get down to the work it can still take as few as a couple of days to months to get to a point where I’m happy with it. Because you design differently for a button blanket than you do for painting, following the rules of form line – which is basically all the black lines. You really have to know your form line and I think that’s one of the things I learned really thoroughly when I was in school. I wasn’t really practiced at it but I understood what they were saying. So I it just took a long time to train my hands to do the shapes just right. All the proportions have to be just so the way things taper, the way they expand. The consistency that you have to do that. I think that the fastest I’ve ever turned everything around was when you know the 11th hour somebody calls me up and says “We need a button blanket we’re having – there’s a potlatch we need a special something to put on” two days I’ve turned something around from scratch like start to finish. Only because I absolutely have to.
NH: Yeah, because you had to. I feel like every detail is very important and not a lot of people acknowledge that; not a lot know about it.
NH: Have you ever explored other types of artworks besides what you’re currently working on? I know you mentioned about animation, did you want to pursue that more?
LN: I do want to pursue that more. I had so much fun with that. I thought it would be a fun way to create – I’m really focused on creating things for the kids. I don’t have any of my own kids but I have about thirteen nieces and nephews that are really close and all together twenty-seven.
NH: Oh wow.
LN: That’s from both sides of the family. I’m really focused on making sure that I leave something for them. If I don’t get to spend time with them, I still want them to have the colouring books and animation and stories. I started working on those ideas probably early ’90s trying to figure out how to do all of that. So the little bit of training that I got at Emily Carr gave me a glimpse into something and it kind of opened the door a little bit and that door is still open. That’s part why I was drawn to practicing digital art because then create what need to create digitally and then maybe collaborate with an animation artist to actually turn it into animation.
NH: Especially these modern times. Everything is changing. Technology.
LN: Yeah [laughter]. I can’t keep up with them but I can keep up with my own digital designs.
NH: What do you think is the most powerful artwork you’ve done so far?
LN: Wow. I think the one that’s been the most far-reaching and had the most impact is what ended up being my very first limited edition print and it’s called Four Noble Women. It’s actually one of the designs that sat in my head for months and it came about when I was in Scottsdale, Arizona. Went down to the museum with our dance group and I saw this beautiful sculpture by Allan Houser and – oh god I love his work. I just happened to be walking by it. It’s the way it happens all the time. I wasn’t thinking about anything, admiring the orange trees. I turned around and saw this sculpture and immediately I saw the Four Noble Women design. It took me a really long time to get it into paper and when I did finally get it done, it was 11th hour, the local Victoria Friendship Centre was hosting a warrior women’s conference I think they called it, women warriors or something and they wanted a local for the conference. I wanted to submit an entry and it was due that day at four o’clock and I sat there on my lunch hour, working in government, I went out and took a chair outside and I was sitting on Douglas and Johnson with a chair and my paper and a pencil. I quickly drew my design and coloured it in and then ran to the Friendship Centre, about four blocks away, and dropped it off. They turned it into totes, bags, t-shirts, all those goodies. I knew about enough about copyright then that I made sure that my contract with them was for a limited time licensing agreement. When they were done using the design I took it back and went over and had a print made of it then sold out in a couple months. It’s been used several times for other women’s gatherings as well.
NH: Oh wow. That’s very impressive.
LN: The design itself it’s called Four Noble Women because it’s got four women: my mum and my three sisters. My mum is in a traditional button blanket with that double headed serpent design, and then my oldest sister who was initiated to be the attendant for a Hamat’sa, she was in a separate different blanket, my second sister was initiated as a Ghost Dancer so she had on that cape and my third sister had a different cape to represent the dance she was initiated to. It’s to show all four so there’s black, white, red and yellow. It’s for the four directions. It’s a little bit of reference to the medicine wheel. All around the outside I think I did 28 points around it to represent the cycle of the moon, which is so closely associated with women.
NH: It’s very personal.
LN: It’s very personal. I was very proud of that. Then I was scared after I did that because I thought “How am I going to top that? Oh no!” [Laughter] I was going to run and hide.
NH: Yeah [Laughter]. What role do you think artists have in society? How about women artists in particular?
LN: Oh. Good god. Society really needs us artists. I think we pull people in from the ledge, mostly. We do couple things we reflect back the reality we’re living in. I’ll speak for myself. What I feel like I have is I got this one side of my brain that says public admin, very personality type A administrator and then the artistic side. And so I see in a university setting here there’s lots of mechanics that make the place run well I also understand how that runs. I also understand how you go from legislation to policy to practice to, everyday routine. Sometimes I see systemic barriers that other people don’t see and every now and then I get the opportunity to be at the table to say something about that and when I don’t get to be at table I make art. I show people this is what you look like; this is what this looks like. Its either absurd and needs fixing or its beautiful and its flowing beautifully. For people liking to see that place they spend most of their day has this beautiful flow about it, it’s very encouraging. It helps people to just appreciate in that moment, when they look at the art “Yes I’m in the right track.” And for those who get to see the absurd version it makes them really uncomfortable and I think that somebody has to tell people that it’s not good enough to just say “Well, we’ve always done it that way so let’s just keep doing that way.” That’s the definition of insanity. I think that artists have a really important role to play in that respect because if we’re not reflecting that back to society, society becomes minions. You know, we’ve seen that a lot in North America. I can’t believe in my lifetime that I’ve gone from the proudest Canadian ever to questioning what’s this place we call Canada. I think a lot of my work, especially in recent years, has become quite political, it’s not overtly political but I like to poke fun at people who think they know it all [laughter].
NH: Yeah. That’ll be fun. I feel like British Columbia has that “support locals” mentality. How do you think Victoria responds to indigenous artworks or even local artworks, do you think the city has the same mentality?
LN: I think for a while it really did. I mean I’ve been here my whole life almost. In the ’70s, during that time, like ’60s and ’70s for native art on the coast and Victoria was an exciting time. People were calling it a ‘Renaissance’ but really it was crawling out from underneath the legislation that the government dumped on us and outlawed our art. So it was a resurgence, I don’t know about a Renaissance but definitely a resurgence. You look around Victoria now and you see evidence of First Nations art everywhere. Now, the problem was that back then the general public tended to gravitate towards our art from the north island not local art. My heart just always aches for them because they were impacted the most for the longest. They were impacted first. And then the art that the people from these territories of Salish people was already – all of our art was very sacred and secretive. Their stuff already wasn’t out there, the stuff that they had left after the Indian Act came in was even more closely held. By the time we got to the ’60s and ’70s, they weren’t outwardly sharing their art. I think the only reason our art became so recognizable is because of the anthropologists and ethnologists who are in our territories, Franz Boas especially. So there were a lot or collectors coming up to our territories from the early 1900 to the ’50s easily. A lot of our artifacts – always kills me when they call artifacts – all of our art got taken and got put into the museums and so it just drew more people here. So over time Victoria and BC have always I think wanted to maintain that recognition as being this ‘totem land’ and in fact my grandmother started this society called Totem Land with the mayor and a bunch of businessmen in Vancouver. Part of the Totem Land’s mandate was to stop appropriation of offshore knockoffs. BC has really taken advantage of using our art as part of its identity. On the one hand, its good for someone like me born in the ’60s, I’ve gotten to see all of that unfold and then become a part of it. The downside is that the neither BC or the Federal Government invest back. We don’t have as a result any Northwest Coast schools; we don’t have any native art schools. Emily Carr was the closest thing I was going to get to see the painted paintings of our stuff and Hazelton or ‘Ksan had the carving school up there for a number of years which was really exciting and I got to go to visit there but it closed down because the funding got pulled. So we really need that kind of investment and now we’re dealing with – we are in Coast Salish territory and now we’re finally starting to see Coast Salish artists recognized and their work represented in their land but we still have so many pieces. I mean my great uncle, Mungo Martin that’s his house down by the museum, that big house, that’s my grandmother’s uncle. He got permission from the local chiefs to do that. Our families have lots of discussion with the local chiefs about that. But we’ve got still I think a stronger presence I think than the Coast Salish artists so I think there’s still some balancing to do. I think the city of Victoria and its arts policy, I’m hearing lots more favourable discussions going on now but certainly during my early career it was not a hope that we could see more support to native artists. That’s why you see these some of these artists sitting in the causeway in the summer, its not their favourite place to be its because they can’t sell in those Government Street shops. Lots of work to do.
NH: Long way to go.
NH: What do you want your viewers to get from your artworks?
LN: When I create my work, because art is so personal, there’s an energy. I really feel the energy I’m putting into a piece – I won’t work on anything unless I’m really in that zone because I really do believe that I mean I know how I feel when I purchase other people’s art and I feel that energy that comes from it. What I put into my art is the energy of strength, of hope and just wonder, you know? I really like when people see some of the little things I’ve done in the piece and plays tricks on their eyes. I’m holding up my scarf now [see Neel’s scarf here]; this is a feather, this is a component of a feather, you can see the feather coming along so everything that’s in white on this one is form line and the everything in black is the negative space. When I was taught, it’s one of the things Mungo taught all of his students and his students were the ones that taught me so it’s still that unbroken line, is that you should be able to see a design in the negative space as well as the positive. So when you stand back from some of my works, you’re not sure if you just saw this little glimpse of something and that’s what I want people to get: Hey what was that? Also, since Emily Carr, I’ve gotten more focused on including an artist statement that really speaks to where I came from when I did a particular piece. Because lots of my stuff have been more political, its educational about our people, the fact that we’re all unique as tribal peoples, we all have our rights. It’s kind of that little bit of that Authentic Indigenous stuff but also recognize that this is a woman doing this art, it doesn’t just belong to our guys. Women design differently. All the women artists that I know from my territory have something different about it, we all know it and we all see it but can’t articulate it really yet. But I think that’s when I look and think: so why don’t we have gatherings? Let’s have gatherings of our women artists so we can talk and maybe share our vocabularies so that we’re all empowered to speak about these things a little more thoroughly. I think that’s why some of my relatives and friends that are women artists they shy away from more public presentations of their art or public speaking opportunities because they struggle with how do I explain this? When the only vocabulary I ever heard is from my male side who taught me. So I think we’re still in a time of transition of ourselves, accepting that we are really allowed to this and no ones going to stop us. Not like anyone’s going to stop us anyway, no one stopped my grandmother. But this more broad acceptance of the fact that these colonial ideas of women not being allowed to carve are just myths. Somebody made that up.
NH: Its 2016. We can do anything!
LN: Yeah! Really. Come on!
NH: And last question is, are currently you working on something? And can you tell us something about it?
LN: I’m working on a piece that has been simmering on for fifteen years. I’m collecting pennies and I’m so glad that the Canadian penny was decommissioned out of currency. I’ve been collecting pennies and its something that I hope is going to come together this year. It’s something to honour women. It’s very much going to be a sculptural kind of a piece, a three-dimensional piece. It’s going to require me hand cutting and hand painting every penny. I would imagine it would be thousands of thousands of pennies involved in it [laughter]. It’s one of those things where my heart was set on it a few years, all these years ago and it wasn’t until I learned some of the techniques and the equipment and the tools that I could use and got a little bit more practice in them. Now that I’m that much more practiced, I’m pretty sure I know what I’m going to do. So now I’m just sort of deciding between a couple of design choices.
NH: Oh perfect. That’s awesome. That’s exciting!
LN: Yeah! So that’s one piece and the second piece, which I actually did the prototype for while I was at, Emily Carr is at least a 10 ft. Dzunukwa, the “wild woman of the woods”. That’s the legendary character who scoops children up and throws them in her basket and eats them for dinner.
NH: Oh! Okay…
LN: That’s our boogey man. This is boogey woman [laughter].
LN: I’ve heard of Dzunukwa when I was really little. She has always been this iconic huge scary figure in my life but at the same time she carries nobility and a place of honour in our potlatch. I wanted to do is a ten or twelve ft. copper Dzunukwa fully articulated pieces and have her placed outdoors and every six months or so or every season I would move the pieces and watch it weather. I just thought that would be a neat experiment.
NH: That would be!
LN: I want it near a forest like near the edge of a forest somewhere. So I’m thinking Alert Bay. But I have to really keep up on the areas that might need to develop for more housing so where’s the forest going to really stay so I could put Dzunukwa there. When we were kids, our house was about three houses away from the line where the forest was and we used always go play in there when we’re in the daylight but that’s when we started getting told “Don’t get too deep into that forest Dzunukwa will get you!”
NH: Oh no!
LN: So I just thought “one day I’m going to come back with Dzunukwa in my hands” [laughter].
NH: [Laughter] “I’m going to control it”.
LN: Or maybe I’ll just be the Dzunukwa! [Laughter]
NH: Yeah just stand there for a bit. And that’s everything for today. Thank you so much for your time!
LN: You’re so welcome.
NH: All the best on your projects.
LN: Thank you. That’s going to be fun.
“Matriarts: Indigenous Women’s Art Exhibition”. Accessed March 10, 2015. do604.com/events/2016/2/16/matriarts-indigenous-women-s-art-exhibition
Chattopadhyay, Piya. “Indigenous artist Lou-ann Neel on the fight against ‘fakelore'”. CBC Radio. Posted on November 13, 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/schedule-for-wednesday-nov-12-2014-1.2926142/indigenous-artist-lou-ann-neel-on-the-fight-against-fakelore-1.2926147
Griffin, Kevin. “Authentic Indigenous: new program helps ensure artists are fairly paid”. The Vancouver Sun; Art Seen section. Posted on October 7, 2014. http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2014/10/07/authentic-indigenous-new-program-helps-ensure-artists-are-fairly-paid/
Neel, Lou-ann. “Lou-ann Neel”. Red Bubble. Accessed March 10, 2016. www.redbubble.com/people/lou-annneel
Neel, Lou-ann. “Lou-ann Neel”. First Peoples Arts Map. Accessed March 10, 2016. http://www.fp-artsmap.ca/person/lou-ann-neel
Neel, Lou-ann. “Lou-ann Neel”. Authentic Indigenous. Accessed March 5, 2016. www.authenticindigenous.com/artists/lou-ann-neel
Carollyne Yardley is an accomplished Victoria artist who has established herself in the art world through her incredible talent for realism. An alumni of the University of Victoria, Yardley has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a Double Major in Art History and Psychology. She has also attended the Ryder Studio School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yardley is an accomplished scholar with hopes of pursuing further education through a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. Prior to her artistic career Yardley spent years as a Creative Director in the tech-industry where she co-founded the company Star Global Advanced IT Corp. Ltd (1997-2010) before deciding to return to her passion in painting. Yardley combines realism and surrealism in her signature style “Squirrealism.” She draws her inspiration from the inner psyche, French academic painting, and from personal experience. Yardley often uses the mask as a depiction of ambiguity in identity. Yardley has showcased her work at numerous art galleries across BC’s lower mainland. She works closely with other Victoria-area artists while creating a distinct style of her own and a name for herself. Her most recent collaboration was a project with Rande Cook at the Alcheringa Gallery, another show upcoming. Yardley has had many independent shows at galleries including Open Space Arts Society, The Massey Gallery (AGGV), Fazakas Gallery and Winchester Galleries. Her work will be shown by Fazakas Gallery at Art Toronto 2016.
These excerpts are from the full audio file (105 mins) of an interview between Morgan Cosman and Carollyne Yardley (Feb 13, 2016)– available below.
Yardley on her Pop Surrealism meets Free Modernist movement style and her signature “Squirrealism” (1:00 min)
Yardley on pop culture and icons reinterpreted and weaved throughout her art as a recurring theme (1:15 min)
Yarldey on creating through all mediums while always following her passion (1:10 min)
In Conversation With Carollyne Yardley
Full Interview (Audio File) – 105 mins.
Full Interview Transcription
Edited and transcribed by Morgan Cosman in consultation with Carollyne Yardley.
Text in square brackets indicates additions or subtractions from original interview as recorded in the audio file above.
Morgan Cosman: So, I’ve got some specific questions but could start out with something more general. Tell me a bit about your background and how it fed into Alien-Nation. Did you move around a lot growing up? Or is that feeling just part of the human experience that you’re trying to tap into?
Carollyne Yardley: I’d say it’s more the human experience. Yeah, it’s more psychological. I think a lot of the work that I do from my background. How does it feed into that I guess? I did a psychology degree, so part of it was thinking about art in terms of more philosophy and psychology. My background started in tech and the role that I did at Star Global. I was a co-owner and a pioneer in the tech industry and created a tech company. We did web development and web applications. However, when people came to us to do front end work, which is what you would see, which is websites people were always wanting, how are you going to be represented? So part of what I mentioned before, we would do a joint design session and it would help get inside their minds of how they wanted their company represented and how they wanted to be perceived by potential clients or existing clients. When you’re starting to think about how somebody is perceived that really comes down to colours, hair, right? And people make perceptions… make their assumptions of what a either a company or a person is going to be based on the brand. The Alien-Nation part came into it when I was having the transition from being in the tech world. I was really well known, people knew who I was. Then all of a sudden I was a novice in art and I didn’t know anybody. None of the people were the same. There was no real overlap between the tech community here in Victoria and the art community at the time, it was like starting fresh. So people were like, “Who are you? Where did you come from?” Well, I was in tech. And what are you doing? So there was a really big learning curve. It was an alien world to me. I think partly that was from the early days. It came from that, the big transition was a big life change for me. Like I say, going from being an expert at something to a complete novice and not even having read an art book for you know for 15 years! Yeah, that’s where I would say it came from.
MC: You spent a lot of crucial years here in Victoria. You got your BA at UVic [The University of Victoria], time spent in university is really impactful, so why did you choose Victoria as the city to pursue your artistic career?
CY: When I first went to UVic it was 1989, so it was the M Huts and the visual arts program wasn’t even on campus! It was across ring road! I was a fairly young, I was 17 when I went to UVic and I think I would consider myself to be a fairly young 17 year old. I would say I was fairly nervous. I hadn’t traveled very extensively. My parents didn’t take us traveling. I hadn’t really been on an airplane at that point in time so I had a really small world here. I was waitressing to put myself through school so it was a cost efficient method. Back in 1989 it was before Telereg, so it wasn’t automatic. You had to actually be here to register and you had to go up there and you had to stand in line. My dad actually did it for me because I think I was waitressing that day. So that’s why I was here. It was really just a happenstance of the environment I’d grown up in. Economics and ease of being able to just go drive up the street to UVic. I was 5 or 8 minutes away from school so I could get up literally 15 minutes before! And because the web hadn’t been… Tim Berners Lee invented the web in 1989 ’90 rolled out. There wasn’t really unless you mailed away or you… my parents took me to Emily Carr, it just seemed so far away at the time, for me at that age and who I was. That’s really why UVic was the place that I went to school. I could waitress here, I could live at home with my mom and dad in the garage, and I could waitress to pay for it. It was default I guess.
MC: You mentioned visual cues in recognizing people and finding your own identity. Have you ever considered fashion or other mediums? What made painting your primary?
CY: Like I say, going in the way back machine, when I graduated from school a lot of my girlfriends who are now lawyers and doctors and things like that thought, “Oh, that’s really cute you’re going to be in visual arts when you’re grown up?” When I was in second year visual arts. So I changed faculties. Went into psychology for four years and thought, “What if I got back into art?,” so I went and did the double major with art history. At that point in time I got lost down technology because I got on a team putting BC Heritage online. Started the company and then, boom! I was off! So when I’m talking about what I do now it was really only five years ago. When I made the career change my business partner wanted to not be so wrapped up with staff and human resources. He’s a programmer and a hacker and he was also becoming a business owner. He wanted to get back to what he loved. When I looked at what I was going to do in Victoria -because my husband is here and I wasn’t moving at that stage- I wrote down all the things that I really liked. All the things I loved were fashion and pop culture. So I had a novel of all the things I liked and cared about! I loved thrills and I loved the detailing in clothing and patterns. By convenience again, seems I do a lot of things by convenience [laughter]. I had a downtown office but it didn’t have an arts studio. It was easy for me to go back to the materials to paint because you could have a smaller area and you can be in a more confined space. Rather than if you go into sculpture, you really need a little more of a workstation. Be a little more messy. For clothing I didn’t pull the sewing machine out. It was really easy to be able to translate my idea into painting. I actually took some evening courses, so while I was still working and operating Star Global I took some classes at the Bank Street School College [Victoria College of Art]. Started exploring colours and going back to the colour wheel again… I guess that would have been in 2008…2007? [That] was just the first thing I thought of was go take a painting class. That was just natural. I really loved how people put paintings together.
MC: “The changing entity within and repetition to find renewal” [from Carollyne’s blog] so each squirrel is a different side of you then? Is it a genre you’ll always pursue or using it as a catapult into a new norm?
CY: I think the squirrels happened organically. Initially, I was really attracted to Pop-Surrealism, because of course you have to remember I was coming out of the tech, so it was initial exploring. I really liked the pre-modernist style of painting, kind of like a French Academy style of painting. A lot of it came out of the ’70s Pop-Surrealism. Pop-Surrealism started it, so I wasn’t the only person putting animal heads on a lot of costumed human beings! It’s been around for a while. We just happened to have squirrels in the yard. I was really fascinated with how quickly you could build a brand and be recognized for something. How do you do that? You do that by using a repeating image over and over and over again. So really, it was an exercise in repeating image. Like you said earlier on, when you see a squirrel cross the road you see them dressed up. All these people online are constantly sending me squirrel imagery or memes over and over and over again. So it’s in people’s minds! It’s in people’s heads! So I feel like, “Okay, I’ve done it! I’ve reached that place where people see one thing, a squirrel, and they immediately think of my art!” So it was really a brand exercise in many ways. And will I go onto other things? I think for sure Squirrealism will always have its place and I’ll always knock out a squirrel somewhere but definitely my taste has changed. I’m really really attracted to abstract art now and enjoying the thick painting style. Frank Auerbach, saw his work in London just last fall so I find myself more attracted to that. It’s going to interesting to see what happens.
MC: Squirrealism is interesting in that you’re taking interpretation from old portraits and turning it upside-down into this very modern artwork. What is your thought process in the creation of this self-invented genre?
CY: Well, I don’t know if I invented the genre but I’ve definitely added to the dialogue. Like Travis Louis. So there’s a gallery down in Seattle which is the closest one here to Victoria, it’s called Roq La Rue and they host painters who are also taking inspiration from of old paintings or photographs, and then they’re putting animal heads on or they’re doing different kinds of variations. Each person, because your painting style is unique to you, I’d say that’s what’s making my painting style unique to me. A lot of them are taking things from pop culture so that’s got its own wry sense of humour. And taking from things we recognize from childhood, nostalgia and things like that. I would say as I’m going along I’m finding my own voice where as I’m using secrets and I’m using a lot of mask works of mine going into more a focus of the celebrity of being anonymous. It’s taking the pop culture, which is the Mickey Mouse hat. It’s taking the Occupy mask, or the Guy Fawkes mask seen in the Occupy Movement, and it’s taking the Escada jacket, which is all fancy with stars and everything like that. I’m kind of marrying that together because it’s a juxtaposition of two complete opposites. The high fashion, and the protest movement. But also, it’s talking about how there’s a lot of things that we don’t know. There’s a lot of the unseen. Let’s say the tech community there’s a lot of people like the hacktivist group Anonymous who are doing a lot of work behind the scenes. You never know who they are. I’m finding my voice in those kind of topics. And again, the horse head which in Japan is a symbol of anonymity and the squirrel itself is a sign of anonymity. It came from the Hanna Barbera cartoon, Secret Squirrel, one of the characters. It was a parody of the spy genre and one of the characters in it was a spy. So the squirrel mask itself actually came out of that. The secrets of the squirrel mask. That was the original purpose of the squirrel mask, the secrets that we keep. A lot of it is when you meet people as well. We first met but all we have to work with when we’re making our categories we put people in is hair or clothing. You make these associations and assumptions based on all the things you’ve learned, but that doesn’t really necessarily mean you’ve met the real person. So there’s a mask that we all wear. It can take many many years to find out who people really are and in some cases you never find out. So that’s kind of the psychology part and the Alien-Nation going back to your first question.
MC: When you approached Squirrealism did you have a goal in mind?
CY: Well no, it happened really organically. Outside of the wanting to be the brand, getting the branding done the actual term “Squirrealism” came from people asking me, “What do you call it?” I think it was Ellen Manning from the Apartment Gallery. She said it was Squirrelism and I’m like, “No, it’s SQUIRREALISM!” so that was 2012. I’d been painting the squirrels I guess the first painting I ever did with a squirrel is right there The Lady, The Princess and The Squirrel [Shakey and the Princess] I always forget the name of it. It was my remastering the masters! That’s of a Raphael painting which of course does not look anything like a Raphael painting [Laughter]. But I was teaching myself to paint at the time and so the first squirrel I put in was 2009, I think that painting was. And it’s a real squirrel! He’s got his tail and everything, then the whole Pop-Surrealism thing because you put the animal head on, so that’s how it morphed. So I would say to get the brand part was very driven of, “How do I do that? How do I get that repeating image?” But the term itself, “Squirrealism,” came organically after many people asking me about what I’d call it. So that was a bit of a community minded sort of evolution.
MC: Would you say that your work’s more aesthetic or political? It’s going to be both but where does your creative process kind of begin?
CY: Most recently? Its changed over time. Right, so some of the pieces that I did like Cupid and Psyche, that was very psychologically based. The Dove Keeper came from a dream I had where I dreamt of this woman. It was on the opening night of Never Dine Alone. That night I went asleep and I dreamt of this woman standing with long blue wings in a giant nest. And it was so vivid. And she was just kind of standing like this [demonstrates] so I guess that would be coming from dreams, your subconscious. So some of my paintings came from my subconscious. That Red Hat Squirrel, came when my grandmother came to me in a dream in that hat. She would be from the ’20s era, and the ’50s fashion-wise. She came to me in a dream and she actually had a squirrel face! That was the weirdest thing about it, she had her necklace on and everything and I thought, “Oh my gosh!” So the Avenue Squirrels I call them, the Green Bun and Red Hat and Mushroom Hat, they were all partly inspired by my grandmothers fashion. That dream she came to me then I took off and did about five or six paintings! They were really more fashion based than The Dove Keeper and The Cupid in Psyche, those were dream-based. Cupid and Psyche came from our passions, going after them and being really focused about it. Then I was invited to do the show about diversity and feminism in Vancouver. I did those particular paintings which are The Celebrity of Being Anonymouse. The Geurilla-Squirrel, which is inspired by the Geurilla Girls and Pussy Galore. Maura Reilly she’s a feminist writer and Linda Nochlin the writer who writes a lot of feminist dialogue in the arts talking about why there’ve been no great women painters. She wrote that essay in 1971. What If You Couldn’t Because You’re a Girl? is inspired by that piece. So those pieces are very specific to that show and very much related to more feminist politics and talking about gender. And then the most recent painting that I’m working on its in the concept development phase right now. I do a lot of research on a topic and I find current events or current articles to reference the work. Then I take from that the imagery that is derived from some of the articles or the topics. Then I go down another rabbit hole – not to use a pun a rodent pun- I go into another investigation of reading and research so that’s the variety of how I approach the work. Definitely a lot of up front research into the imagery and the symbolism behind the imagery before I even start drafting what something is going to look like.
MC: Which artist do you think that you’ve been most affected by? Or inspired you in your own artistic pursuit? The Banksy and Anna Banana squirrel come to mind. You said you were influenced by Thomas and Kusama? Very contemporary influences you’ve had.
CY: It’s an eclectic group of influence. So the Banksy painting was part of another set. They were Yayoi Kusama Squirrel, which is in the hall, Banksy Squirrel and Murakami Squirrel. Those three came out of very specifically talking about brand recognition. So all three of those artists used repeating imagery over and over and over again. Yayoi Kusama uses polkadots over and over and over again for the last about forty years. Banksy, he uses a repetitive, maybe not the same, image. You’ve seen the balloon of hope used a lot, but you recognize his piece outside. He does big rat I think as well, but the cheekiness and the commentary is his repetition. The [Takashi] Murakami does the big happy face flowers. A lot of his and Yayoi Kusama’s imagery has been on Louis Vuitton bags. Its gone to that level of commercialism and gain through fashion and things like that. I was really fascinated how. They’re also into fabrication. Same with Banksy. So they’re not doing a lot of their own work in many cases, they’re out sourcing it to fabricator and they’re getting made on a much higher level. Murakami has about 130 staff in about two different warehouses that are making his work, so it was also a statement about that and about the repeating image of the brand. Banksy himself has now got a crew that’s working on his pieces. When we were in London there was an area that was a huge city block that was cornered off, so he’s also got some kind of licensing with the city. It’s not just street art that’s done in his bandit style in my opinion. I was kind of fascinated again by the anonymity of Banksy. He’s working under an anonymous pseudonym nobody knows who he is so that tied into it so that’s how I was influenced by him, the curiosity of how you become the celebrity behind your anonymity, and I find that really fascinating as well. I was thinking there was a combination effect of why I was influenced by him. Anna Banana, it was a curated show here by Michelle Jacques at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and she is a correspondence artist, so Mail Art, and a lot of work was done down in San Francisco. Her performance, and of course the mail, goes all over the world. What I loved about that show. There was also a concurrent show at Open Space, at Open Space like how people send me squirrels. I have so many squirrel gifts and I’ve started documenting them in a database and so they’re gifts that are given to me sometimes I purchase them and that mask is a squirrel mask by Rande Cook so I have a lot of it’s all boxed up right now because I’m going through the whole process of photographing them and accessioning them, then putting them into a database. I’ll show you the box before you leave. Anna Banana, like the whole thing at Open Space. Did you go? You saw all of the Anna Banana paraphernalia. Holy cow! Right ? Well that’s what forty years of getting gifted bananas looks like! [Laughter] Back, I think it was two years ago, I started accessioning them. Then I got distracted and when I saw it I thought, “Okay, I’ve got to get back to documenting this stuff again!” Because what if forty years from now I have this much stuff and I want to do something similar to what she’s done? Give it all away and you’ve got to fill out all the forms. So did you get your three piece of Anna Banana pieces? Because at Open Space you’re allowed to choose your three pieces and take them. So you got your pieces? The pieces I got were the banana-glasses and this giant banana, he’s made out of porcelain. I don’t even know what he’s for. I think he’s just for looking at. And I got a shirt. And so I thought I’ve been influenced by this because it really stuck in my mind so it’s a little bit of fun as well, just to marry the banana-ology which she’s branded and known for her banana and then take the Squirrealism, which is kind of a branded thing, and just… some point in time I was just influenced by that. I was just really marrying the ideas. I did that with the Yayoi Kusama and the Murakami . The branding they’ve done through repetitive imagery. It was just the marrying of two people who’d done repetitive imagery in a painting.
MC: What’s your experience been within the Victoria artistic community versus the rest of the world? You spent some time in the states and all that, how do they compare?
CY: Well, here it’s a really nice group of artists who are working all different kinds of mediums. I would say Efren Quiroz, he operates Exhibit V[ic], goes to all the different art shows and video tapes them all. He’s been diligent at it since October 2010 and it’s all for his blog channel so you can see every art show that’s ever existed in Victoria he’s been to. I’ve only been doing art since 2010 full time. So my experience in the art community really kind of paralleled his videotaping. He has since been curating shows, bringing all these artists together in collaboration projects. There was Differences and Repetition where we were riffing off of a Gerard Richter painting. There was The #selfie [art] show he did at Martin Batchelor. Then there was the one at the Side Room Gallery with Wendy Welsh and two artists had to work on the same painting. My experience here is really community based. It’s a pretty tight community and I know that there are artists outside of this particular grouping. I would say there is about fifty or sixty artists in this particular group that been brought together by Efren. Then of course tons of other groups out there. I’m sure that at the University of Victoria students had a group there, I don’t know I’m a little bit outside of that. I’m sure there is a whole host of other painters or artists in fabrication and sculpture and pottery and what not. I’d say these are primarily painters, this particular group that I’m talking about. For me it’s been really welcoming and really fantastic. So comparatively speaking to the rest of my experience out there in the world I would compare it to, let’s say, the art fairs and the traveling that I do to have a look at all the museum collections in Washington and New York and Seattle and London and Amsterdam and Paris and all that kind of stuff. All I can do is I can compare it to that. I would say most recently the art fairs, so the London Freize and the Freize Masters compared to the Seattle Art Fair and Toronto last year so that would be 2015 Art Toronto. London, The Freize everybody there. It’s on a big scale people are doing fabrication and really a lot of conceptual ideas and translating those into objects and materials. It’s a very academic based, a lot of people… it’s just big and huge, huge, huge pieces. The one that comes to mind, and the artist has completely slipped my mind [Yngve Holen], but a whole lot of washing machines that are all side by side with giant models of airplanes with dripping plastic on top and it’s a feast for the eyes. Then Art Toronto we’re back to paintings again. So, much smaller scale, pieces that are way less money to collect too if you’re looking at it from that perspective, from a commercial perspective. And then again back to more painting so, the pieces are being collected by the National Gallery or the Four Banks verses London you’re looking at if you’re storing that from a institution perspective you have to have such a vast amount of space to be collecting the pieces that are being done over there and the London Freeze that had representation from Berlin and from Asia. It’s much more of Europe and that side of the world, where as Art Toronto did have galleries from London and whatnot. Then Art Seattle was a combination of the two, that’s in the States. So here, I see a lot more paintings. Much smaller scale. And then my experience out there, to compare it to the rest of the world, is really big installations and fabrication and often artists who aren’t actually making their own work. They’re outsourcing it to factories or other fabricators.
MC: Have you ever dealt with any backlash or conflicts being a woman in the art world? Are you very conflicted by gender-based segregation?
CY: I personally haven’t but I’ve only been on the ground now for five years. My experience with anything that would have to do with being gender-based would have been in the tech industry. I guess were not really talking about my time of in tech, that would have been early days, 1997 when there weren’t really a lot of women in tech in Victoria. I could tell you a few stories about that, but they are few and far between. Now 2016 and I’ve only been at it for five years. For me? No. I haven’t experienced that yet, and I’m not sure when and if I will. I would say the segregation, what I’ve experienced, more so than gender-based would be MFA based. I’m a painter, so I would say their more segregation that I currently don’t have an MFA. And I’m a little bit older, so that means that I’m excluded from the RBC painting competition and the Sobey Awards because you have to be under thirty-five for that and under forty for the Sobey Award. So I would say maybe a tiny little bit in that direction, and also being a painter. A lot more of the academic world I think.. and the kind of painter I am because I’m more in the realism, so I’m not in the modernist sort of abstract. So I would say more based on that. Then my potential thoughts to that are that I need to expand. Actually, I’m looking at doing an MFA and I’m exploring that. Looking at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, they do a low-residency program there. so that where more of my thoughts go to being included in that particular academy, the academic realm more than anything else.
MC: Do you find your work to be identifiably feminine?
CY: I don’t know. I don’t think I thought about it before until the question came up so I guess I actually I have a question back, what that means. [Laughter]
MC: How do you perceive work that female versus male artists do and whether you think it reflects society’s notion of what masculine work and feminine work looks like? Or any part of you in the work that reflects your feminine [or masculine] side? Just wanted to know more about your approach to gender in your art.
CY: I would say my painting style… If you and I and four other people painted the exact same piece and we were all trying to paint a lamp, none of them are going to be the same. So you get to see a person’s unique style in a piece through their brushstrokes, so I would say I have a very fine brushstroke because I’ve been able to compared my work to other peoples. Tony Rider, Santa Fe and so you get to see the same portrait different angles. You know? And I can see my own brushstrokes. They’re very delicate. I don’t know if that means it would be associated with being feminine. The work itself is collected both equally by men and women. A lot of people actually will look at one piece and swear that it is a female character then someone else will swear it is a male character. So that’s part of putting the squirrel mask on, it removes a few of the identifying features that people then make associations with body-type and facial features. And so I think that by removing that I don’t know how other people perceive it but I do know that people have asked me, “Oh, that’s a boy!” and I say, “Well, if you think it is.” [Laughter] I’ve had the person who collected Steam Punk Squirrel she has named her painting Cornelius, which I guess for her identifies with the male name. And then I did a couple prints of Steam Punk Squirrel and the first person who collected one of the prints, she calls her print Victoria. So I don’t know if that helps answer the question. I don’t set about thinking about… I haven’t thought about it until you asked the question. So maybe a year from now I’ll have a more detailed answer than that. I don’t personally identify, I don’t look at the work and say, “Oh yeah Carollyne ‘the girl’ did that.” Cause in the inside in behind Carolynne’s face I’m kind of an angry old guy so… [Laughter]
MC: Tell me about your relationships or encounters with other women in your field. Mentors, students or just relationships in general.
CY: With other women in my field? Other women. So a lot of my relationships have actually been with writers. Women writers who are writing about the work, and curators and gallery owners. So Mary-Ellen Threadkell, who was from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, she was a really big supporter of my work in the early days. Originally Renee Leighann [Crawford], but then Sherry Willing I had a show in the non-curatorial side at the art gallery. Ellen Manning, who gave me a solo show at the Apartment Gallery, has been very supportive. And then LaTiesha Fazakas, she has a gallery in Vancouver, who put me into a group show over there and now actually she’s taking my work to Art Toronto and I’m going to be in the Seattle Art Fair because of her. She’s curating a two person show with myself and Rande Cook invited me to do another show with him. So a lot of my experience has actually been with women in the curatorial side or in the gallery owning and that end of things, which I found really fascinating when I really put my mind to it. Woman artists here in town, I have a really great relationship with many of the painters that I was telling you about where we’re sort of sharing information around like, “Do you do prints? Do you not do? Do you do a little bit more on the commercial side of things?” Because a lot of people who I talk to are actually selling their work as opposed to not yet have I really got a lot of relationships with people who are from a curatorial in public institutions. Showing in public institutions, so I haven’t had a lot of experience yet in that area.
MC: How has your art and you as an artist changed from what it was in the early years to what it has become now?
CY: The early years, like five years ago? [Laughter] If you went back to when I was in art school, ’89, all the work was all subconscious based painting. So those three pieces that you pointed out around the hall, they’re all subconscious based painting and literally get your paint brushes out and just go for it. Just paint what comes out, what the flow is. Five years ago, 2009/2010, when I was returning to do plan A, to art, it was much more thought out, purpose based. I wanted to teach myself how to paint in the realist style so that I could then, when I leave it one day, I could say I knew how to do it. So I would say that I’m coming into this place of where I’m accomplishing the goal of learning how to paint a painting that looks like a photograph. A lot of people, that’s not their goal. It was my goal. So now that I’ve done it I can say I know what it’s like to leave it. So I think that how its changed its gotten more real looking. So if you look at that piece from 2009/2008 then you look at this piece here, The Skinners Horse, just even comparing the two side by side you can see the volume and the realism has really evolved. The topics that I’m choosing are evolving as well.
MC: Does your art encapsulate your past or present self and ideas? Are your beginnings as an artist still reflected in the art that you create?
CY: Yeah, I think my past for sure because of my work as a creative director and a business owner and a pioneer of the tech industry. So definitely all that. I talked about the branding exercises and how you build a brand and how could you do it in art, so I think definitely that’s been part of it. Then I’m definitely looking at news and events as a contemporary aspect and how it relates to technology. The Celebrity of Being Anonymouse is a direct discussion to the hacktivist group Anonymous. They do a lot of work world wide. They recently hacked the Canadian Government then locally they hacked a database in the Shawnigan Lake oil dumping dispute. So taking from the past and then contemporary news of the day definitely effects the work.
MC: If you weren’t an artist what do you think you’d be doing instead?
CY: Well I’ve never done anything other than conceptualize, build, and make stuff. I’ve only ever worked either with my mind in creating things and being paid for it professionally as a creative director. The only reason that I ended up in tech was because the web all of a sudden was a new platform for creative design professionals and it was a way to make money back then. And really this is a return to plan A, I went to school to be an artist. It was really just because I didn’t know, how do you make money being an artist? That’s why I ended up going in to a different genre of art. But I don’t think I’ve ever actually done anything different. It’s just the medium has changed, right? So all the creative work I did I’m sure one day all of my website designs, because we used to do it was all hand, very different than how it’s made now things are made now with templates, existing templates you use to have to design everything all laid out in photoshop to begin with and then it got compressed. It was all chopped up to tiny little itty bitty puzzle pieces and then it was all coded. And it had to be able to expand, had to contract, be responsive, even before responsive was a thing and all that kind of stuff. So no, I don’t think so. I haven’t to date and I’m half way there if one was to live a full life the life expectancy so… [Laughter]
MC: What direction do you see your art going in do you think you kind of found your niche with Squirrealism or do you think it’s going to change?
CY: Oh gosh, I’m not even the same person I was five years ago. A whole reinvention! People see me as an artist now, and nobody saw me as an artist five years ago because people didn’t see being a creative director working in photoshop or designing web development. People didn’t see that as “creative” which was a big surprise to me. Especially with all the designs. There was no design that was the same, right? So just by my nature of constantly changing as a person I would think that in another five years from now my expectation would be that it’s going to be different. But time will tell.
MC: Do you have any idea what it might turn into? Have you got any sort of direction planed out?
CY: Well I can tell you the next show that I’m doing is with Rande Cook. We’re doing a collaboration for a show in Vancouver. So just an early discussions what we’re taking a lot of his origin stories from his culture and my pop culture influences and we’re sort of marrying these two kind of styles and being influenced from each other. So he’s a Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief from the Alert Bay area. So he’s working a lot of traditional styles. But also putting traditional form line into a contemporary genre and style. So, I’m going to be interested to see what comes from this. We did a collaboration a year and a half ago that was at the Alcheringa Gallery, so I’m interested in seeing what will happen next because Rande’s really been influenced by fashion and beautiful dresses and apliques and taking from the story of the trickster raven and all these kinds of things. So I’m really just, see what happens this year. And then what will come next.
MC: How do you know when a piece is finished?
CY: Ah, yes. Sometimes the light comes on in the eyes because I do a lot of masks even though they’re masks and not actually people faces all the time there is a light that comes on in the pieces and they all of a sudden come alive. And it flashes! It’s almost like a weird psychic-energy that happens to an inanimate object. The spirit is still there, because in everything we have atoms. There is energy in a cup. There is atoms at work there! So even though it doesn’t have a soul, there is still a spirit to it. And so really, there’s this magic that happens in some point in time, once all the paint particles have been cohesive they’ve all of a sudden glued together and something happens in that and it happened with that painting there all of a sudden. I’ll just look and something flashes! I can see it come alive, I know I’m getting close at that point in time. And a deadline always helps. [Laughter].
MC: At what point in time did you know you wanted to be an artist? That it really clicked? Sounds like it’s been a journey. You’ve tried some different things. Is there any moment that it just really became the thing you had to do?
CY: I was never not an artist. I always thought that’s what…if I self identified as a kid. That’s what I did, that’s who I was. So I was always with an imaginary friend or making my own clothes for dolls or characters. I could spend hours and hours by myself. I was an only child for the first 6 years. And then, even after that, my parents were really busy so I can spend endless hours by myself in a room and make things, whatever it is, so I never really saw myself as anything different. What got in the way of me being perceived as an artist was me working in tech, even though I was a creative director doing creative work. All the front end work that you see. So I’ve never not identified with that, I was just surprised other people didn’t see that in me based on a title.
MC: It’s empowering that you were a business woman for a long time in the tech world! You were very successful with that and then you decided to go over to art, do you still feel like you’re kind of running your own business and taking things in your own direction? You promote yourself and you are the business mind behind the creative process as well you’re kind of in charge of everything.
CY: Totally! Completely! When I approached it, my business partner was like, “Okay, I want to go off and do something else.” And he’s doing what he wanted to do, that’s kind of cool. He wanted to get rid of all the responsibilities of having staff and all that because you can be much faster and quicker in technology if you’re not having to train other people in what you’re learning. So the first thing I did was get a simple accounting program and save all my receipts from all the art supplies that I bought. Then got the website up and running and the bio written and the business cards out. I actually originally had business cards that were double sided. One side was Star Global which was the name of my company Star Global on one side, then Carollyne.com on the other side. That was part of the transition I had. I’d hand out both. This is what I do, but this is who I’m going to be. Then I phased out the Star Global cards. Then the cards were a painting on the back and the contact information on the front.
MC: That’s kind of cute, that like you’re incorporating this artistic idea, this artistic concept, into something as simple as your business card! Do you find that a lot? That transition between reality and your art? That you’re often morphing the two?
CY: Well, the identity has certainly been a big change, because when I would walk into a room and I’d meet you I’d be like, “Hi, I’m Carollyne Yardley, I’m a co-owner, founder and creative director of Star Global Advanced IT Corp [Ltd.]” People would be like, “Oh..” and then the experience of going to a business lunch and saying, “What do you do?” and I’m like, “Oh, I’m an artist.” and they’re like, “Oh, your parents must be depressed.” [Laughter] That’s the tone! And to actually experience that feeling of… I could be lying. It’s just a title, right? That whole experience of being tied into your identity of what you do for a living was really… I was actually blown away at how some people in some industries really don’t think being an artist for a living is very significant contribution to the world.
MC: I think it’s good because, you mentioned on your website and you said before, you have the changing identity within which is closer to who someone is. It’s the identity inside you and you can always express that and that progression better as an artist as opposed to something else. You’ve (all of you) got your label. You stuck with that. Were as an artist, your style’s always changing, developing. I feel like it enables you to grow and reflect that.
CY: Totally! And talk about it. I’ve just been stunned and some of the relationships that I’ve built with the art community and the artists… some people if they’re older they had a previous life. They went to art school, they wanted to be an artist, and then financially they just couldn’t figure out how to do it. They didn’t end up in a teaching role or at a university or all the ways people make money from being in art, right? And then there are people who I know who have been in art the whole time, like Noah Becker I was telling you about. He’s never done anything different but be fully in the art community. And I would talk to him sometimes and I would be like “Wow. Is this normal that some people in certain industries they think what they do is all that?” That was eyeopening.
MC: Yeah, and you’re obviously completely at ease talking about your life and your work. As you’ve said, you’ve always sort of seen yourself as a story teller. Do you find that reflects in your art? Your art is often portraits and the subconscious, as you say, but do they also tell a story?
CY: I think they do, I think every piece is telling a story, for sure. Each one has a story that’s maybe my story. Then for the person who collects it or covets the piece; it’s got their story in there too.
MC: That’s nice, that it changes from person to person.
CY: Totally! It’s transferable. Which I think all art really is. The artist that made it, you may never ever meet them. So it becomes your own telling.
MC: I like your ring tone.
CY: [Laughter] It was the only one that didn’t irritate me, the sounds of the harp!
Yeah, then people have their own stories of what they think people will ask me. “Tell me why you did it like that?” like The Madonna and the Birth of Ideas because I don’t have children, so a lot of people who enquire if that has something meaningful to me. That would be mine, my story. However you perceive that story is your interpretation.
MC: Are their any artworks that really stand out to you? Any ones you’re particularly emotionally connected to that you could just never ever part with?
CY: Yeah, The Dove Keeper is a piece that I’m keeping for myself. That was interesting because I had it at a show and I brought her home -I identify with it being female, and When I brought her home and I unwrapped her I thought, “Oh, I’m so sorry I had you out at an art show! How tacky of me! That will never happen to you ever again being out there for sale like that!” The Dove Keeper for me, I really love that painting. I’m keeping it for myself. And Green Bun Squirrel. While I was very happy for the lady who collected, her [Green Bun Squirrel] I have deep regret. I want her back. And I also identified with her.
MC: It’s kind of like your art as your children you have all these little ones you send them away and so attached to them and my little creations they’re all a part of me!
CY: Well that’s the Birth of Ideas! So The Madonna and the Birth of Ideas, funnily enough, as well as the paintings I’ve mentioned so far all identify with being a feminine identity. Going back to that question, so the “Madonna and the Birth of Ideas,” the “Dove Keeper” and “Green Bun Squirrel”, those three pieces, I really love those pieces a lot, and I actually had the Madonna and the Birth of Ideas in my own collection for awhile. It’s now down at Winchester Galleries, but if I get that one back, and it doesn’t sell, I might perma-move it into my personal collection. Then those three pieces. The Celebrity of Being Anonymouse I just like that as a really strong powerful image. It talks about the anonymity and The Celebrity of Being Anonymouse and social media, how everybody’s posting their whole lives online! And one day, it’s my belief, that there is going to be certain jobs like how when I came out of university and there were no jobs in web-development, you created your own company and you created the jobs for people. So there’s going to be jobs now that are going to be in 10 years that don’t exist yet. And for those jobs, for you to get that job, you’re going to have to have no online presence. So all these people who are posting their baby photos, they’re removing those opportunities for their children to have the jobs of the future in some cases. So I would say, The Celebrity of Being Anonymouse speaks to that a little bit too. For some jobs of the future you’re going to have to be just completely anonymous and have no footprint and that’s going to be very difficult. I’d say that painting is very important to me and I really liked going back to the aesthetic. Remember you asked that question about what’s more important aesthetically speaking? I’d say aesthetically speaking Skinner’s Horse for me being the most recent painting. I really feel like I found what I was trying to do in learning that realism I would say feel like I was alright, you just nailed it. So Skinner’s Horse while it has it’s own political and its own statement and has all that I’d say painterly-wise, aesthetically speaking that one for me was something that was significant.
MC: Yeah, it gorgeous. And it’s nice that you have The Celebrity as well as Skinners Horse because while the horse is referring to Japan and what they associate as being an “anonymous” I feel it will be for a vendetta mask really stand out to people and really get the point across. I think that’s a really cool piece.
CY: It’s very contemporary. Again, just what’s happening today with Anonymous the hacktivist group and all that kind of stuff.
MC: So then female artist working in Victoria, your work strikes me personally as being very feminine because you’ve got the cutesy little squirrel and he’s all dressed up so to me it’s strikingly feminine but at the same time you’ve got a lot of purpose behind your art there is a lot more to it and a lot of them have kind of funky surreal kind of scenes that you place them in and so I’d identify them as feminine but you see them as a little bit of both and I feel like gender is something we should elaborate on in the art community..
CY: Well maybe something to do with angry old guy on the inside [Laughter]. I think people have lots of different parts to themselves on the outside and on the inside. My husband Laurence, he sometimes calls me JD. So he’ll be like, “Do you want a cigar with the whiskey, JD.” So he knows the angry old guy. [Laughter].
MC: Tell me about some of the shows that you’ve been in. Is it always exclusively your Squirrealism? You do practice some other mediums too, you’ve got some variety there. What do you usually show? What are some big galleries openings you’ve been in that you’ve really enjoyed?
CY: Yeah, the two shows that come to mind are the one with Rande Cook at Alcheringa Gallery and the show at the Fazakas Gallery in Vancouver with LaTiesha Fazakas. It was diversity and feminism called “She.” Those two particular shows really stand out. One of the pieces that I did, I actually contacted the Guerrilla Squ- The Guerrilla Girls [laughter] I renamed them… The Guerrilla Girls who are based out of New York. They’re an anonymous feminist group who are speaking to the inequality in the art world and they do it through humour and posters. So in 1985 they did the Report Card and it was a gallery tally of how many of the top galleries in New York represented women and also museums. How many [museums] had women. Think it was about 94% of all women represented in museums and art galleries in New York at the time were women naked, right?! [Laughter] 5 %, so a very very small number of actual women artists were being represented in commercial galleries and in public institutions. So that’s what they did it’s called the Report Card and they did an actual tally. Then in 2015 a group called Pussy Galore, they did another gallery tally of the same galleries, if they were still in business, and to show the increase and they did a percentage. So on average it improved a little bit, but there is still a long way to go. So New York, it was 33% of the people represented in galleries are women. There was another woman who I wrote her name down to remember Micol Hebron she did something called the gallery tally which you can do in your city and you can make an application you get the questionnaire then you can go and poll the galleries in your town and you can send the results back to be compiled.
MC: Has anyone done that recently here? I accept that mission! Oh no, now I’ve said it and we’ve got that recording.
CY: [Laughter] That would be awesome! I’ve thought about it, but there is no time and somebody needs to take it on!
MC: Didn’t the Guerilla Girls do something more recently as well?
CY: It was their thirtieth year anniversary. I didn’t realize it was their thirtieth year anniversary. So anyways, I got an invite to do this group show in Vancouver and it had Rosa Quintana Lillo and Trace Yeomens and we each did our take on it. I went and contacted the Guerrilla Girls and asked them if I could use the Report Card in my piece
MC: You can just do that? You can just contact the Guerrilla Girls? I thought they were anonymous and that was their whole thing! That you can’t really reach them.
CY: Oh they reply with their pseudonyms!
MC: I need to get in contact with these Guerilla Girls.
CY: And I contacted Maura Reilly who is a member of the Feminist Art Collective, and she replied to me directly on behalf of Pussy Galore and she said, “I can’t speak for the group, but will I please send a message to the group email.” So I sent a message to the group email message and I hear back from Frida Khalo. Was it Freda that I head back from? They use pseudonyms of passed-on female artists.
MC: That’s good, kind of making a community of it, like were all together. I’m going to her name! We’re all supporting each other. I love that.
CY: Totally! And that way they’re not speaking on work from living artists, they don’t want to make a statement about their work. I asked if I could use both of their Report Cards for Guerilla Squirrel. I asked to use both of their report cards side by side and then I said, “Okay, go down the rabbit hole so, I went down the rabbit hole.” I bought my Gloria Steinem book online. The Guerilla Girls talked about being anonymous behind their gorilla masks. They talk about being like Wonder Woman fighting for the cause and all that kind of stuff. Like modern day Robin Hoods! And all that kind of thing! I was like, “Oh, they mentioned Wonder Woman” and pull out a book that I found at a garage sale on the street. It had Wonder Woman on the cover but I’d never flipped through it. It turns out it’s a Ms. Magazine, a Ms. Woman book and the introduction of each chapter is written by Gloria Steinem. How unbelievable is that? So it’s a really cool pop-contemporary colour of blue and yellow. So, I took all of these pieces and I put them together in a painting so that show was really good for me because I got myself caught up on all that information about Linda Nochlin. Reading her essay on why there have been no great female artists. And then that painting, that What if You Couldn’t because You’re a Woman, the nude with the mask on. I did that because I didn’t even know this myself when I was in art class at U Vic
MC: That squirrel is definitely a boy…
CY: [Laughter] And it’s 17th century [inspired]. When I was in art class in 1989 at the University of Victoria I didn’t realize the privilege that it was to draw the male nude. We have lots of male nude models and they were strolling around as well as female nudes. I didn’t really realize what a privilege it was I had no idea. I didn’t even realize when I went back to take some evening art classes at the Bank Street School. I had no idea that women were not allowed to see the naked body in a class up until the turn of the 1900s you were banned. In order to be a great artist you had to paint the male nude or draw the male nude wonderfully. Well if you had no access how could you ever be considered to be a great artist if you had no access to the very thing that was, apparently, a measure as to whether you were great or not? Well that kind of excludes you right away. I was really, really quite surprised at my lack of knowledge in this so that’s why that show for me was important, it really got me into more of a serious look at what I wanted to say with my work in the future. So, you talked about the cute fuzzy squirrel, where was the moment thigns started getting more serious? Then Rande Cook also invited me to do a show with him, which I mentioned several times before, and it was the first time according to him and to Elaine [Monds], the owner of Alcheringa, a native and none native artist had come together to do a show like that really since the pot latch ban of the 1920s. Pre potlatch ban there was a lot of influence from native and non-native artists taking from each others’ inspirations and work and really working with different imagery. Then the 1920s potlatch ban and all the [claps] unfortunate bad relationships and horrible things that happened during that period of time really sort of made it that it was looked at differently [collaboration of native and non-native artists] the being influenced and working together in that kind of way. When Rande was explaining to me what we were doing I wondered and asked him myself about appropriation because I was using his imagery in my paintings. Rande said that this is the way you’re supposed to do it, that I was not picking up his tools learning to carve in his style then selling pieces in my own name. He was said, “You’re doing portraits of me.” So I’m doing portraits of him with items that belong to him and pieces of his art work but I’m doing it in my style of painting and he said that that’s the way you’re supposed to do collaborations. Traditionally portrait painting was not a traditional form of art in his culture either, so even the act doing a portrait is not traditional or taking away from many of the spiritual traditional things that are done. I think was a really big. That came first, then the “She” show came second. I’d say that those two shows really added some weight to the work and to me, they added weight to how I approached it and what I wanted to think about.
MC: You’ve done a lot of other kinds of unusual things. Like your Anus Bun and I just want to ask… why?
CY: No! You’ve gotta ask the question how you wrote it! [Laughter]
MC: I had a written question about it too. Some people might find your Anus Bun juvenile and how would you respond to that?
CY: In my bio I say I work with repetitive imagery, memes, and absurdity. I would say that I nailed it! [Laughter] But what is it about? It started off before people were taking selfies and all that kind of stuff. Back in 2008/2009 not even with iPhones just regular cameras. I’ve had this hair-style for a really, really, really, really long time. Like a really long time. It’s consistent. It’s the one main thing that’s been consistent in my life. Except its gotten bigger. [Laughter] In the ’90s I had the things that went down here, the front part has changed. If there’s no body aroufd to take a Bun Anus phot I have to do the front bump. It pre-dates taking selfies in museums. There was a giant rutebega and taking with different kinds of fruit was how I started. I just ended up with an enormous amount of pictures of the bun because people I know would take photographs of it in different scenarios then email them to me. Then there was a period of time where you couldn’t take photographs of yourself in museums in Europe in institutions or collections because you weren’t allowed to take photographs at all. Period. So I’d say to Lawrence, “Just take a photo of me! Just do it on the QT!!” but if you’re going like this and smiling, it’s really obvious you’re getting a photograph taken. So if you’re just kind of looking at the work and someone comes up quickly behind you and just kind of takes a photograph well, then it’s the bun in with the painting. That’s how it grew. The other reason I do it now is because someday when you’re traveling it’s vanity-based [Laughter] I look like crap and it’s kind of boring to have your face in a photograph that you want to immortalise yourself in with a great work of art! It’s like, okay, so here’s my face and here’s this amazing work of art. And I find if you take it from behind you’re actually not so focused on the person in the photograph, you’re actually really looking at the wok of art. It keeps it the focus and then it became a thing and people started doing it online, taking selfies of themselves with paintings.
MC: The inventor of the selfie right here [Laughter].
CY: No. And then there was a guy there was an artist he actually started painting the backs of people’s heads looking at art and his name is…
MC: I thought maybe it [the Anus Bun] tied into your whole anonymous thing?
CY: It did! I know a lot of people who have a funny sense of humour. So that’s a fun bar trick. You’re right it does tie into that too.
MC: It’s fun. I like it. The intellectual property dispute you had a little while ago with branding?
CY: Oh yeah, sure. I started the company Carollyne Yardley Omnimedia. For Star Global we have a registered trademark, Star Global, so part of any organization it’s good to trademark your business name. That way you’re protected from other companies popping up with the same business name doing the same work. It creates confusion in the market place. So, just because of my business background the next obvious thing to do is to get a registered trademark for your business name. So I registered the word “Carollyne” cause that’s my business name. I hired a trademark lawyer and registered it with the Government of Canada back in 2009. And it’s a process. All of a sudden one day in the mail I get a piece of mail that is addressed to the trademark lawyer that I had file it and it says there is a section 45 that has been applied to my registered trade mark. I had no idea what that was and I didn’t know who it was. Speaking of anonymous. This company, who it turns out is American Girl which is a subsidiary of Mattel, have a doll called the Caroline that comes with books and postcards and bookmarks and things like that. They were wanting to get the trade mark for “Caroline” registered in Canada and they couldn’t get their application processed because my existing trade mark was sited as already existing. So the Canadian intellectual property office said to American Girl, “No you cannot get your trade mark approved because this person already exists.” It was too similar according to the Government of Canada to have both of them existing because I have similar wares and services listed under my registered trade mark. So the only way in Canada is a use it or loose it law. So they asked the registrar to give me a section 45 notice, which meant that I had to prove I was actually using it for the wares and services that I had registered. If I didn’t have the money to defend that I am using it I would have just had it expunged. I had to hire a lawyer and I had to put all my evidence together and it’s cost me over 30 thousand dollars since 2013. It’s a ridiculous amount of money and it has impacted my business greatly. You don’t figure out that you’re going to spend that much money until all of a sudden… it creeps up. I was quoted three-thousand dollars to defend the trademark and I thought that sounds fine to me. I can do that. So I got all my evidence together. I filed it with the lawyer who filed it on my behalf with the Government of Canada. Then there is a waiting period. Then, unbeknownst to me, at the time I didn’t know that there are all these particular parts to it. There is an oral hearing, there is their response to my evidence, then I would have the opportunity to respond to their response to the evidence, then the oral hearing and blah blah blah. Each time you have one of those little opportunities it can actually cost you six-thousand dollars. So I declined to do a whole lot of the middle parts, because it was just financially impossible. The Government of Canada, the registrar, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office in September I believe it was 2015, October 2015 said in her report that I had proven the right to continue to use and maintain my registered trade mark in Canada. So, happy days for about a month because then part of the process they can then appeal the registrars decision in federal court. And they have done that. I didn’t have the financial means to then go to federal court so it is basically a closed off room in the dark in my life because if you don’t say you’re going to be part of the federal court proceedings, they don’t actually inform you of any dates or what’s happening or anything. So there’s this proceeding happening in federal court related to my registered trade mark which the government said I had shown that I was using. Now there is a judge who may or may not be a trademark expert and there is going to be one lawyer arguing one side arguing the registrar’s decision. I don’t know when or how long it takes. You’re getting the most up to date information in February 2016. I’m hoping for the best, that the registrars report is there with no holes in [her case]. She was very thorough in her review of the evidence. I just have to wait and see what happens.
MC: Branding’s important, and intellectual property as an artist. A lot of this you’re drawing on different aspects of culture. What other people have done and putting all these ideas together. You have a lot of pop culture influence in your work. Tell me more about what you’ve taken from other works or really admired in other people’s art and kind of made your own?
CY: I would say it weaves through all of it. Fashion trends of the 1950s. Weaves through the Avenue Squirrels, as I call them, the Green Bun and the Space Hat. The Space Hat itself is of Patrick Kelly a designer from 1980’s and he was really famous for doing buttons on everything and then the Mary Quant hat, that’s the Mushroom Hat Squirrel. And then the Guerrilla Girls, their iconic works are in Guerrilla-Squirrel, the Micky Mouse ears. I definitely borrow and reinterpret from popular culture. I would say that theme definitely weaves through pretty much all of my work to date. I find it interesting that we’re in an era of the repeating imagery of memes and also appropriation art. Richard Prince comes to mind, some people are like Shepard Fairey, [who designed] the Obama Hope poster, we’re really an era where because of the web imagery millions and millions and millions of images are available.
MC: I feel like it’s not just the artist but the audience that they’re targeting now too. There seems to be more ways in which society is mirrored, you watch TV or film. When in art when you borrow these things it’s more mirroring society, but in the way that you see it. So I think that it’s good [reinterpreting and using existing imagery in pop culture] and very modern to be reinterpreting reality.
Is there anything else that you’d want to say about your art or your experience that I haven’t been over? Something that might be really surprising?
CY: No I think it was really thorough. No you saw the squirrels outside, you met them in person! You saw the deer. [Laughter]. So you saw the models. I don’t know I think they were really good questions that you asked! I think it was really thorough. So thank you.
Yardley, Carollyne. Carollyne Yardley Omnimedia Online. Accessed Feb 5, 2016. http://www.carollyne.com/
CBC News. “Carollyne Yardley Fights Matttel’s America Girl For Her Name.” Posted April 28, 2014. Accessed Feb 8, 2016. (Case recently settled. Congratulations Carollyne, justice is served!)
Yardley, Carollyne. Carollyne Yardley Omnimedia Online. Accessed Feb 9, 2016. http://www.carollyne.com/portfolio/
Yardley, Carollyne. Carollyne Yardley Omnimedia Online. Accessed Feb 9, 2016 http://www.carollyne.com/portfolio/photography/
Yardley, Carollyne. Carollyne Yardley Omnimedia online. Accessed Feb 9, 2016 http://www.carollyne.com/portfolio/portfolio-bun-anus-project/
Yardley, Carollyne. “Squirrealism: Art in an Era of Nostalgia, Appropriation, and Memes.” Carollyne Online. Posted April 13, 2013.
Yardley, Carollyne. Selfies vs Self-Portraits: Expanding the Genre. Self Portrait: X-ray Analysis of My Hair Bun. Posted Nov 4, 2016.
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria: http://aggv.ca/events/selfies-vs-self-portraits-expanding-genre. http://www.carollyne.com/2015/11/x-ray-of-my-hair-bun/.
Facebook exhibition: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154294911988294.1073741869.17788003293&type=3
Yardley Carollyne, “Comments Off on Painting of Lord Rocco the Pug.” Carollyne Online. Posted March 2, 2016.
Laurie White. “Anony-mouse.” Analogue Magazine. Dec/Jan 2016. www.analoguemag.ca
John Thomson. “Canadian Artist Goes Squirrely.” DZine Trip Magazine, June 11, 2015.
Shows and Exhibits
Yardley, Carollyne. Imaginary Friends. Victoria, BC: Open Space Art Society. March 11-April 9, 2016.
Yardley, Carollyne. Winchester Galleries Winter Exhibition. Victoria, BC: Wincher Galleries. November 26-January, 4 2016
Yardley, Carollyne. Union Club Art Fair. Victoria, BC: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Oct 17, 2015
Yardley, Carollyne. ArtBeat. Vancouver, BC: Art Beat. July 25, 2015 (festival and charity event. Banksy Squirrel)
Yardley, Carollyne. SHE. Vancouver, BC. Fazakas Gallery. June 18- June 20, 2015 (Feminist exhibit with Guerilla Squirrel)
Yardley, Carollyne. Ravenous. Victoria, BC. Alcheringa Gallery. June 23-July 19 2014. (In collaboration with Rande Cook)
Heilbrun, Carolyn G., 1926-2003. Writing a Woman’s Life. New York;London;: Norton, 1988. Print.
DeBlasio, Donna Marie. Catching Stories: A Practical Guide to Oral History. Athens, Ohio: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2009. Print.
Sandino, Linda, and Matthew Partington. Oral History in the Visual Arts. New York;London;: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.
Megan Dickie was born in 1974 in the small town of Crossfield, Alberta, just north of Calgary. Growing up in this rural farming community, Dickie’s exposure to visual art was limited to books in her parents’ collection, which included an illustrated text by Robert Bateman and three encyclopedic pages describing ‘art’. Her parents were both “makers of things”; her father was in construction and architecture and her mother was a schoolteacher who taught art and did sewing projects. Her small community lacked arts education, so Dickie proactively sought one out on her own. She took art courses by correspondence in high school before she left for the University of Calgary, where she earned a BFA in Printmaking in 1997. She experimented with more applied forms of art and dabbled in graphic design and interior design, but was unsatisfied in visualizing ideas that were not her own. Instead she pursued her MFA at the University of Saskatchewan, graduating in 2002.
As a student, Dickie was interested in shocking her audience. Using sexuality and humour, she played with the forms of the animal body as associated with the human body. The challenging climate and strained politics in Saskatchewan encouraged Dickie to move west to Vancouver Island in 2003. She began working at the University of Victoria as a sessional instructor in 2005 and became Assistant Professor of Sculpture in 2015. In 2016, Dickie began teaching video art, a medium she began working with in 2007. Her most recent work incorporates sculpture, video work, and performance. Using her own body as a character-performer, Dickie looks to platform video games as a means to critically examine the challenges that contemporary artists face, and to explore the humour that arises from human failure. Dickie will be presenting her work in a solo exhibition at Open Space in Victoria, BC in early 2017.
These excerpts are from the full audio file (49:42 mins) of an interview between Kristi Hoffman and Megan Dickie on February 15, 2016 – available below.
Megan Dickie on her early artistic influences: (1:15 min)
Megan Dickie on teaching sculpture: (1:14 min)
Megan Dickie on struggle, performance and interaction: (1:30 min)
Megan Dickie on being a character-performer: (1:26 min)
Megan Dickie on failure, humour, and the contemporary art structure: (1:40 min)
In Conversation with Megan Dickie
Full Interview (Audio File) – 49:42 mins.
Full Interview Transcription
Edited and transcribed by Kristi Hoffman in consultation with Megan Dickie
Kristi Hoffman: So, today is February 15, 2016. This interview is taking place between interviewee Megan Dickie Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the University of Victoria and interviewer Kristi Hoffman also from the University of Victoria. Today’s interview is taking place in the Visual Arts Building at UVic.
Where were you born and raised?
Megan Dickie: I was born just outside of Calgary in a farming community. The town was called Crossfield. I lived on a farm though. And so I was raised there, went to the University of Calgary, and left Alberta in the year 2000.
KH: Can you tell me about your early artistic influences?
MD: You know, when you sent me the [proposed list of questions], that was a hard one, I think especially because of the ruralness of my upbringing. It depends what you think of as early. But I will just start with that, that there weren’t a lot of early artistic influences, just because it wasn’t really a part of the lifestyle in this farming community. But I do remember both of my parents were makers of things. My dad worked in construction and architecture and my mom was a school teacher but also taught art and did sewing projects. So there was a lot of making going on around me. Probably the only visual art influence I had though were maybe two books that my parents had that had art in them. One was the encyclopedia and I just remember memorizing the three pages that described art, and looking at them all the time, and then a book by Robert Bateman, which I am embarrassed to say that my parents owned [laughter]. But you know, just really trying to consume whatever I could consume. And that led into just having to be really proactive with what I could get from art. Instead of it coming to me I had to search it out. In my small town we didn’t even have art in high school so I had to take it through correspondence. Then I went to the University of Calgary and that opened up my eyes a lot to what art was and even just art history, and I think at that time I probably was interested in more typical artists that you’d be interested in, like Max Ernst, a lot of the Surrealists, and definitely Marcel Duchamp. I’m still very interested in Marcel Duchamp.
KH: So when did you first identify as an artist?
MD: Probably during or after graduate school. After I graduated with my BFA, I didn’t think I would become an artist. I thought I would work in more applied forms of art, like graphic design or interior design or architecture, something like that. And I found by dabbling in it that I didn’t like it. Mostly I didn’t like trying to visualize other people’s ideas. I wanted to visualize my own ideas. And that’s what pushed me to go back to school to get my MFA. I think it was while doing the MFA I finally realized that this is what I should be doing, and that I had enough experience and had shown some work that I could call myself an artist. But before that I didn’t feel like I had the experience or the wherewithal or the personal investment yet to do that.
KH: So can you tell me about your interests as an arts student? As you said, you did your BFA at the University of Calgary and then your MFA at the University of Saskatchewan. So what were the themes you were interested in or your concerns?
MD: I mean they switched a lot in undergrad. Now looking back at my work, I’ve always been interested in being a little bit subversive or sometimes a lot… A bit rebellious. And trying to do something that someone might think I wouldn’t do or shouldn’t do. And so in undergrad, I did a printmaking degree. In printmaking you tend to use a lot of other sourced imagery, so appropriated images. So I started using imagery from pornography, also as a way to just shock people a little bit. […] And I was interested in, not just the shock, but the questioning of what people think is good and what people think is bad. So I did a lot of playing around with pornography, but always in a humorous way, as a way to use sexuality to bring out humour, which I think is still prevalent in my work.
When I went to grad school, I was still interested in working with ideas of sexuality and humour and it was there that I kind of picked apart some of the things that I saw happening in Saskatoon. The University of Saskatchewan is interesting because they have a huge agricultural department. They have farms on the campus, so there are cows walking around. Our studios were in a crop science building and so we had this connection; we had to pass through the agricultural building to get to ours. I wanted to play with some of that and then I had this history of growing up in a rural area so I had some of that animal husbandry in my background too. I started to play with aspects of the animal body as associated with the human body. For my Master’s show, I did series of chickens that were all posed in sexual positions, like raw roasting chickens, but I cast them in wax and made them look very realistic; once again, just as a way to shake up what people would think should be happening in terms of animal products, but also to be lighthearted. I think that art can be sometimes too serious or that we might come across a piece of art thinking that it should hold all this serious amount of meaning to it, and I think that it can be much more playful than that. And those are the things that I was playing with there, and other apparatuses that might’ve had more sensuous materials. That’s when I first started working with leather which has been a part of my practice for awhile, and all the connotations that are associated with leather, in terms of sensuality and sexuality, but also it’s very utilitarian and based from the animal and trying to deal with issues like that. […]
KH: So how did you end up coming to Victoria, and when?
MD: After I finished my degree in Saskatoon I stayed for year and taught. Then my partner and I — it’s not an easy city to live in, I mean weather wise, but also at that time there were lot of negative things happening in Saskatoon, or in the province where the relationship between indigenous people and the police was at a height. In the year that we left, two or three indigenous men were driven by police to this water treatment plant and left to die in the cold. So there were a lot of stresses and struggles going on there. […] So we basically just sat down and chose two cities in Canada that we would want to move to. Victoria was one we had visited a couple times and Montréal was the other. We both decided we would probably have [a] better chance of getting a job in Victoria because we didn’t speak French very well. So we literally just moved. We didn’t have any prospects, and it was the year 2003. My partner is an engineer, and he had a job in a week and it took me over a year to get a job.
KH: So what was it about Victoria that brought you here?
MD: I think my partner definitely is someone that loves the ocean, and so I think that was a big draw for him. The weather, you know, the chance to live somewhere that is not -30 or +30 all the time. The beauty of it, the lushness of it, which coming from the Prairies is the opposite. You know, the Prairies are so stark. And we had some friends in Vancouver so it seemed like something to try out. And we were a lot younger, [laughter] so whatever.
KH: And so how did you come to work at the University of Victoria?
MD: Well I think I had applied before I left Saskatoon, and I think I missed a deadline or something so I didn’t get any sessional work. But I knew that I had that ability, that I had taught at the University of Saskatchewan, so I could teach. I started teaching, actually outside of UVic, anywhere that would let me teach; the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Vancouver Island School of Art, there’s another one called the Victoria College of Art. And making no money at all, but just keeping up my practice of teaching. Then a call for sessional work came here. So I applied for that, but I didn’t get hired here until 2005 as a sessional and was a sessional just up until last year — so almost nine years of being a sessional in this department.
KH: So can you tell me a bit about your teaching experience here?
MD: It is so different now. When you’re a sessional, you’re a contract employee and sometimes you get work and sometimes you don’t, so it’s a very unstable place to be. You don’t know where your paycheque is coming from. At the same time, you’re continually applying for work every year, not just at this institution but other institutions, to see if you could get a permanent job. And during that time as a sessional, it’s also trying to balance your art making with your teaching, and learning what that’s like. But not having the security of a lot of income to invest in your artwork because you’re always trying to play catch-up by teaching an extra class. It just seems to really take away from your art practice. So I think at the beginning I did struggle a lot with that, and probably invested more time in my teaching than I did my art practice because that was what could give me some financial stability. And in hindsight, I probably lost a couple of good years of momentum in my practice, where it can kind of deaden out and then you have to rebuild it up in terms of promotion of your work, which is unfortunate. So there’s those things. I guess what else in terms of teaching? Like what I teach?
KH: Sure. What kinds of classes you are teaching in terms of medium?
MD: When I first started, it was mostly drawing and that’s just because those are the most classes and that’s what you usually get as a contract employee. So I mostly taught drawing, and then moved into teaching sculpture. […] That was a really great moment for me because I’ve always done sculpture, but I […] never took took a sculpture course, so it was really great for me to teach sculpture and be in that atmosphere of the sculpture studio and be learning at the same time as the students. I knew what I knew how to make, but then there’s all these other possibilities as well as our shop facilities with our wood and metal shops and getting used to those. […] Now I mostly teach first-year foundation sculpture which I really enjoy because so few students have a background in sculpture when they come to our program. You really get to see them light up and discover what contemporary sculpture is, because they might have a more classical idea of what sculpture is, and to see how inventive they can be with what they’re making. And also to see students invest in the real world, you know, everything is so digital and Internet based, and using your smart phone. It seems like the interactions of your hand to another substance are getting less and less. And to see the empowerment of students who really knew how to make nothing, or barely did anything with their hands besides maybe drawing or painting, to actually have the confidence to go, “well I know how to use this type of wood and I know how it will react,” and to develop material knowledge is something that I think is really important to keep going. It’s inspiring to see students learn that. And then this year I taught, for the first time, a video art class. Maybe my first video project was in 2007 or 2008. I can’t remember the date now. But I’ve also just been self-taught with that, so it was really interesting for me to have to learn the history of video art, which isn’t that long — it just started in the ’60s — and be able to show students all this work and learn at the same time. It was like I did with the sculpture. It was challenging of course, a lot of work load to do a new course like that, but also very rewarding.
KH: So I understand that you were involved in the In Session – One exhibition, held at the Legacy Gallery in 2015. Can you tell me about your involvement in that exhibition?
MD: Well it was a few of us sessionals — because there are so many — Mary-Jo [Hughes] had put together a section of us. The framework of it was more based on image-makers, because she was trying to put people, video and photo together, and then there’s going to be another show later in the year, so that will be other mediums.
And so, because I do video work, I got put in that show. I also felt awkward in that show because I mostly do sculpture that is supported with video, but I’ve never just done a video work that sits on its own. It always has that sculptural component to it. So there were some challenges with that, in terms of the space and getting what I needed, and I think also challenges for the Legacy because they hadn’t done too many contemporary art exhibits or video installations either. So there were some struggles there. I’m happy with the work I made for the show. I’m not entirely happy with how it looked at the show, which is common when you’re in a group show; you can’t get everything that you want for the piece. But that’s fine [laughter]. It was a good experience, also in terms of working with your colleagues. I think Victoria is such a small city that there aren’t a lot of opportunities to have group shows with people that you teach with, and it was just nice to have a dialogue amongst us all the time. It was like, “Oh, what are you working on?”, “How are things going to have conversations between them?”, listening to a few the people in the show that had artist talks. And so being able to listen to that and learn more about their practice was really great. And I mean the staff at Legacy is always great.
KH: Yeah, it sounds quite collaborative. So from what we’ve talked about, you work in the media of sculpture, video, and printmaking. For example in one piece that I saw on your website, Spin Off, there was that combination of video animation, and sculpture with that large dumbbell. I also noticed that there were photographs of you, I assume you, in the video animation and then a photo of the same figure handling the large dumbbell. And in fact, I noticed that there are several images and videos of your work, which capture engagement and interaction with your sculptural works. So is there an element of performance, would you say, in these pieces?
MD: Yeah. I’ll talk to you about how I got to that. Because I’ve never been, I mean there are some artists that are born performance artists, but I never have been. How it came about is that I like the physicality of sculpture and it was by making one particular piece called Ready to Rumble, which is a big brick wall, that I realized that I could display that physicality […] and […] struggle through video works. So to show that struggle, I needed a performer to perform with these sculptures. And what I wanted to be performed is just so weird that I couldn’t really ask anybody else to do it and I also didn’t know how to ask someone, because it was more of an intuitive thing that I was doing. I couldn’t really direct somebody as how to interact with something. And also, I guess at that same time, I was wanting the viewer to interact with my work, and not just have it be a static object in space. I was struggling with that a lot because we are schooled not to interact with an artwork. We are schooled not to touch it, so how do you elicit the sense of interaction. And so I thought by doing these video works where I’m obviously interacting, that that might be permission for someone to touch or investigate with their hands. So that’s how that started.
And also when that started, I decided to make myself a bit of a character and I think that was more about being a bit self-conscious about being in front of the camera, you know, as myself, and that has just seemed to perpetuate in my practice. I think, by being a character performer, I can control some of the content or some of the points that I’m trying to point viewers to with the work. I’m always dressed a certain way, which is a very feminine way; usually I’m wearing heels and a dress in the performances. I usually have something over my face to disguise myself and that’s all really important for me. […] I still think there’s a lot of content and discussion [that needs] to happen in terms of the female body in an artwork as well as a woman that is a sculptor in a still very male-dominated realm. So I like the idea of the character being able to push those questions out to the viewer.
Then Spin Off is from this video game project that I’ve done. […] I had originally conceived that I was going to physically do all this stuff that is quite aggressive and could harm me. And I worked with a student assistant that I hired, and she had brought up that it doesn’t have to be real There are ways to do this on the computer, that we can stretch reality. Which I really wanted to invest in, which I had done in my printmaking prior. And so a lot of it’s me making poses like I’m doing something aggressive or like rolling around and falling, but it’s not actually happening. It’s all done when we put it into the computer and animate it. So that was really a good experience. But also trying too, because in the older works where I just physically interact with something until it fails or I hurt myself, there’s a truth to that and I think a lot of the humour comes from the true failure of the human body, the foibles of the body, the body not able to do what you want it to do. And so that was hard in the video game work, to retain that honesty but still push it further and be more fictional.
KH: I was really drawn to The Gleamer too. I watched the video of you moving underneath. Can you talk about that piece a little bit more?
MD: The Gleamer is a […] body of work that has probably stayed with me the longest. I keep playing with it. And The Gleamer started really simply in that I had already made this other sculpture that was a net shape and I was fascinated by how this articulated net could change forms. And I just thought of how I could transfer that to something else, and came up with this idea of adding triangles to a fabric structure. That’s what it is. Just metal triangles glued to this organza fabric. And to discover what it could do. A lot of my practice is about building objects that mutate, transform, are unpredictable, and I just basically come up with the basic structure for it, and then it tells me what it’s going to do, how it’s going to move. And I really enjoy that sense of uncertainty, knowing that it will do something but I don’t know what it will do.
But The Gleamer was pure magic. So the full Gleamer is a 15 x 15 foot blanket, and it started with a little model. I remember making it, putting it between two tables, getting under the table, just putting my hands under it while I video taped from above. And when I saw that initial footage, I was just blown away because it’s so simple, but because it’s made of triangles in this silver colour, it also looks very digitized, you know, like pixels or something that’s not analog at all. But here it is, a blanket with a person underneath it. So then that pushed me to do it larger, because I just knew I wanted that interaction to be even bigger and more than just with my hands, but my full physical body. So I produced it. And there’s also, I think, a bit of an obsessive quality with my own practice in that I really like to work. So I find these situations where I want to do repetitive things over and over again. I think it comes from being a printmaker. So I had hand-cut all those triangles and glued them down. And it’s stupid, right? [laughter] But there’s a gratification there too. Yeah, and then I did some test shots with me under it, and then I took it to Calgary for an exhibition. In this exhibition I learned a lot about what it’s like to have interaction with the viewer and the loss of control by the artist by letting the viewer play with your work. So what I did was I designed this project called Get the Gleamer. It is quite sharp, because it’s made of this very thin aluminum and even the fabric is quite thin, so it kind of pokes through. So I had to sew these robes that people put on, like protective robes and hats and stuff. And asked them to get under the blanket, also so I could see what it looked like, not as a participant but as the viewer, and then had that recorded with video — two videos: one prerecorded and then the other one was live-recording but on a one minute delay so the person could go in and play around, and come out and see what they had done. But it got destroyed. Not that people tried to destroy it, but they don’t know the frailty of it like I do and so that was also interesting to learn. With that and a couple of other projects, I really did learn that I’m making these physical works, not for the viewer to physically interact with but just for myself to physically interact with. […] I used to frame the work as interactive sculptures, and now I frame them as performative sculptures because I think, it’s like having your child hurt or something [laughter]. It’s like no! That’s mine! What are you doing!
KH: Well yeah! it sounds like a lot of time invested into a piece like that!
MD: Yeah, and I mean The Gleamer has grown. I was never pleased with the presentation of The Gleamer, as an object in space. I like the video work of it, but whenever I put The Gleamer in the gallery beside the video, it just seems really boring. And so for the Legacy show, I re-did that. There’s this one photograph of me under The Gleamer where my legs are showing, and I liked that counter of the human to something that looked really industrial or not human. So then I decided to cast my legs to put under The Gleamer to bring that back in, but have it be a sculpture on its own. And I haven’t had a chance to show it since that show, but right now I think that is the way that I like to show it.
KH: So you have an upcoming exhibition next year at Open Space.
KH: Can you tell me about your plans for that exhibition, and I guess also your most recent concerns and themes in your work?
MD: Okay. So that show will be based on the video game project: [including] the Spin Off one that was on my website. It is the largest project I’ve worked on, multiyear. When did I start working on that project? 2013? And I’m still working on it. It started as a video trilogy, and it started from a really silly inspiration. […] I was watching this television show called American Ninja Warrior, which is like an obstacle course game, but to the extreme. It’s ridiculous. And the physicality of the obstacles in it, the impediments, instantly made me think that I wanted to make my own impediments like this. […] And when I was thinking about that, I thought, “Well what kind of other references are there in history or in pop culture that are about these courses or games and competition?” So video games came up right away. And not contemporary video games, but the games I grew up with as a kid, like Atari games. Like clunky platform games, where you jump off one thing, like Super Mario. And so I wanted to frame it within that context, and have the video reference these old style video games.
In the trilogy there is Spin Off, which has references to Marcel Duchamp with the spiral. There’s another one called Lighten Up which originally was about references to art that was hot around the ’80s that used a lot of fluorescent light tubes, or neon in them, and my love/hate of that; sometimes it’s tacky and sometimes it’s good. But it has grown into being more about just lightening up, you know, like chill out. Like don’t take something so seriously. And then there’s a third one called Build It. That one is about the buildings of contemporary institutions. And in that video game, there’s basically these buildings that undulate up and down and I try to jump over them and I fall and fail. And in the Lighten Up one, it’s just like a rotating diamond and two characters try to jump on the diamond, and they’re always falling off. Nobody wins in the video game. When I showed Spin Off, this guy was watching it and he said, “I just want her to win!” And I said, “She’s never going to win!” [laughter] She just constantly fails.
I just try to make work that I want to make. But also, the longer you make work, you know that you’re going to keep perpetuating certain things that are of concern to you. And this whole idea of using humour as a way to talk about things is something that I’m really still engaged in. By doing this project I realize that failure is a big component of humour. When you see somebody fail, and especially when somebody fails and it doesn’t have any consequence, like in a video game, you just start and play again. […] I wanted to address that. And I also wanted to address a lot of the failures I have had as an artist, you know, not getting shows, not getting a job, like all these things. The struggles of constantly pushing yourself all the time, and that it is a very competitive world and so the whole project uses humour but also at the main basis of it, is this questioning of the structure of the contemporary art system. […] These institutions hold your future in their hand, and if you can’t get a show in a decent gallery, you won’t be a decent artist. That is just basically the way it is. […] And so I just wonder, can you subvert those steps? Are there ways that you can change the course?
So there will be those three video works that deal with that and the dumbbell. I usually always make the sculpture then it turns into a video. But with this project, I knew from the beginning that the main thing would be video. And so a lot of the sculptures ended up just being props that I didn’t think were special enough to display as sculpture, or present as sculptures. Except for the dumbbell. So right now what I’m working on are two projects, one for Build It and one for Lighten Up that are the sculptural components. And they’re not describing what happens in the video; they’re just a form that is influenced by the imagery in the video, that influence some of the processes I went through.
The show itself will also be the largest exhibition I’ve had in terms of space, which I’m excited about. And it was proposed to Open Space because I knew it was going to be a large installation. That has been a struggle for me to try. I made a model of the space and I’ve tried all these different things as to how to have an immersive environment in a large space. […] It’s challenging and I’m really enjoying that. And I think the next steps will be finding writers, guest speakers and stuff that can look at what the content of my work is, and think about their own research and keep adding to the dialogue that I’ve started. Because it’s questioning the contemporary art system, but there’s also questions in terms of technology too. Like I was describing before how students don’t know how to use their hands to make things because we’ve become further and further removed from the real world. So I’d like some things like that to come out. You know, here I am looking like a digital character in a video game, but everything in that video game is a real thing. Like the dumbbells are real eight-foot tall, big dumbbells, the buildings… that I climb over, were big eight-foot tall buildings. I didn’t end up having to climb over; we kind of CGI’d that. But yeah, so getting people to see reality differently and fiction differently.
KH: I want to know little bit more about your relationship to the arts community in Victoria. So first of all what is it like to be an artist in Victoria as opposed to where you were raised, or in Saskatoon perhaps?
MD: Right. It is different than the Prairies. A lot. Even though we are really remote on this Island, geographically we are not. We are still close to Seattle and Vancouver. We’ve got these big cities close to us. Even California is so accessible. Whereas Saskatoon is really remote. I found that the arts community in the Prairies is much more welcoming, I think for a couple reasons. One is if […] you’ve decided to be an artist, that’s a big risk because there’s not a lot of income for you to have. People want to have a job that pays them, so they can live and survive. It’s a very hostile environment to live in. So to take that leap of maybe not having a good income, it is a risk. I think when you say you are an artist, people really take that seriously and and invest in you. And also I think in the Prairies, because of the remoteness, there’s a camaraderie, where if we don’t accept ourselves — we can still be competitive with each other — but we still have to support each other because there’s nothing else around there. And I found coming here, it was much more competitive than that. I mean now that I’ve been here for 12-13 years, I don’t feel that way. I feel like I have a really great support community and lots of great colleagues and friends that are interested in the arts. But in the beginning it was very, “Who are you?” But I think that’s also the Island because of the temperate climate, people come here a lot, but do they have the wherewithal to invest in this place? Or are they just going to pass through?
[…] I’ve always been a proponent of being a volunteer. One of the first things I did when I moved here was I started volunteering for Open Space, just as a way to meet other artists. I’ve done work with the Art Gallery [of Greater Victoria] and this other arts organization called Xchanges. I’ve done a lot of work with them. And I think that’s really an important thing to do in a small community because if the artists that are in the community don’t support the organizations, then it kind of just defeats the whole purpose of everything. I haven’t done that as much as of late, you know with this new position, trying to find my ground in terms of workload and stuff. […] But I have an urge to reinvest again, maybe to suggest different things. Maybe go back to the Board at Open Space. There has been a lot of talk with my colleagues here — we teach all different genres of art making in our department, but almost all of us have a background in sculpture — and so I think that’s a really important thing with our department, and unusual. And it would be great to find a way to push that out into the community. Do we hold sculpture symposiums? Or do we find landlords that are willing to do pop-up shows? Or public sculptures? You know, like really start to get the community invested in it too, and then see if that can bring more attention to what we’re doing here.
KH: Going along with what we’ve talked about already; your relationship to other women artists in particular. I know you said there’s a little bit of a sense of competition in Victoria, as opposed to to in the Prairies. Do you feel like there is a sense of community among women artists?
MD: The longer I’m alive, and the longer I’m a woman [laughter], the more that becomes important and… I just, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s important for me to have that support of other female artists. And I didn’t find that I needed that before, but then you have experiences that maybe aren’t a good experience, that you need to speak with another woman about, and about their experiences too. “Have you gone through this too?”, you know. I’ve recently gotten in a new studio, and there’s three of us. One of my colleagues Jennifer — she’s also a sculptor — [and I talk] about the difficulties of that, and she’s done a lot of public sculpture works, and there is more of a gendered bias in that. Yeah, so I think it’s really important.
When I was talking in this class a few weeks ago, I think it’s also important to note that things still aren’t equal between men and women in the workforce, and definitely in the art world. And so I think that that still needs to be talked about, and don’t think it needs to be as forthright as it was with Feminism in the ’70s — and I’m very happy that that happened, as it gives us opportunities we have now — but I still think that it is something to question and to keep talking about. There’s tons of stats that show that it’s still a male-dominated realm. And higher education is still a male-dominated realm, not the student body, but the faculty. And not in our department, but if you look at stats for the University there’s definitely much less women.
KH: So the studio that you share, is that with Jennifer Stillwell?
KH: And who is the third?
MD: Cedric Bomford.
KH: Okay. Interesting. Is that downtown?
MD: No, it’s just off of Burnside. Kind of by the SPCA.
KH: And so what kind of changes have you seen in the Victoria art community since you’ve been living here on the Island?
MD: [pause] I have to say, you know, and it might be just getting used to the community… I found it more vibrant when I first got here. Maybe more energized? You also have to think about economic climates at the same time and if that trickles down to everything. I just found that there were more events going on, there were more… like… I’ll just say parties, it seemed. Not like parties are a special part of art-making, but it seems like these instances for people to gather together and to converse as groups of artists were more than they are now. […] But it’s still a pretty tame scene. And I don’t know how you change that. There have been cuts to everybody in terms of what they can do and staff and all this, so you can’t really ask these institutions to do more than they possibly can. […] I do have to say, I find in general in Canada, things have gotten more conservative. I remember looking at Canadian Art magazine, and I actually stopped subscribing to it because I found that the work was really stale; the work that they’re showing is not risky. Why are we giving praise to work that is easy to digest? Why are we not giving praise to work that challenges us? And I think that’s just a constant struggle with arts but I have just felt — and maybe it was our Harper government that we were under for so many years, I don’t know — but where’s the risk? And I think that’s just something to keep asking. And how can we bring that back and not just fall into loving pretty things?
KH: Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t spoken about yet?
MD: I feel like I’ve been talking and talking [laughter]. No.
KH: If you don’t have anything else to add, that’s all I’ve got for questions. So thank you so much again for your time.
– END –
“Artist: Megan Dickie.” Oxygen Art Centre online. Accessed January 15, 2016. http:// www.oxygenartcentre.org/portfolio/artist-megan-dickie/
“Megan Dickie.” Megan Dickie online. Accessed January 15, 2016. http://megandickie.com/
“Megan Dickie Throws It Down.” University of Victoria Fine Arts Blog. Posted on February 29, 2012. http://finearts.uvic.ca/blog/?p=1126
“Sessional artists now In Session.” University of Victoria Fine Arts Blog. Posted on January 14, 2015. http://finearts.uvic.ca/blog/?p=4632
“Two new professors in Visual Arts.” University of Victoria Fine Arts Blog. Posted on August 3, 2015. http://finearts.uvic.ca/blog/?p=5096
Berlanga Taylor, Jessica. “Extreme Interactions. Megan Dickie’s Battleground.” Accessed January 15, 2016. http://megandickie.com/critical-text/
Dickie, Megan. Multi-tasker Vol. 5.3. Victoria, BC: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 2005.
Dickie, Megan. Wunder Worry. Victoria, BC: Open Space Arts Society, 2010.
Dickie, Megan, Laura Dutton, Bradley Muir, Tara Nicholson, Paul Walde, Mary Jo Hughes. In Session – One Exhibition Catalogue online. Victoria, BC: Legacy Art Galleries, 2015. http://uvac.uvic.ca/gallery/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/In-Session-Brochure.pdf
Walde, Christine. “Haptic truths: The folly of artist Megan Dickie.” Latitude 53: Contemporary Visual Culture online. Accessed January 15, 2016. http://www.latitude53.org/archive/2013/dickie
Lynda Gammon (b.1949) grew up in Vancouver, BC where as a young adult she engaged with arts and artists at her mother’s craft supply store and gallery, Handcraft House, as a teacher of weaving and spinning classes. Gammon studied at The University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University during a time distinctly influenced by the 1960s and 1970s counter culture movement. She took courses in many departments including visual arts, English, political science, and future studies eventually graduating from SFU with a B.A. in English. At the encouragement of her professor, Wendy Dobereiner, she moved to Toronto to pursue a master’s degree at York University [M.F.A. 1983]. Following her M.F.A. she was offered a position at the University of Victoria where she is currently a Professor Emeritus.
Lynda Gammon’s artistic work of the last decade has focused on “space/place,” a theme she explores using sculptural installations or ‘wall works’ and photography. Her work considers representations of illusionistic space in photography and the dimensional, physical space of sculpture. Her work often brings together architectural materials and forms and artistic materials and forms to comment on representations of place. Her work also reflects on ideas of memory, particularly the memories and stories of spaces and the relationship between photographic representations and what the mind recalls or imagines.
Alongside her artistic work Gammon is committed to working with other artists in collaborative and curatorial positions. In 2004 Gammon created flask, a small art and artists book publishing group. Each book is the result of a unique collaboration between Lynda and another artist. Gammon also sits on the board of Open Space Gallery where she has curated WorkPLACE (2014) and co-curated Realities Follies (2015) with Wendy Welch.
These excerpts are from full (47:17) audio file of an interview between Nellie Lamb and Lynda Gammon (February 5th 2016) – available below.
Lynda Gammon on how her art begins: (01:26)
Lynda Gammon on history, memory, and her studio wall: (00:56)
Lynda Gammon on community in Chinatown: (00:55)
In Conversation With Lynda Gammon
Full Interview (Audio File) – 42:17 mins.
Edited and Transcribed by Nellie Lamb in consultation with Lynda Gammon
NL: I’m here, Nellie Lamb, talking with the artist Lynda Gammon on February 5th, 2016 for the PNW-WAOHI and we are here in her studio at 562 Fisgard St. in Victoria’s Chinatown to talk about her art work, her other related projects, and her experiences working as an artist in Victoria. So I thought I’d start by asking where you’re from.
LG: Originally from…I was born in Port Alberni actually on the island here… and we quickly moved to Vancouver when I was one and a half and we lived there until I was around 30 and then I went to grad school in Toronto and then I moved here to take the job at UVic and I guess that was around 1983 and I’ve been here ever since.
[NL: Can you tell me about early artistic influences?
LG: When I was about fifteen or sixteen my mother began Handcraft House, a craft school, a store for craft supplies and a craft gallery in North Vancouver. It was a real hub for the counter culture movement with long-haired hippies, (many recent draft dodgers from the U.S.) doing pottery, glass blowing, weaving and spinning etc. Crafts were very much a part of the 60’s and 70’s counter culture movement in Vancouver. Evelyn Roth taught classes there and Wayne Ngan had one of his first pottery exhibitions there, as did Mick Henry. It was a totally amazing place. I worked there and taught classes in weaving and spinning etc. during my late teens and 20’s.]
NL: Excellent! What was it like… What brought you to Toronto because you went to Toronto to York, right?
LG: Yeah I went there to go to grad school. I’d been at Simon Fraser. I did an undergrad degree in English really. At that time it was in the ‘70s and I think the university systems were a bit different but I was taking all kinds of courses there [visual arts from Ian Baxter, anthropology, political science philosophy, English, future studies etc.] and I was also taking courses at UBC in the art department [from Michael de Courcy, David Rimmer, Roy Kyooka, Wendy Dobereiner etc.] and then in the end I was able to pull things together to get a degree from Simon Fraser in English. And then I applied to York to go to grad school and that was what took me to Toronto.
NL: Is that when you decided to be an artist? When you applied to grad school in Toronto?
LG: No because I went to grad school when I was thirty and I was already working as an artist already. I think I already thought I was an artist. [Laughter]
NL: Well I’m sure in some ways you absolutely were!
LG: By then I was 30 or so…
LG: Yeah so I didn’t… I’d always been, I think I’d always been making art. And certainly I was making art at UBC with Michael de Courcy, [David Rimmer, Roy Kyooka and Wendy Dobreiner etc.] was there at that time and various other artists it was an interesting time in Vancouver, [a time which saw the beginning of INTERMEDIA] and some of the early sort of photo and performance [works] and just the beginning of artist run spaces at that time. So it was an interesting time as I remember it.
[NL: Can you describe what the Vancouver art scene was like in the ‘70s? What was interesting about it?
LG: Well the backdrop for the art scene was the counter culture movement. We truly believed we could build what we saw as democratic alternatives. For example while I was at S.F.U. there was such turbulence in terms of demonstrations that students occupied the president’s offices, the faculty club and in the end shut down classes altogether with lectures and ‘sit ins’. We actually lost a whole semester! Hard to imagine that happening now… but it was very exciting for me at the time. I was there recently and one of the younger students I was talking to at the gallery said, “Oh you were part of the radical generation!”
In terms of art production we felt there was a new freedom. For the courses I took from Ian Baxter we were asked to actually paint on the models, we made art out in the woods behind S.F.U. I was completely enthralled with this highly conceptual approach. It was not like anything I had ever seen or thought about in terms of art making at the time! I think the course started with twenty or students but in the end it was only me and one other guy.
With Michael de Courcy at U.B.C. we didn’t actually have any courses but met for breakfast and hung out downtown taking photographs. Then we would come back to the studios and develop and print in the darkrooms (in ‘the huts’) throw all of our photographs onto the floor and walk around looking at them for our discussion and critiques. I remember being very excited to hear Tom Burrows speak of his recent trip to the Netherlands to look at squatter’s residences. We gave ourselves our own grades and there was a complete disrespect for what we saw as the bureaucratic systems of the university. This all ended abruptly when U.B.C. decided to ‘clean things up,’ did not re-hire Michale de Coucy, and hired a Chair for the department recently arrived from England who immediately locked the darkroom and declared that “photography was not an art form” that must have been the mid to late ’70s at that point.
That disrespect for the bureaucratic systems was also taking place in the traditional art galleries and museums where galleries that sold works were seen as outdated and the museums were seen as not meeting the needs of a new generation of artists who were involved in performance, video and other forms of new media. This spawned the beginning of the artist run centres and INTERMEDIA and the Western Front and Pump funded by the Canada Council and became the important venues for us.]
NL: Was there anyone there who you worked with who really, I don’t know, shaped your thinking or your practice?
LG: Yeah well I think Roy Kiyooka, photo and I think Michael de Courcy to quite a large degree and then I worked also with Wendy Dobereiner I don’t know you might not know…
NL: I’m not familiar.
LG: I worked with her and she was very encouraging about going onto grad school so that was yeah… yeah.
[Wendy arrived after Michael, Roy Kyooka and many of the ‘guys’ had left. It was wonderful to see a young woman artist (and she was flamboyant and gorgeous). She had just graduated from York University with an M.F.A. I had not really considered going to graduate school but Wendy said “Lynda, you must.” When I got accepted she was incredibly encouraging once again. Wendy taught in a more traditional manner. I mean we actually had classes and critiques and learned techniques. At this point I shifted from a more photo-based practice to printmaking, as this was Wendy’s area of expertise.]
NL: Excellent. And so moving from your educators to your role as an educator how has that shaped your work and your art?
LG: Oh gosh that’s a really big question isn’t it, eh? [Laughter] role as an educator shaped… well I think… a large part of the shaping it think comes through the context in a way because you when I [first] came here in  […]I wasn’t just teaching but I became a part of a faculty of other instructors so when I came here I met some very amazing artists, [Roland Brener], Mowry Baden and Fred Douglas – your father and I was working in the area of photography so Fred was very influential at the time, and Pat Martin Bates was here as well and let me think… yeah so anyways I part of a context of artists who were working here. And Elspeth Pratt and I came at the same time so we actually shared this studio for a while that we are in now, 562 Fisgard [and Roland Brener was next door and Fred Douglas was next to Roland.] So I was a part of a […][group of] artists so I think that shaped my context after coming from grad school to a large degree.
And then working with students they’re always giving you amazing ideas and still to this day I mean just art is always moving it’s always changing. Contemporary art is always changing, new ideas and new ways of making things new ways of making things, of thinking of things. So that context is incredible to have, it’s such a gift to be able to be a part of that community because Victoria is quite a small… It’s a small artistic community so that kind of puts you in touch with the larger world.
And then more recently, (that was when I first came), after that Robert Youds and Daniel Laskarin and Vikky Alexander, Sandra Meigs and I hate to list people without remembering everybody’s names but everybody all of the people at UVic have been a huge influence. [Lucy Pullen and Luanne Martineau were very important colleagues for me.]
[In addition I would have to say that the privilege of being involved as a faculty member at the university has to some extent allowed me to maintain a studio and studio practice, to exhibit and travel. So it is a very great gift in a way.]
NL: Have you seen the, you mentioned how small the Victoria art scene is… Have you seen it change over the last 20 years, 30 years?
LG: I don’t think a whole lot in a way. I think surprisingly not so much… yeah it’s still small [laughter] let me put it that way. It’s a little bit cliquey I think like there’s sort of groups of artists in different areas doing different things. But I’m on the board at Open Space now and I notice like it seems like its kind of a separate entity from the UVic sort of context, there’s overlap of course but I think there remains quite a bit of separation.
NL: Do you think it’s important… Is there work to do bridging those gaps?
LG: Yes. I think there is work to do. I think there could be more synergy. I think we could do more if we did more together. So its kind of a I don’t know… Victoria is kind of funny town in terms of its culture and it’s art culture. I always thought it was going to get going in some way but I can’t really say that it has, from my perspective. [In terms of the relationship between the faculty and the community], I think people, certain people on the faculty, tend to travel to exhibit, they travel elsewhere, and a lot of people [in Victoria] don’t necessarily even see their work. And they’re working in their studios which we are kind of apart from. So you know there may be some changes I know Sandra Meigs is having a show at the Winchester opening I think tomorrow so that’s a good thing…. And she had a show at Open Space last year so that’s great. [Other faculty members have shown here for sure…] And there are some opportunities but I think a lot of people don’t know what other people are doing still.
NL: Yeah I wonder… I feel like the Vancouver art scene has changed in a huge way.
NL: And I wonder if Victoria is going to kind of I don’t know follow suit or if it is going to retain some sort of autonomy.
LG: I’ve wondered that myself because you know the Vancouver scene is has so many smaller galleries with younger artists showing now and it isn’t just the more established core. It does seem to have really changed and definitely for the better. And also there’s some you really sort of major players, the Equinox that area down there, there’s different areas of galleries it’s really changed. But I don’t know that there’s… I mean yeah there is some smaller galleries here but are there more than there were you know ten years ago? I’m not so sure that there really are.
NL: Yeah, I mean some of them have lasted a long time, which is really…
LG: Yeah that’s amazing, Xchanges has been a long time, Open Space has been a long time and that part is quite great. [I’m on the Board of Open Space and they work very hard in the community for sure.]
NL: I guess it’s about growing from that.
LG: Yeah it’s time. [Laughter]
NL: I also wanted to talk about your art, of course, and I thought I’d start by asking what about your art is most interesting to you.
LG: Oh wow.
NL: [laughter]… or just interesting it doesn’t have to be most interesting.
LG: Well I think all of my work always begins with photography. […] Looking back it seems to always have started with taking photographs of a space or a place and that place or space seems to have often, almost always, been a space that I work in as a studio. […] So I’ll start and take photographs of this space say (and a lot of photographs of this space) and then I took photographs of a place where I had a studio at Xchanges and I took pictures in Herald St. and then I had a studio in Rotterdam for a while took a lot of pictures there. So it almost always starts with I guess you could call somewhat documentary photographs of a space. So I don’t know if it’s so much about what interests me most about my work but it’s just what you… I suppose just what you gravitate to and what you end up doing ends up being the thing that interests you. I think that then I take the photographs and then almost always I do something with the photographs I manipulate them in some way often into sculptural installation as you’ve seen. And I think that process, the process of taking the photograph and doing things with it, cutting, folding, gluing, collaging, enlarging all of those things are a way of often trying to get to a sense of the space, maybe a feeling about the space, or you know, memories of a place, thoughts about a place all kinds of things that photography maybe doesn’t do that well. Like for instance with this piece you know we are taking photographs with this large camera, this 16×20 camera. Trudi [Lynn Smith] and I have been working together to photograph the studio wall in minute detail, so it’s a 16×20 camera taking a 16×20 image of the studio wall and so when you get that photograph done it’s a very detailed 16×20 photograph of the wall. But I’ve also been sitting and meditating and looking at the wall for the same length of time as the exposure so it’s a 25 minute exposure and then I sit and I meditate on the wall for 25 minutes and while I’m meditating on the wall I’m thinking about all kinds of things, like about the way that this used to be a rooming house for Chinese migrant workers and I think about the fact that you know Roland [Brener] used to be next door and your father [Fred Douglas] was on the other side and I think about a lot of things, you know, things come into my head, lets put it that way. I guess not so much thinking about it because meditating is more just allowing the thoughts come and go. But the thoughts that come and go are memories and they’re also imaginations of what it was like for a Chinese migrant worker to live here they are also based on sort of gossip that I hear about there being a leper colony here and I wonder if any of those people lived here and all kinds of things that come up in your mind that the photograph clearly doesn’t capture. So I’m kind of interested in those things. There’s the photograph and then there’s the things it doesn’t capture so I’m often involved with trying to somehow imbue the photograph with feelings and thoughts about the space that might not be there. Does that make sense?
NL: Yeah that’s really interesting. I when I was thinking of your work this part of … have you ever read Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood?
LG: Yes, yes.
NL: In the very beginning she says… I wrote it down… “I began to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.”
NL: I don’t know that sort of…
LG: That’s so great!
NL: Especially the part about liquid transparencies there’s something almost photographic about that…
LG: Yes there is. And also I think for this particular project [1:1 (25 minutes) 562 Fisgard] […] we were really thinking about that with the… well also that piece that I did called… the more recent piece Studio Wall Fragments thinking about that kind of thing taking pictures of the wall but then layering them one on top of another because history is.. that kind of history and memory, it’s kind of liquid it’s not like we think of history as being like this happened then that happened then that happened… it’s more like this happened and then at the same time that was happening and then when did that happen? That was a big memory and that was a small thing that happened so you know history is much more fluid and liquid I think. I really agree. And in this project too it was reiterated because we were thinking about… for this project we wanted to peel back the layers of the wall when I first came to this studio all I could think about was painting it white and making it like an artist studio. Right? And so I did that.
LG: But you know later coming back to it I realized how significant the history of this building was and still is. So we are doing this thing where we are peeling back the layers of this wall when you think about peeling layers you think “I’m going to peel off the white layer and then I’m going to peel off the newspaper layer then I’m going to peel off the other layer then I’m going to get to the wallpaper layer” but actually when you are peeling it comes of in chunks and that seems to sort of again suggest that thing of well… how does history happen? It comes off in chunks and it’s messy and there’s little bits and pieces you know it’s not really it’s not just layer by layer or minute by minute in that sense it’s like there’s chunks… then there’s things you pick up again and you look at them and go “oh yeah…” this piece of newspaper that’s talking about selling a farm you know it’s… I think history and memories are like that. It’s a really interesting quote, of course I don’t remember it, but it’s nice.
NL: Yeah I mean you spoke about photography having … it captures something but of course not everything, not the things that you’re thinking about.
LG: Yes. Well it might… but yeah.
NL: It could.
LG: It could. For me I seem to want to imbue it with something more, yeah.
NL: Yeah but I wonder about books and archival material for you, do they have the same sort of capacity as photography or a different but related…?
LG: I think archives are similar. Probably books are too. I always think of my photographs as being a personal archive of course and I always find when I’m, you know, taking things out of my archive that it probably […] mirrors my ideas about historical archives and the way that you can pull a thing out the archive and you can pull another thing out of the archive and you can put them together and you as the person pulling them out create a certain kind of meaning because you’re pulling them out, you’re putting them together. You’re making them have some kind of meaning and I think I’m interested in the idea of archives a lot and it’s sort of hard because you don’t know how much to go into. [Laughter] I mean I’m interested in archives quite a lot and I’m interested in the stuff that’s un-archived that doesn’t go into the archives that doesn’t get there and I think of that project and I think of this project as being quite a bit about that because there is quite a bit of archival material on the outside of this building for instance. There are pictures in the BC archives because it was designed by… I think a British architect John Teague for the Chinese Benevolent Society but there’s nothing, there’s one picture I think about the next door that was a shrine room. There’s the odd little picture about what went on in these rooms. If they were for migrant workers, you know there’s just some word of mouth stories but nothing in the archive about what went on the inside of the building in terms of that history but people talk about it and have ideas about it and they gossip about it and have ideas about what it might have been. But of course it wasn’t in the archives because it was you know the Chinese were marginalized of course as a race or they were seen as unimportant they were on the margins and then I think that its interesting that all of these artists have been in here and it remains in a sense like the work that I might produce that goes into a gallery it would go into an archive but just the activity the day to day all of those things that your father [Fred Douglas] produced, the amazing things that I remember him just throwing in the garbage or under the door you know just all of that stuff that wasn’t actually shown that doesn’t become part of the archive. But I have a piece at home that I grabbed from him that I now have framed on my living room wall. But what about all those things? Nobody knows about that it’s not archives but it’s not unimportant it’s incredibly significant. I think it’s interesting that it remains a kind of marginal furtive space up here. I see it like that. These people are working away in here but nobody really knows and nobody really knows what goes on up here there’s curiosity but also distance we don’t know what artists do, we are a little unsure about what their purpose is. Unless it is sort of framed and goes into a gallery it’s not in the archives.
NL: Sure yeah.
LG: So I think that archives are interesting to me and I think that I work a lot form my own personal archive so archives are interesting in that way. I build a personal archive with photographs that I then retrieve and put together in different ways… but then the idea of archive interests me in a larger…
NL: …the personal.
LG: And the historic museum and institutions and what their relationships to archives are what’s gathered what’s missed I’m pretty interested in what happens in the margins.
NL: Yeah I like the I mean… I don’t know if I can say that I like the idea of the sort of secrecy or…
LG: Yeah I called it like furtiveness almost.
LG: It’s sort of … it’s not because people… it’s not because it’s secret or private it’s just I don’t know there’s no real way for it to be public.
NL: Yeah. What are you going to do with it?
LG: There’s no avenue. Yeah, what are you going to do with it? There’s not sort of avenue although people are totally fascinated when they do come up here. They’re like “all this stuff is going on up here!” It’s not that they are uninterested. There’s an avenue for the completed work because that goes to the institution, but for the mucking around in the studio there’s not that much opportunity. Hence my interest in the studio pictures. The kind of furtiveness of the early 1980s pictures where there’s some kind of half finished sculptural thing on the wall. But the subject matter of the work is not the sculpture. Its… the work is not the sculpture its barely of the place it has a very furtive quality about it and that remains of interest. Cold in here isn’t it?
NL: Yeah getting cold now, finally.
NL: With the …because you combine photography and sculpture and of course other media as well, I wonder how that initial… was there a moment where you thought “Ok well I should probably bring sculpture into this and it’ll add… it’ll add something for me’’?
LG: It probably came from a few places one thing was that when I was younger in Vancouver there was a lot of… with Roy Kiyooka there was a lot of interest in photographic collage for one thing. For another thing, it was a time when photographs were not treated as precious as they have been, like for our critiques we would just throw our photographs on the floor and we would just walk around and talk about them as they were on the floor I think there was a sense of that. I think also photography for me, as it was for your father, is very tactile because it was all done in the dark room with chemicals so there is a physical quality (which is of course very different now.) It’s the way that photographic paper looks when it comes out of the developer, the way that you know different kinds of paper, how floppy the rag paper is as opposed to the RC paper you know how it feels and all that tactile aspect of making work in the dark room. […] And I think the collage and assemblage from the Vancouver period I think that artists were beginning to experiment with that at that time with actually using photographs in sculptural forms in Vancouver and in California and other places. That was all of interest and then when I came here I had Roland [Brener] next door and Mowry [Baden] of course was a strong influence and then Elspeth Pratt also, a sculptor, I was sharing a studio with her. But I was already doing sculptural things at York so I guess… but not so much sculptural photos when I was at York so I think that’s when the more sculptural photo stuff started to come in… so I was making sort of wall assemblages and I was making photographs and then they started to actually come together.
LG: They moved from just being sort of collage, flat collage works, to being more three-dimensional collage works… I don’t think they even now are sculptural because they always relate to the wall. They’re actually basically wall works so they’re relief works or assemblages. I still feel a little uncomfortable about things that are completely sculptural. And they’re ephemeral too. I think a photograph is a rather ephemeral material to make sculptural out of. Yes. Does that answer? Did I veer off on some tangents … is that ok?
NL: That’s great. I think the idea of space is really captured in the making the collage three-dimensional with the photographs.
LG: So real space, illusionistic space that interests me a lot.
NL: Uh huh and yeah and those two things sort of come together and there’s a new or an interesting understanding about the way space is and the way space can be thought about.
LG: Yes. Definitely I am totally interested in that. And that has always captured my interest. Partly because of the way that a photograph supposedly… it does supposedly capture or photograph real space like you look into it and there’s kind of an illusionistic space but that’s not really real space because it’s not physically real. Yeah my interest in that sort of area between those things is… yeah. Those works that I did the works called Salvaged they were architectural models, large architecture models, that were made from photographs of architectural interiors so you could look at a photographic part and they were actually deliberately hung at a photographic height so you could look at them and you could look into the photographic illusionistic space but then you could also you could also look into the model space. There’s different kinds of space operating and that interests me for some reason.
NL: Do your works… do they often come… do you find a material and this will be interesting to add into this project or do you have an idea that then you know that you need to go get that material. Especially for the sculptural works the wall works…
LG: I think that they’re for the most part… well let me think… so for the Salvaged pieces they were mostly photographs mounted on foam core or on mat board so […] it really refers to artistic practice it’s like a material that you would normally mount a photograph on. So that’s kind of a part of that canon and then I would combine that with 2x4s and screws and plywood and shelf hangers and things that would be more related to home building. The home building canon. So in that case it would be trying to think about well… real houses are built with these things but photographs use these materials. So photographs use these materials and homes use these other materials so in that case it was bringing those two things together. Quite a lot of the works are pretty much just photographs and thinking of ways to hang them. The wall fragments Studio Wall Fragments. They were mounted on foam core. Often really thick layers of foam core […] very much related to what to what photographs would be mounted on i.e. on foam core. Some people have said “You know you could mount these on Dibond they’d be a lot stronger…” but I’m interested in more the sort of … the history of collage and the kind of ephemerality so I think something that I can kind of cut and paste myself and paste my self something that has a that’s more ephemeral would always be of more interest to me as opposed to something that has a kind of forever rigidity. So the lightness and fragility and ephemerality.
NL: And assembling and disassembling…
LG: Yes easy to take apart and you can put it in a crate easily and it’s easy to ship. Those big Salvaged pieces, the big wall mounted sort of model things, although they don’t look that big in the picture they are like 12 feet. 12 feet wide, so quite big. I would make them in the studio and then I would take a photograph of them and then I would draw a line around the outside of it on the wall and then I would take it down in pieces and number the pieces and put them into the crate and go […] to the gallery and [install] them. […] In the photographs they have a finished look but in actuality they are very raw. They are just kind of taped and things are all kind of jammed together. […] But actually […] they’re somewhat deceptive,[…] they’re quite carefully constructed in the studio and then reconstructed in the gallery I think that there’s an aspect of the formal properties of the piece as a collage that are important to me.
NL: I also wanted to talk about your publishing work.
LG: Oh yes.
NL: flask and how that started.
LG: Yeah. That was you know working as an artist in the studio is kind of lonely although my life isn’t lonely because I’m teaching and I have so many people in my life but I think that the actual making of things I have felt like I was always making things by myself and it would be interesting to work or collaborate with another artist in a certain way. So I thought that I would start flask, which is an artist book press. I thought when I first did that I was casting around thinking there’s so many amazing opportunities now to make books through instant publishing that was the beginning of that sort of thing. I thought that would be so great. I could do that kind of thing and but then it somehow didn’t end up being that [laughter] it ended up being these really hand made books that really take a lot of work to make each one so they ended up being that so that’s just kind of where it’s gone. The first book that I did was with Luanne Martineau which you’ve probably seen on the website. What happened was, I invited artists who had… I wasn’t looking for artists that make books I was looking for an artist I was interested in their work that I could then make a book with. So I had made some books myself. And your father had made some books and actually he was influential in that area of artist books and the idea of making books and he did some amazing things that way. […] Anyway that was a huge inspiration so then I made a book with Luanne to begin with and so she had ideas and then I had my printer at home so I basically printed all the pages myself and yeah it sort of went from there. And I’m still doing it. It’s a kind of occasional thing. [I have to find] somebody I know that I want to work with. So I worked with Luanne that was really great and then Vikky [Alexander] and Chris Miller and more recently Trudi [Lynn Smith] and I did a work together, which is actually here.
NL: Oh yeah?
LG: And who else? Yeah so it’s been Anne Steves who was a student of mine I made a book with her in conjunction with Open Space together recently that was one of the very recent ones and yeah I still have some ideas for other ones, other artists that I want to work with so yeah… yeah.
NL: Yeah yeah that’s really exciting.
LG: It’s fun
NL: … collaboration I think is really special.
LG: Yeah exactly and I think that has maybe led me to… because lately I’ve been doing all kinds of collaborative projects with Trudi [Lynn Smith] particularly, Smith. And speaking of sort of un-archived or sort of projects under the radar I recently made that website. I have on it the blog section and I thought well that blog section seems to me an opportunity to just publish or just put on the web just some of the other activities that one does, you know? Like Trudi and I went into the darkroom and learned how to make … dry plate photographs and it was really interesting and I did some work with photo-etching and you know many things that I do I like to do things like that and I think they inform the sort of more major work. The things that seem to be on the website under the projects part, they inform the more major work like this project I don’t really know where it’s going to go in terms of this project with the big camera in the studio. We did an event where we invited people down to talk about the piece but for me it still doesn’t seem to be finished as a project that […] would go into the gallery […]. I don’t know what form it’s going to take yet so there’s sort of […] the main projects and the sideline projects under the blog of which I’ve got many more things to add.
NL: [laughter] lots of things going on simultaneously and informing each other it seems and informing each other I assume.
LG: Yes informing each other of course. And the blog is an opportunity to do a little more writing which I was interested in doing a little more of and maybe that came out of doing books and a little curating so I’ve been stepping into…
NL: Right! Yeah at Open Space.
LG: I’m going to do a show with Arnold Koroshegyi and Laura Dutton and I’m just sort of shopping around a little exhibition right now of Nick Vandergugten and Trudi [Lynn] Smith so we have been sending it around to some galleries to see what might stick so doing a little bit of that. Wendy Welsh and I co-curated a painting show at Open Space and then I did that WORKplace show earlier. Yeah so I may branch out. I like to give younger artists an opportunity to or if there’s any way I can help to give younger artists help to get … because it’s such great work and sometimes it hard to get it out there…. Maybe there’s a way I can put together some opportunities.
NL: That’s I don’t know that’s very…
LG: Its good, it’s fun, it’s interesting! Again it’s like collaboration it’s a kind of … it puts me in deep contact with artists and their work. Working with Nic has been great. Emails flying back and forth about his work and how to represent it and he’s working on artist statements and I’m writing bout the show and lots of deep thinking about his work and how to represent it, he’s working about his artists statements there’s an opportunities for some deeper thinking about a piece that I saw and I said a few things but I didn’t really at that time…. You know what I mean you do that.
NL: That’s what excites me so much about curation that time and necessity almost to really really engage with an artists and their work and to think about the best way to present it…
LG: Yes and the best, the interesting combinations of work, like why would this work of Trudi’s be interesting with Nic’s and to try and articulate that.
NL: What can they say separately and what can they say together? What can they say in this space versus that space?
LG: I think the idea for the show just came to me I was just like that work and that work would be so great together but I hadn’t really thought about why… and you start to talk to them more then you get an opportunity to get to know them better. You get to talk to them about what they think of the work. It’s just great, so interesting.
NL: Yeah it’s a luxury
LG: It is a luxury. Yes it is totally. And you have that experience yourself and will have more because you’re young and you’ve got lots of time.
NL: I hope so! That’s the goal!
LG: You […] just need to start doing it, you know, propose a show for the 50/50 because people are always thrilled to have their work shown. Like Wendy Welsh has the Slide Room Gallery. Do you know that space? She said they’re looking for curators to put together shows….
NL: On Quadra [Street]?
LG: On Quadra. They do some interesting little shows and so she said “I don’t know if you’re interested but we are curating a show but I wonder if you’d like to be in it.” I said “oh sure I’m happy to do a piece for it” oh and I contacted Rob Youds and he said he’d like to… and other younger artists and I think you’d be surprised when you actually just decide I’m going to put forward an idea for a show for the Slide Room Gallery. Just ask whomever you want. Ask Sandra Meigs if she’ll be in it and she probably will.
NL: Maybe she’ll say yes.
LG: She probably would… [laughter]
NL: It never hurts to ask. And even if doesn’t happen this time…
LG: And so I think just finding just little spaces like hat because Wendy is looking for curators. Jump in just start doing some things!
NL: I think the only other thing I wanted to ask is if you feel … like the community here, if there is a community here in this one block of Chinatown between you, as an artist and the other artists who have studios here and the shops downstairs?
LG: Right yeah. I really love the community here in Chinatown, I really love it. I think that Chinatown is really special because I think there are different regulations, obviously or we wouldn’t be here. Because it would be oh, not up to fire code and it would cost [$]1000 a month and we wouldn’t be able to afford it and we wouldn’t be here. The other thing you notice is you go downstairs and you, as you notice, there’s boxes of vegetables all over the road and cars are triple parked so there is obviously a difference in regulations in what can happen here. I mean for better or worse. I worried about your father in that space. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be regulations but the fact that there isn’t creates sense of community. That feels… does feel very nice and you know the coffee shops you get to know people a little bit. I must say that I’ve come back here in the last few years only part time… so I’ve just been kind of coming and going… Todd and Keith next door it’s great. It’s not like the community when your father and Roland and Elspeth were here. That was fantastic! But you know things can’t last forever I guess. But that was fantastic that was very special kind of community of art because we were all working at the university and we were all working here. Ultimately we… a dangerous combination. Too much of everybody living out of each other’s pockets. [Laughter] But it was really fantastic while it was really good. So that was a really amazing community and a kind of amazing time. That would be interesting to delve into at some point. Because it was quite remarkable.
[NL: I wonder if we could delve into that community a bit here. Can you tell me about a moment that stands out as an example of what that community was like?
LG: Too many memories to possibly share in so short a space but,
I think it was just that we were all in the studio a lot and all making work and sharing it with each other. Also students used to come by the studio quite a often too, so it became part of the learning and teaching experience.]
NL: Well unless you have anything else you’d like to add…
LG: No no just wishing you all the best with your project and your curating… so next year you’re going to work and start writing and curating all I can say is just go for it. You’re not going to wait too long just jump right in!
NL: Yes yes do it all! Thanks so much.
LG: Terrific that’s great.
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Smith, Colin. “Residual.” Lynda Gammon – Texts. Accessed February 3, 2016. http://lyndagammon.ca/texts/.
Smith, Trudi Lynn. “Stride Exhibition Essay.” Stride Gallery. 2008. Accessed February 03, 2016. http://www.stride.ab.ca/arc/archive_2008/lynda_gammon_main/lynda_gammon.htm.