Est-ce que c’est pour de vrai? Comme tu veux.

What does it mean to be global? How does globalisation affect the art world?  What would a global art world be? What story do we tell ourselves when we talk about the international art scene? As a Montrealer asked to write about my community, who can I choose to represent this world? How do I define this community? Where does nationalism stand in this? Does it still have a role to play in the art world?

These are the questions that have accompanied me while writing about Ben Clarkson, Minna Pöllänen and Josée Pedneault’s works for the Alternative Art Guide .

The 3 artists have exhibited at Les Territoires, the emerging artist-run center I run. Ben and Minna participated in the Mappe program, an exhibition and mentoring program that focuses on promoting artist`s careers and Josée is one of the founding members. Josée Pedneault is from Montréal. Ben Clarkson now lives in Montréal but has worked in Winnipeg for a number of years and Minna Pöllänen is a Finnish artist living in London.

So I have been wondering what it means to talk about the local? Who do I choose to promote and why? How do I answer this request to represent my local community on this global blog?

What is our common ground? The public space we share is where we exist together and where the word community takes its ground. Yes, but our public space has changed drastically.

Its physicality has never been mandatory for it to exist. Public spaces are also conceptual and exist as archetypes in our imagination. However a physical space was what I had in mind for a long time when thinking about the public space. Public spaces are now also commonly known as being virtual – a real virtuality (just to play with words!). The Internet is a space where we exist all together with platforms where we socially interact and exist publicly. Without this incredible public space, on which this post now exists and can become part of a global world, I would not have been able to work with 2 of the 3 artists I selected and they would not have become part of my community.

Ben Clarkson, Minna Pöllänen and Josée Pedneault all present very different aesthetics and interpretations. Yet they all question the notion of public space sharing many of the interrogations I’ve posed above.

Ben Clarkson

In Hell yes, one of Ben Clarkson’s latest video on the theme of death, the viewer is confronted with an overload of information. Text, video cut-outs and moving images – ranging from pornography, murder and suicide, landscape to sheep fucking – are superimposed and changing at a very fast pace. The collage-like video bombards the viewer with cut-out and distorted stories all found online. Facing narrations violently broken into pieces, the viewer is abandoned, left with the responsibility and hard task of trying to create a story.

The accumulation, the variety of images and the violence of those images also make us wonder about what else exists on the Internet. How much information are we uploading online? What do we choose to put there? Ben Clarkson’s work can suggest the idea that the virtual world, a sort of avatar of our reality, has become a world of its own; a public space where we construct reality. Open ended, like the world he is telling us about, Ben Clarkson’s video incites us to wonder:  what are the myths and archetypes that we carry along in this new global world? What does it mean to choose what we are bringing and showing in this new public space? And what is the power we hold in this promise land?

Ben Clarkson, Hell yes, video (on vimeo), 2013

Josée Pedneault

For her new series untitled The New Gods, Josée Pedneault traveled to Carillo Puerto, a remote community in Mexico where she became the observer of an unusual celebration. On Holy Fridays, whilst everywhere else in Mexico is at a day of mourning, Carillo Puerto’s streets are taken over by an unconventional masquerade. The homemade costumes and characters become a microcosm of specific roles and interaction in contemporary society revealing individual desires to exist as someone/something else. Josée Pedneault’s portraits capture these other identities. As soon as they start existing as images, because they are fixed in time, the one-day game becomes serious. The photographs reveal the important part of theatre that we play in the public space making us wonder if existing in the public sphere isn’t all about acting. More specifically, the clown-like costumes referencing pagan beliefs as well as religious icons challenge the authority of the religious system that regulates values and actions. This public questioning functions as a catharsis for the actors. Pedneault’s work, because the performance is captured as an image and continues to exist beyond the celebration, suggests that the game could keep going. What if we definitely change the roles we play? Will we be able to change the story?

The New Gods is a larger art project that includes photographs as well as sculptures. The project is created in collaboration with Mexican artist Alejandro Garcia Contreras.

Josée Pedneault, The New Gods series, color photography, 2013

Josée Pedneault, The New Gods series, color photography, 2013

Josée Pedneault, The New Gods series, color photography, 2013

Josée Pedneault, The New Gods series, color photography, 2013

Minna Pöllänen

Minna Pöllänen Observatory series presents an installation where the spectator is called on to observe part of a landscape. On a wooden platform Pöllänen sets up binoculars that spectators are invited to look into. The artist however has written the rules of the game as she transforms the binoculars so that they orient and subvert the gaze of the passers-by. The artist signifies the importance of the locations through the various looking instruments that propose different modes of visual perception. The actions undertaken by the artist fuel the curiosity of the spectator: why has this precise location been selected? What events have shaped this landscape? By only showing small fractions of the landscape, the work moves the mundane out of its context and turns it into an unfamiliar entity. In her imitation of touristic strategies used to showcase historical and picturesque locations, Pöllänen codifies the gaze of looker with her own mode of interpretation. The a priori vernacular location becomes the locus of tales, where the looker receives the role of narrator. The observatory series presents a new way to read and recount the public space. Through its form and arbitrary collection of ‘sights’ Observatory I engages in a critical dialogue with the traditional landscape viewing platforms, often located in idealized locations.

Minna Pöllänen, Observatory I, Montréal, mixed media installation, on going.

Minna Pöllänen, Observatory I, Montréal, mixed media installation, on going.

Minna Pöllänen, Observatory I, Montréal, mixed media installation, on going.

Minna Pöllänen, Observatory II, New York, mixed media installation, on going.

Minna Pöllänen, Observatory II, New York, mixed media installation, on going.

Minna Pöllänen, Observatory II, New York, mixed media installation, on going.

Marie-Josée Parent

Marie-Josée Parent is the general director and curator of Les Territoires, an art center dedicated to emerging visual artists in Montréal. She completed a Masters in Art History at the University of Montréal. Marie-Josée has served as an invited critic for the visual art department at Concordia University. She also is a member of galerie de l’UQAM’s artistic direction committee and of the Montréal Arts Council’s visual arts committee. She has given talks in a number of conferences regarding reading works of art, in particular at the University of Sao Camilo in Sao Paulo, Brazil; in Ottawa as an Action Canada fellow; during the Art Matters festival in Montréal and at Memorial University in Newfoundland. She serves as a volunteer for ArtsScene Montréal and is a 2012-2013 Action Canada Fellow.

Les Territoires

Les Territoires is a non-for-profit artist-run center dedicated to presenting the work of emerging artists and research practices that expand on theoretical approaches to contemporary art. Les Territoires’ mandate is to support artists in their emerging professional careers and to help develop their public profile in national and international art communities. Les Territoires facilitates artists’ integration into the art market and gives continual support to their art production.

30 June 2017 / by / in
Into the Archeology of Social Experience

Vancouver is a city that is plagued by the beauty of its natural surroundings. Situated in a rain forest between idyllic mountain views and the Pacific Ocean, it is a city on the edge of a gilded precipice. Much of this city’s artistic legacy is defined by its relationship with the landscape and more recently photography. So what comes after photo-conceptualism? This inquiry seems to be one of the most fundamental questions asked by artists who live and work in Vancouver. Answering that question requires a moment to think of recent photo-based artistic discourses, a desire to move beyond formidable vernacular academic traditions and discover complimentary disciplines. For Sean Alward ( ) and the collective known as The Everything Company, their respective artistic practices engage a multi and interdisciplinary context that allow them to think beyond intellectual and artistic boundaries, incorporating personal and didactic interests in archeology, history, pedagogy and the nature of social interactions to inform what lies beyond the perceived precipice.


Sean Alward

 Sean Alward’s concept-driven practice is informed by and begins with painting. His research into the vernacular West Coast landscape of Canada is complimented by an equally intense involvement with photography and archeology. Self-acknowledged as an amateur archeologist and a member of a local archeological society, Alward’s interest in the vernacular incorporates personal and participatory experiences with the histories of First Nations settlements in the West Coast. Armed with a probing investigative curiosity, his artistic practice as represented by his painting installations and photo-collage works are imbued with a pseudo-archeological thematic and physical content that leaves an intense legacy of practical and potentially subjective pedagogy.


Sean Alward, Communal House, Drawer (Vancouver, circa 1969), 40 x 51 cm., acrylic on canvas and inkjet on paper, 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.


 One memorable instance during a visit to Alward’s studio was my experience of confronting a large collection of small unframed paintings on linen, housed in translucent plastic boxes and meticulously filed in an administrative manner reminiscent of an archival cataloguing system. These paintings measuring a few centimeters in size are part of a larger, collective whole that are painstakingly arranged and installed by the artist during an exhibition. As I examine each of these small individual works, their abstracted and painterly patterns recall paint blotches from Rorschach tests. During one of his trips to a First Nations archeological site in Vancouver, Alward observed the excavation of a midden, an old dumping ground for waste. The midden was mostly filled with clams, mussels and other types of indigenous bivalves. Archeology has seen a fundamental ideological shift from the romantic and mere accumulation of artifacts influenced by the Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities of an earlier geo-colonial era, to the current intensive examination of artefacts that lead toward a psycho-social geography of an indigenous settlement. The banal and daily occurrence of meal preparation and consumption uncovers social structures that shed new meaning in understanding the evolution of social dynamics. These piles of shells, remnants of meals consumed long ago by First Nations people, allow us to imagine a societal system, a system witnessed and evidenced through Alward’s careful and thoughtfully considered installation of pseudo-archeological abstract paintings.


Sean Alward, False Creek Midden, detail, acrylic on linen, 2012. Photo courtesy of the artist.


The Everything Company, Jason Gowans and Michael Love

 For the collective known as The Everything Company, comprised of Vancouver-based artists Jason Gowans and Michael Love, the interest in the history and tradition of landscape painting progresses toward its implications upon photography as a post-photo-conceptual strategy. This strategy incorporates social mechanisms that are tangible and inherent within the medium of photography, mechanisms that activate social structures that are both in front of and behind the camera. The camera becomes one of a number of social apparatus that give The Everything Company license to execute projects that activate social currency, inviting an audience to participate in the experience and wonderment of a pseudo-photo-based installation. Certainly there are photographs involved, but my interest in their collective artistic energies lie within their involvement with social transactions and the use of photography as a mechanism for social practice.


The Everything Company, Three Wrongs Don’t Make a Right, installation view, Access Gallery, Vancouver, Canada, 2013. Photo courtesy of The Everything Company and Access Gallery, Vancouver, Canada.


 Their most recent exhibition at Access Gallery in Vancouver incorporates photo-based images of landscape that deconstruct West Coast landscape painting tradition, its implied romanticism and its related aesthetic constructs and theories. Occupying half the gallery space is a large viewing apparatus based on a stereoscope that was constructed in human-scale. When one climbs up the steps to experience the proverbial view, the viewer peers down upon a proverbial cliff. In my personal experience of this apparatus, it became apparent that the apparatus becomes the instrument upon which social mechanisms are exposed within the act and practice of photography. Upon traversing the steps and peering down into the apparatus, I can’t help but discuss with other viewers what they thought of the view and the labour in trying to experience that view. As practicing photographers, both Gowans and Love acknowledge that the camera is an instrument of social practice. People perform in front of the camera all the time while the photographer coaxes them into posing. The camera becomes an unwilling participant, a catalytic agent both literally and figuratively with the potential for initiating social interactions and related social mechanisms. This potential for social interaction compliments their parallel practice of distilling spirits, mostly whisky and gin, for free distribution at predetermined “speakeasy” sites secretly situated within Vancouver. The still used for distilling the spirits acts as the catalytic agent in uncovering and enabling social gatherings. Although Gowans and Love have individual photo-based practices, their collaboration through The Everything Company is a conscious realization of their efforts to extend their collaborative practice onto the social realm.


 In writing this essay, I wanted to offer a general account of artistic trajectories that I feel merits further thought and exposure. This essay in no way defines a prominent artistic strategy but rather sheds light on one of many strategies that is of particular concern in Vancouver. They are strategies that merit further critical inquiry. This essay hopes to provide a general and social account of artistic discourses and their respective involvement with personal interests and experiences. The works of Sean Alward and The Everything Company, through their investigative efforts and willingness to explore and share their individual perspectives through a creative discourse allows for a personal, democratic and pedagogical balance within the experience of art through its vernacular.



 About MAA

MAA – Museum for the Administration of Aesthetics is a nomadic entity, a research-based nomadic project concerned with issues surrounding the city and the social interactions involving architecture and the urban environment. As its current Director, Paul de Guzman founded MAA in Vancouver in 2010 and collaborates with individuals and organizations on sitespecific projects and curatorial presentations. MAA utilizes various artistic methods to record and present an archive of urban and social experiences that engage with contemporary ideas relating to urbanism, post-colonialism and personal pedagogy. Since its founding, MAA has collaborated with and temporarily occupied spaces at Malaspina Printmakers Society (Vancouver, Canada), Stichting Duende (Rotterdam, The Netherlands), Galerie Transit (Mechelen, Belgium) and most recently the Fonderie Darling (Montreal, Canada).


30 June 2017 / by / in