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The art of survival

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The art of survival

The Art Gallery of Alberta unveils first exhibit of 2017, centered around themes of modern survival

The Art Gallery of Alberta’s first exhibit of 2017, Survival Guide, displays a collection of illustrative and conceptual artwork based on the theme of survival.

With a tribute to current social and political events, the exhibit explores survival skills in both a literal and conceptual approach.

Curator Kristy Trinier states that she’s always been interested in ideas about survival, and believes that now more than ever, the concept resonates greatly with the social, political, and cultural landscape we live in.

“I feel now with the times we are living in, from the Syrian Refugee crisis to Brexit, it’s affecting artists and institutions, (and) there are currently people feeling at risk. (There’s) definitely artists feeling that the environmental conditions they live in are suddenly, rapidly changing”, says Trinier.

The exhibit includes a collective of 12 practicing contemporary artists, who each touch on the necessities of human survival through their work.

Painter Patrick Cruz expresses his experience as an immigrant with his painting Landscape #5. Cruz’s piece is an ongoing commitment, which he is constantly working on as an act of resistance towards his adaptation as a newcomer to Canada. It includes motifs from famous contemporary works of Picasso, in combination with traditional Filipino patterns and symbols.

“A lot of these works have to do with hybridity.” Patrick explains. His work often uses both paintings and sculpture, and mixes ideas borrowed from traditional and modern art.

“Most of the subjects I use are things I’m generally interested in—for example, animals. I always associate animals with our primal side as humans, I think there’s a very primal side to this work. It’s very visceral”.

Cruz’s work stands in contrast to neighbouring artist Brendan Michael Heshka, who has created a clean modernist space resembling that of a psychiatrist’s office. Brendan has compiled a collection of pieces from the AGA, to create an installment where he incorporates psychology and art therapy with survival.

“The real artwork is not the office itself, but the conversations we would have,” Heshka says.

“Composing an artwork that happens in private that is conversational based is quite ephemeral, so we had the idea to give reality to that space.”

The idea of perseverance is embedded within Heshka’s piece, in that it offers discussion on the way we navigate survival through our everyday lives. He stresses the therapeutic power of art as a means to cope, and the necessity of art in clinical settings.

Other pieces in the exhibit include Survival in the Boreal Forest, a collaboration of Edmonton-based illustrator Nickelas Johnson and bushcrafter Mors Kochanski.

Kochanski  borrowed from his knowledge of a variety of survival skills like fishing, constructing shelters, trapping, and making fire, in order to give the illustrations a stronger sense of realism. The illustrations are instruction-based, and show how one could endure through the first 48 hours of survival in the wilderness.

Antti Laitinen’s Bark Boat displays video excerpts from Laitnen’s journey across the Baltic Sea in a self-constructed sailboat.


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Scott Rogers’ Endling includes a sculpture of a passenger pigeon next to a wall of text that describes the traditional cultural practices of Papua New Guinea.

The works of Isuma Productions, Santiago Mostyn, Paul Sergers and Ajla R. Steinvag, James Beckett, and Liz Magor are also being featured.

In creating the space of this exhibit, Kristy Trinier hopes to start an important conversation regarding the way we stand strong in times of adversity.

“What do we do to ensure the survival of conditions, especially for newcomers to America, to the values that artists have and people have about living in a place that supports cultural expression and freedom of expression?” She asks.

With a visual set of narratives, Survival Guide addresses the essentials of survival and gives relevance to the way we navigate through our lives, whether that be learning how to build a fire, or how to sustain expression when your culture is at risk.
Check out Survival Guide, now through May 7, 2017, and see what you can learn.


Photos supplied.