Two years of anticipation since the last Salt Spring National Art Prize finalists’ exhibition are finally over, and art lovers can now view the results of the third biennial event at Mahon Hall at their pleasure until Oct. 21.
The well-attended opening gala on Saturday evening was certainly a high-spirited event, as islanders, visitors and many finalists from around the region crowded in to celebrate another remarkable achievement by the Salt Spring Arts Council and its friends.
The show itself feels a little quieter and more contemplative than previous editions, however. This year’s panel of jurors has largely eschewed showy installations for smaller sculptural works, and favoured pieces that demand a longer look or closer examination. Also in evidence are many examples of technique that formerly might be considered craft rather than contemporary art, with a strong showing from traditionally “female” modes such as rug hooking, embroidery and other textile arts.
Exhibition designer Richard Steel has underlined these themes with his careful coordination of space and artworks. His strategy is to draw viewers in with works that visually demand a deeper look as the first thing people see from the doorway: a cinematic painting by Montreal’s Steven Volpe, seen beside an intriguing piece by photographer Mike Bernard that is darkened almost to the point of disappearing.
Viewers are gradually drawn to the back of the hall, which is where some of the larger sculptural works wait to be discovered. They include an interactive memory cave by Tammy Salzi (Edmonton) called Self that combines video and sound inside a toxic spay-foam bubble, and the magnificent Kwakiutl-style Blue Moon Mask by Port Hardy’s Tim Alfred — a four-foot diametre cedar round carving embellished with blue paint, abalone and cedar rope. An enclave created with exhibition dividers is meanwhile the place to contemplate some more challenging or even disturbing works, such as the completely bizarre but fascinating multimedia sculpture My Mother’s Mouth by Calgary’s Eve Chartrand (real teeth are involved.)
First Nations artists are well-represented at the show, including some lovely examples of beadwork and weaving that combine traditional methods with contemporary concerns. Skawennati of Montreal, for example, includes an E.T. figure on her Intergalactic Empowerment Wampum Belt. Port Alberni artist Klehwetua (Rodney Sayers) has long been concerned with the formal aspects of sculpture, and because of that has often painted his works black to direct the viewer’s eye there. His new approach investigating the influence of popular culture comes to a striking result in Serpent GT, in which he exaggerates Nuu chah nulth tradition in the carving, but adds hot rod-style paint in day-glow orange and a bright yellow racing stripe.
Local artists on the finalists’ list this year again prove they are well at home within the larger contemporary art scene. John David James, the sole artist in Canada to have made it into all three SSNAP shows, produces an engaging and multifaceted image based on a photograph of a sculpture. Krysta Furioso and Carol Narod fit right in with the contemporary use of traditional handcraft, with Furioso’s incredible beadwork piece heightened by dynamic triangles and a wonderful colour combo. Narod’s textile hanging Married and Single is equally wonderful, with contrasting panels of carefully ordered and free-hanging yarns in colours that recall Tibetan thangka.
How the jurors will distill all this diverse work down into prizes, to be handed out at the awards gala on Oct. 19, is anyone’s guess.
For more on this story, see the Sept. 25, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.