Art outside the City: AIR post #4 from the Ranger Station

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“the decentralizing of art is important…” what do you think?

The video link above is from an exhibit my work is in right now on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia called SSNAP.

Salt Spring is a small arts community in the Gulf Islands that has got together and started an art prize and exhibition, this being the first year it has run. When I entered I didn’t really think much about the prize being decentralized from the dominant arts centers except to wonder how they managed it. However, my work as an artist seems to be taking place, with increasing frequency, in places outside of the city. This has me wondering whether it is my work that fits into rural sites more than those of the dominant arts community, or are the arts changing in subtle ways away from central hubs, or am I just attracted to these places and the work follows?

It has always seemed wrong to me that our primary sources of knowledge exist in the city. Universities, governments, think tanks, libraries, museums are so often closed off from the diverse forms of living and knowing that exist outside of the urban centers, particularly in the vast landscapes of Canada and the USA. These landscapes are often treated as vistas of amusement and escape rather than as spaces of serious knowledge and untapped potential. As artist in residence for the Kent Harrison Arts Council, I am spending a year in a mostly rural landscape outside of the major urban and arts center of Vancouver. The city is close enough to visit and so it has influence in this place even if this influence is sometimes a reaction against increased development and city-centric thinking. I am yet to figure out the dynamics that make this place tick…tourism is a major factor for the community but so is farming and so it is a place in-between in many ways.

As an artist, the attitude that ‘good’ work can only come out of a city based, monetarily secure and insular arts community, is often reflected in the dependence of some artists on a permanent studio space. The studio is a place that shuts out unwanted outside influence and creates a safety cocoon where the artist’s desire and will is paramount. In this place, even disorder is controlled by those who dwell within…it is the artist’s city center. I have often found it difficult to step outside of the studio space with my work but I am slowly gathering up the courage and the materials to take my work outside. This isn’t just about showing work but about the act of making whatever form it may take. The gesture is a simple one, to allow for the possibility of outside influences whether this be a colour on the lake, an utterance of a passer by or a direct interaction between myself, my work and an other. Whether this will be evident in the final work is too early to tell; after all stepping outside may not be enough to break the shell of my own thought processes that influence my making. I will keep you posted.

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