Art and soul

The visual arts scene weathered a couple of shakedowns in 2005. Sue Carter Flinn shows how it kept on creating anyway.

At the end of the year, most of us aren’t think-ing about anything more intellectual than peeling the foil off the last chocolate ball. In other words, the state of the city’s art scene is probably not your biggest worry. But it deserves some thought. In the city’s excitement over its bid for the Commonwealth Games (in another nine years), and in the more immediate fervour as the Junos come to town in March, visual art runs a risk of being relegated to a picturesque backdrop for the hoards of tourists expected to visit the city.

There’s no doubt we’re leaving a topsy-turvy year—precarious funding, bureaucratic stresses, overheated studio spaces with increasingly clever mice—and yet, people continue to create, critique and curate art, because it’s what artists need to do.

January started off with a lot of uncertainty for the Khyber Art Society. A hefty bill from the landlords at HRM and a Business Occupancy Tax for the soon-to-close Khyber Club meant a year of financial uncertainty and negotiations for one of Canada’s best-known artist-run centres. Although gallery hours were at times spotty, the Khyber still managed to present some great shows. A video installation by Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing and Althea Thauburger toyed with emotional rawness. Emily Vey Duke’s influence, as former Khyber director, was also tangible during the captivating live animation performance by Shary Boyle and Daniel Barrow.

The Khyber’s Barrington ally, Eye Level Gallery, celebrated its 30th anniversary by continuing a transient tradition of moving between Barrington and Gottingen. Eye Level quickly established itself as a north-end fixture with its outdoor billboard series, works that reflected the living space and culture of its new home, while an August performance series brought artful thinking to dumpsters, yards and baseball diamonds.

July’s Sound Bytes festival was a sign of Halifax’s growing importance as a hub for audio art. Organized by the indefinable Rita McKeough for the Centre for Art Tapes and Anna Leonowens Gallery, the festival included performances by Kathy Kennedy and Christof Migone.

Big names hit town. The AGNS made Hali-gonians dream in saffron with a show of Christo and Jean-Claude sketches and models. Rodin: The Magnificent Obsession was the gallery’s highest-attended exhibition ever. On a more personal (and in-person) level, Claes Oldenburg offered words of wisdom for the NSCAD graduating class.

It was a big year for NSCAD, but not only for the obvious reasons: Sure, there was the announcement of a 70,000-square-foot port campus to be designed by Brian MacKay-Lyons (along with help from Richard Serra and Bruce Mau), and the news that president Paul Greenhalgh is leaving for Washington. But it was also a big year for NSCAD faculty and instructors: local shows with work by Cathy Busby, Frances Dorsey, Michael Fernandes, Suzanne Funnell, Alex Livingston, Marilyn McAvoy, Rudy Meyer, Ivan Murphy, Jan Peacock, Sheila Provazza, Mathew Reichertz and Ilan Sandler—and many more who participated in the ArtPort exhibition at Shed 22—demonstrated the high level of skill and creativity that toils behind those brick walls. Sadly, there were losses too, not just to NSCAD, but to the Canadian arts community: Nancy Edell, whose astonishing retrospective show graced an entire floor of the AGNS, and whose work appeared posthumously at MSVU Gallery, passed away in June.

NSCAD students were also well represented. Kelly Mark returned for another show at MSVU, as the curator of Free Sample, featuring artists who embrace a “post-studio” practice where art can be made in any place, with any materials.

Perhaps this trend best sums up the scene. Art does happen everywhere. From the proposed cultural expansion at the waterfront, to the widely respected university galleries, to new commercial galleries such as Page and Strange, to the smallest addition, Gallery Deluxe Gallery, in the attic of a house on Willow Street, visual art, is indeed, all around us, and deserves not to be forgotten.

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