Posts tagged yegarts
Artist Profile: Yong Fei Guan

Author: Yang Lim

Photographer:  Manpreet Singh

Photographer: Manpreet Singh

        Yong Fei Guan is an Edmonton-based artist whose work provides a welcome contribution to the diversifying of perspectives in Edmonton’s art community.  Although Guan was always been interested in art as a child, she had limited opportunities to study it extensively in school.  Art education was not valued in the community where she grew up as the visual arts were not seen as a pragmatic occupation.  After immigrating from China to Canada over a decade ago, Guan studied art at MacEwan, followed by a degree in Fine Arts from the Emily Carr University of Art + Design.  When she returned to Edmonton, she started to develop her artistic practice and took the City of Edmonton’s composting program and became a Master Composter, after which she subsequently taught the public about how to compost.  At the same time, she became more interested in exploring her own cultural identity.

        As a result, Guan’s artistic practice has developed out of a unique confluence of her connection to her Chinese heritage, her active engagement with environmental issues, and her desire to create a distinctive artistic practice that extends beyond the mediums of traditional Chinese art.  In doing so, she aims to increase the Edmonton public’s awareness about Chinese culture and history as well as to create a new type of art that speaks to contemporary issues that impact Edmonton’s Chinese community.

        The development of her artistic practice did not arise without some challenges.  After she completed her art education, she created several animal paintings and illustrations as well as dabbled in some abstract art.  Besides, this, she started to work with traditional mediums such as ricepaper and ink, but she found these to be unsatisfactory.  In 2014, she came up with the idea of folding some of her ricepaper-and-ink works into origami, which were subsequently exhibited at Harcourt House.  This became an important moment in Guan’s development of a unique artistic voice, which she further developed through her participation in the Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival.  During the festival, she facilitated a workshop about how to make lanterns out of milk jugs, which proved to be very popular with the public.  This progressed to her creation and exhibiting of Foo Dog at a group show last year, followed by her creation of a Chinese guardian lion that appeared at the Shaw Conference Centre’s Art Night event this past March.   Guan constructed the lion out of recyclable and repurposed materials such as milk jugs and 6-pack rings that she sprayed pink.  When the lion was displayed at the Shaw Conference Centre, she observed that several people would pose by the lion and take photos.  For Guan, this was an affirmation of her work’s resonance with the Chinese community and other Edmontonians as well.

        The guardian lion was intended to remind people of the stone lions that were stationed in front of Edmonton downtown’s Harbin Gates.  Located at the intersection of 102nd Avenue and 97th Street, the Harbin Gates have been a central part of downtown Edmonton since 1987.  However, they were dismantled last year due to the Valley Line LRT expansion, which the city had slated to build through that street.  Failing to consult sufficiently with the Chinese community, the city began by removing the two stone lions in front of the gates on April 4th, 2017, followed by the dismantling of the Harbin Gates on the November 4th-5th weekend that same year.

        The dismantling of the Harbin Gates was a shock to the local Chinese community and several members held a candle vigil the day before they were dismantled.  For several of them, the lions had sentimental value and they held fond memories of them, besides which they were culturally significant as the gate’s materials were a gift from Edmonton’s sister city Harbin, China.

        Through the creation of her guardian lion out of recyclable materials, Guan  is making a statement about the cultural significance of Harbin Gates and the stone lions, both of which she regard as an important representation of Edmonton’s multicultural heritage.  For Guan, their removal by the city shows the municipal government’s lack of awareness, understanding, and respect for the Chinese community in Edmonton because it signifies the physical erasure of Chinese history and heritage from a city that has, ironically, been proud to affirm its diversity.  As Guan affirms, ”The Chinese community is Alberta is over a century old and Edmonton is currently home to about 79,000 Chinese immigrants. Yet, there is a lack of respect for Chinese cultural practices locally.  Chinatown is being gentrified; the Harbin Gate has been removed.  It is outrageous to experience my own cultural heritage disappearing from a place I now call home.”  For the community, the removal of the gates and lions exemplify how changes seem to be taking place without their consultation.

        Her interest in composting has also given rise to an ongoing project entitled C is for Composting.  With the composting knowledge and skills that she has acquired, Guan is interested in teaching children about composting and its relationship to nature.  As a result, she experimented with torn paper art and began formulating some ideas for a picture book, which is still a work in process.

        Guan is currently in the process of creating a second guardian lion out of the same materials.  Her current project will appear in this year’s The Works Art and Design Festival and will consist of both lions being displayed prominently at the festival’s central site at Capital Plaza.

        To learn more about her art and artistic practice, Yong Fei Guan’s website can be found at http://www.yongfeiguan.com.

 

Down to Earth

By: Jayleen Wilke, Production Coordinator.

Down to Earth.jpg

My favourite part of being on the production team (for 3 years now) will always be the random, but vital, tasks that are required for the success of the festival. This year for Emmanuel Osahor’s exhibit, In Search of Eden, we needed to collect hundreds of native plants to Edmonton to create a giant living wall. In order to do so, Emmanuel got into contact with Cherry Dodd, the president of the Edmonton Native Plant Group, to help gather so many plants. I was lucky enough to go along on the field trip to meet her and I was blown away by her knowledge of plants and her overwhelming generosity.

With my limited knowledge of plants, I was able to learn the basics of transplanting from Cherry and can *almost* remember the names of a few native plants to Edmonton. It’s amazing how hardy our native plants are and how beautiful the root systems are too. But plant knowledge was not the only thing I took away from my interactions with Cherry. By inviting us to her house to do the transplanting, I was able to observe her lifestyle, and it was evident how considerate she was towards our planet. Which was incredibly inspiring and heart-warming to see. Consistently offering tea and cookies, she is easily one of the most down to Earth individuals I have ever met. Pun intended.

I am forever grateful for these opportunities I get to experience with The Works. I hope you will check out Emmanuel’s exhibit on Capital Plaza this year and see all the wonderful native plants!


About the author: Jayleen Wilke is a multidisciplinary artist and designer from Edmonton, Alberta. She recently graduated from the Industrial Design program at the University of Alberta. Her work focuses on incorporating locally found materials into designs and artwork to increase attachment to works through the story behind the materials. Combining her love of adventure and new-found love of geology, she hopes to inspire others to love the Earth as she does, through a mixture of art and design. To contact or check out her work, please visit www.jayleenwilke.com

Eden as a Verb: Utopia and Emmanuel Osahor’s In Search of Eden

By: Brittany Gergel, Curatorial Assistant.

An image featured in Emmanuel Osahor's In Search of Eden, originally from the artist's series The Valley

An image featured in Emmanuel Osahor's In Search of Eden, originally from the artist's series The Valley

In the first season of Mad Men, an episode features ad man Don Draper listening to client Rachel Menken as she rhapsodizes on the concept of utopia. “The Greeks had two meanings for it,” Rachel says; “‘eu-topos,’ meaning ‘the good place,’ and ‘u-topos,’ meaning ‘the place that cannot be.’”

Though being discussed in the context of advertising in the 1960’s, the complexity of utopia proves relevant in our continued fixation on the concept. The current development of Downtown Edmonton, for instance, is evidence of how much value is placed on producing ‘the good place’ as an end product. However, our urban spaces are hardly equal-opportunity Edens. In Downtown Edmonton, critical, compassionate address of socioeconomic inequality is frequently cast aside in favour of flashy infrastructure and exclusive programming—twofold moves which, in the name of progress, neglect the vulnerable and cast them away from the city’s core. The latter half of Rachel Menken’s etymology of utopia unfortunately seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy—sealing an ambivalence of good and bad, and possible and impossible, which exposes even more ambivalence and tension in its midst.

Artist Emmanuel Osahor explores these and other utopic ambivalences in the installation In Search of Eden, for The Works Art & Design Festival. Edmonton’s River Valley proves a compelling object of study for this work, as while conventionally utopic and Edenic in its own right, the River Valley also exists as a haven for Edmontonians ousted from urban spaces and experiencing homelessness.

In Search of Eden is a large structure with a scaffolding exterior—imposing, yet not out of place in a Downtown environment. Concealed within the structure is a towering, living wall of River Valley-native plant life. As viewers enter the installation, they view its additional walls, which bear large-scale photographic images of camps and similar signs of human activity in the River Valley. Through this reverent juxtaposition, viewers are forced to consider the River Valley as a space in which Edenic lushness is inseparable from the realities of poverty and homelessness. This tension is already familiar to the Edmontonians who use and consider the River Valley differently, and is further complicated by issues of safety and sustainability. ‘The good place’ and ‘the place that cannot be’ hang in precarious balance.

In this ambivalence, In Search of Eden embodies and asserts the significance of the active search. Though utopia or Eden as an endpoint has proven itself to be not-yet-obtained, the process of striving for different forms of sanctuary in complex spaces like the River Valley continues on. Osahor cites the collective yet differential search for utopia in spaces of hardship as a testament to the persistence of hope. Perhaps the best way to face the ambivalence of utopia is to remain critical, variable and mobile in this hope, constantly searching and striving for something bigger than both good and too good to be true.

Experience Emmanuel Osahor’s In Search of Eden at The Works Art & Design Festival, June 21 - July 3.


About the author:  Brittany Gergel is a student currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in the History of Art, Design and Visual Culture at the University of Alberta. Her accomplishments include publication of art interpretation in the Faculty of Art & Design’s 2018 collaboration project, Anthropocities, and presentation of research-creational work at Mile Zero Dance’s 2018 Eco-Dirt Buffet. She is interested in eros, affinity and accountability as they are navigated through artistic forms.