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Wednesday, 13 August 2014 09:39

Southwest Open displays a diversity of artistic experiences

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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Geneviève Brideau with her soft sculpture works that are currently on display in the Southwest Open in Swift Current. Geneviève Brideau with her soft sculpture works that are currently on display in the Southwest Open in Swift Current. Photo by Matthew Liebenberg

The annual Southwest Open, a non-curated exhibition for semi-professional and amateur artists, is currently taking place in Swift Current.

The exhibition at the West Wing Gallery, located in the Airmen’s Barracks at Kinetic Exhibition Park, started on Aug. 8 and art works will be on display until Sept. 28.
An opening reception with a walk and talk tour took place Aug. 9, with artists in attendance to talk about their works.
Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC) Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling said the exhibition has been taking place for decades, but it has been called the Southwest Open since the mid 1990s.
“It’s been a remarkable series of exhibitions, because its purpose is to give artists the opportunity to show what they’re doing and to hear what other people have to say about it,” he mentioned. “It works as a kind of professional development for artists who are aspiring to be professionals, or amateurs who have a great practice going.”
He added the exhibition has a wider impact, because artists will move on from this event to participate in exhibitions at the AGSC’s main gallery or at other galleries in the region. The work of artists in the Southwest Open can also be selected to tour provincially as part of the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils travelling exhibition program, On the Move.
“So it kind of builds the artist’s practice and it’s been really good for that over the years,” he said. “A remarkable number of professional artists have come out of this process.”
The exhibition provides an opportunity for young, aspiring artists and art students to showcase their work. Two of the youngest artists in the current exhibition are Nicole Garies (born 1995) and Alix Gowan (born 1994), who are both from Swift Current.
Garies is displaying three pencil drawings, including a drawing of the Ste. Radegonde Catholic Church in Lafleche where she was baptized. Her two other works are drawings of a bird, an animal form she associates with freedom, and a tabby cat.
Gowan’s entry for the exhibition is a group of five stoneware masks. She is inspired by the drawings of Scottish hyperrealist artist Paul Cadden. She used her imagination, photographs and the faces of people in her life to create these masks.
Two of the young artists, both born in 1994, are currently students at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University in Halifax.
Geneviève Brideau grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, but she is working as an education and public programs assistant at the Swift Current Museum for the summer, and Parker Houghtaling was raised in Swift Current.
Brideau’s first soft sculpture works are on display in the exhibition. She used these works to explore this medium. Two of the pieces, called Childish, are carrot shaped and trunk shaped.
“It makes everything softer, rounder, childish and it makes you want to play with it,” she said. “It puts things in a different context, but it’s still on a gallery wall and so it’s an object that you usually want to touch, but now it’s in this type of environment where you’re not too sure how to approach it.”
She also created an abstract work — titled If I ate you, would you go away? — to explore feelings of anxiety or panic. The centrepiece of this work is tightly wrapped pillows that were knotted together and then attached to strings of material that are either loose or tight.
“So all of those things represent the process, the building up of an anxiety episode,” she said.
This exhibition represents a new experience for her, because her previous group shows have been only with people she knew.
“So it’s fun and interesting to be with all these works from all these different people,” she said. “It adds a different energy.”
Parker Houghtaling’s parents are both artists and he grew up in art galleries and studios. The Southwest Open is the largest exhibition he has ever participated in, but his work was previously displayed in a high-school art show and at the AGSC main gallery.
“It’s very gratifying,” he said. “With the work I’m doing right now, it needs to be in a gallery. ... I’m dealing with making art work that you interact with it, you play with, that you observe in a kid-friendly way and then putting those in gallery spaces is really important to me because I want to share the experience of art galleries being a fun, interesting, inviting and approachable place.”
Each of the three pieces in this exhibition represents a different facet of his childhood — playing dress-up, looking and exploring, and reading aloud from a book while speaking directly into a fan. This piece in the exhibition includes instructions that invite people to select a book from the shelf and to read aloud into the fan.
“You sound like an alien robot,” he laughed. “So essentially this is one that causes the viewer to become a performance piece in themselves, because it has the instructions.”
His childhood habit of looking around on the ground to see what he might find is expressed through a piece titled What Didja Find? He created a series of miniature artworks that are displayed below magnifying glasses.
While the three pieces are based on his personal experiences, he believes there is a broader relevance to the way people experience life and their visits to art galleries.
“A lot of people are still scared to go into galleries, a lot of people still think they need to dress up and behave a certain way, know certain things,” he said. “People don’t really view galleries as learning spaces, but in their essence galleries are just a place where you learn to look at things. So all of these pieces at their core are about looking at life in a new way or in a way that you used to, but think that you can’t anymore.”
The works of 23 artists are on display in the Southwest Open. Kim Houghtaling is impressed that around nine artists are participating for the first time and the works on display are very diverse.
“It’s like the breath of modernism in contemporary art is represented in this show and that’s outstanding,” he said. “The artist community in this region has really come of age where artists are practising a large variety of art expressions from a huge range of history. So the world of art really is here as well. We’re not behind the times in any way.”
The guest adjudicator at this year’s Southwest Open is artist Bruce Anderson. He grew up in Swift Current, but he is now the collections manager for the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina.
There will be a walk and talk with Anderson at the West Wing Gallery on Sept. 13 at 4:30 p.m., when he will discuss the art works on display in the exhibition.

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