Thursday, 26 January 2017

Amanda Burk at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

Amanda Burk’s show at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, “Stories of Contentment and Other Fables” mix contemporary and traditional approaches to create what could be described as visual poetry or as visual allegory for adults where Burk’s creative use of animal imagery in beautiful charcoal drawings are enhanced by their scale and method of presentation.  
     We are accustomed to animals representing us humans in fables and fairy tales, anthropomorphically telling a humanist story that might otherwise be too harsh and too close to reality for children’s ears. Traditional stories use this method of distancing to cleverly educate children, and even warn them, about the complexities of living a moral adult life, easing them into the adult maze with a humanist map forged in their minds. 
   For us adults, contemporary art can perform similarly where complex realities are transformed into subjective realms of feelings and philosophical meanderings. Quite different from traditional art or storytelling with a moral purpose, the contemporary realm of art has its drawbacks when too focused on itself rather than the subject at hand creating what artists and art historians call the “history of ideas” when the technique and aesthetic approach is demonstrably newer than the last. 
     Fortunately many contemporary artists avoid a pure discussion of aesthetics and use unique and clever approaches to better express the relationship they have with their inner selves, the outside world that affects them, and at their best a combination of both. The results can be visual poetry not intended to illustrate any specific story, idea or moral approach to life. This kind of mental kinship a viewer can often have with the artist is something to be found in traditional art and even in popular culture, but these subjective elements are often taken for granted whereas in contemporary art they are the focus. 
   And a contemporary art gallery has the space for physical creativity where the size and method of presentation of the art can be played with by the artist to help make their shows more dynamic and impacting.
     At the TBAG, Amanda Burk’s work puts you on an emotional journey, very cleverly achieved in the work, its presentation, and sequentially as if in a book, from left to right. Or potentially in the other direction or even from wall to opposite wall. 
    Amanda Burk’s beautiful drawings of animals are both technically brilliant and composed with great forethought to creatively generate feelings and potentially thoughts on current topics possibly similar to what Burk herself felt or thought when the inspiration came or during the work’s creation. In describing her work, Burk relates how present day influences affected her thoughts and feelings. She also described the journey she took in her practice that related directly to her life and world events. As a viewer you won’t learn these specifics unless they are relayed to you verbally or in a written text, but you may feel them in the show, which is quite the feat.
     The moon shaped imagery of sleeping animals on one wall are contrasted dramatically by animals violently lurching out from the dark spaces in the squares within a disorganized display of black picture frames on the opposite wall. 
     When you study the works take note of other opposites: square and circle, day and night, peace and anger/fear, balance and unbalance, black charcoal and white charcoal, white paper and black paper, white on black and black on white, sleeping animals and angry animals, jumbled active crowd and mirrored peaceful balance. 
      These multiple opposites and contrasts are clever expansions upon the drawings. They are like settings or backdrops for our animal friends, combining to make for a brilliant show, simplistic in some ways yet deep and thoughtful in others, a show worthy of your adult mind. 
    This show of recent drawings by Amanda Burk is on display at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery till March 26. And just to note, Nadia Kurd as curator has done a great job of picking out some amazing artists for us.
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Rent is Too Damn High!: Greedy and Shameful Landlords are Charging Far Too Much for Rent in Thunder Bay



      What needs are essential in order for an artist to survive? To flourish? To be able to contribute to their community? Few artists manage a full time living selling their wares or working with a publisher or gallery or promoter, yet having these connections is the biggest influence on where an artist lives. Being part of a scenee in important as well. Like-minded groups build camaraderie and help an artist to further engage with the public. 
     One of the biggest influences on where an artist chooses to reside is the rent. High rent won’t completely dissuade them from living in downtown Toronto or Vancouver, at least at first, but if they give their acting career a good try and it doesn’t illicit the work or success they had hoped, they are likely to seek out a more manageable cost of living elsewhere.
   Every human being on the planet requires shelter. It’s a human commonality, not a wanting luxury. And there are good reasons for governments around the world to believe that the most any average income earner should pay for shelter is 30 percent of their income. For someone to take advantage of a situation, like a flood, to take half or more of a person’s income by jacking up the rent without due cause is not just being greedy, it is disgraceful, shameful and it should be criminal. High rent makes life difficult for others and can outright steal a person’s ability to own a vehicle, to have a spouse, to have children, to save for a house. High rent can steal’s a young person’s future from them. On top of paying ever increasing tuition fees, students at Confederation College and Lakehead University will tell you how upset they are about high rent and that no one seems to care about their situation. 
     For artists the cost of materials is high. Framing is expensive. Promoting and selling work requires being an entrepreneur and business person on the side with all sorts of costs involved. They are particularly vulnerable to economic change. And any adult earning a basic income and looking for an apartment is in trouble. 
     The rent has seriously jumped in Thunder Bay without cause. What goes on in the head of a landlord when she or he decides to hike the rent by hundreds of dollars? Where are the great new jobs flooding into Thunder Bay? Has everyone’s pay suddenly doubled? Do landlords think we’re all winning lotteries? 
     It’s not the “market” that is making them hike rent or lack of rental spaces, for even if this is true it’s still no justification for the hike. It’s taking advantage of people. It’s outright shameful greed. Or could it be that people have a fantasy that the future is so bright here in Thunder Bay that we are all going to pick money from trees. It’s not happening.
     High rent will make life harsher in Thunder Bay and lead to a slow suicide for the city. We should be encouraging people to move here. We should make the city amendable to our children so they can have good lives here. We need to make our city beautiful. Economists say we need Thunder Bay’s population to grow by at least thirty to fifty thousand people in the next twenty years if we want a healthy and viable city. The latest demographic study shows that in the last ten years Thunder Bay's population has risen by only twenty-five people. In a bad week, our obit column can feature thirty deaths. So you can imagine how tight the race is.
     Closing schools and businesses won’t help, but likely necessary. It won’t help to defund promotional campaigns that advertise the city. It won’t help to defund the arts or underfund programs and projects that make Thunder Bay culturally attractive and beautiful for those living here. Why would anyone living in other cities with worthwhile amenities want to move here? People need good reasons to brave a Northern living with its isolation and long winters. And they need reasons not to leave.
    Having grown up in Thunder Bay and travelled to quite a few countries I’m suspicious of an undercurrent of fear in this city: the fear of change. I think the reason so many people are jacking the rent and politicians are doing little to nothing about it is because these people secretly don’t want young people to succeed. They don’t want people to move here. Artists, young people and outsiders might change the face of the city, change the culture. They might alter the city’s course and make it something other than what’s it’s always been; familiar, comfortable, low key, stable. 
    Artists and young people are terrible. They like to do research and get worldly experiences by traveling, opening their eyes and being empathetic. When they return they bring ideas with them and open up gastropubs which puts the familiar greasy spoon places out of business. You don’t want more of that, now do you? Imagine if artists, young people, First Nations people and immigrants became politicians or big business owners. They might “change” things. Scary. 
     In the name of human decency let’s start by lowering the rent in 2017 and practice giving to others and not taking what isn’t yours.
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.