Art in the Open in downtown Charlottetown today from 4 p.m. to midnight offers a plethora of one-of-a-kind experiences in performance art and more
© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Adam and Jennifer Read, left, and Canadian performance artist Michael Fernandes find their sweet spots in the specially built studio that is part of the Word of Mouth exhibit for Art in the Open.
Creativeness comes from within, especially if it’s within the specially transformed gazebo tent that is The Creativity Project.
Each year since the first free Art in the Open festival in 2011 in downtown Charlottetown, sisters Jill MacCormack, Janice McGuigan, Julie Love and Janeen McGuigan have created a unique environment within a typical tent that is atypically decorated with household items and materials to provide special spaces for moments of quiet reflection, the intent being to use the medium of writing to raise awareness of the beauty of simplicity.
Today, as part of the annual Art in the Open event, happening from 4 p.m. until midnight, their interactive tented art piece will be set up outside near the Confederation Centre Plaza at the Public Library’s main entrance.
“When you get inside there’s a sense of quiet that comes over people. People came out in tears in past years,” MacCormack says.
“They were visibly moved by the experience. Deep feelings aren't always easy for people to articulate fully, but the written responses we got were very thoughtful expressions of deeply held sentiments.”
This sisterly collaboration is rooted in a piece of writing by MacCormack called The Creativity Project, which she had submitted to This Town is Small Inc., which is Prince Edward Island’s only virtual artist-run centre.
“It was the idea of bringing people together to consider ways that we can make change in the world in kind of a gentle way, really,” she says.
This Town is Small’s project co-ordinator Becka Viau encouraged them to take that online piece of writing and put it in the public realm where people could relate with it in a larger way.
“So we took that piece of writing that was very idealistic in its nature and said, ‘How can we put a structure around this idea? How can we give it a form so it takes shape in a way that it’s tangible for people?’ (We wanted) to take ideas out of the idea realm and put them into something that people can interact with in a very hands-on way,” MacCormack remembers.
The end result was a hands-on exhibit using a 10-by-10-foot backyard gazebo tent as the exterior structure; the interior was divided into sections that featured interactive self-guided elements.
“It’s almost like we’re creating an environment where we literally pull furnishings from Janice’s cottage, my house, my sister’s place,” MacCormack says.
“We’ve dismantled our houses inside, pieces of them, and set them up in a tent . . . and created a place that feels like you’re in somebody’s living room or corner of their bedroom with nice warm lighting to create a nook where you feel like (a sense of privacy and comfort).”
The exterior is softened with potted native plants on loan from Macphail Wood Ecological Forestry Project’s nursery.
“Enter, Consider, Share has been our slogan for the tent each year. It invites the public to enter into the quiet tent and consider what we have set up as provocation and to hopefully feel moved to share a response,” MacCormack says.
In past years, the tent has included a sounding board made from ceiling tile for people to write and pin letters to, a message in a bottle room for people to write anonymous messages on the theme of inner longing and place in a large carboy, as well as a listening station for visitors to listen to voice recordings of beautiful children’s books and respond in provided response journals.
This year P.E.I. poet John MacKenzie is the guest collaborator. His poetry will be featured in and around the tent for the public to read.
“People get to sit there and they get to read (the writings) and they get to dig deep,” Janice McGuigan says.
Last year The Creativity Project elicited a great many writings from people.
“We got together later and divvied them up and read them. We had tears running down our faces. It was beautiful,” McGuigan says.
“(They were the) things that people have inside them that aren’t brought out in normal conversation. They’re in your thoughts when lying in bed at night when you connect to the world in a different way. All of a sudden they (come to The Creativity Project) and they connect in a way where they’re actually free to give what they have inside them and contribute to (the project).”
For Gerald Beaulieu’s piece, Work in Progress, the focus is also inward, but the audience will have to imagine for themselves what’s happening inside his giant 18-foot orange construction pylon.
“It’s performance art inside the structure. This is my stage and I will be inside doing things,” the Montague artist says of the big tent he has crafted from orange rip-stop nylon.
“It’s a chance to use all the tools that I normally use in my day job in the construction industry and as a sculptor, except people won’t really be able to see what I am doing; they will just hear the sound effects from all the saws and hammers and the jackhammer,” he adds.
“It will be very loud in the daytime and then at night there are lights inside and then it’s like a great big orange lamp. And what will happen is the tent will become a screen so my shadow gets projected as I move around on the inside. So they will get more action and visual effects.”
Work in Progress is a term that artists use when they haven’t titled or completed their work but they preview it.
Beaulieu paired that thought with the construction pylon for his performance art piece.
“Work happens that most people don’t see, they don’t see what goes in the studio they only see the finished project. So this was a chance to combine both the finished project and also to show all the different kinds of processes that I use in the creation of work. It gives the audience both a little bit of insight into the fabrication process within the context of an art presentation,” he says.
“People will hear and they will see the residual effects, but they really won’t have any idea of what’s happening.
“There is not an end product. It’s pure performance. People will just be curious. No doubt there will be a lot of activity happening, but as to what it is and why it’s happening it’s for people to use their own imagination.”
For Beaulieu and most of the other artists involved in this annual event, Art in the Open is an intense 20-hour day and sometimes more.
“And that’s part of it; it’s intense. But also because it’s only there for one day, there’s that attitude of ‘You can’t miss it’ because you don’t get a second chance,” he says.
“And the principle reason I do this is to present it to an audience. As artists we don’t always get that advantage. You might have some people at an opening, but at this event we have thousands of people going through.
“It’s interesting to see; it’s from toddlers in strollers to old people, so it’s the entire cultural demographic that gets out to see it. And that’s the advantage of it being free . . . .”
Taking typical two-by-four lumber to new artistic heights has been a freeing experience for intern architects Adam Read and Jennifer Read.
The creative couple was commissioned by Confederation Centre Art Gallery curator Pan Wendt to build an inspirational structure in which the artist in residence, well-known Canadian performance artist Michael Fernandes, would be able to write his
But what started out as a funky gabled roofline was turned on its head when Fernandes suggested they flip it, turning the ceiling into a flowing floor.
“We were a little flabbergasted when Michael suggested we turn it upside down. We were thinking ‘You can’t go in it, it doesn’t invite people.’ But your body engages with it when you go inside,” Jen says.
The two architects in training caught Wendt’s attention when they created an amazing one-of-a-kind arched pavilion for their
wedding last year for less than $1,000.
It was an offshoot of their masters of architecture studies at Dalhousie where they also enrolled in a free lab course that experimented with structures that were a little more sculptural.
“It was actually a good outlet to experiment with other things that were a little more sculptural than they are in standard architecture,” Adam adds.
“I think that’s why we liked this, too, because we have the standard two-by-four (boards), but we’re just using them in a different way. One lady came by the other day and said, ‘I will never look at a two-by-four the same again,’ ” Jen adds, laughing.
They had to think outside the typical architectural box for the mobile studio for the Word of Mouth piece in this year’s Art in the Open.
“It’s (usually) about use and functionality and being able
to inhabit it and efficiency of materials, that type of thing” Adam says,
“With this being an inverted roof structure, people don’t go inside, expect for kids. They run at it. They will make a beeline for it and their parents are like ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! I don’t know if you are allowed to do that!’” Jen laughs.
Fernandes has already found his comfort zones in his specially built outdoor studio.
“It’s like searching for the sweet spot. You see kids in there. Many times I encounter people in there and they find their spots.
“There have been people climbing on it. There have been guys hanging off of it. That’s all interesting to me in that it allows and encourages that kind of activity ... ,” says the artist.
“It’s not just a visual object; it’s one you can interact with. Something that specially looks a little dangerous or unwelcoming becomes welcoming.
“And so I like the apprehension of the look as a certain kind of message; it kind of denies you of coming in but at the same time if you go in, it allows you to find comfort in some spot.”