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Artists share their insights into the issues surrounding work in Atlantic Canada


CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Workers in Atlantic Canada face a variety of challenges.

Conditions of seasonal employment, underemployment and having to work “away” are part of the reality of the region, but so are the qualities of self-reliance and communal activity.

And now “Work Shift”, a new exhibition at the Gallery @ the Guild, is addressing this topic.

Whether it’s farm labour, illustrated by the “Container Series” – colourful trays of ceramic vegetables created by Laura Jean Forrester, inspired by her days working at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, or one’s financial status, illustrated by “Credit”, a tactile work by Sam Kinsley, who has turned her hand markings on paper into a translation of an economic situation, a number of themes are explored in the show.

“Work is a timely subject. Right now, with so many issues involving work, labour and the value of time, we thought it would be really fun to take that approach with the show,” says Sarah Saunders, curator for the exhibition that also features the work of Zachary Gough, John MacKenzie, Ruth Skinner and Martin Weinhold and runs until Saturday, Jan. 19, at The Guild.

On one wall, Weinheld’s collection of black and white photographs captures the engagement of people at work. It shows beekeepers, potato packers and mussel workers as well as an oyster fisher, attending to their daily tasks.

“These are beautiful in the way the artist shot them. You’re aware of how people move within their space to do these jobs. It’s almost like choreography.”

On another wall, Skinner’s collection of photographs of the bridge, stairway and the glass door detail the MV Abegweit and pay homage to the people who worked (or travelled to work) on the icebreaking railway, vehicle and passenger ferry.

Honour is also paid to the travelling worker in “Lower the Boom”, a poem by John MacKenzie. It describes the August day in 1998 when Miscouche native Ivan Arsenault was killed after “a framework of steel and rivets slammed into him while he was building a high-rise in Ontario.

Beginning with the details of the construction worker’s 4 a.m. breakfast routine, “eating cereal from a box and drinking tea that steeped while he brushed his teeth”, MacKenzie’s words paint vivid images in the mind of the viewer when they stop to read the super-sized poem on the gallery wall.

“This one struck me on a personal level. It’s the idea of migrant work, when people leave home for a job of any kind, and how it affects the person, the people they’ve left behind and their tie to their community.”

The hazardous nature of work, at times, is the theme of an installation by Gough. Entitled, “The Precarious Creative Workers of the World Little Red Songbook”, it consists of a video and a songbook. One of the songs, “Immaterial Girl”, sung to the pop tune, talks about workers not being valued while bosses continually ask for more.

The book is a re-working of the infamous “Industrial Workers of the World Little Red Songbook”, which published over the past 100 years has mobilized union support and solidarity between workers in the 20th century.


Fast facts

- “Work Shift”, a professional exhibition at the Gallery @ the Guild, is a partnership between artsvest (a funding partner that encourages small galleries to reach out to community leaders to find matching funds) and Regis Duffy, a local sponsor.

- It was such a positive experience The Guild will now be able to partner with the province and This Town is Small to offer professional exhibits six months of the year, where creators receive artist fees for their work,

- During the other six months, the gallery will focus on community projects like the Seniors College of P.E.I., the P.E.I. Photo Club and the IB program.

Source: Alanna Jankov, executive director, The Guild


Twitter.com/SallyForth57

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