Contemporary Art in Ottawa!

The Visual Arts in Ottawa; A time for change?

Summary of panel discussion which took place on Friday October 22 at the Enriched Bread Artists studios in Ottawa, Canada. The four panelist were Peter Honeywell (E.D. Council for the Arts in Ottawa), Patrick Mikhail (Patrick Mikhail Gallery), Heather Anderson (a curator at the National Gallery of Canada) and Andrea Fitzpatrick (assistant professor at the University of Ottawa).

Prof. Yves M. Larocque

Beautiful Ottawa

It  is true that Ottawa’s visual contemporary art community is currently at a “threshold” as Andrew Morrow well put it in his introduction notes of the timely panel “The Visual Arts in Ottawa; A time for change?” Four main issues were raised: 1) The funding needs and the negotiation capacity of Ottawa’s visual arts community vis-à-vis  the federal and municipal levels; 2) the impact of globalisation on Ottawa’s visual arts scene; 3) Ottawa’s art and galleries versus the interests of local art collectors; and 4) The role of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa’s visual arts scene. Allow me to sum up the discussion from my perspective as I was asked just before the panel.

First, what we have heard was said before! Second, it all comes to the notion of Arthur Danto’s “Artworld”. An Artworld (let’s say the Ottawa Artworld) is composed by its excellent visual artists, their works, its public, and “dispositifs véhiculaires” (transmission tools). The two last components create feedback to the artist. Let’s be honest! Here, Ottawa’s Artworld in not New York’s nor London’s.

The relationship between the contemporary artist and his works on the one hand, and the beholder\public on the other still constitutes the major flow of any Artworld. Our problem here is the public; the notorious, “conservative Ottawa public”, “highly educated”, young and mostly “old” (or “old and young at the same time”) of our “multilayered unique population” in prey of economical, qualitative and quantitative indicators — Federal government and services being the main employers of our beloved city. Our population is still exploring, if not searching for the “experience of art” (John Dewey), still shedding the old and well entrenched notion of painting-above-the-couch-between-the-two-coffe-tables. The visual artist community (which “has to stay in the city’s downtown core”) has to carry on its unrelenting mission of educating Ottawa’s receiver/spectators, who, we have to admit, are still at the Impressionists level. Duchamp’s urinal remains a mystery; and let’s not forget the Voice of Fire controversy!

La pragmatique des communications

As for our National Capital, the two major ivory towers speakers from the University of Ottawa and the National Gallery of Canada, repeated, I regret to say, the same old discourses that we have heard before on the dissemination of art and the NGC mandate. We already knew that we live in a globalisation context; we also knew that we are able to find the NGC mandate on its Website. However, to be honest, I believe that Prof. Fiztpatrick mentioned that these exchanges should start at a “person-to-person” level, a concept with which I totally agree. I would enhance by saying that with only a telephone and will, it is possible to move a mountain; I did it with Parisian artists Fred Forest and Sophie Lavaud who crisscrossed Ontario by car while sipping Tim Horton’s coffee. They were educating the Franco-Ontarian people on Internet and Sociological Art. When they said “yes” on the phone, it was very easy to involve the institutions (such as the NGC) and work out the budgets. All we need is “will” (“la volonté” in French) to change things!

There is a lot of catching-up to be done with the major Canadian cities as Peter Honeywell and the very professional gallerist Patrick McKail underlined. “The time of the status quo is over” and Paul-Émile Borduas was conscious of this in his native Québec. Post-modernism changed everything; art is not done the same way, not shown the same way, not disseminated the same way… and moreover post-modernism is dead!

In this time of “hyper-modernism” (N. Bourriaud) or “transhumanism” (me), we certainly have to look and live differently, to find new ways, collaborative ways to educate our public on contemporary or actual art. Time for discussion is over; time for building a new awareness in our public is now necessary… and building among ourselves, artists and our transmission tools (galleries, artist run centres, periodicals, institutions, etc.) new relationships. I must end with these beautiful lines by Borduas, written in 1948, not 2010…

To break definitively with all conventions of society and its utilitarian spirit! We refuse to live knowingly at less than our spiritual and physical potential; refuse to close our eyes to the vices and confidence tricks perpetuated in the guise of learning, favour, or gratitude; refuse to be ghettoed in an ivory tower, well-fortified but too easy to ignore; refuse to remain silent […]

Make way for magic! Make way for objective mysteries! Make way for love! Make way for necessities!

To this global refusal we contrast full responsibility.

The self-seeking act is fettered to its author; it is stillborn.

The passionate act breaks free, through its very dynamism.

We gladly take on full responsibility for tomorrow. Rational effort, once in its proper place, will be available again to disengage the present from the limbo of the past. (Refus Global)

As for me, I am ready to get involved to make way for magic! Who is joining me?

2 thoughts on “Contemporary Art in Ottawa!

  1. “In this time of “hyper-modernism” (N. Bourriaud) or “transhumanism” (me), we certainly have to look and live differently, to find new ways, collaborative ways to educate our public.”

    This applies to the art of living, in its widest interpretation, in all its aspects. For Ottawa, the time is now. It has to be!


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