One Saturday morning in late February I made my way on foot from the City Hall LRT station to Inglewood. I carried a well-thumbed copy of the 2015 Exposure Photography Festival Guide in which I’d marked 5 stops. But I didn’t make it to all of them. Why? Well, I got side-tracked by Oh, Canada, an epic Calgary-wide exhibition held, in part, at Esker Foundation.
I first heard of Esker Foundation through my work as a member of the 2014 Beakerhead photography team. One of my assignments was to share some amazing art exhibitions with Beakerhead fans via photography and social media. While photographing Bee Kingdom’s beautiful glass sculptures of water microbes at the City of Calgary Water Centre I learned about Watershed+, a unique public art initiative hosted by City of Calgary’s department of Utilities and Environmental Protection as part of the Calgary Public Art Program. I heard from some of the key Watershed+ personalities at Creative Calgary Congress 2014. And I learned that Esker Foundation was coordinating a Watershed+ Bus Tour. I couldn’t attend the tour, but that was how I first heard of Esker Foundation. (Yes, I’ve been practicing my ostrich imitation for the past few years!)
I guess that means I should thank Beakerhead for my decision to make a new plan when I spotted the discrete Esker Foundation sign hanging at the front of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block. I climbed the stairs to the gallery on the fourth floor. That turned out to be a good decision, since there is art on display on each landing. The gallery space is beautiful…light wood floors, fascinating light and shadows, lots of corners and hidden spaces, and a giant hanging nest that turned out to be a conference room! I would have enjoyed exploring this unique space even with nothing on exhibit! This Calgary Is Awesome article by fellow Beakerhead photography team member Katie Novak (née Murray) tells the story of how Esker Foundation came into being.
Running from January 31 through April 26, Oh, Canada is described as a survey of contemporary Canadian art, encompassing 60 artists and more than 100 works. The exhibition was created by Denise Markonish, curator at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, where it was first shown in 2012. The show is so big that no one gallery in Calgary is large enough to host the entire exhibition. To learn more about the sharing of Oh, Canada between co-presenters Esker Foundation, Glenbow, Illingworth Kerr and Nickle Galleries I recommend reading this thoroughly informed and informative article published by (the now defunct) Fast Forward Weekly.
I checked in with the reception desk and learned there are no restrictions on photography for this exhibition. So I pulled out the only camera I had with me (Samsung Galaxy S5) and got busy, observing how the space and light of the gallery affected my experience of the pieces and occasionally getting distracted by the space itself! As I discovered, the Esker gallery is showing mostly sculptural work, including Kim Adams’s Optic Nerve (the minivan) and the artist collective BGL’s La clôture.
NOTE: If you’re wondering how they got the van inside the fourth floor exhibition space, check out this video clip from Global News.
It’s too bad this was an impromptu visit because it means I didn’t explore the Oh, Canada website before visiting. Now that have, I feel compelled to return to Esker to search out several pieces I see on the website (artists, filtered by gallery) but didn’t encounter during my first visit. Besides, I’d like to discover at least one of the five coins installed by artist Micah Lexier, who minted coins for his work titled “A Coin in the Corner.”
Final Words of Advice
I’m not entirely clear what “contemporary art” means. Maybe you are. But if you’re not, don’t let the term intimidate you. Based on the pieces on display at Esker, contemporary art seems to mean art produced relatively recently. I found it to be an intriguing mix of quirky, amazing, beautiful, challenging and/or strange pieces and there’s such a range that you’re sure to find something that appeals to your idea of art. Best of all, it’s Canadian! So take an hour or two, choose a venue (some are free) and go explore Canadian art!
If you want to make it more of a social outing, a three-month festival of special events complements the exhibition: talks, tours, hands on workshops and social events featuring artists, humour, literature, food, karaoke and more. Invest a few minutes in browsing through the Oh, Canada events calendar and you’ll probably find at least one event to add to your own calendar. I know I did!