Artistic death match comes to Nickle

By Paul Robert

Using brawn and brain, six artists will battle it out for exhibition space at the Nickle Arts Museum’s So You Wanna Be an Art Star on April 22. The competition will reward one successful contestant with a solo show in the museum’s Teaching Gallery.

Created by Richard Smolinski and Linda Carreiro, this comical critique of the lottery-like system facing artists on their way to getting an exhibition is just one example of the University of Calgary’s involvement in Mountain Standard Time (MST), a city-wide festival of performance art and time-based media. MST is being organized by The New Gallery, Truck, Stride Gallery, the Nickle Arts Museum, the Art Gallery of Calgary, EMMEDIA and the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers.

Stereotypes of performance art typically include the bizarre and esoteric, the nonsensical and childish and the inappropriately invasive or raunchy. The 30-plus performative events taking place throughout the city during April will inevitably challenge such presuppositions through a melange of techniques. These include the polygamous marriage of spoken word, film and experimental sound to interventions on everyday life taking place in malls, on the streets and other public venues.

As a form of visual art, performance suffers from underrepresentation, lack of understanding and limited recognition. This is due to a variety of factors both inherent and external to the medium itself.

"I think performance art is sometimes difficult for galleries like Truck to host because, when our shows are five or six weeks long, how do you deal with that?" says Truck Gallery Director Brett Snyder.

"How do you have a performer come in and perform for that long? How do you host a person? We just don’t have the money to do it. Performance is a more complex programming dilemma."

Performance art festivals aren’t new to Calgary. What seperates MST from its predecessors (Media Blitz I & II in 1988-89, and EX.120 in 1998) is it involves the collaboration of seven Calgary art organizations and involves over 30 local, national and international artists.

"I think [it] emphasizes that we have a strong community here in Calgary, that we’re working together, and it builds relationships between us and overlapping audiences," says Stride Gallery director Robin Arseneault.

Part of the organizers’ mandate for the festival is to present the eclectic range of performative work discussed from a visual arts perspective rather than simply promoting what neatly fits within art historical definitions. Art Gallery of Calgary Executive Director Greg Elgstrand is optimistic about MST’s programming in that it challenges conventions of art in many different genres. These include film, video, sound and performance offering a wide spectrum of performances bound to appeal to different audiences. While much of the work stems from traditional approaches, the artists in MST take it in a new direction by combining techniques and genres.

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