The Sustained Artist Project was a pilot at Remai Modern aimed at fostering live arts development. Selected artists received financial supports, access to museum resources and opportunities for informal mentorships with guest artists, cultural workers and community leaders. The museum worked in collaboration with each artist to develop a program of activities including research, artist talks, workshops, and the development and presentation of new work or work in progress.
Here, artists Alasdair Rees, Michel Boutin, and Monique Blom offer reflections on their year of artmaking spanning 2021 and 2022, including what they learned from each other and the most significant moments of their respective projects.
The most significant experiences I’ve had during this process have come from my exchanges with Michel, Monique, and Troy [Gronsdahl, Curator, Performance and Public Practice]; three very special people whose unique perspectives have expanded and reshaped the way I see the world and think about artmaking.
I was marked from day one by Monique’s frank approach to death. She finds these images of natural beauty in forgotten, devastated, and sometimes very dark places. At our lunchtime meetings she would often be coming from a shift at the hospice; the stories she shared with us about her work brought a very human and reverent dimension to our conversations: one foot in this world and one in the other.
Michel’s work fascinated me for his use of objects. His relationship with the materials of his performances is so intimate, it’s got me reframing my feelings for all the things that give their texture, form, and sound to my life. Michel’s performance at the opening for Postcommodity: Time Holds All the Answers was a full sensory experience that I haven’t got out of my mind. I admire the space that’s made in his work for the mystery of the everyday.
Troy was of course the organizing principle that held us together. In the presence his indomitable good humour any feat of creation feels possible. Someone from whom I have learned a great deal about so many things, but especially the power of a confident and friendly approach.
Being given the space and time to bring an idea from its first seed of inspiration to its full actualization is such a rare treat. Getting to do it in such good company made the experience all the more nourishing.
It’s hard to believe my residency has ended. I still feel flush with anticipation. The time spent has felt somewhat like a time warp. A glitch in the COVID-19 matrix. I can’t help thinking how different the experience would have been under normal circumstances.
My initial approach to the project was as a producer. I intended to produce a series of on-site performances to take place at various locations within and around the city. My plan was to collect artifacts from these performances to use in a final performance at the museum. I had thought to include other artists. I was developing an event. My proposal was a straight line with boxes tailored to a timeline. This was all tentative. Dependent on COVID-19 restrictions.
COVID-19 created a situation where community interventions and public gatherings became problematic. It set in place an unfamiliar reality. My proposal no longer seemed viable. Luckily the pilot structure of the residency allowed for fluidity and change. A series of related performances meant to culminate in a final event became a set of unrelated performances curated into scheduled programming. The direction of the work needed adjusting. What felt like an initial setback transformed into much more than I had anticipated. Thoughtful curation led to wonderful meetings with artists and others whose work I respect and admire that would not have otherwise happened.
For years my personal practice has taken a back seat to my work as an artistic director and arts advocate. I had lost touch with my autonomy as an artist. This residency became a portal to an awakening I hadn’t seen coming. Freed from expectation, the residency became a period of experimentation. A negotiation between audience, place and artistic intent. The work became more contemplative and focused. I was able to engage more deeply with the process of creating work rather than the work of programming an event.
The residency has left me excited for future possibilities. I’m thinking about developing an exhibition/performance hybrid. A series of sculptural installations altered/augmented by performances. I’ve usually left my artistic practice to invitation rather than submission. I’m so glad I decided to apply for this project… I couldn’t be more grateful to Troy Gronsdahl, Curator (Performance & Public Practice) and everyone else involved for all their attention, hard work and support. It is important to feature and support locally based artists whose work is not always an easy fit with regularly scheduled programming. I was very grateful for the opportunity to present with people whose work I respect and admire. Congratulations to Monique and Alasdair, my cohorts on this adventure. I had forgotten how fulfilling it is to be working alongside people immersed in their own projects. Being a small part of their process. Absorbing their presence. Being a part of something new with others has been exciting. I look forward to meeting the next cohort and wishing them all the best for their residency.
Reflecting over the past few months since the Never Not Broken performance, my answer has become abundantly clear. People have so much to offer when another being takes the time to let them know their grief is truly recognized. Grief, to be seen, must be embodied and shared collectively. It is through a coming-together experience like this performance that we uncover the capacity to feel relief in the presence of a witnessing other, and can no longer believe we must carry grief alone.
This performance allowed me to carry the grief of 732 participants for one evening. It was a task that many were puzzled by, wondering what I would do with the accumulated burden of such weight. I can only speak of my experience, which was actually the direct opposite. I was uplifted as I bore witness to the beauty of each participant’s honesty, graciousness, and humble offering. This performance presented an experience of choice for participants. Their choice was between carrying on in darkness or releasing their burden, thus lightening their load.
As an ongoing part of this performance, each of the handmade stones that I created to represent and carry the grief of the participants is becoming part of a site on the North Saskatchewan River bank famous for its historical trade routes. This site marks the durational performance that I began early this summer. So Above as Below (the Grief Hut) explores the complexity of grief through the co-construction of an earth structure. As part of an ongoing process of reciprocity and land reclamation, it is an offering space to collectively explore the relationship to the land and the values of labour deeply rooted in familial experience. I will continue to offer participants the opportunity to connect, partner, and be nourished with an emphasis on mapping the recovery of relationships.
I will forever be grateful to Troy for his vision and to the Remai staff for all of the beautiful support offered in making these performances a reality. This is an incredible program that engages and entangles the best of all Saskatchewan audiences. I am immensely inspired and honoured to have worked alongside Michel and Alasdair during our time together, their willingness to share and open hearts will forever shape my practice. I hope that the next group of artists participating in the live arts program benefit from the work we were able to lay the groundwork towards and thrive knowing they are shaping Saskatchewan’s rich and vibrant culture.
Remai Modern would like to thank the Sustained Artist Project participants for creating an incredible body of work, and we wish them the best on their continued practice.
Our successor program, Here and Now: A Live Arts Initiative engages three artists or artist groups for a one-year period. Watch for future announcements as the Here and Now cohort develops new work. Museum visitors can look forward to engaging with this multi-faceted project throughout the rest of the year!