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How Ottawa’s Nordic Lab is creating new opportunities for Northern art

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For creators living in under-served Northern communities, geographic isolation and a lack of resources present a barrier to success. But the Nordic Lab — a new initiative at the SAW Gallery in downtown Ottawa — is hoping to empower these artists by offering them a mainstage platform to showcase their craft.

The newly expanded space in downtown Ottawa now hosts artists in residence, showcases Nordic art and provides educational programs geared toward Inuit youth — all the while promoting cultural exchanges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Canada, Norway and other circumpolar nations.

The SAW Gallery’s curator, Jason St-Laurent, says the Nordic Lab is both a program and a set of physical spaces, though the public will have to wait until the spring of 2020 to view it. St-Laurent says the physical spaces will consist of “screen printing spaces and an artist residency space, which we’re naming after Annie Pootoogook,” the legendary Inuk artist who passed away in 2016.

“We’re all about being the social lubricant of the art world,” says St-Laurent. “We’re not your grandmother’s art institution.”

Tam-Ca Vo-Van stands in her bright, document-arrayed office during our interview. (Joshua Soucie)

Tam-Ca Vo-Van, the SAW Gallery’s director, says the Nordic Lab has been a long time in the making: “We have collaborated often with different Nordic embassies on special presentations. Things just came together, and our curator, Jason St-Laurent, thought of putting in place this Nordic Lab, which would bring together artists from Nordic countries and the North of Canada, and also from Ottawa, in a sort of triangular zone of collaboration.”

“We were involved, for about two years, in major renovations — an expansion of our space,” says Vo-Van, referring to the tripling of the gallery’s space to its current 15,000 square foot home in Arts Court. “We didn’t have our programming spaces for about two years, so we relaunched our facilities at the end of July, but the Nordic Lab wasn’t ready at that time, so we delayed the opening.”

The director describes the Nordic Lab as a research and production space that SAW is making available to its visiting artists. The program is also an educational space that the gallery hopes will invite artists-in-residence to get involved with the local community through initiatives such as community art projects or workshops.

The gallery’s curator and director allowed us to get a shot of the Nordic Lab’s contemporary artist-in-residence studio space while it is still under construction. (Joshua Soucie)

“At the moment, we’re working on a collaboration with an Inuit children’s centre as well as the City of Ottawa, more specifically the Community Arts and Social Engagement program, to put together workshops [for various age groups] that are coming up in November,” says Vo-Van. “With the Nordic Lab, we really wanted to involve the local Inuit community. The Nordic Lab initiative has an artistic mandate but also an educational one. We want to involve youth in artmaking. We really want to contribute to the well-being of the community in which we live, and we really believe the transfer of traditional knowledge is beneficial, especially for youth that are marginalized.”

For its Nordic Lab, the SAW Gallery will be installing semi-automated screen printing presses, which St-Laurent describes as “octopus presses” because their many arms make it simple to accomplish large-scale editions of projects, such as the simultaneous production of T-shirts, bags or prints: “Normally, when you’re hand-making it, it can take forever, but with this semi-automated press, you can do 500 no problem.”

“We’re launching a project called the SAW Art and Protest Initiative,” says St-Laurent, explaining that the project will help elevate the visual impact of political actions or protests by pairing organized social movements with artists to devise visual campaigns through merchandise that will be funded and produced by the SAW Gallery. “SAW, in its beginnings in ’73, was a bunch of activists, feminists and queers coming together to create something where people can see themselves reflected all across the gallery. We kind of wanted to go back to our activist roots, and normally, we can’t apply for funding for political anything, so now we’re using the profits from the bar to invest in our projects.”

SAW Gallery curator Jason St-Laurent. (Joshua Soucie)

The bar to which St-Laurent is referring is known as Club SAW, where gallery-goers are invited to grab a drink to sip on as they view the pieces laid out throughout the gallery. 

Despite the delay in the launch of the Nordic Lab’s physical spaces, the program is well underway. In the fall of 2018, they welcomed their first artist-in-residence, Sobey Art Award-shortlisted artist Joi T. Arcand. Club SAW therefore features a neon sign that was commissioned by the gallery over the course of Arcand’s residency. 

During her residency, Arcand took on a hybrid role with the gallery, becoming the Nordic Lab’s first program director. Arcand says she looks forward to seeing some of the international partnerships she has helped foster come to life as she moves on to her next residency at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.

Joi Arcand’s neon signs hang on the wall of Club SAW. (Joshua Soucie)

On November 7, SAW will be hosting an afterparty in collaboration with the National Gallery of Canada for the launch of the Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel exhibition, which will be showcasing the works of over 70 Indigenous artists from around the world. At their afterparty, the Nordic Lab’s second artist-in-residence, Norwegian Sámi artist Elle Márjá Eira, will be performing Joiks, which the artist describes as Europe’s oldest singing tradition.

“Joik is still a living art, and I always say that Joik is my heart language,” says Márjá Eira. “I will perform a Joik, a piece from the Norwegian feature film The 12th Man,directed by Harald Zwart. I composed that piece together with film music composer Christophe Beck. […] I hope that the audience is able to capture my feelings and stories, and that they somehow come into my world. My universe is completely different from yours.”

With its emphasis on community building and spotlight on Northern art, the Nordic Lab’s programming is sure to give its event participants chills.

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Ottawa Book Expo 2020 – Authors, Publishers look forward to a top-notch Canadian book fair

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Diversity has always been a complex issue, no matter where you look.Case in point, world-famous writer, Stephen King, has recently come under criticism for his views on diversity. The best-selling author had stated, “I would never consider diversity in matters of art, only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.” Many criticized the novelist as being out of touch and “ignorant,” but one cannot deny that King’s opinions on diversity, mirror the thoughts of a whole lot of people in the creative industry.

The Toronto Book Expo is coming back in 2020, with a multi-cultural concept that aims to include marginalized authors.  The Expo intends to celebrate literary works of diverse cultural backgrounds, and the entire literary community in Canada is expectant. Book-lovers and writers alike, are invited to three days of uninhibited literary celebration where diverse cultural works will be prioritized. At the event, authors will be allowed to share their culture with a broad audience. The audience will be there specifically to purchase multi-cultural works.

Multicultural literary expos do not come every day. In Canada, there is a noticeable lack of literary events celebrating other cultures. This leads to a significantly lower amount of cultural diversity in the industry. The Toronto Book Expo would aim at giving more recognition to these marginalized voices. Understandably, more recognizable work will be prioritized.

The Toronto Book Expo is making a statement that diversity is needed in the literary community. The statement is truly motivating, especially if you consider the fact that this could mean more culturally diverse works of literature.

There is a lot of noticeable cultural ignorance in literature. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and books are one of the best means of improving multi-cultural diversity in literature. The Toronto Book Expo is going to fully utilize books to fight ignorance in the literary industry.

Real progress cannot be made if there is a substantial amount of ignorant people in the industry. In spite of advancements made in education in recent years, there is still a considerable percentage of adults who remain unable to read and write.The Toronto Book Expo aims to bring awareness to social literacy issues such as illiteracy.

It is important to uphold high literacy levels in the community and to support those who are uneducated. A thriving society cannot be achieved if the community is not able to read their civil liberties and write down their grievances.

The major foundation of a working and dynamic society is entrenched in literature. Literature offers us an understandingof the changes being made to our community.

The event would go on for three days at three different venues. Day 1 would hold at the York University Student & Convention Centre at 15 Library Lane on March 19. Day 2 would be held at the Bram and BlumaAppel Salon Facility on the second floor of the main Toronto Reference Library near Yonge and Bloor Streets in downtown Toronto on March 21 and day 3 of the expo would take place at the internationally famous Roy Thomson Hall.

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A Week In Ottawa, ON, On A $75,300 Salary

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Welcome to Money Diaries, where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.Attention, Canadians! We’re featuring Money Diaries from across Canada on a regular basis, and we want to hear from you. Submit your Money Diary here.Today: a biologist working in government who makes $75,300 per year and spends some of her money this week on a bathing suit. Occupation: Biologist
Industry: Government
Age: 27
Location: Ottawa, ON
Salary: $75,300
Paycheque Amount (2x/month): $1,930
Gender Identity: Woman

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Ottawa doctor pens nursery rhyme to teach proper handwashing

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An Ottawa doctor has turned to song to teach kids — and adults, for that matter — how to wash their hands to prevent the spread of germs.

Dr. Nisha Thampi, an infectious disease physician at CHEO, the area’s children’s hospital, created a video set to the tune of Frère Jacques and featuring the six-step handwashing method recommended by the World Health Organization.

Thampi’s 25-second rendition, which was co-authored by her daughter and Dr. Yves Longtin, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, is featured in the December issue of The BMJ, or British Medical Journal. 

Thampi said as an infectious disease physician and a mother of two, she thinks a lot about germs at home and school.

“I was trying to find a fun way to remember the stuff,” she said. “There are six steps that have been codified by the World Health Organization, but they’re complex and hard to remember.” 

Thampi said she came up with the idea to rewrite the lyrics to the nursery rhyme on World Hand Hygiene Day in May, when she was thinking about how to help people remember the technique. 

She said studies have shown that handwashing is effective in reducing the risk of diarrhea-related illnesses and respiratory diseases. 

“So I’d say it’s one of the most important and easiest things we can do.”

The video includes such often-overlooked steps as “wash the back,” “twirl the tips around” and “thumb attack,” which pays special attention to the first digit.

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