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Fill-in leads talk on what is art

The second lecture in a series sponsored by a local arts group prompted a near-capacity crowd to engage in somewhat heated yet intellectual discourse about the nature of art, all thanks to a fill-in speaker from New York.

The second lecture in a series sponsored by a local arts group prompted a near-capacity crowd to engage in somewhat heated yet intellectual discourse about the nature of art, all thanks to a fill-in speaker from New York.

Todd Janes, the executive director and curator at Latitude 53 gallery in Edmonton, bowed out due to a scheduling conflict. He was replaced by Sarah Hamilton, a former media rep for the Art Gallery of Alberta, now an independent writer and performance artist based in Albany.

With only a week to prepare, Hamilton was able to guide the audience of more than 30 local arts enthusiasts, both amateur and professional, through a discussion that covered such problematic territory as the value of a Jackson Pollock painting as compared to similar work created by Congo the monkey.

At one point, she demonstrated her posits with some controversial and provocative visual examples featuring the nude works of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano’s 1987 award-winning photograph Piss Christ. Technical difficulties, however, prevented the showing of videos of a man having a sebaceous cyst lanced and another of Italian performance artist Warbear being subjected to a Dutch breakfast smeared on his body before having his abdomen delicately sliced with a razor so that others could make bloody impressions on paper towels.

The big and obvious question that seemed to be posed over and over again — is that art?

The genial Hamilton responded with good humour but said it remains to be seen how we as individuals and a collective society can define something like art where little if anything is definitive about it.

“As a critic, it’s not my goal to say what I think and to impose my ideas on other people. Instead it’s my goal to see the kind of friction that they cause with other people’s ideas,” she explained afterwards.

“I think that’s what provokes me as a writer, what provokes anyone as an artist, is the sparks that come from that friction. There was definitely some really good friction there tonight. For me, it’s about how something engages and provokes me and makes me think. We don’t need any more people to reaffirm how we think. We need people to argue with us and to give us new ways of seeing the world … always.”

While the lecture was less formal than fractured by constant round table like discussions breaking out from the attendees, it still provided an invigorating evening of stimulating entertainment. Going past the scheduled end time, it appeared like a healthy section of the crowd was just getting warmed up.

“I feel very privileged that we had her here,” said Pat Wagensveld of the Visual Arts Studio Association, the organization that organized the series. She too wanted the discussion to continue with Hamilton at the front.

The next session, Why is Art Valued, takes place on April 22 with Edmonton art critic Amy Fung. Tickets are $10. To learn more about VASA or the lecture series, call the organization directly at 780-460-5990.


Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns, and profiles on people.
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