art seen in san jose

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In mid-January we had a chance to spend a couple of days in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. We visited two public art galleries specializing in contemporary art, and later found that not all the art in San Jose is hanging in galleries.

We were staying in the Sabana Norte area, so our first stop was the Muse de Arte Costarricense. We quickly learned the building was once an airport terminal, complete with an ornately decorated room upstairs for visiting diplomats. That explained why the nearby futbol pitches were so flat – that’s where the planes used to land. It also explained the unusual tower emerging from the center of the gallery.

Art exhibitions are housed in what we imagine were originally waiting rooms, refitted of course for displaying Costa Rican paintings and sculptures. When we were there the work of two artists was being featured: large and dramatic wooden figures carved by Manuel Vargas (Estrategias del Recuerdo), and paintings and scaffold-inspired installations produced by Manuel Zumbado (Transversal).

The building itself is a work of art, small panels describe some of the original features of the building, and of course the intricately craved panels in the diplomat’s room are worth a visit themselves. They vividly depict the colonial history of Costa Rica, from “discovery” by Columbus on through to the mid-twentieth century. Behind the building, where airplanes used to pull up to load and unload passengers, is a modest sculpture garden – several large artworks that look rather dated and not nearly as interesting as the artwork on display inside.

After grabbing a coffee downtown, we found the Museo de Arte y Diseno Contemporaneo. It’s located in an historic building that was once part of a massive distillery – other buildings in the compound house cultural offices and various workshop and performing spaces. The featured artist was Salvadorean Simon Vega who offers a fascinating and fantastical exploration of space and tercer mundo — the third world. The exhibition, on three levels, included in intriguing vodka bar, photo-booth beach rover, a submarine-shaped encampment, and an artist’s studio — adorned with hundreds of drawings and artifacts, and loaded with fun and imagination.

From the old distillery we headed for the Mercado Artesenales, a market primarily for tourists. Although most stalls featured the same mass produced goods for tourists as the next, it was still interesting to wander through and pick up a few things for people back home, knowing that the airport souvenir shops have exactly the same items at 10 times the price.

About two blocks up hill heading south, we came across a wall of murals, then another, and around the corner, yet another wall of murals – leading us along old railway tracks and in the direction of the trendy El Escalante neighbourhood. When we were in San Jose two years ago, there was very little street art, just a few tags and stencils, but this was like an explosion of art – some of it possibly commissioned or at least sanctioned, some of it probably produced in the dark. We enjoyed it all!

Oh yes, we also sampled local art in the form of craft beer. Tried a few, our favourite: the Majadera. It is described as a Pale Ale but tasted more like a west coast IPA. Yum!

A sample of the street murals and stencil graffiti art we encountered in San Jose:

danish artist tackles social issues

Seven meters. That’s how much sea levels will rise if all the ice on Greenland melts. It was also the name of a massive public art project developed by Danish artist Gens Galschiot for COP 15, the climate change conference held in Copenhagen in 2009. His work challenged conference delegates and the ordinary people of Copenhagen to consider how much of the city would be underwater if the oceans did rise, and how those with the least resources around the world would be hit the hardest.

I wasn’t there for the climate change conference, but I was in Denmark several months later for a much smaller meeting on human rights. My conference was in Nyborg, less than two hours east by rail from the capital city.

While the conference was very engaging, the most memorable moment was a late-afternoon group fieldtrip to the studio/gallery/foundry run by Gens Galschiot. I hadn’t heard of him myself, but soon learned that he is well-known in Europe, not only for his small and highly-coveted figurative sculptures, but also for his provocative public art installations – some commissioned, some secretly dropped into public spaces by accomplices working under cover of darkness.

Gens led us on a tour of the whole complex and described to us the process of going from idea and design to finished bronze sculpture. Throughout the studio and foundry, and outside near the entrance, were several of the bronze sculptures brought back from the climate change conference.

Out in front of the gallery was the massive “Survival of the Fattest”, described as a huge, fat Justitia (Lady Justice) figure with a pair of scales in her hand, sitting on the back of a starved African man. Inside the studio were the numerous additional starving figures that went with this bronze sculpture, which during COP 15 was installed in the water near the famous “The Little Mermaid” sculpture.

There were also some of the figures that were part of “The Balancing Act” set, a series of humanoid figures that were perched on high poles in different locations around Copenhagen. The artist described them as symbolizing a sustainable lifestyle that is in balance with nature. Later when I visited the capital, we came across several of the figure still in place, high atop poles in city squares and along the waterfront.

Other notable works on display included My Inner Beast, a one-ton figure in black concrete — twenty of these were installed without permission in public spaces throughout Europe back in 1993 — and Pillar of Shame. There were other large artworks in and around the gallery, and I see from the website the artist has now organized them and set up the grounds as a sculpture park. Admission to the gallery and sculpture park is free. Gallery Galschiot is located in Odense, 30 minutes east of Nyborg.

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At the centre of Nyborg, Denmark

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Danish artist Gens Galschiot

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Small bronze artworks by Gens Galschiot

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Large bronze artwork in process in the foundry.

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My Inner Beast — concrete sculpture

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Pillar of Shame with the inscription: “The old cannot kill the young forever”

Survival of the Fattest

Posing next to the provocative Survival of the Fattest.

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The Balancing Act — public art in Copenhagen

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The Balancing Act — public art in Copenhagen

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The Balancing Act — public art in Copenhagen

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The Balancing Act — public art in Copenhagen

history and art and the atlantic

When you begin life as a port, play an important naval role in a world war, and provide a landing point for tens of thousands of ocean-crossing immigrants and refugees, your history and art is going to be influenced by the sea. This is probably truer for Halifax than for any other city in Canada I can think of, and if there is any question in anyone`s mind, two museums and an art gallery will set the record straight.

The Pier 21 Immigration Museum was my first stop in Halifax. This newly nationalized museum is housed in the dockside building that served as the processing facility for tens of thousands of immigrants and refugees from 1928 to 1971. Newcomers fleeing famine or war, seeking relief from religious persecution, or simply attracted by the promise of free agricultural land passed through this building and often right onto a train to take them west. Not everyone was allowed into Canada, either here or elsewhere and the museum carefully acknowledges that Canada’s immigration policy over the years has been a mixed bag of racism and targeted exclusion. There is an area where visitors are invited to add their story of coming to Canada on baggage tags – many I read were written by adults recalling arriving at Pier 21 as children before and after the Second World War.

Everyone arrived here by steamship, and once settled, sometimes returned to their home country to further settle affairs or retrieve family members. A significant exhibition explains what happened on one such return voyage. In May, 1914, the Liverpool-bound Empress of Ireland was working its way down the Saint Lawrence River when at 2 am it was struck by a Norwegian freighter loaded with coal, ripping the side of the Empress wide open and causing it to sink in less than 15 minutes, taking as many as 1000 lives with it. At the time, it was characterized as Canada`s Titanic. A chart notes that the survival rate for the crew was 60%, for male passengers in first class 49%, for female passengers in first class 32% (much lower for both in second and third class, and for children 3.6% (all were in second or third class). So much for evacuating women and children first!

Life on the water is further described and celebrated at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, although here too tragedy is never far – there are some 10,000 shipwrecks in the region, from pirate ships to wartime boats to the Titanic itself. The museum is very proud to have one of the only surviving deck chairs on display. The December 1917 Halifax Explosion is also thoroughly explained, the result of a collision in Halifax Harbour between a freighter carrying relief supplies bound for Europe and a freighter absolutely packed full of high explosives also heading for Europe. The explosion was the largest human-caused explosion in history until the atomic bombs were dropped in Japan. To balance all this maritime destruction there are numerous display cases with large-scale models of ocean liners, lots of marine artifacts, and a temporary but massive seaside-themed scene built entirely with LEGO.

Last stop: the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Here the nautical theme continues in one of the ongoing exhibitions with sea-themed artwork from the permanent collection, everything from seagulls to ships and the power of the sea. Many other exhibitions are squeezed into the gallery which encompasses two floors in one building and four in another, connected through an underground passageway. Free admission on Thursday nights.

Pier 21

Pier 21

Old welcome sign on display at Pier 21

Old welcome sign on display at Pier 21

Inside Pier 21

Inside Pier 21

Hundreds of bagage tag stories on display

Hundreds of bagage tag stories on display

Just one of many fascinating stories on display

Just one of many fascinating stories on display

The Empress of Ireland sank in under 15 minutes

The Empress of Ireland sank in under 15 minutes

Chart showing survival rate based on sex and class

Chart showing survival rate based on sex and class

Unromattic end for a pirate

Unromattic end for a pirate

One of many large scale model ships on display

One of many large scale model ships on display

More model ships

More model ships

Even my favourite Halifax beer has a marine theme: the Propeller IPA

Even my favourite Halifax beer has a marine theme: the Propeller IPA

street art and revealing the past

Rick Mercer hosts a well-liked weekly news/human interest/comedy show on CBC television. My favourite part of the program is his walking rant, filmed in a colourful back alley in the fashion district of Toronto. Known as Graffiti Alley, it is a lane that runs parallel to Queen Street West, just west of Spadina and I was always curious about it. The backs and sides of many buildings are covered in murals, tags, and random images that frequently change as artists replace old work with new, or find another empty corner to fill. I finally had a chance to see it for myself, although it was an extremely cold day (minus 20 degrees C) and my iPhone shut down after about a dozen photos. So I didn’t get to tape my own rant.

In contrast to this street art is an institution that is celebrating its 100th anniversary – the Royal Ontario Museum, or ROM for short. It has expanded many times over the years and is now one of the largest museums in Canada with four floors stuffed with exhibitions and artifacts from across the country and around the world. In addition to the usual descriptive panels are signs that tell curious facts about the museum, like the voracious collecting appetite of the first museum director, which movies were filmed in the museum, which authors featured characters with a connection to the museum, and more.

The museum also features “pop-up” exhibitions, and the one that caught my eye was a small display focused on the recent discovery of the HMS Erebus, one of the long lost ships of the Franklin exhibition. Franklin and his crew were looking for a way through the northwest passage and got caught in the ice, wintered, split up, and eventually all was lost. Burial sites and artifacts have been found over the years along the shores of islands in the area, but until now the whereabouts of either ship was unknown.

One of the first artifacts divers saw and retrieved was a bell, a key piece of equipment and one that survived it’s deep sea burial because it was made of solid brass. To the causal viewer, you might think you are looking at the bell itself, but on view is a replica. Not a cast or molded imitation, but the product of 3D printing. Fascinating, my first face-to-face encounter with a product of this new technology.

So maybe the museum is 100 years old, but the old dog is clearly still learning new tricks!

Speaking of new tricks, selfies with the Douglas Coupland exhibition is encouraged, and instructions are offered on the hashtags to use. So of course I had to take one!

Graffiti Alley, Toronto

Graffiti Alley, Toronto

Graffiti Alley, Toronto

Graffiti Alley, Toronto

 

Graffiti Alley, Toronto

Graffiti Alley, Toronto

Graffiti Alley, Toronto

Graffiti Alley, Toronto

3D printed bell

3D printed replica bell at the ROM

Me and Coupland art

Selflie with Coupland artwork at the ROM

barbie and ken at lollapalooza

March 31, 2012

Mi amigos,

This was the last day of our third month of travel… it has gone so fast. We left our beloved Valparaiso on the 9:00 am bus traveling to Santiago, Chile. Valparaiso for the last five days started each day with very thick fog and we had to put on our jeans and light jackets… so different from the beginning of the month there.

When we arrived in Santiago about 90 minutes later, the sun was up, the temperature was about 20 degrees (quite lovely). We caught the metro (the equivalent of the skytrain, but underground) and lugged our luggage up so many flights of stairs I lost count … actually, Don lugged the luggage.

We found our hostel about two blocks from the metro station… they were ready for us, we dropped off our stuff and headed for Lollapalooza. This is the second time Lollapalooza has been held in Santiago, Chile. There is a lot of interest here for this kind of music festival.

As we were sitting on the grass on our towel (about 30 degrees now), we took note of our fellow festival enthusiasts. It was interesting to note, the crowd was between 18 and 28 years old or so, occasionally,  a child with parents and for most of the day we were the oldest enthusiasts there.  Later in the evening we noticed about six more older-types waiting for Bjork to perform.

It was so funny when, a few acts in, we were approached by a media outlet who picked us out of the crowd and asked us where we were from and what brought us to Lollapalooza and what we thought of the bands so far. The answers were easy and we had a great laugh about how they might use the clip: “hey we found some old people at Lollapalooza, they were from Canada…”

We then moved on to our favourite band of the day… Gogol Bordello….”Start wearing purple” is my song of the hour… as many of you know, I love purple.  Their whole performance was so much fun…they are like Cape Bretoners gone wild, complete with accordion and violin. They hail from New York City and while lead singer Eugene Hutz claims Roma heritage, the rest of the band comes from all over the world, including Chile. Again looking around at our fellow audience… we were astonished to find ourselves in the midst of hard core punk rockers… surprisingly dressed up like Barbie dolls, with their pigtails decked out in all kinds of colours, their very short shirts all a-sparkle and smiles outdoing the beauty pageant contestants…. they even had their Ken dolls with them… not what I was expecting.

Later we witnessed the band Cage the Elephant seemingly fall apart. Don has the first CD they made, which is reasonable music (this is Deborah writing) with their first hit Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked is quite good. Getting back to the band … the lead singer was either very sick, in a drugged state or inebriated. He didn’t have much energy and couldn’t keep up with the band, a big disappointment to the fans. Many of them left before mid-act, including us. There were five stages so it was easy to find more compelling performances.

When we were walking back to the second main stage, we heard Arctic Monkeys – with all the Chileans singing along. The Arctic Monkeys are from Britain and seem to have a huge following here in Chile. We were not very familiar with them and I found some of the music not that easy to listen to. Mind you, the Barbie and Ken dolls loved it.

The last act of the day was Bjork and the crowd went wild! I had not heard her music before, it is definitely different. I would suggest it is ethereal. She had a 10-women choir that sounded like angels themselves. Bjork on the other hand seemed to not have the same quality of melody, but quite distinct sound. Her lyrics were very intriguing. It really seemed like poetry set to music. I was with the crowd and really enjoyed it.

We chose to leave about half an hour before the end of the show as there were upwards of 30,000 people there and one metro station to take them all away. We were very fortunate and got on the first train that came by and made the connection as well and got home in about half an hour … efficient system at a reasonable price…the cost for each of us was $1.20. I don’t know why Translink can’t be as reasonable.

All in all, this was a great day for me, my first time at a Lollapalooza concert. It was also good to be back in Santiago, which is a very beautiful city, especially that day with the pollution high in the stratosphere so we could see the mountains surrounding the city, wonderful heat and later the moon beaming down.

Mucho gusto!

Lots of happiness to you all!

surrounded by art

One of the charming aspects of Valparaiso is the profusion of public/street art, some commissioned and sanctioned, much of it not-so-sanctioned but clearly left alone and even celebrated. Throughout the harbour area (El Plan) and up in the many hills, you can hardly turn a corner without encountering artwork on the walls, from small works to block-long murals, along with lots of tagging, political slogans, and stencil art. This fascinating and wild artistic expression covers walls, fences, buildings, sidewalks, and even the odd abandoned vehicle. Surfaces are covered in paint applied by brush or spray can, as well as in tiles and broken china.

Posted above is just a small sample of the scope and variety – there are actually several books available here that are filled with photos and descriptions. We invite you to also check out the pintada de la plantilla page form time to time – we will be posting more photos of stencil art throughout our travels.

On a slightly related topic, Don has just learned that a short film he worked on this past summer has been nominated for an award. He was part of a team of four students who were spending a week at the Gulf Islands Film and Television School on Galiano Island, learning about documentary film making. His team decided to investigate the story of a sea monster reportedly sighted numerous times in the Gulf Islands and elsewhere along the coast of North America. The 7-minute final cut was selected out of more than 140 documentary films made this summer by adult students to compete in the “outstanding achievement in adult documentary filmmaking” category at the 17th annual EyeLens Film Festival, April 21 in Victoria.

There is also a people’s choice award, based on the number or people who “like” the film and share the YouTube link – so if you have a few minutes, please have a look, like it (we’re sure you will!), and share the link through Facebook and e-mail. Here it is: In Search of Cadborosaurus, The Legend of the Deep.