IAD (Improvised Artistic Device)

October 25, 2008

Improvised Artistic Device

Urban research in a non-urban setting or blowing shit up!


Performed in collaboration with Chris Ricketts
and Julia Chan for the
White Noise Cabaret
You even called me friend
13th Symposium of Art,
Sackville, NB
Owens Art Gallery
Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre


Despite New Brunswick’s reputation as a “drive-through” province, time and space converged this fall in Sackville to unleash the creative imagination. Thanks to the encouragement of supportive staff and members at the Owens Art Gallery and Struts Gallery & Faucet media Arts Centre, a curious group of artists from across Canada and through the porous border of the USA came together amidst an environment of controlled anarchy.

The experience was unmediated creative exploration and exchange as ample opportunities were offered to the artists and the local community to interact in official and less formal circumstances. The week presented diverse modes of artistic enquiry and included radio broadcasts, discussions open to the public, lectures and studio visits at the university, as well as spontaneous encounters over drinks at Duckys (the only bar in town). Artists Pam Hall and Margaret Dragu, Ed Pien, Tom Sherman, jake moore, Valérie D Walker, Mario Doucette, Jennifer Bélanger (and myself) fused with the local community of artists and creatively-minded people.

The Symposium is intentionally unthematic (signaled by the use of successive Anne Murray lyrics for each year’s title); however, it seemed the glue that held us together were questions regarding the centre and the periphery… or perhaps those things that get forgotten somewhere through time and space. The following is a summary of the weeks’ events for the benefit of those of you who were unable to join us. It is an attempt to share some of the unfettered synergy of that week in a small place on the periphery.

evanrensch6 In Pam Hall and Margaret Dragu‘s project Marginalia, their correspondence for five years between the extremes of the country (Fins Slough,BC and Saint John’s, NFLD) came together with the accumulation of 5,000 memory cloths. This work, and their performative presence throughout the Symposium brought forth questions around invisible labour, small communities, great distances and whether or not we are actually post-anything at this time of post-feminism, post-colonialism, and post-industrialism. Their comments at the panel discussion on the “issues arising when artists bring advanced practices which are often developed in large metropolitan centres into communities which are not” were particularly passionate as they challenged the notion of “advanced practices” and their characterization as “metropolitan.”

evanrensch101Tom Sherman, as keynote speaker brought a discourse around Messages that stick (and ways to escape the limitations of adhesion). He kept us all captivated with his naturalists’ powers of observation transmitted through well crafted storytelling. Insight into perforated consciousness, and the ubiquity of information technology in everyday life provoked thought around the role of creative expression in an era of the professional amateur. Similarly, he questioned  whether the use of digital technology continues to be radical if it has been successfully harnessed by conservative message-making, and suggests that the return to the analog and the bodily presence  is inevitable. jake moore and Valérie Walker were in town for Studio XX, with Director General Paulina Abarca-Cantin. Their contributions in person and on the radio airwaves complimented that of Sherman’s as they brought forward questions around future proofing variable medias (to avoid the loss of all this accumulated digital information), the individual as a transceiver and the commodification of communication space.

isabelgertler4 Mario Doucette and Jennifer Bélanger‘s curatorial collaboration around biographical evidence of contemporary Acadian culture was on display at the Owens Art Gallery throughout the many Symposium activities. The show, Biographies: Un regard contemporain sur l’Acadie includes the work of Maryse Arseneault, Jean-Denis Boudreau, Herménégilde Chiasson, François Gaudet, André Lapointe, Mathieu Léger, André Alan Phelps and Stefan St-Laurent. This was an important backdrop to the Symposium experience as Sackville can be perceived as an anomaly, an anglophone island surrounded by other smaller communities, and Moncton, that have a much stronger francophone presence. Mario and Jennifer’s primary research brought together poignant works about Acadian identity and the communication of this cultural reality within and outside of the local context.

Ed Pien brought his own questions around memory and forgetting in his discourse on ghosts. Be they real (the ghosts of illegal cockle shell labourers in England who only became visible within the larger culture when their ship sank at sea), or imaginary (the myths and legends we tell ourselves to explain away fragilities that make us humans). His presence at the 12 hour drawing marathon at Struts Gallery was a participatory act of integration into the local community of undergraduate students. This was perhaps best indicated by the evidence of the morning  after that in his absence, the students had obscured Pien’s drawing with their own interventions on the wall.

The Symposium activities brought together this diverse group of creators and thinkers with the university community of Mount Allison, but also to the everyday streets of the town of Sackville. It is the kind of place where you meet your waitress from the night before the next day outside the grocery store. There is a lack of anonymity combined with a sense of accountability that can allow for the creative imagination to leak out into the everyday. Through the performance of Pictorial Propaganda, I met people from all walks of life as I traced the history of artistic taste in the region, a history that is steeped in the forgotten stories of women artists and what is often mistakenly considered a peripheral culture of Atlantic Canada.  Throughout the performance I was invited into the homes of residents and was told many myths and histories of the region which were then transmitted to a larger public through a chronicling on the project website.

The synergistic energy of these assorted Symposium experiences culminated in the White Noise Cabaret. An eclectic mix of local artists and students combined with the Symposium invitees was hosted by the amazingly psychedelic MC Mitchell Wiebe at the Sackville Curling Club. It was a real community event and a reminder (at least to me) that openness and inclusion can make for some really interesting moments. What comes to mind is Leah Garnett‘s wink to Fastwurms in her demonstration of telepathy with a deck of cards transmitted through the audience’s collective thought to Lianne Zannier who’s replies were faintly heard over a cell phone amidst a punk concert.  Also, the Centre de recherche urbain de Montréal‘s collaboration with Chris Ricketts and Julia Chan on an Improvised Artistic Device would like to issue a public apology for almost lighting people on fire and making the police show up.

In conclusion, Sackville, I’m Yours!…and as was repeated frequently throughout the Symposium, with thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts. [FT ]


Raised in Montreal and Toronto, Sackville resident Chris Ricketts is a Canadian Studies and Art History student at Mount Allison University where he is also the Spoken Word Director of campus & community radio station CHMA 106.9FM. Ricketts’ mother is a Museologist and he spent much of his childhood in museums and has been interested in art ever since. His developing art practice involves engaging participants and encouraging them to create their own works as they respond to the art of the everyday that surrounds us all.

East coaster by birth, Julia Chan grew up in Burlington ON but returned every summer to NB for the lake and the interesting Indonesian art adorning the cottage walls. She completed an honours bachelor of Commerce at Mount Allison in May and has since been living in the lovely city of Montreal where she currently works for Gillett Entertainment Group as a show accountant. Life is wonderful. Art is wonderful. Exploding skies and sparklers as art make life even that much more wonderful.

Photos: Evan Rensch and Isabel Gertler

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