What is your artistic medium?
Until recently I made 2 dimensional work using collage, painting, drawing etc. However in the last year or so I have started to make small installations, dioramas that tell a story or parts of a story. The birds and the dancers in the Roundhouse vitrine are the first time that I used an element that projected into space. Those dancers created a shift in my thinking about the kind of art I make.
How long have you been a practicing artist? Please talk briefly about your career.
I cannot recall a time when I haven’t wanted to be a practicing artist. However my family strongly encouraged me to take a more “practical” approach to my career. In the end I did both. I got a degree in Design from University of Manitoba and then a few years later graduated with a degree in Painting from the Emily Carr College of Art and Design. I worked for a number of commercial design firms, had my own business and worked in industry. In the meantime, I continued to work regularly in my studio and show my work. I think my first real understanding of how I could merge these two seemingly different aspects of my life came together when I did an artist residency in Perth, Australia. Not long after that I did a series of drawings called “In Pursuit of Success” in which I asked what is success (as an artist, as a professional, as a human being) and what were individuals prepared to do, or give up, to be successful. That work was shown in two public galleries in BC and a few magazine articles were published about it. Over the last few years I have shown steadily in Victoria, but now that all my time is spent on my art practice, I am finding opportunities, like this one, to show in other parts of Canada. Nine complex dioramas that will have evolved from the Roundhouse vitrine will be shown at the St. Albert Art Gallery in March 2015.
How do you connect with community in your work?
I was the first person in my family to attend University and I soon heard from my family and friends that they “didn’t understand” what I was doing. While involved with the programming decisions at some artist run centres, I heard similar comments. It is very important to me that my work is accessible to a community beyond individuals with training in the arts. Alain de Botton, a British philosopher says that art should help us to better endure and enjoy our lives. He suggests that we trust our innate ability to understand the meaning behind the art we see, rather than trying to place it in a particular historical or stylistic approach.
I want to make work with a combination of real and imagined elements so that anyone can make meaning of it using their intuition and experiences.
How did you consider the window and the act of looking in the work?
This vitrine installation is a window looking into the Roundhouse itself. It seeks to connect with individuals who may not see artwork in an official gallery space, but who might find something of themselves in the piece. Referring back to real nearby locations (the Roundhouse, Granville Island ferry, construction cranes, the bridge) this work is intended to speak directly to the people who use the Roundhouse.
The backgrounds of the 2-panel installation are constructed with photocopies, photographs, and drawings. Dancing people and flying birds are pinned to this background and extend forward a few centimetres into the vitrine. By using recognizable images and non-traditional artist materials to create the work, I hope the viewer will feel that this is art that they could make.
What do you think of non-traditional exhibition spaces?
Non-traditional exhibition spaces give people an opportunity to look at art in a setting that doesn’t demand a specific set of viewing behaviours. Visitors to the Roundhouse can stop and look at the vitrine, simply walk past it or perhaps absorb the piece through a series of glances over a month or two. Giving the viewer a chance to interact with the art on their own terms allows the work to be part of their day-to-day experience, rather than something that can only be seen if an effort is made to visit a gallery. As an artist, a non-traditional exhibition space provides a setting where more people than average will see your work and perhaps provide you insight into how they understand it. It’s invaluable.
How do you hope the viewer will react to your exhibition in the Window?
On walking into the Roundhouse Community Centre, I felt a remembered energy from the countless hours I spent as a child learning to swim, dance and act at our local community centre. It is this remembered energy and the very real Roundhouse energy that this proposal seeks to celebrate while also quietly asking questions about the needs of our bodies, minds, and spirits.
The vitrine consists of two separate panels. Night (Dark) celebrates the joyful energy of body movement. The background of this panel is made from several large photos of a residential neighbourhood illuminated only by vehicle and streetlights. A cluster of tall apartment buildings and a section of the Roundhouse are in the foreground. Five oversized dancing figures, with different skin colours and including a wheelchair dancer, move across the scene. The panel celebrates the positive life energy that comes from moving our bodies.
Day (Light) is made up of photographs of the sky, water, cranes and drawings of buildings and birds. It represents a typical Vancouver water scene, similar to what can be seen from the Yaletown shore. The panel reflects the intrinsic spiritual value of sitting in silent communion with nature or art.
Together the panels have a rhythm that reflects the needs of our bodies and our spirits, our need to move, to be with others and also to be alone. They speak to the ways our lives our enriched by acknowledging and valuing our community and neighbours.
Discover more about Trish Shwart at her website trishshwart.com
By Lindsay Glauser Kwan, Roundhouse Blog Team. Lindsay is a creative writer and blogger specializing in arts, culture, fashion and lifestyle. She has written for Vancouver Is Awesome, emerge, The Liar, The Blind Hem and various blogs. A graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU and active in Pandora’s Collective, she features regularly at local literary events.