The conversation at the Vancouver Art Gallery proved to be up close and personal. The zoom event was not an art lecture but, as promised, an “impromptu, unrehearsed conversation” between the Offsite artist Lani Maestro, artist Michael Fernandes and the people joining them by Zoom. At least 40 people watched the big screen at the Vancouver Art Gallery and 52 participants joined from different parts of Canada and the world, across different time zones.
Guest curator Makiko Hara introduced Lani and Michael to all of us. Lani joined the conversation from France and Michael, from Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was a bit unconventional perhaps, unpredictable maybe. But that was the beauty and simplicity of it all.
It would be the type of conversation around the dining table, or in a café, or an art gallery. The image of the car that was on the VAG website and shared on the screen was that of a battered car lying on its side on a snow-covered field. Lani was driving her car, hit a stretch of black ice, couldn’t stop until her car landed on its side. And Lani managed to snap this photo after she was helped out of her car, after a good half hour!
That started the conversation with the theme of “letting go” in life, living, and death, however way we define death, …. with the theme of “letting be” in the matter of focusing, of being present…. And with “let it be”, as a person from the audience said. There was some personal sharing and it felt it was a room filled with friends, or at the least, a room that felt safe. The exchanges segued into the offsite neon artwork of Lani: No Pain Like This Body. She talked about the origin of the neon text and the places where the site-specific work has travelled.
Lani shared on the screen a couple of images and a very short video of her work that was commissioned by a defunct jewellery factory in Ardeche, France. This was her neon artwork If You Must Take My Life, Spare These Hands which included the installation of the tools of the factory workers on their worktables. She said, “The arrival of globalization had forced many industries to rely on cheap labor in the third world and caused the death of local livelihoods in the French countryside…. Perhaps, this sentiment is also appropriate in the context of certain struggles within artistic production.”
I raised the accessibility of the Offsite art of Lani to the public, to the everyday passersby along W. Georgia Street, to the bike riders on that strip, to the people in their cars. While Offsite is temporary exhibit space, I expressed my thanks to the Vancouver Art Gallery for that Offsite space for artists and the public. Having that space helps to dismantle barriers of accessing the Gallery for many people. There were people in the audience who had seen the exhibit of Lani in 2010 at the Centre A Gallery. I told the story that for the majority of our community who were there at Lani’s art opening of No Pain Like This Body, it was the first time that they had stepped inside an art gallery, the first time that they had been at an opening reception. There are as many reasons as there are barriers: admissions, class, cultural barriers, language, representation, and ex/inclusion, etc. But for that opening night, those barriers were down.
I used to be a children’s librarian and it was important to have books and stories for all children, and for children to also see themselves, or people who looked like them in the stories and in the books. It is the same in art galleries, I believe. People would like to be able to visit galleries and see themselves represented too.
Thank you, Lani and Michael, Makiko, Lynn, Julie and Lucie and the Vancouver Art Gallery. And to MLA Mable Elmore for being there!
Offsite: Lani Maestro can be seen at 1100 West Georgia (between Thurlow and Bute Streets), just west of the Shangri-La Hotel. The Offsite art exhibit is on until April 9, 2023. ###
Tour of the Offsite after the Artists’ Talk. Photo with MLA Mable Elmore, Makiko Hara and others.
Lani in France. (Photo: Courtesy of Lani Maestro)