July 22nd, 2024

Eye on the Esplanade:’The Wild’ evokes memories of clay artist’s youth

By Medicine Hat News on August 25, 2017.

It doesn’t matter where you are from, the rain forests of west coast of British Columbia or the tundra of Nunavut, we all reminisce of our childhood and the special times spent in these wild places. Many Canadians have fond memories of driving for hours on the open highway, anticipating the smell of the boreal forest or the salty ocean air. We remember getting bug bites, swimming in cold, deep lakes, roasting marshmallows, singing songs around the campfire and crawling into wet sleeping bags. Years later, our own children keen to experience new adventures, we escape to the wilderness with a new tent in our packs, ready to sleep under the canopy of stars away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

This year, 2017, Canadians are celebrating 150 years as a nation. TREX Southeast thought it would be most appropriate to participate in Canada’s sesquicentennial by presenting a high-calibre Medicine Hat artist working in clay, a medium that is the bedrock of our region. Jenn Demke-Lange has combined traditional ceramic techniques, such as surface relief and overglaze, with digital illustrations to create a series of large porcelain plates. The overall narrative theme of these plates, and the exhibition as a whole, is based on her identity as both a Canadian and a mother.

Lange grew up in Calgary and regularly went on summer camping excursions in the Rocky Mountains. She continues that tradition today with her own family. “Recollecting my own personal experiences camping as both a child and in motherhood, this body of work celebrates the experience of wilderness and its ability to de-civilize,” she explains. “It can be a strange sort of power to relax into forgetfulness, escape from reality and slip into a more simplistic life.”

Raising children provides an opportunity to experience childhood all over again; we want to share what we loved from our childhood with our kids. So, we pack up the car and head into nature. We build forts, pull off leeches, make fishing rods out of sticks and eat hot dogs for dinner and breakfast (because that’s just what you do when you camp). In The Wild, Demke-Lange captures these Canadiana experiences. Her plates visually express a narrative that encompasses both the shared realities and magical wonderment of time spent in the Canadian wilderness.

An aspect of my job as both curator and program manager of Travelling Exhibitions at the Esplanade includes studio visits with artists around Alberta. These interactions are an integral component to understanding an artist’s intention, their process and are the foundation to a relationship that will inform my understanding of their work. Over the years I have talked with hundreds of artists. I’ll never forget something that a mentor of mine once said during one of our very first critiques: “As much as it is a cliché, childhood experiences are at the root of our aesthetic and conceptual development, the place or places we grew up in shape who we are.”

Following its successful exhibition at the Esplanade, The Wild will now tour nontraditional gallery spaces such as public libraries, schools, and visitor centres throughout the province for two and a half years beginning this September. Visit http://www.esplanade.ca to learn more.

Xanthe Isbister is the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Travelling Exhibitions program manager/curator at the Esplanade.

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