Whether it’s a residency at a recycling depot transforming discarded plastics into costumes and creatures, or an installation of miniature glass dresses hanging from the ceiling or sketches of her dog dancing, Nicole Bauberger has mastered the art of keeping busy as a creator.
From monster parades and puppetry workshops to winter gardens and ad-hoc galleries in the forest trail behind her home, this local artist and arts educator has multiple projects on the go and is always planning ahead.
“I almost never tell anyone everything I’m doing because I can barely keep it all in my mind,” she said while laughing and shaking her head. “I’m always up to something. I’m always making things.”
She approaches every project in her creative practice with an “inspiring curiosity” and “infectious playfulness.” She doesn’t shy away from any medium, according to Michelle Clusiau, an artistic colleague and friend of Bauberger’s.
Most recently, Bauberger worked out of the back left corner of the Raven Recyling depot as one of five artists-in-residency this summer. From July 4 to 15, she worked with plastics every day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in hopes of making people stop and think about what happens to their recycling after they drop it off rather than letting it “disappear in their minds.”
This came after Raven Recycling commissioned her to make a giant raven gargoyle out of a collection of discarded tires.
“I thought, yeah, I could do that,” she said. “I’m an artist who’s actually really into materials.”
She says the physicality of the materials is an important part of whatever she makes as an art object.
“But if you’re going to be concerned with the materials, pretty soon you’ll have to consider what our material culture is, and our material culture is wacko-batshit-crazy.”
Bauberger said she always knew this, but being at the depot and seeing just how much was being dropped off caused her to reconsider the “art of consequence.”
One of the creations she showcased in Raven’s parking lot every afternoon was a flag fashioned from a large piece of plastic she said was “calling her name” in a ditch beside the Alaska Highway. She recalled picking it up and walking home with it in the air, making it visible to the people driving by.
This solidified the power of bringing art to places where people are. She said there’s merit in installing her work at places like the Yukon Arts Centre; however, sometimes the most important messages make more of an impact when they’re told in common, everyday places.
Daily performance installations making plastics visible outside the depot in rain or shine helped Bauberger contemplate an important question: “How do you reach people who aren’t necessarily going to buy tickets to what you want to tell them?”
She says she doesn’t know if she’s making a difference, though she’s receiving an award this October from the Canadian Association for Education Through Art.
What makes her most excited about accepting the award in Ottawa is the opportunity to thank and say the names of all the people who have “inspired” and “strengthened” her as an artist and arts educator over the years.
Bauberger plans to drive out of the Yukon to Ontario on Sept. 17 with her Raven Monster Dress Show. She’s also packing lots of cardboard blanks so she can do monster parades in Peterborough, the town she grew up in.
She’s been really interested in monsters lately because it’s something that comes from her own artistic impetus.
“I feel like we could all use monster parades right now,” said Bauberger. “We’ve been afraid of invisible monsters for well over two years now in the form of COVID and other things.”
She also loves the way children make art. She said she could sit down and make 100 cardboard monsters on sticks herself, but it wouldn’t be half as interesting as getting a whole school to make them.
“If you tell a kid to make a monster, there is absolutely zero ways they can get that wrong,” she said. “It’s quite simple. Just treat the kids like artists and very quickly they know what they are doing and take agency as learners.”
Bauberger loves to collaborate and share her creative process with others. A community-engaged practice, she says, makes space for other people’s voices and makes her own work richer. The annual “Winter Garden” is another example of this.
In August, she’ll crack open an old bike box and ask kids to paint or draw anything they think should be in a garden. She’ll supply them with oil pastels and brightly-coloured paints able to withstand the rain, snow and cold. Then, on Labour Day weekend, the garden will be installed outdoors, in cahoots with the Hillcrest Community Centre.
This concept emerged from the winter mittens with flowerful beadwork Bauberger has seen many Yukoners wear in order to sustain them when there are no flowers out in the world. In springtime, as part of Community Cleanup Day, she’ll take down all the cardboard creations in order to “make room for the real flowers.”
The “Winter Garden” is not limited to flowers. In the sculpture garden at the Yukon Arts Centre last February, Bauberger recalls installing a cardboard banana in the deep snow.
“It’s definitely worth staying alive for shit like that,” she said, especially when so much self-promoting can become “psychologically difficult.”
According to Bauberger, deciding what impulse to follow next is made easier when her creations prompt, ‘Nicole, it’s time for you to put us out there.’
In March 2020 when, like so many other self-employed artists, Bauberger’s plans were upended, she had a collection of small ceramic dress sculptures “tenderly and insistently asking [her] to exhibit them.”
Since all galleries were closing, she hung them up in the trees behind her house and the Dalton Trail Trail Gallery was born. Very quickly, it became the only gallery open in Whitehorse.
“A number of people spoke to me about how much it meant to have it as a place to go,” she said.
“Galleries with white walls have their advantages but this was a collaboration with nature that changed with the seasons… I like the idea of art that doesn’t ask the rest of the world to go away in order to be what it is. In some ways, it makes the world around it more visible.”
Galleries have since reopened, and Bauberger has since inhabited them with her art; however, the Dalton Trail Trail Gallery lives on and continues to evolve.
Bauberger’s latest installation, “We Can Dance,” is currently on display at Free Space, the gallery in front of Northern Front Studio. She calls it “a declaration of love” and invites a variety of materials to dance including: oil paint on canvas, homemade willow charcoal on vellum, broken glass and tire scraps.
Her sculptural objects embrace materials with disastrous histories, using the marks of these disasters as part of the evocation of dance.
“Works are often suspended from one point to pirouette or curl up off the wall as if to reach into space.”
Originally set to close on June 29, the exhibit has been held over until the end of July and can be viewed Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact Magan Carty at email@example.com