North meets south at gallery

It’s impossible to ignore. There’s a giant cup hanging on the wall at the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery … and it ain’t the kind…

It’s impossible to ignore.

There’s a giant cup hanging on the wall at the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery … and it ain’t the kind you drink from.

Not surprisingly, it’s been a conversation-starter with athletes walking by the gallery.

“There was an immediate identification,” curator Scott Marsden said of the sports-themed piece.

“Kids have been looking into the gallery and saying, ‘Heh, what’s that? Is that art?’”

The giant jock is part of Burning Cold, an exhibition Marsden and others put together as part of the Canada Games’ cultural component.

The show pairs pieces from artists working in northern and southern Canada.

Each participant was hand-picked by curators in their part of the country as being the hottest emerging artist under 40 in the region.

“It’s one of the first exhibitions of its kind in opening a dialogue between northern and southern cultures,” said Marsden, the departing curator who organized the show as his “swan song” to the territory.

Craig Leblanc, the creator of the supportive sculpture, was raised in an Edmonton suburb and calls his upbringing “culturally void” except for television and whatever was happening at the West Edmonton Mall.

“Would it help to know that they have nothing to do with sports,” he said of his jock and its companion piece, a limp sagging baseball bat.

They’re more about what it means to be masculine.

Leblanc was the youngest child in a family full of girls and no father in the picture.

“They taught me how to be a man, funny enough,” he said.

Growing up Leblanc played hockey, but when he went to art school he left the stick and puck behind.

Now he’s realized Hockey Night in Canada was a big part of his culture.

“I ran away from it so hard that now I’m sort of chasing it,” he said.

Through his art, Leblanc is telling stories on his culture and upbringing in a southern Canadian city.

It’s the same approach that multimedia artist Doug Smarch, who grew up in Teslin, is taking in making his works.

Smarch is working to re-tell traditional Tlingit stories and legends by combining modern technology and natural materials.

His piece, set aside in a darkened side room of the gallery, shows icy white birds projected onto curving metal frames.

“It was isolating, but not in a bad way,” said Smarch of his upbringing in the small northern community.

“I look at the same things over and over. I notice that, in the winter, the window fogs up and in the summer I can see through it again.”

Smarch had one of his most jarring life experiences when he moved from the small Yukon community to a bustling California city to attend art school.

One day he was fishing on the shores of a Yukon lake, and the next he was navigating through the concrete jungle of San Francisco.

People had to teach him how to walk a through a city, and how to become wary of strangers.

“I went there with an understanding that a stone on the ground could tell me a lot about life.

“But that knowledge didn’t fit,” he said.

The traditional ways of carving bone and stone didn’t work in the South.

So Smarch had to adapt to survive.

He started working with modern materials and combining them with traditional art practices.

He asked his teacher: “Can you teach me your skills, but help me preserve my own history?”

And soon after he found an answer.

He came upon a feather duster in Chinatown and used the feathers to craft a traditional robe, which he dubbed Homage to a Chamber Maid.

Along with Leblanc and Smarch, seven other Canadian artists are profiled in the exhibit.

Representing the North are Cape Dorset’s Shuvinai Ashoona, and Annie Pootoogook, who was recently given the Sobey Art Award, and Fort Simpson’s John Sabourin of the Slavey First Nation.

Montreal artist collective BGL, Vancouver artist Brian Jungen, Toronto’s Tania Kitchell and Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby from Halifax, Nova Scotia represent the South.

Burning Cold will run until April 8th.

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