Wylie: Discarded notes turn up in art project

Outgoing passengers at the Kelowna International Airport will be treated to an installation of art by Kelowna printmaker Briar Craig.

Briar Craig

Outgoing passengers at the Kelowna International Airport this season will be treated to a new temporary installation of art by Kelowna-based printmaker Briar Craig.

The large works are colourful, blown-up images of collaged discarded sticky notes and folded bits of paper with people’s handwritten lists and reminders on them. Craig is something of an aficionado of the detritus of life—the wake of trash that we leave behind us—that could give others clues about our activities, thoughts and feelings.

Craig has been using text, especially found text, in his work for a number of years, and is both fond of and fascinated by the bits of information he gathers. He likes the way narratives are suggested in these bits, but are never spelled out, and he likes the way we want to try to invent stories from the scribbled phrases and random words.

Visitors to the airport will immediately recognize the blown-up lists and other notes in Craig’s work for what they are. Departing passengers may have themselves created a “to-do” list before coming to fly out of town: “Pack shoes, bring passport, call home”—that sort of thing. And so they may smile in recognition of sharing this same coping mechanism with the anonymous writers of Craig’s memos; when we really need to make sure we do not forget something, we know we ought to write it down. One may well wonder how we coped before Post-It-Notes were invented.

But how, viewers might wonder, are these discarded notes lifted from trash containers or the gutter or floors of buildings, to be considered works of art?

Well, in fact, scraps of paper and bits of trash have been acceptable artists’ materials for about 100 years. It was the German Dada artist Kurt

Schwitters, who first glued discarded tram tickets and other bits of thrown-out paper into his collages, starting in the 1910s.

The notion quickly caught on and Dada collage was born, which morphed into works created by the Surrealist artists of the 1920s and 30s.

Later on, the notable late American artist Robert Rauschenberg loved the wild energy produced by juxtaposing varying images and objects, and he also delighted in discarded materials. Artists of the post-modern period have explored the bringing together of high and low cultures, and the frissons of meaning this could engender. So Craig is in good company in the specifics of his endeavour, as he stands at a slight remove in relation to his work, something like the 19th-century flaneur, almost more of an observer than a participant.

Craig is all for viewer participation in his work, and he knows nothing more about the people behind these recycled elements in his works of art than we do, so we are on a level playing field in our attempts at interpretation. His role has been to find the items, arrange them for visual interest (shape, colour, transparency, range of line qualities, etc.), and we are then free to enter the equation and enjoy Craig’s efforts and try to make meaning from the fragments.

Overall his works have a wonderful sense of design placement and abstract beauty. And they are not without his own injection of meaning, as his very salvaging and conscious collaging does impart something to his work.

Some viewers may find themselves smiling, even chuckling, and there truly is an element of humor to Craig’s work, not in a mocking sense, more from the standpoint of sheer wonder.

The artist’s works of this nature are like the opposite of time capsules: caches planned and preserved carefully in order to tell people in the future about our concerns, our priorities, our current situation.

Craig’s random little worn and folded scraps were chucked out by the people who created them, and it is we, coming along later, who are imagining they might now have some significance.

Briar Craig’s installation continues at the Kelowna International Airport until Oct. 22.