Ask the kids in the Kelowna Art Gallery’s summer camps what art is made of and you’ll probably get a whole lot of “paint.”
Thanks to local artist Chad Pratch and his unusual ideas of artistic merit, though, a few have now started to answer “chairs.”
No, you didn’t read that wrong. Art camp coordinator Natalia Hautala has heard it with her own ears. The kids of Kelowna now think dirty, old, discarded chairs make for one great cache of art supplies and so will just about anyone who ventures into the centre of the gallery for a look at what thinking outside the box means for a new art school grad these days.
“I really am interested in the concept of art and how we look at that concept socially,” explains Pratch as we stand under the morning sun taking in the last of the gallery’s Dysfunctional Chair Series: Inanimate Phenotype.
“You have your concept of art, and I have my concept of art,” Pratch says, “but that could be anything. It could run wild.”
If it sounds a little esoteric and out there, you’re probably right, particularly when the young UBCO grad adds: “Where I’m at right now is just walking down the street and looking at everything and just saying: art, art, art, art,” while gesturing to various objects all around.
“It could be just having a conversation with somebody and finding them interesting or very persuasive. The art of persuasion. The art of rhetoric. You could label everything art.
“I think that really, art is everywhere. It’s not just in this building.”
In this case, the chair sculpture Pratch has created actually is in the art gallery building. It’s pretty confined to the gallery’s walls, strung as it is from the ceiling; although it is a very communal effort. A couple of months ago Pratch was doing the local media circuit and quite literally knocking on doors like one might see a politician do, asking everyone to give him their old chairs.
The concept was to look at what we consider junk, what gives a material possession its value and to see what could be made from the things society throws away.
And as it turns out, one can make an awful lot from our collective remnants. There’s the sculpture itself—a two-storey cross, of sorts, boxed up nicely in the stone-tile open-roofed heart of the gallery where it is flanked by two piles of wedding chairs and a toilet buried in a water feature.
Almost equally important, though, are the recorded stories from the people as they gave up their chairs for the project. The grandmotherly neighbour who left her belongings to a family she befriended who in turn saw fit to donate her rocking chair to the sculpture as part of her legacy.
Another man who donated a beautiful fishing stool. “Beautiful” in its simplicity, that is.
A big part of this project is defining what makes something aesthetically pleasing and getting people to think about why they like something, what makes it have value for them. Many people have been thinking about just what these particular chairs would be worth to them.
“I’m thinking of doing some kind of an auction at the end and seeing if I can create some kind of value out of the chairs that had no value. Even the staff here are asking, ‘Can I get that chair after it’s done?’” Pratch said.
At the opening too, people were picking out their favourites, telling him what they would do with each chair.
Pratch has created a knowledge-base for himself, as well, out of this sculpture, discovering how community—both the wider community of Kelowna and the artistic community in which he operates—influences his own creativity.
From Berlin-based artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller he took the sound idea. Many of those who donated chairs agreed to be interviewed on why they gave it up (including this reporter). The audio interviews all play simultaneously out of speakers buried in the piece.
For those who remember Cory Dixon—the young artist fined for the clapboard advertisement of his art show which showed a naked man—Pratch said the pair are good friends and Dixon’s mother has been scrambling through the dump, salvaging chairs for him.
Conduit Festival organizer Gabe Cipes gave him a slew of white, wooden wedding chairs, and in the back of the sculpture, the art gallery provided him with an actual slough of sorts. Green algae is now re-creating a toilet he installed in the water garden, texturizing the rim.
In short, this project about junk became more of an active experiment with relationships—those between people, and those between people and their stuff.
And it has also been about our collective relationship to art.
“I found that a lot of people wanted to get rid of their chair, but they didn’t want to. Then when they heard it was for an art piece, well, because it had art beside it, that made it special,” said Pratch.
If the number of chairs is any indication, there are a good deal of people in the Okanagan who hold art in very high esteem.
Dysfunctional Chairs: Inanimate Phenotype will be in the Kelowna Art Gallery until Nov. 27.