Wylie: Escape Artists at the Kelowna Art Gallery

The intensely creative and focused individuals featured in any creative endeavor are, in fact, artists.

Wanda Lock and Rena Warren: Escape Artists

Liz WylieBack in the heyday of Modernist purity it would not have gone over well to claim that a chef or a landscape designer were actually creating art. Art, sometimes emphasized as High Art, was a world unto itself, and could not have anything as lowly as a practical application associated with it.

For better or for worse, that attitude has long since sailed, as post-modernism cracked open old categories and allowed fascinating and rich hybrid art forms to come into being. So these days, anyone watching a series such as Chef’s Table, for instance, could make a strong argument that the intensely creative and focused individuals featured are, in fact, artists.

Escape Artists2Likewise with gardens—we are now far more open to seeing gardens as works of art, in the same realm as paintings or sculptures, just using the medium of plants.

With this sort of open-ended thinking in mind, the Kelowna Art Gallery launched its Artist’s Garden Project four years ago, commissioning local artists to conceive and carry out garden installations in our open-air Rotary Courtyard Space. The results have been inspiring and widely varied.

This year two Okanagan-based artists have collaborated to produce Escape Artists—the brainchild of Wanda Lock and Rena Warren. When visitors enter the space they encounter several items other than plants: An abandoned circus wagon that seems to have once contained a creature, now perhaps escaped. The wagon is enclosed with a fence made from antique iron bed headboards. A giant chain lies on the ground, which suggests the caged critter was formidable.

We might begin to think we have come upon an arrangement of clues as to what once transpired in the space. Statues of a woman holding flowers and a lion make reference to various literary and historical figures, such as Aslan the lion in CS Lewis’ Narnia books, and the figure of or references to Mary in medieval gardens devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Escape Artists3When we lift our gaze, we will notice a faded blue-painted wooden door that has been installed high up on the rear wall, acting as a symbol of departure. Morning Glories have begun their ascent on suspended lengths of green string. As the plants continue to grow, the impression will become one of an abandoned, overgrown garden. With the lush, shade-loving plants, selected and planted with care by the artists, yes, the space is unmistakably a garden, but it is also undeniably a work of art.

Artist Wanda Lock grew up in the Okanagan and studied art at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver. She exhibits her work regularly in the Okanagan.

Rena Warren has a BFA from the University of Victoria and has been exhibiting her work and teaching art in the Okanagan since 1995.

The Artist’s Garden Project: Wanda Lock and Rena Warren: Escape Artists is accompanied by a web-based publication on the gallery’s website http://kelownaartgallery.com/ that will be updated with images as the plants grow and flower.

The garden will be in place for a full year at the Kelowna Art Gallery, 1315 Water Street in Kelowna’s Cultural District, and will be demolished in the spring of 2017 to make way for a new project. Why not plan to visit often to see all the growth and changes.

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