Toronto artist makes her mark in Vancouver


By: Chantaie Allick

Jennifer Aitken, 26, is a Toronto born artist with deep roots in Vancouver. She studied at the celebrated West Coast art school, Emily Carr and is has her very first solo show at Trench Gallery in Vancouver from April 12th to May 12th. She spoke with Chantaie* about her art, her show and the age old question Vancouver transplants are often asked: what’s the difference between the two cities. She shared with us the importance of a visceral approach to art. Her show promises to be… fascinating.

Q: How did this all come about? The show.

A: Craig came to the grad show opening in 2010 at Emily Carr and saw my work and introduced himself and we’ve kind of been in touch since then and he put me in a couple of group shows in his new gallery, he was just opening a gallery when he met me, and was getting together a bit of a roster. Then I sent him some jpeg images of my recent work in the fall and in the email he said he fell out of his chair he was so excited, which is kind of cute and he wanted to show them.

Q: Has he told you what it is about your work that stood out to him and made him approach you?

A: Not so directly, but he said he’s always impressed with my attention to detail and skill, which is not so common right now in sculpture and the visceralness of it—it being a physical thing rather than a heady conceptual thing.

Q: What were you trying to create when you were putting these pieces together? What can people expect to see?

A: The main thing is these series of sculptures call components which developed…I was making a lot of smaller works which were hand held and I was struggling with a way to present them that wasn’t just the standard put it on a pedestal kind of thing. So I invented this idea to have bigger sculptures that would show smaller sculptures and I thought I would make a whole habitat for them to exist in.

It wouldn’t say that it’s about anything large, it just is what it is and it’s a physical and emotional experience to kind of encounter these things and not necessarily a heady one. Basically these figure forms all relate to each other and their forms are similar shapes and they fit together.

Q: How would you describe yourself as an artist?

A: I would say that I really value relationships with material and that I’m interested in working from intuition and non-academic ways of learning and knowing about materials and making works.

Q: What do you mean by non-academic?

A: Some people say…Some artists talk about research and they literally mean reading theory or reading books about art and doing what we think of as research. But I think research can also be being in the studio for weeks, trying out different techniques and playing around with materials and some days you might not do anything. It’s kind of like a more tactile way of learning or making up new things.

Q: How does that play out in the show that people are going to see in Vancouver?

A: I think it’s really accessible and a lot of fun compared to what you might usually see at a show in Vancouver. It’s more tactile more physically exciting.

Q: Are people going to be able to touch the items?

A: That’s a long debate that I’ve been having and there was an artist that told me in Banff don’t even worry about it because it’s not up to you in the end anyway. People will touch art when they’re not supposed to and when you ask them to touch they won’t touch it. So if they touch it fine, if not fine. I’d rather they didn’t, but you can’t really do much about it.

Q: What’s it like doing your first show?

A: It came up so quickly. I’d been making the work for almost a year already without really any purpose in sight, so when he called and invited me to do it, it was a huge relief. I started taking everything I’d done and just (began) deciding what worked together, what would form the show and what had to be tossed aside and what needed to be made to fill in some gaps. So it’s been really exciting to have the kind of freedom to put together a whole room of things and decide how everything will go. I’ve just been wanting it for a long time.

Q: How are the two city’s different in terms of working as an artist and being part of the communities?

A: It’s a hard comparison because I went to school there so I have a different kind of network there than I do here. But I would say the main difference is the attitude towards making and towards selling. People have an easier relationship with commercial galleries here (in Toronto) and it’s a positive thing to have a dealer and to sell your art whereas in Vancouver that’s a little more difficult. There are a couple dealers who are respected, but there’s a whole lot who really aren’t and there’s segregation between ‘real’ artists and commercial artists.

Then Vancouver also has way more of a loaded or singular art history than Toronto does. They have a school called photoconceptualism that happened in the seventies with a few artists who dominate that so everyone’s sort of under the shadow of that in a way you don’t have here. It’s just so dominant. I mean not that it’s so relevant anymore it’s definitely in the past, but the legacy of that there’s just a weight to it. That if you’re not addressing it in your work in some way you’re dismissed.

Q: What can Toronto look forward from you in the next bit, since you’re here?

A: I’m thinking of doing some sculptural graffiti in the summer before I go to grad school. So really small public gestures of art around in the street. Then I guess after Guelph it’d be nice to get a relationship with a gallery here and start showing and selling here.

Q: Is there anything that you think is important to notice about you, the work you are doing or the process you’re going through right now?

A: I think just that probably the main thing that I strive for is for art to be accessible and interesting to everyone or anyone I should say. I don’t think you should have to have a solid understanding of art history or contemporary theory to be able to get anything from it and yet if you do it’d be nice if there was something there for you to look into. Does that make sense?

Chantaie: That was it. Thank you.

Jen: Thank you.

*Full disclosure: Jen is a very good friend of mine (Chantaie’s) and I am unapologetically biased about how great I think her work is and how deserved this solo show is. I saw the process, it’s all pretty impressive and foreign and intriguing. Check it out if you’re in Van folks.

Components opens at Trench Contemporary Art Movements located at 102, 148 Alexander Street, Vancouver, on April 12 and runs until May 12.

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Categories: Art, Features

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