Edmonton

City Dream: An Extended Interview with Artist, Jill Stanton

January 24 to May 3 features the works of Albertan artists as part of the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art 2015, Future Station. Jill Stanton is one of the artists whose work is on display this year. Her mural City Dream No.5: Virtual Reality evokes a dreamlike wonder about the world while playing with the biennial’s theme of a post-industrial landscape. I had the opportunity to speak with Jill about her last mural which was displayed at the Art Gallery of Alberta called Strange Dreams during the summer of 2014. From that interview, it became very clear that no matter where Jill takes her art or how it develops in the future, it will always have a playful spirit in it. One that comments on the way society sees and understands itself in a “post-industrial landscape” that is constantly under development and trying to realign itself with the ethics of people in our societies. In honour of her current work at Future Station here is the extended version of our conversation.

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Becky Hagan-Egyir: Your current exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA), Strange Dream [March 5 – December 31, 2014], “inspires questions of how we look at our environment and how our environment can affect one’s subconscious” according to the AGA. How did the idea for Strange Dream come about?

Jill Stanton: My work is very detail-oriented. As a kid, I’d spend hours reproducing Where’s Waldo drawings, fascinated by how a single two-page illustration spread could command a viewer’s attention for so long. These drawings — made with the tiniest, thinnest black pens I could get my hands on — certainly formed the basis of how I approach my work today. I make extremely detailed drawings with an element of narrative in them, whether that exists in actual, text-based narrative (in my comics), or implied narrative, in a drawing with several characters and secret pockets that are only noticed by the viewer as they stare at it for a period of time. I want to hold the viewer’s attention; I want them to weave a narrative out of the visual clues I leave in the drawing.

I only recently started to work large-scale. Historically, my drawings have been the size of a single sheet of paper, the largest being around 22” x 30”. In the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to work on a larger scale for other pieces and freelance jobs, and it sparked a bit of an epiphany; the larger the work, the more detail I could include, and the more the viewer will be sucked into the drawing.

Strange Dream (excerpt) 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Strange Dream (excerpt)
Digital
2013
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Strange Dream was a culmination of my mural projects and my comic projects. I wanted to create a very large-scale environment that featured several hidden characters and suggested narratives. Creatures and questions pop out the more you stare. After a minute or two, secret eyeballs are suddenly noticeable; they’ve been staring at you the whole time. Where is this place? Who is the girl in the colour nest, why is she there?

Becky Hagan-Egyir: What environment has the most impact on how you get inspired to make art?

Jill Stanton: I’m a bit of a plant nut, thanks to my mom’s early greenhouse and gardening brainwashing techniques (I love you mom!). In 2011, I travelled to Vancouver Island for an apprenticeship to learn how to start and operate a 10-acre market organic farm; I was there for the entire 9 month growing season: building crude greenhouses and cabins, seeding, transplanting, weeding, driving the tractor, harvesting, farming. It was initially supposed to be a break from art in general, but the natural environment and the experience of real, solid hard work was rewarding and stirring. I ended up making a small series of comics about life on the farm, worked on advertisements and newsletters and posters for the farm and other businesses in the small town of Duncan (the closest town to the farm), and painted several crude farm signs with latex paint advertising our produce. Those comics were pretty dumb and not very well drawn, but they were the impetus for all my recent graphic narrative projects, including the subscription-based comic book, Headspaces. Even now, in my tiny downtown apartment, I’ve got a small jungle of 50+ houseplants. They just make me feel better about living back in the city.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Your art work shows a true appreciation for comics and their alternative, dream-like worlds. Often the real world can seem dream-like too — especially when you turn on the news and see all the transformative as well as heart-wrenching things happening out there in the world. Do political and social events in the world ever play a role in how you approach your work?

Jill Stanton: The first major works I completed after completing my BFA were pieces that responded to injustices related to food, food security, and food politics. These issues were part of the reason why I moved to the farm in the first place — to learn how “sustainable” food production works firsthand. Food and its surrounding issues have always been a focal point for me; I’ve struggled with it on a personal and political level for many years.

From Headspaces II Ink, digital on paper 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Nothing is Chasing Me But it Sure Feels Like There Is (exerpt)
From Headspaces II
Ink, digital on paper
2014
Photo by: Jill Stanton

I was a vegetarian for much of my adult life (farm life has since changed my relationship with animals, their environment, and meat). I drew a lot of hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and melty cheese, because I was fascinated with the seductive quality of these foods even though they were inherently disgusting and awful and immoral. I was drawing my way through thinking about these issues. First: Why do people want to eat these things? Why did I want to eat these things even though I “knew better”? Did it make me a fundamentally better person because I didn’t eat factory meat or even meat in general? And then, later, on the farm, surrounded by ethically raised meat and dairy: Is a “vegan” salad made from a head of lettuce and cucumbers produced on a poorly-managed farm in China or California with migrant, underpaid workers any better than a steak sandwich made from locally produced, grass-fed beef? Worse?

Three times a day (ideally for us lucky and privileged people), we navigate through the ethics of food politics; with each ingredient within a single meal, we have the potential to either harm ourselves (the health value of the food in question, or our financial position to choose a better option, or not), harm an animal (through animal welfare questions related to meat, dairy, eggs, etc.), harm the environment (pesticides, clear-cutting, fish farms, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, etc.), or harm someone else we are peripherally unaware of (where the food was produced, by whom, and under what variables and terms of employment). What used to be a fairly straightforward thing –– even 100 years ago, before such rampant globalization –– has turned into a real minefield. We all have to eat, that’s what makes food questions so all-encompassing and awful.

…I still refer to these ideas from time to time in my work, though less lately since I am feeling increasingly as though I have less of the answers I once thought I held so firmly. I still think hot dogs and cheeseburgers (etc.) are incredibly interesting and powerful tropes in society, but I like them more as ways to introduce a kind of cognitive dissonance into a narrative or drawing, rather than a guilt trip. It’s a constantly evolving relationship.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: One of your recent works was creating the cover design for local Edmonton rapper and performer, Mitchmatic’s new album. Do you often support Edmonton artists with their own creative projects?

Jill Stanton: Working with musicians and locally owned venues has been a real cornerstone in my practice. Gig posters in particular are among some of my favourite projects; Craig at Wunderbar has let me make dozens for him over the past years for various shows, and I’m forever grateful. Posters give me a public platform and a low-stakes deadline that I can use to experiment with different imagery, compositions, and techniques. Drawing a little bit every day and throwing in challenging variables for myself is so important to how I work out future ideas.

FREE Mural For FREE Advertising company Latex paint on wall 2013/14 Photo by: Jill Stanton

FREE Mural
For FREE Advertising company
Latex paint on wall
2013/14
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Becky Hagan-Egyir: What have been some of the most memorable times this has happened for you?

Jill Stanton: Some of my favourite drawings are still some of those Wunderbar posters. Absolutely! Especially the ones where I liked the poster I made but the show was even better. I have also done a handful of improvised, live-drawing sessions for a variety/comedy show hosted by comedian Jon Mick. Basically I bring ink and pens to the bar and whip up drawings on the spot based on a topic that Jon picks. Generally the drawings are making fun of Jon. It’s weird for me because I’m not a performer but I enjoy it! I like thinking and drawing quick on my feet —most of them turn out pretty alright, though some of the results of these shows are pretty awful!

Becky Hagan-Egyir: How has the Edmonton artistic community influenced your own work?

Jill Stanton: Edmonton is home to a big batch of really talented artists and musicians. It’s a pretty tight, small-ish community, considering the population size of the city in general. The closeness of this community is interesting because it creates an environment where everyone is pretty open and supportive of one another. But it’s also competitive, since there are only so many real, solid opportunities available in a city where arts is maybe not quite as important or revered as say, hockey. It’s a cocoon in a way. It also means you have to be very conscious of what other artists within the city are doing, and that your work stands on its own.

It’s nice to feel like if you work hard and place value [on] your peers and connections, you absolutely can do great creative things within the city. Edmonton has a weird small town vibe for a relatively large city, which makes it feel as though you can tackle things that you might not feel as though you could tackle in, say, Vancouver or Toronto. I’m impressed and inspired by start-up creative initiatives like Chelsea Boos’ Drawing Room space downtown, and Brittney Roy and Connor Buchanan’s Creative Practices Institute in the 124th street area. Also, running the printmaking program and working with clients at the Nina Haggerty Centre [an art centre for adults with developmental disabilities] on 118th avenue has been a really excellent experience for me personally and artistically.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: If you could collaborate with one artist right now, who would that be and why?

Jill Stanton: Josh Holinaty, local illustrator extraordinaire. We’ve been meaning to collaborate for a few years now, I think. He’s moving to Toronto, but I think we’ll finally get a chance to doodle a bit together while I’m out there this fall for a residency I’m doing at Artscape Gibraltar Point.

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Growing up, did you ever imagine that you would be a different type of artist? A singer or comedian maybe?

Jill Stanton: No, strangely, I never even wanted to be a marine biologist or doctor or dinosaur or whatever kids traditionally think want to be when they grow up. Just ask my mom. I just [wanted] to draw things.

Manning Hall, AGA Ink on Paper 2014 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Manning Hall, AGA
Ink on Paper
2014
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Becky Hagan-Egyir: Where do you do you see yourself heading with your work five years from now?

Jill Stanton: I don’t like to think too far into the future with my work. I think making five or ten year goals is a little dangerous because often it puts a specific idea of yourself up on a pedestal that you continually strive for under the impression that if you don’t reach it, you’ve somehow failed. This mindset doesn’t allow for natural creativity and following tributaries and branches from ideas and projects you work on in the present.

If I had a five year plan for myself five years ago, I might have been a successful illustrator living in some large city, but then again, maybe not. But in the process of working towards that goal, I might not have followed the stream of ideas in directions other than exclusively illustrating for widespread publications, and likely never would have made the work I’ve made thus far. I probably wouldn’t have gone to the farm. Maybe I wouldn’t have been drawing comics. I certainly wouldn’t be making 1800 square foot ink drawings.

I think it’s more interesting not to plan too closely and let things happen and opportunities present themselves. Work and art gets stale and boring if you don’t let yourself mess around in hopes of accomplishing some pie-in-the-sky goals. The most important thing to remember is to just keep working. Relentlessly.

Iceland Dream Screenprint on Paper 2013 Photo by: Jill Stanton

Iceland Dream
Screenprint on Paper
2013
Photo by: Jill Stanton

Stay up to date with Jill’s work:

twitter.com/scenic_edmonton

jstanton.ca

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Check out the original interview here.

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A Remedy for Living: What Fair Trade in an Edmonton Cafe Taught Me

“CHANA MASALA!”

Remedy Café seemed like an informal language school as Indian and Pakistani food orders were increasingly yelled out.

Sohail Zaidi, better known as Zee, is Remedy’s creator. He sat calmly before me, clearly used to all the noise and bustle. “The orders are yelled out because then you hear it and you learn how to say the names. People become educated and they know what dahl is instead of calling it lentils,” he said.

Abra King makes a chai at Remedy’s downtown location on Jasper Avenue.  Many employees have worked at Remedy for years. To Zee, his employees, like Abra King, are the next generation of business leaders. Photo: Becky Hagan-Egyir

Abra King makes a chai at Remedy’s downtown location on Jasper Avenue.
Many employees have worked at Remedy for years. To Zee, his employees, like Abra King, are the next generation of business leaders. Photo: Becky Hagan-Egyir

He continued to tell me about the café’s most popular feature, its worst kept secret: Remedy’s chai. “My chai is made from thirty-five spices,” the coarse spices struggled to slip through his fingers, getting caught as he passed them from one hand to the other. Chewing on a dark brown bead of cardamom, Zee encouraged me to follow his lead. It tasted unexpectedly like mint as it dissolved in my mouth. Zee continued his lesson, breaking down his chai’s ingredients even further.

“All of the herbs are organic, no preservatives,” he began. “The teas come from Kenya, India, and Bangladesh. I always make sure it’s Fair Trade and organic.” The use of Fair Trade and organic products encourages customers to share in creating a better world in Zee’s opinion.

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Days earlier, I had left Blush Lane Organics (a grocery store specializing in global Fair Trade and Albertan organic produce) for the first time. Both hands swung bags full of Fair Trade and Albertan organic produce like Holy Crap: the world’s most amazing breakfast cereal (pun intended), Cheeky: Be the Sassy Banana salted toffee and banana organic dark chocolate bar (perhaps no pun intended?), and a couple of green mangoes the size of the Hulk’s fist.

A profile of Michael Zelmer, an activist for Fairtrade who explains the connection between buying local and Fair Trade products as this: “When you’re buying local it’s not fair to think ‘it’s from nearby so that makes it local’. Buying local is about security—making sure we have the necessary infrastructure to grow our own food and to support local farmers. Those same principles are in play when it comes to Fair Trade.” Photo:Fairtrade International Canada

A profile of Michael Zelmer, an activist for Fairtrade who explains the connection between buying local and Fair Trade products as this: “When you’re buying local it’s not fair to think ‘it’s from nearby so that makes it local’. Buying local is about security—making sure we have the necessary infrastructure to grow our own food and to support local farmers. Those same principles are in play when it comes to Fair Trade.” Photo:Fairtrade Canada

When I visited the store that day, I’d chastised myself for not bringing reusable bags with me. But in the end, there was no need for worry. The paper bags they provided me with were certified triple threats: renewablecompostable, and recyclable. Those words and all the ones which stood out on boxes and containers in the store, spoke of a current movement to change the world by producing sustainable, healthy, and overall fair food. As I criss-crossed through narrow aisles, I couldn’t translate the language I was reading all around me. How did the words fit within the narrative of my own life?

A few days later, an appeal for me to not give up on Fair Trade stood out from a chalkboard sign, arguing: Buy Fair Trade because it will improve the world! The words were proudly displayed by the front doors of Ten Thousand Villages on Whyte Avenue for all to see.

In the late 1940s, an American named Edna Ruth Byler — the founder of Ten Thousand Villages — felt that it was time for the principles of business to change after she’d travelled to Puerto Rico and saw unfair business practices put into place there. Edna returned to her home with a vision of how business profits should be used to make people stronger and to weaken injustice and poverty. Edna began a business selling the crafts of artisans from around the world in her basement, and large profits were sent back to the original creators.

Now, Fairtrade International [which is different from the term “Fair Trade” as this refers to the movement to buy products created through sustainable, fair business practices and “Fairtrade” refers to the organization itself] follows a similar message as Edna. Fairtrade works to decrease the power of the middleman who plays a part in getting products from the farmer’s fields to our kitchen table. By decreasing or even eliminating the middleman’s role, farmers and artisans worldwide can have a larger share of the profits they earn with their products.

Messages like the one in front of Whyte Avenue’s Ten Thousand Villages are promoted throughout Edmonton businesses. The owners are people like Edna with a vision to make their community a better place. I was rushing to meet one of them, who owned a cafe with “Edmonton’s worst kept secret” as the businesses’ twitter account boasted.

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The world had been brought into Remedy café with images of nature on its vibrant walls. The pictures were close ups of purple and yellow Hawaiian flowers taken by Zee himself. At other times in the year, local artists have exhibited their work on his café’s walls – just another way that Zee supports local business.

Remedy’s interior décor is also a reflection of Zee’s worldly experiences. This became clearer as he continued talking about his life moving through dusty alleyways in Pakistan, to cramped apartment living in Germany, and finally, dreaming big while looking at skyscrapers from the driver’s seat of his yellow New York taxi — all these experiences eventually lead him to settle down in Edmonton, Alberta where he bought a sandwich cafe and turned it into Remedy.

While we laughed and contemplated his coming of age story, Zee explained why he loved to travel so much as a young man. “Travelling teaches you so much…when you see how people live elsewhere, you’re thankful for your life and the people in it.” Zee has been drawn to the Fair Trade movement’s philosophy because he himself was once less fortunate. “I know what poverty is and how hard people work, so I totally support Fair Trade.”

Talk of poverty soon turned to his disappointment in inequality between people in the world who are all trying to make a living. After all, as he expressed, “we all bleed the same”.

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Despite our common trait of being warm blooded humans, it doesn’t stop people from taking advantage of one another.

Michael Zelmer, an activist and communications coordinator with Fairtrade Canada, told me excitedly over the phone a couple days after I met Zee that Fair Trade is meant to help people live lives where poverty doesn’t dictate the quality of life they lead. I asked Michael if he thought being involved in Fair Trade made it less likely for a farmer or artisan to be abused by unfair business practices. The answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

There’s no clear way of knowing, Michael responded. However, there was a silver lining. Michael then explained that Fair Trade could never become a new “dictator” to farmers and artisans like the middleman by controlling farmer’s resources and opportunity to one day become powerful in their own right.

Butter chicken and rice with a cup of Remedy’s chai. With Fairtrade’s help, profits from plantations and farms where the teas and spices are cultivated are shared equally amongst farmers. Wages have to be either equal to or higher than the regional standard. It’s hoped that the regional standards will be improved and influenced by the Fairtrade model. Photo: Becky Hagan-Egyir

Butter chicken and rice with a cup of Remedy’s chai.
With Fairtrade’s help, profits from plantations and farms where the teas and spices are cultivated are shared equally amongst farmers. Wages have to be either equal to or higher than the regional standard. It’s hoped that the regional standards will be improved and influenced by the Fairtrade model. Photo: Becky Hagan-Egyir

“The key thing to understand,” Michael stressed, “is that it’s [Fairtrade’s mission] about allowing farmers [and artisans] to become powerful above and beyond Fair Trade…. The relationship to people… is that we’re supporting them, and not in a charitable manner with donations, but by making smart choices. We may be paying a bit more for those smart choices but they support all these transformative things that are happening out there in the world.”

At Remedy while witnessing smiles and laughter shared over hot drinks and food, I could already see some of that change happening.

The café was its own community. The world was reinvented once you entered through its front door. Hipsters, Chanel accessorized women sitting next to proud mothers of soccer kids, solemn studious types intently staring at glowing laptop screens — all of them surrounded me, eating food made with Fair Trade and even local organic ingredients. Regardless of whether or not the customers knew that they were tasting Fair Trade inspired recipes, they were still supporting a farmer somewhere in the world simply by consuming Remedy’s food.

I finished my visit to the café by drinking some chai and eating butter chicken. During the meal, my idea of Fair Trade shifted from the thought of making the world a better place to the practice of living better in the moment.

As the scents of garlic and cumin wafted towards me and the taste of minty cardamom lingered in my mouth, some of Zee’s final words crossed my mind: I think people appreciate the little things we do.

Politic Live at Hip-Hoperation

Taking a Bite Out of Life ©

Taking a Bite Out of Life ©

Edmonton, AB – In this Western capital, diversity and talent came together Saturday night at the Brixx Bar and Grill. The Mad Hatter Art & Music Festival put on a benefit concert to showcase some of Edmonton’s hip-hop talent at Hip-Hoperation. The lineup included The Mighty Alliance, Corvid Lorax, Grizzly Adams Apple and even a performance by graffiti artist Lorien Maheu who worked on live art during the show, but it was made apparent that the show was stoken by headliners Politic Live.

In a dim room, red lights highlighted the performers on stage. With each strong performance, the energy kept rising, but there was a feeling of restlessness in the room.  When Politic Live – Rohan Grimez Mani, Arlo Maverick, and Dirt Gritie – appeared on the stage, the crowd swelled in front of them, and any anxiousness from before was gone.  Song after song, Politic Live delivered a sound that was energetic and fresh and it kept building as they performed.  In “The Fire” by The Roots featuring John Legend, they say: “One love, one game, one desire, one flame, one bonfire, let it burn higher.”

These words sum up the Politic Live experience from that night – a lot of love that kept growing for the group’s music.  Listening to them, it was easy to understand why the audience had built such anticipation. They understood their songs because their lives were featured in them; hip-hop and Politic Live belonged to the audience that night.  As feet danced, hands eagerly waved in the air, and mouths rhymed along to verses from songs like “Pusha Man” and “Throwback”, this point was very clear.  “We take a lot of pride in our city…there’s a lot of stories [about Edmonton] that aren’t being told,” says Arlo Maverick, the group’s frontman.  Politic Live left a feeling in the room long after they finished their set, a desire for hip-hop to keep representing Edmonton and for Politic Live to be the fire that keeps the movement going.

http://www.hiphopcanada.com/2013/02/politic-live-at-hip-hoperation-livereview/