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What do you see: Still Point by Gwendolyn Terry at High Five

I started off my first official ArtPrize night at High Five, and spent my entire evening there. Terry's site-specific installation was what I saw, first and last.
closeup, "Still Point" by Gwen Terry

closeup, "Still Point" by Gwen Terry /Holly Bechiri

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What I'm seeing at ArtPrize

This article is part of a series of windows into what I'm seeing during ArtPrize. 

Before my life as the managing editor of The Rapidian, I was (and still am) an artist and curator. The first year of ArtPrize, I spent my time curating and managing a venue called "45 Ottawa," one of the 10 largest venues in the event. During the second year, I joined the ArtPrize team and assisted artists, venues and volunteers alike. The third year, I maintained a "blog curation" of my personal ArtPrize experience. This year, I'm helping our citizen journalists talk about the event and the work within it. While I'm at it, I'll be adding my own snippets of what I'm seeing along the way.


You can join me.

/Holly Bechiri

"I would never want to tell a viewer what to think or to feel about a piece," says Gwen Terry, the artist behind Still Point, a site-specific installation at High Five (55 Campau). Little did she know that I had just been through a training with Art Fitness the day before, and that her assertion that the viewer should have their own idea about her work was just what I wanted to hear.

Terry's work was the first thing I saw at High Five, a venue about which I had heard rave reviews from various sources. This venue would be, other than the outdoor sculptures cascading down the hill on Fulton Avenue leading into downtown, the start of my exploration of artwork during official ArtPrize hours. I figured I'd be there for half an hour, tops.

Brant Raterink, curator of the space, had other plans in mind for his viewers.

"What I love about what we did here is that we used the framework that ArtPrize has created and we did it in a way that created something of meaning. We created something that allows endless demographics to engage at different levels. There's a lot here that people can see and find and do," says Raterink.

Considering the varied demographic of people coming to ArtPrize, and considering the selections a venue makes, he believes, is a valuable way that local curators and venue owners can participate in the event.

"I believe in ArtPrize and I believe in what it can be, and I think we just need to take a little bit of thought in what we're doing with it," says Raterink. "If we can create this and people see this and people get this, then maybe we won't have the problem of venues who just open their door and hang things on the wall because that's what they think they should do. Maybe that doesn't create the best experience for the public. As a venue, whether the owner is curating or whether there is a professional curator involved, you by becoming a venue take an ownership in creating what ArtPrize is and where ArtPrize is going."

It was clear as I walked through the space that Raterink had considered not only the way that the public would interact with each piece of art but the way that the artwork would interact with each other. Each step in the experience was considered thoughtfully.

Coming back around to where I had started, I found myself still captivated by the view of Terry's 20 foot installation hanging from the ceiling and touching the floor. It seemed to go from dark to light and from full to more airy. Inspecting it more closely, you can see that it is made up of strands of white strings -1200 of them to be exact- with 60,000 large nails and various sizes and colors of metal letters appearing to be tangled within them.

Oddly enough, it was very peaceful. Despite the visual tangle I expected and the harsh assumption of nails as a material, there was something calm about it. I walked around, wondering what the letters were for. Did they spell something out? It didn't seem so. Did they serve a purpose? Could they be gone and still give me the same effect? I walked around the piece several times, noticing the color and density range from different angles. 

I'm generally a fast walk-through kind of viewer. Artists hate me, I'm sure. I have to have something to pull me in and make me want to spend more time, or I'm moving on to the next thing. Terry's piece and High Five, however, had me there for the entire night. My goal was to find one piece that I wanted to spend time seeing, looking, thinking... and then writing about. I found plenty that I could have told you about, but in talking with Terry about her work, the theme of the piece seemed a good one in the middle of the first crazy night of art viewing that is ArtPrize.

Terry's work is inspired by poet Arthur Rimbaud's poem "A Season in Hell," and more specifically by a certain line that says, "I fix frenzies in their flight." 

"For Arthur Rimbaud, his power was in his words. It was in the consonants and the vowels; it was in the language. For me? I am not a poet. I build things, I construct things," she says. So for Terry, nails-the tools with which she builds things-became her frenzy that she had to fix in their flight. The challenge, she says, is in working in a way that can quiet an unstoppable force- that can stop the very thing that wants to be a frenzied tangled mess.

"Each one of those nails is a hook," says Terry. "Everything is monotonous, it's time consuming, and you have to surrender to the process-or else you will be part of the whirlwind, you will be part of the frenzy."

As I head into the season of ArtPrize, Terry's words about her own piece seem emblematic of the entire ArtPrize experience.

"In order to be able to still it, you have to surrender to it."

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