Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Synonym Art Consultation’s annual Wall-to-Wall Mural and Culture festival is happening this month — in large part, sans murals.
"We had to kind of restructure our entire programming," says Chloe Chafe, Synonym co-founder and creative director.
The team was busy planning for its seventh festival — which typically sees local and international artists creating multi-storey artworks across the city over the course of a month — when the first cases of the coronavirus were detected in Manitoba back in March.
"We had no idea what was going to be possible in regards to international travel or group mural painting… so we basically decided to turn into a fully digital festival," Chafe says. "I do feel like it made us a little bit more creative. It really did flex our curating muscles and logistical muscles."
The crux of the public art event, which runs until Oct. 3, will be the installation of 12 large, prefabricated panel murals at sites across West Broadway and downtown. Synonym received more than 300 submissions for the project and the festival’s newly formed artistic committee pared down the list during a series of lengthy Zoom meetings.
While Chafe was surprised by the response, she believes the call for submissions was shared far and wide because people are spending more time online and many artists have been left jobless amid the pandemic.
"There’s a real lack of opportunities for artists, so when there is, especially a paid opportunity, it really (goes) a long way."
The online submission and printing process has allowed for a wider diversity of media and has made the festival more accessible, since artists aren’t required to spend days painting walls from atop scaffolding. The dozen selected artworks will be announced and installed throughout the month.
"The works we selected, we are proud to say, are rooted in our values in uplifting artists, to bring life to our neighbourhoods and visibility for those who deserve it most," artistic committee member Annie Beach says in a media release. "The variety of the selected works means that there will be something for everyone to enjoy."
The participating artists hail from Egypt, Argentina, the United States and Canada. Three of the finalists are from Winnipeg, including fourth-year University of Manitoba School of Art student Chase Martin.
"It’s definitely a huge honour," he says. "Synonym is known for taking artists… especially local artists, and giving them a platform and I’m just really grateful for that."
Martin is "really into pencil crayon right now" and primarily works in painting, drawing, mixed-media sculpture.
His Wall-to-Wall submission, entitled Beach, shows a crowd of bodies clad in red bathing-suit bottoms gathered along a shoreline. The work brings a rural beach scene to an urban landscape and the subjects are drawn from the waist down with their physical sex left intentionally ambiguious, skewed or obscured.
"I think it’s kind of a natural human impulse to try to decipher visual language, so I think in that ambiguity, it kind of leaves this grey area for the viewer to contemplate both the gender of the figures and like who they’re looking at exactly, and how they relate to them," Martin says. "I’m interested in sexual identity and... rather than there being like a strict male-female binary, kind of looking at an array of gender identity."
The original pencil crayon drawing measures 2.4 metres by 60 centimetres and took more than 50 hours of late-night scribbling to complete in between Martin’s two summer jobs. The final print will be blown up to twice its size and installed at a yet-to-be announced location in West Broadway.
This is the first time Martin has created work for a public art display and he’s looking forward to having his art accessible outside of the confines of a gallery, especially during a pandemic.
"I still feel like a lot of people are kind of uncomfortable going to the gallery space," he says. "I’m just glad I could be part of an organization that’s bringing it to the whole community."
In addition to the panel murals, Wall-to-Wall is collaborating on three other public art pieces in September.
A colourful mural by Peatr Thomas was painted in the parking lot of the Centre culturel franco-manitobain over the weekend for Intramural.e — a partnership with Théâtre Cercle Molière that will see the mural turned into a stage for dancing and performances that will be captured on video and released later this month. Artist Dee Barsy has created a mural at Muse Flats on Colony Street paying homage to Colony Creek, a waterway that used to run through the city. And the family of Errol Greene, who died in custody at the Remand Centre in 2016, will be helping paint a memorial mural with artist Kelly Campbell at Eadha Bakery in the West End.
The festival’s youth mentorship program, a partnership with Graffiti Art Programming, has gone ahead this year, with some adjustments. Young participants have been teamed up with professional videographers, dancers, spray painters, graphic designers, printmakers and musicians for online and small group workshops. The mentees will be featured in a music and art video set to première at Nuit Blanche on Sept. 26.
The 2020 Wall-to-Wall festival wraps up on Oct. 3 with a ticketed in-person performance featuring Winnipeg musician Rayannah.
With all the heaviness of living during a pandemic, Synonym’s Chloe Chafe hopes the public can draw some positivity from the festival.
"We still want people to feel connected through the arts community and that everyone still deserves art," Chafe says. "We just really want this public art, these educational opportunities, these film productions, to bring joy into people’s lives."
Visit synonymartconsultation.com for a full lineup.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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