Friday, February 20, 2009

Burtynsky's work hits home in Banff

Nestled amid the dramatic peaks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains is the thriving town of BanffWhyte Museum and within it, . Lovers of nature and art gathered there last week to welcome photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose work is the subject of a major retrospective on display until April 26, 2009.

The exhibit is called The Residual LandscapesOntario nickel mines and Alberta oil sands. and includes a collection of twenty-two images donated by the artist. Burtynsky’s work depicts human impact on natural environments, including provocative and strangely beautiful tailings ponds.

Nickel Tailings No. 30 portraits vivid veins of florescent orange toxins fluidly snaking across a blackened crust of earth. Oxford Tire Pile No. 1 is a whimsical but sad portrait of urban waste, the entire image consumed by tires stacked in spirals and layered across the ground.

“It’s a spectacular collection and an amazing gift,” said Robin Murphy, who attended the opening. Murphy is the director of public art for Torode Group, a company responsible for installing half a million dollars worth of sculptures in public spaces around Calgary. Earlier last week her company unveiled an eight meter high steel sculpture, inspired by tree roots, in the downtown core. The juxtaposition of nature and industry is even more potent in Banff.

“It’s extremely provocative,” said Michale Lang, executive director of Whyte Museum, “Given that we’re in a national park and that all these developments are going on nearby, just beyond our boundaries, it’s very important to be thinking of these things.”

Burtynsky’s work, which he describes as “metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence” and “a dialogue between attraction and repulsion”, has drawn international attention. In 2005 he won the exclusive TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Award, meaning he would be granted any three wishes. One of those wishes was a global dialogue on sustainable living, now available at Two years later, he was the subject of critically acclaimed documentary Manufactured Landscapes. His photographs are in the collections of the MuseumModern Art in New York, the Biblioteque Nationale de France in Paris, and the National ArtGallery in Ottawa, among others. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is thrilled to have so many of his photographs in one space, and expects they will draw a crowd well into the Spring. of

“His work makes a statement,” says Lang, “And we feel that’s what a good art gallery does – let the work speak for itself.”

Among the substantial number of guests at the opening were: Bob Sandford, author and chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative, Jason Stroh, co-artistic director of Alberta Dance Theatre, Graham Gerylo, Calgary city planner, Doug MacLean of Canadian Art Gallery and his wife, author Mary-Beth LaViolette, Blake O'Brien, co-owner of the Uptown Stage and Screen, photographer Maxine Achurch, communications guru Karin Poldaas and her husband, Quinton Rafuse, vice-president of geoscience at Ember Resources Inc, director Guy Clarkson, and Kirsten Evenden, the newly-appointed president of Glenbow Museum.

Published in National Post, February 14 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Disco Inferno: reality meets fantasy at "Chamber 54"

It’s not often you have the Mayor, the Premier, the federal Minister of Environment, and the provincial Lieutenant Governor in the same room. So when that precise cast of characters enters to the blaring tunes of “Disco Inferno”, introduced by a man in dark sunglasses and a white polyester suit, the feeling is positively surreal.

But real it was.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual “salute to excellence” gala recently at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Top business and government leaders gathered to honour their own, and welcome Mrs. Lois Mitchell as new chair for the board of directors. The evening’s theme was Studio 54, re-named Chamber 54 and billed as “a world where fantasy mingles with reality and all labels will be left behind.”

It remains unclear as to just whose fantasy would have acting CEO of the Chamber, Geoff Pradella and president of ATCO Gas Brian Hahn compete on centre stage for the title of “disco king”, but one of them certainly took home that label during the evening's events.

Throughout the function, the Saturday Night Fever-styled host who called himself Dirty Martini, urged a black-tie audience to shout “get down!” every time he said “Chamber 54”, and requested that all the ladies give catcalls any time he appeared on stage.

After a four course dinner, which included Alberta beef tenderloin and a caramel flavoured banana trifle mousse, tributes were paid to the immediate past chair, Mr. Hahn (who left the position to assume leadership of ATCO) and the incumbent, Mrs. Mitchell. Speeches were made by Mayor Dave Bronconnier, Premier Ed Stelmach, and Minister of Environment Jim Prentice, who is also the Regional Minister for Southern Alberta. Most leaders encouraged young entrepreneurs to take a “long view”, saying the tough times ahead could be overcome by optimism and patience. Despite their high spirits, the honourable members of government were noticeably absent from the dance floor later that night.

Among the other party-goers were: local television personality Dave Kelly, chair of the gala committee Kathy Pawluk, the Honourable Norman Kwong, president of The Calgary Foundation Eva Friesen, partner at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP Joe Lougheed, associate director of communications for Sunshine Village ski resort in Banff Doug Firby, team lead of community affairs for EnCana Vicki Reid, Steve Hogle and Bonni Clark of the Alberta Research Council, Judy McVean of Petro-Canada, and a host of MLAs from across the province.

Sherrold and Pat Moore
, pillars of philanthropy and community spirit in this city, were honoured in a brief speech by Steve Snyder, who received the Sherrold Moore Award that evening. Mr. Snyder, president and CEO of TransAlta, was responsible for an ambitious project and strategy to end homelessness in ten years. With a firm plan, revitalized political will, and the best in corporate and non-profit talent, his initial committee became the Calgary Homeless Foundation, and his vision is well on its way to fruition. Cynthia Williams, a television producer, and the late Ian Anderson, former chair of the Chamber’s Natural Resources Committee, were also recognized with awards.

Published in National Post, February 7 2009