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An extinction of memory: In conversation with Calgary Allied Arts Foundation Residency recipient Tammy McGrath

Monday 18th, August 2014 / 13:11
By Christine Leonard

tammymcgrath-mCALGARY — A not-so-secret society nestled in our midst, The Calgary Allied Arts Foundation (CAAF) has been dutifully supporting the visual arts in our community for decades. An unseen hand on the tiller of the Civic Art Collection and force in developing policies that have guided our city’s tastes and practices when it comes to public art, the CAAF has maintained close ties to Calgary’s emergent artists.

Founded in 2006, The CAAF Residency program was established to provide Canadian artists and designers with the space and resources they require in order to produce new works and exhibit them in a studio on a short-term basis. This year’s Residency has been awarded to noted Calgary multimedia artist, Tammy McGrath.

“This is my first time working with this foundation, but I’ve known about them for quite a long time,” says McGrath, who has previously completed succinct residencies at institutions such as The Banff Centre. “There are not many residencies available to artists in Calgary and the idea of receiving a large studio space and funds for material for three months was hard to resist. I’m happy to say the CAAF has been both generous and flexible and the luxury of having this space on 10th Avenue really grants me the privacy to think things through.”

A preponderance of modern storytelling, McGrath’s attention-grabbing proposal won the selection committee over with her acute observations regarding cultural appropriation. Transforming words into images and images into icons, she exalts form and function in pin-mounting the mercurial butterflies of collective consciousness. An homage to systemized forgetfulness, McGrath’s current work traces the arc of popular history and human inattention by examining the plight of the disabused dodo bird.

“My artist’s statement was unusual. It was definitely not a traditional essay, or letter of introduction, in any sense. It was more of a fable, or a short story,” confirms McGrath, herself a studio arts instructor who has taught at the University of Calgary and ACAD. “I expressed that I was interested in using my residence to explore the correlations between the extinction of dodo birds and the decision of certain museums to ‘deaccession’ the dodo bones in their collections, and how that links to censorship and how we rewrite history.”

Piecing together the past and dealing with missing fragments is all-too-familiar territory for McGrath, who lost many of her personal effects, including artist’s sketchbooks, when her Sunnyside home fell victim to last summer’s floods. Following in the footsteps of those who have pointed out holes in the ubiquitous public record, McGrath plans to commemorate the obscure creature’s extinction and subsequent erasure from common memory in time to host an artist’s open house at the end of August. Her work aims, in part, to evoke an immediate visceral reaction that supersedes that of text without, as she puts it, “bonking you over the head with information!”

“Deaccessioning can mean many different things,” McGrath relates. “Sometimes it’s about finding artifacts a new home, and sometimes it’s about throwing them out with the garbage, but it’s not just about objects themselves. This is about access to history, and the systematic problems that need to be considered when it comes to deaccessioning things like books due to issues like lack of space. It’s tricky, because how do you contain all of the knowledge in the world? My interest doesn’t necessarily stem from the fate of this, supposedly fat and stupid, bird, but from what we, as a society, decide is worth keeping and how we alter knowledge.”

Join Tammy McGrath’s open studio night at 7:00 p.m. on August 28th at 319 – 10 Ave. S.W.

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