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Hartcourt House celebrates three decades of art and debate

Wednesday 31st, January 2018 / 12:00


By Michael Podgurney  

Harcourt House has two new exhibitions opening in February.


EDMONTON – There will be no vainglorious celebration for Harcourt House’s 30th year of serving the Edmonton community. The proud yet humble institution, which had its beginnings as a one-off fundraiser for the victims of the Black Friday tornado of ’87, will simply continue to do what it does best: support the contemporary visual arts community. Despite no official celebratory event, there are some big plans for the future and some engaging exhibitions opening the 2018 season.  

Opening the season are two exhibitions: MACROMEA, by Alana Biffert and Marta Gorski in the Main Gallery, and The Book Of Seven by Stephen Ferris in Harcourt’s Art Incubator Gallery.  

“There is a process of pairing the two galleries together,” explains Jacek Malec, Executive Director of Harcourt House who has recently taken the helm of this venerable ship.

“We look at the works to either compliment or engage and be an extension to a discussion, or to provide a kind of a musical counterpoint. Like the two opposite polar elements.”  

MACROMEA is a modular work consisting of images silk screened on canvas or printed on vellum, hung disorderly from the ceiling with cast glass panels separating the viewer from the scene. There is also a lens through which to view the piece. The Book Of Seven is a series of explorative and intuitive paintings that capture a cacophony of mental formations that roil in a dizzying array of snaking lines.  

The presentation in these two divergent pieces is certainly a counterpoint to each other. The two exhibitions are a “dialogue with the inner and outer world. Inner notions embedded in our minds, more kind of elusive, and the outside world, more empirical which you can define.”   

“Alana [Biffert] and Marta [Gorski’s] exhibition is more of an inward thinking element,” Malec elaborates.  “How people evaluate each other. How people perceive each other. An analysis of who we are as human beings. Global culture. How we are integrating with each other… A more structured work. Clearly defining the experience through a lens.” MACROMEA is dimensional and ambiguous, creating an uncomfortable distance that resists bridging but demands the attempt.   

In contrast, Ferris’ The Book Of Seven is empirical, “more of an analysis which brings the horizontal element graphically.” With it you get a density, which is obscuring yet inviting to investigate. It is a work that is personal and curious, a “bombardment of information. An organized disorganized chaos.” When you encounter it, instead of stepping back, you must get closer. 

As you analyze the exhibitions more closely you begin to hear the dialogue forming in the shared space, which is exactly to the point of the matter in the relationship between the exhibition, the gallery space and the viewer.  

“The exhibition is really the artwork within the artwork,” explains Malec. It’s a concept developed by French novelist and philosopher Honoré de Balzac, who explored the notion in his ‘La Comédie humaine’ multi-volume series exploring the interconnectivity of French society in the tumultuous 1700s. “The human condition of us in that multi-faceted society bombarded by so much information.”  

This concept is present in the way MACROMEA uses the body, lenses and cast glass to show how distorted our perceptions of each other become when filtered through materials. It’s a focused work. The Book Of Seven, on the other hand, is expansive and distorting in its elusiveness. It contains the breadth of individual experience in a wash of information.  

Experiencing these exhibitions together is all part of the work of the gallery.  

When it comes to explaining the sometimes confusing and ambiguous goals of art, Malec muses, “It’s that spark between the object and the viewer. Is the artwork really the artwork?”  

It’s the energy you share with the artwork that completes the whole process. You become part of the environment of the exhibit. Your reaction or malaise becomes an element of the exhibition. Don’t try to get it all at once, because “getting it” might not be the point. Engaging in it is the key. “If you go to view the piece and you ignore it,” says Malec, “That is tragic.”   

Left in the wake of a financially shaky 2017, Malec has been working strategically to maintain Harcourt House’s viability, and is likely to steer toward international waters. He brings an expansive vision to go along with the sustainable business model that has kept the gallery/studio space alive for 30 years. Along with the 42 affordable studio spaces that constitute the largest space of its kind in Western Canada, there are plans for growth.  

Malec established an international art exchange program at his previous gig as Executive Director of Contemporary Calgary and believes Harcourt House can also benefit from the international exchange of ideas. By 2020, he aims to have a program in place to export local talent and import a few goodies as well. There will be a new gallery opening soon and he hopes a vision of creating a research library for the arts community at large can be established somewhere in the space. All of this, says Jacek, in an effort to provide artists with a “sustainable environment for their professional growth.” 

Malec will also be working closely with Edmonton Design Week to bring the newest ideas from Edmonton’s architecture and design communities to the public. He believes that architecture and design are sorely underrepresented in the public discussion of art in Edmonton and hopes that the initiative will help to foster a discussion. 

“When you look at the Harcourt we are providing the forum for the debate,” Malec points out. “To stimulate or compel the public to be part of the discussion or debate.”  


The official opening of MACROMEA and  The Book Of Seven is on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at Harcourt House (Edmonton). Opening day will feature talks by Marta Gorski and Stephen Ferris. Admission is free.

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