Guest Blog| Jenna Kirouac: The Olio Festival and the Art of Partying

It is my pleasure to welcome Guest Blogger Jenna Kirouac, a Vancouverite who will be regularly featured on Avant-Guardian Musings as a Vancouver Arts Correspondent. Jenna's bio follows with her probing thoughts about Vancouver's Olio Festival below. 

Jenna in Berlin at the Wall
My name is Jenna Kirouac and I am a fourth year English Major at Simon Fraser University. I love art and am particularly interested in new forms of contemporary visual art that intermingles new technology and traditional mediums in a way that expresses ideas and concepts about modern society. Locals often complain that the Vancouver art scene is lacking and are constantly looking outside the city as a means to define their standards around art. I wanted to get involved in this blog as an avenue to introduce the world of art that functions and operates around and on the fringes of Vancouver. Good things are happening here, you just have to know where to look for them!

Interior Shot of 304-days artist-run project space (Jenna's picture)
When I got back to my apartment Thursday night after visiting a few art galleries I reflected on the evening as a whole. Somehow I felt a bit cheated. I couldn’t claim that I had engaged with any art that made me think differently about the world around me. Sure, it had been a fun time but had I been to any art shows or just parties? It was hard to say.

Our first stop was “The Best Ones Last” at JD’s Barbershop, which showcased retro painted commercial signs by an artist named Dan Climan. The venue was pretty on par with Climan’s work, as both the shop and the signs waxed nostalgic of the 1950’s. This event was fun but the art itself was kitschy yet no doubt aesthetically pleasing-- Climan’s signs might be something I would consider hanging in my apartment.

The Shudder Gallery’s exhibit aptly named “Things that change and do not keep,” included works by a variety of artists all centered on an idea of transitional phases, the ephemeral, or expiratory. Images of clouds of smoke, diced meat at an old butchers shop, and a barely visible body wrapped in a sleeping blanket walking across the wet lawn at night. These were a few of the images that hung on the walls. Like the Barbershop most people were hanging out drinking beer and not many people were paying attention to the photographs. Across the street at the artist-run 304-Days Gallery was “Morning Light is the Best Light,” a solo exhibition by Les Ramsey featured abstract acrylic and oil paintings as well as sculpture. Just like the other stops on my East Van art crawl, the patrons were drinking beer and socializing, and unfortunately there was no supplementary reading on the walls or offered at the door. It wasn’t until the next day when I went back online to check out the 304-Days website that I was offered an explanation of the exhibition’s focus.

It is by no means my intent to skewer the Olio but I just wanted to propose that all three art shows had one thing in common: they functioned primarily as a party and secondarily as an actual legitimate art exhibit. Maybe that was the intent. The Olio is a four-day interdisciplinary arts festival that celebrates local and global artists. It does succeed in providing a way for the community to interact with the local art scene and also introduces gallery resources to new up-and-coming artists as a means to showcase their work.

I started to wonder about this interaction of social gatherings and the art itself. In Adorno and Horkheimer’s “Enlightenment as Mass Deception” they argue  that all art exists within the capitalistic commercial sphere and the denial of this blatant truth is what renders art irrelevant. Most contemporary and post-modern art is centered on the discussion of what is and isn’t art. From Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made through to the evolution of performance art, the debate revolves around the performative nature of the object or act itself. So when the masses cry, “That’s not Art!” the fact that it provokes such a reaction means that it has at least succeeded on some level. If we take this idea and push it further, what about partying? Is partying performance art? I am not asserting this as my opinion but merely proposing the question. Think about it. To go out and hit the town we dress up, we perform in a non-rehearsed way. We act outlandish, dance and sing, its reckless abandon. There is an element of chance and the spontaneous and unexpected occur. The night holds with it a certain sense of voyeurism and can be comedic or tragic. It is an escape and it is a conformity that functions within the capitalistic enterprise. We are all in it yet we are all trying to escape. Partying is the pursuit of pleasure and can be destructive, violent, and mindless. So if we are aware of this and we still partake do we elevate ourselves to a higher understanding of society? Maybe. Adorno and Horkheimer believed that these series of contradictions in the real world are everywhere, and art succeeds because it fails. If art tries to show us truth outside of the commercial world, it can’t and so it fails. But they also said that in the struggle for truth we learn something and therefore it succeeds.

So I leave you with this: Going out this weekend? Go ahead and try to escape the drudgery of your scholastic and professional world. You can’t but you might as well try. Put on your costume, act out, be crazy. Be artistic about it. Go check out some events for the Olio!

The Olio Festival is running now (September 23-26) and details for all venues can be located here.