Tales from the Last Pandemic by Vivian Orr
In case you haven’t noticed we are in the middle of a global pandemic. During the last major pandemic, the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, the Canadian Crafts Federation (CCF) organized Canada’s Unity & Diversity exhibition, featured in the Guest Country Pavilion at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in South Korea. We thought hearing about that experience would inspire you to persevere through COVID-19.
“A good half of the art of living is resilience.”
~Alain de Botton
What follows are quotes from organizers and participating artists. We hope you enjoy this glimpse of Canadian craft a decade ago and half way around the globe.
Canadian Craft Boutique
DR SANDRA ALFOLDY, from Alberta Craft Council quarterly magazine, summer 2009 issue
As the chief Curator/Narrator for the Canadian Craft Federation’s 2009 Unity & Diversity exhibition at the Cheongju Craft Biennale in South Korea (and the smaller version at the Vancouver Museum for the 2010 Winter Olympics), I have enjoyed the honour of witnessing the jurying process for this national exhibition. It was staggering in scope and logistics, yet from the abundance of entries two hundred outstanding objects were selected. After the dust settled I was faced with the enjoyable but daunting task of finding order in the objects. It was remarkable to see the strong narrative that emerged. Not only is there no such thing as a particularly “Canadian” type of craft, there is no thing as a single, unifying field of “Craft.” Nostalgic ideas about Canadian identity, comfort and safety do not exist in the lived reality of Canadian craft. But this is not a negative. Rather, this is a powerful reminder of the fluidity and openness of craft materials and techniques. Yet behind this plethora of approaches a strong voice begins to emerge. Canadian craftspeople are confident in their position in the world, proud of their unique cultural heritages, respectful of their natural surroundings and conceptually adept. The Alberta entries were among the strongest in the country. The selected pieces, along with the artist’s statements, allowed me to create seven themes within the exhibition: Water, the Land, Contact, Flora and Fauna, Arrivals, Myth and Metaphor, and Departures. Because the exhibition is targeting an international audience in Cheongju, it made sense to structure these themes as the story of “Unity and Diversity” as reflected in Canadian craft. It is hoped that this seven-part narrative imparts the dynamism, strength and confidence of the Canadian craft community. But I am not too worried – the excellence of the selected works makes this statement on their own.
Bill Reddick and Mark Lewis with sculpture by Paul Maliki
MAEGEN BLACK, CCF/FCMA Director
Organizing the Canadian Pavilion at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in 2009 was one of the most intense and exciting challenges of my craft career. It was an enormous team effort, with Canadian and Korean craft administrators and artists working together across cultural, economic, geographic and language divides. With tenacity and a whole lot of matcha lattes, we made it work. Over 200 Canadian artists were featured in the exhibition, with many more showcased in the International Market on site, and over 100 Canadians travelling to Cheongju over the course of three months to experience the events first hand. Experiencing the massive support for craft in South Korea, by the government, their educational institutions, the arts and culture scene in general, and particularly by the public, was more than inspiring - it changed the way I thought about and approached the possibilities for craft here at home. Being able to connect with people through craft despite all our differences, only deepened my appreciation for this form of art. I experienced Korean craft from a Canadian perspective, and learned so much about what makes Canadian craft "Canadian" by viewing the Korean perspective. There is so much room for interpretation when you speak through translation... but craft is a language of its own. I met and learned from so many extremely talented and generous Korean masters of craft, folks who welcomed me into their studios, homes, galleries, shops, and their hearts, these experiences truly left me changed for life.
Left to right: Sandra Alfoldy, Jose Naision, Maegen Black.
In some ways, the Biennale also prepared me for the COVID 19 pandemic - as the H1N1 flu caused significant changes for our plans in 2009. With the spread of the flu, we lost hundreds of thousands of expected visitors, as individuals and families took more precautions around crowds and public spaces, though many continued to visit and enjoy the exhibition. From a Canadian eye, the crowds still felt significant to me, but by South Korean standards, my colleagues saw a significant difference. The Cheongju Biennale organizing team ramped up security and health measures, requiring temperature check ins every time you entered the event site, and additional promotions/coordination to encourage groups and tours to participate. Our South Korean colleagues faced increased pressures, and fought for the event, to ensure a safe and secure experience for everyone involved. I thought of these correlations often as COVID impacted so many culture organizations and events around the globe, to a much higher degree than H1N1 had at the time. I think I probably understand what was happening around us during 2009 so much better now, with time and this second pandemic as a comparative. Though the experience was at times difficult, I was exceedingly happy and proud to have been a part of the Canadian Guest Country pavilion, and so very thankful for all the experiences this project brought to all the Canadians involved.
It's definitely worth recognizing Dr Sandra Alfoldy's (NSCAD University) work as national curator of the Canadian exhibition. She was excellent to work with and a key reason this project was not only exciting, but fun to be a part of. Sandra, Jenna Stanton, Kari Woo and I shared an apartment during the installation and opening, and I couldn't have asked for better roommates! Sandra unfortunately passed away not that long ago, and I hold these memories of our time in South Korea close to my heart.
Korea Canada Day
JUDY HARALDSON, SCC artist and retired Exhibitions Coordinator
Wow! Eleven years ago. The original plan was for me to help take down the Canadian exhibition at the end. Things changed and I went to help set up at the beginning. Good luck that I had started my passport application early.
It was an amazing, exhausting, unforgettable experience. The craft displayed was outstanding! I got to work with the young woman architect who designed the display, Dr. Sandra Alfoldy who curated the Canadian exhibition, Maegan Black who was in charge of the whole Canadian participation, and a great crew of South Korean art installers who mostly did not speak English. We learned that the Canadian designed Robertson screw driver bit (the square one) is not universal and are rare in South Korea. Opening many of the shipping crates holding the exhibition pieces became quite the challenge.
Do Hee Sung - Canadian Craft Exhibition
JUNE JACOBS, SCC artist
Things I remember most ... everywhere we went in South Korea, at any public gathering, we had to have our temperature take before entering, as well as at the airport when we were coming home.
The tour company from Vancouver who organized all the extensive tours and events was excellent! The agenda was varied and full. They accommodated our every whim which included getting a group of us into a Korean Massage. The massages were fantastic and they even got us into a second appointment.
A personal highlight was the fibre fabric wholesale market place where you could literally find anything. We all came home with suitcases stuffed with treasures.
Food was great and I indulged in kimchi and the bbqs were yummy. We were told that every household has a fermenting kimchi crock on the go.
I was awed by how garden spaces and trees were honoured. Whole buildings were built around and incorporating the trees into the architecture. Trees were not bulldozed down and replaced by lawn as is done here.
South Koreans are avid hikers. When you took the subway, the end of each subway line was at a walking/hiking trail. At the end of your subway trip you deposited your token stub and got money back … so civilized.
Opening Night of the Biennale
See some of the works that SCC artists had at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale:
Shop Cheongju Collection