June to July, 2015
Taking up residency earlier this year in June, Maddie Leach began research towards a Vancouver-based project. Leach’s practice is one that seeks ways of making artworks as a means to interpret and respond to specific context, through a lengthy process of enquiry and social interaction establishing relationships between form, materials, locations, histories, events, individuals and communities.
Leach was nominated for the Walters Prize 2014 for If you find the good oil let us know (2012–2014), created during a two year residency at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, a town known for its oil and gas exploration on New Zealand’s North Island. The project centered on 70 litres of supposed ‘whale oil’. With layered and complex associations to whaling from indigenous sustenance to colonial/capitalist industry, whale oil speaks to New Zealand’s past and evokes its new economic boom in crude oil exploration. Leach sought to return this mythic substance to the sea, beginning a tangential journey that ended with a cube of cement made from the firing of 70 litres of mineral oil relocated to the seabed several kilometres off the coast. Through such ephemeral aesthetic actions and an unfolding public dialogue, this search for the authenticity of the ‘whale oil’ connected fragmented industrial and cultural narratives central to the context of New Zealand. Sharing her unfolding research, Leach then invited fourteen individuals to offer written letters as responses to the work, the only stipulation being to begin the letter with ‘Dear.’ The texts became a series of ‘Letters to the Editor’ in the Taranaki Daily News developing a curious narrative composed by multiple authors, from scientists to sailors, cement workers to oil-industry executives.
Burrard Marina Field House artist-in-residence Maddie Leach speaking at the ‘spaced symposium’ Perth, WA, Australia.
Reflecting on the spaced 2: future recall projects, the spaced symposium presented a day of discussions addressing the relationship between museums, contemporary art and communities.MORE
Maddie Leach | Mandurah – courtesy of spaced 2: future recall
spaced 2: future recall, the second edition of the spaced program, presented newly commissioned artworks by fourteen contemporary Australian and international artists who lived and worked for extended periods in Western Australian rural and remote communities throughout 2013-14, developing works based on an engagement with local residents, histories and landscapes.
Thank you to spaced 2, Perth, WA, Australia for sharing the video.
See more about ‘spaced 2’ here: spaced.org.au/exhibitions/
New Zealand-born artist Maddie Leach is currently undertaking research on the Simon Fraser Monument in New Westminster as part of a project for the CAG’s Field House Residency Program. Leach’s practice is one that seeks ways of making artworks as a means to interpret and respond to specific context, through a lengthy process of enquiry and social interaction establishing relationships between form, materials, locations, histories, events, individuals and communities. Leach was nominated for the Walters Prize in 2014 for If you find the good oil let us know (2012-2014), created during a two year residency at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, a town known for its oil and gas exploration on New Zealand’s North Island.
Curatorial intern Michelle Martin caught up with Maddie to see how the project is evolving.
MM: How has your project developed since you were last at CAG’s Field House?
ML: Last time I left the Field House, I was thinking through some ideas about the granite plinth for the Simon Fraser monument. As a part of that residency stay, I had visited a Lefarge granite quarry out past Coquitlam. I was thinking about the relationship of granite to Vancouver’s history, its mining and blasting in the mountains, its widespread use as road aggregate. I was also reading more about Simon Fraser’s journey downriver and I was thinking about roads as a form of contemporary rivers.
I was fascinated with the possibility of shipping the granite plinth upriver from New West to the Lefarge site and putting it through their ‘jaw crusher’ conveyor machine that progressively breaks down large rocks to bits that only measure millimetres.
After I left, the project became more focused on activating a process of ‘adjustment’ and to continue the ‘lowering of Simon Fraser’ that this monument has undergone over the last one hundred years.
MM: Your project deals not only with monuments and objects of commemoration but also with the histories that surround them and emplace them. On a personal level, you have historical connections to New Westminster, how, if at all, has this informed your work?
ML: I first visited New Westminster in 1986 when I was 15. My grandmother Sadie Harding and my Great Aunt Minerva Harding both lived in New West. We were visiting for Expo and I can remember how far away New West felt from everything. My experience of that visit has strong impressions of a particular introduction to aspects and aesthetics of my Dad’s Jewish family, but this hasn’t actively informed the project. But I think I’m often attracted to working with places that might be considered ‘off-centre’ and that has certainly been a continued draw to New West. It seems to be a place undergoing a particular point of transition right now, perhaps with a certain openness to actively considering its own history and sense of place. Something seemed possible here, and I thought about how something that seemed invisible could be made visible in a way that perhaps would be more difficult in downtown Vancouver.
MM: What I really appreciate about your work is that it doesn’t efface the labour of your process by providing a definitive finished object. What kind of labour is involved at this stage of your Field House project?
ML: At this stage it takes the form of research and conversation, a kind of way-finding and uncovering focused on building enough knowledge, conviction and sincerity around a proposal to City of New Westminster and making presentations to the council’s Heritage Commission and Public Art Advisory Committee. I’ve been trying to uncover as much as can be found about the Simon Fraser monument and its trajectory through the city, various disappearances and relocations and the circumstances of its relocation to New Westminster Quay. We’re now hoping to work with valuer Peter Malkin to establish an idea of what it is worth as a complete object and this helps start the practical problem-solving aspects of the project – how to move a large heavy piece of stone, how to cut it, where to temporarily relocate the bronze bust of Simon himself, how to place the object back together. The really speculative part of the work is yet to unfold – how to take something to the source of the Fraser river in the Rockies, who to discuss this with, what it means as an action and how one gets there.
MM: This project involves requesting permission to alter the Simon Fraser Monument currently on New Westminster Quay. Should you be unable to obtain permission, in which possible directions can you see this work going?
ML: Well, I guess as we speak the project has now been proposed to the two New Westminster council committees I mentioned and has achieved their recommendations to support the proposal. It now has to go through council proper but we are hopeful that the recommendations would stand. I think the way I work relies on a certain combination of optimism and absolute doggedness – getting the ‘irrational logic’ of the idea shaped and then sharing it with others is a key part of the work. Each project gathers a backstory as it unfolds and I am often very interested in the communication channels around an idea. In this way one could say the project starts before anything physical has actually happened, so perhaps the fallback position is that it could always remain an attempt to get something to happen, rather than the action actually taking place. I think I always proceed as if the thing I want to do (the adjustment to a public object, monument or place) will happen – I have to believe in the concept I’m proposing and then establish and follow its logic to whatever outcome arises. It’s a constant process of problem-solving and being agile in certain ways. It feels kind of mentally exhausting at times but also produces some memorable experiences and conversations along the way.
We’ll be sure to keep you posted with updates on Maddie Leach’s project!
My name is Mackenzie Reid Rostad. I’m excited to be joining the team at CAG as this summers Learning Assistant, made possible through the Department of Canadian Heritage, Young Canada Works program. I will learn and, occasionally, I may also assist. Primarily I will aid in hosting CAG artists in residence such as Maddie Leach and Diane Borsato, including young CAG artists through the summer intensives.
Outside CAG, I study at Simon Fraser University, currently pursuing a BFA with a major in film. Within film, my core interests are in writing, scoring and photographing projects. Most recently I completed a short road trip film ‘Without End’. Throughout the summer I will be preparing for my grad project in which I aim to explore the creative process. My involvement with CAG has given me the unique opportunity to gain insight into artists, working in various mediums, and their processes.
I look forward to my time as Learning Assistant supplementing my work both in collaboration and independent of CAG.
Hello! My name is Shalon Webber-Heffernan, and this Summer I am super excited to be working and learning at the CAG!
I’m very happy to be working alongside CAG Curator Shaun Dacey in the role of Summer Learning Assistant, and I look forward to getting to know all the staff and volunteers at the gallery. I’m equally excited to be working with some of this Summer’s amazing Burrard Marina Field House Studio residency artists, including Maddie Leach, Keg de Souza, Walter Scott, Sameer Farooq, Harrell Fletcher and Marie Lorenz. Aside from the CAG, I am currently working towards my Master’s Degree in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University where I focus on embodied and affective knowledge, performance studies, and the so-called “pedagogical turn” in contemporary art practices.
My background is in performance, dance and theatre paired with years of experience working within community outreach settings has me thinking deeply about genuinely engaged arts praxis—what that means, and what are the implications—as well as experiential and alternate (un)learning processes and methodologies.
At the summer’s end I am lucky also to be working with international performance troupe La Pocha Nostra, where I will deepen my studies of radical performance pedagogy during an immersive training program in Tijuana, Mexico.
I look forward to seeing you around the CAG this summer!