I'm interested in community collaboration, collective narratives and perception of place. One of my main concerns is the role of artist as observer and storyteller. In My Banff, I'm thinking about the function of memory, vantage point and experience in relationship to place. Over the last year and I half I've been researching and thinking about Banff as a tourist destination in tandem with Banff as a place I call home. Because of its location within a National Park and because it has been marketed with such a high profile for so many years, Banff sometimes feels like a fake place.
I first explored this idea in an earlier two-dimensional rendering of The Banff Bubble from 2004. In this image, I inserted a dome over the town using Photoshop. At that time, even though I worked in Banff, I did not live in the town and my perception of it was seen more through the eyes of a visitor. To be honest, as someone living in nearby Canmore, I almost looked down upon the tourist aspect of the town and felt it was inauthentic.
When I moved to Banff in 2007, I began to see the town in a different way. I started to avoid Banff Avenue and took the back alleys and bike paths to get around town. My circle of friends who lived in town grew, and I started to collect stories and memories that were a result of living in the place. As a friend of mine said, "yeah sure it's a tourist town, but it's still home."
I started thinking about my earlier Banff Bubble piece and reflected on what it really said about the experience of living here. Banff has been a tourist town since the Canadian Pacific Railway first promoted the natural hot springs on Sulphur Mountain to raise monies to fund the completion of the railroad across Canada. Unlike other western Canadian towns that have a history of mining or forestry, Banff has always functioned as a place of natural exoticism. As a result, it occupies a strange place culturally; a town that relies on tourism as its main industry and that constantly negotiates the line between authenticity and mythical narrative.
But what is the ‘Banff’ experience? A strange mixture that combines the mountain environment with fudge shops, ski trips, and seedy clubbing nightlife.
As a resident, I am concerned with the effect these perceptions of the town have on me and the people who reside here on a more permanent basis. I think that in many ways residents became a cog in the wheel through marketing of this experience, and find they are inadvertent players in a script they didn’t write. The author Hal K Rothman describes this as the ‘dilemma’ of the local:
Locals must be what visitors want them to be in order to feed and clothe themselves and their families, but they also must guard themselves, their souls, and their places from people who less appreciate its special traits. They negotiate these boundaries, creating a series of boxes between themselves and visitors, rooms where locals encourage visitors to feel they have become of the place but where the locals also subtly guide visitors away from the essence of being local. (Rothman, page 12)
I have experienced this feeling many times through my position within the Creative Residencies program at The Banff Centre. Artists, in the full height of amazement at the experience of being in a large-scale residency program situated within a sublime landscape, began to project and wax poetic about what it meant to be in Banff. As an artist and worker on the flip side of this equation, I found it funny how I felt the need to propel this illusion, even if it isn't always truthful.
The Banff Bubble, in this exhibition is meant to function as a larger metaphor for the experience of living in a highly mediated place. I’m interested in the concept of the snow globe or domed city. In her book, The Artificial Kingdom, Celeste Olalquiaga writes about the function of snow globes or “dream spheres”, as being able to “ provide a unique medium for … evanescent recollections and fantasies, replicating in their glass and water distortions the amorphous state of half-consciousness.” (P62) The world within the snow globe is not based in reality and often combines random symbols in order to ‘sum up’ an experience.
This exhibition is an attempt to tell my version of living in Banff, weaving together stories collected from friends, my experience and my perception of the place I call home.
Rothman, Hal K. Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West. Lawrence; University Press of Kansas 1998
Olalquiaga, Celeste. The Artificial Kingdom: On the Kitsch Experience.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1998