In August 2022, I was one of fourteen artists selected to participate in the 40th annual “Symposium de Baie-Saint-Paul”. I felt honoured to be chosen and I eagerly geared up for an exciting ride.
I was not disappointed as the experience was rich and intense. Let me start by describing what I created during that month in my studio, in what used to be a school, behind the Baie-Saint-Paul Museum of Contemporary Art.
When I applied to the symposium, I had a specific project in mind: The Ancestor. This piece is a natural extension of my earlier installation, The Keepers, created at the KOAC in 2020-2021. Using recycled cardboard, I created an eight-foot-tall tree-like sculpture. A forest canopy that cycled through the four seasons was projected from the top of this tree onto the ceiling. Creating these trees is a lengthy process and given that the Ancestor is much larger in diameter than its companions, The Keepers, it took me the full month to complete the project. To address the Symposium’s theme, Connected-Interconnected: The Digital World in Question, I used local social media and called on residents to bring me their used corrugated cardboard. The response was overwhelming. In fact, two weeks into the project, I had to ask people to stop bringing me their recycling.
This symposium is unique in that the artists’ studios are open to the public five afternoons a week. For such a small town (7,000 residents), the attendance this annual event generates is impressive. People drive from all over to visit the Symposium. On a quiet day, we might welcome about fifty people, on a busy one, about 140. That is a lot of people to meet and chat with over the course of a month. It left us (the artists and staff) simultaneously tired and invigorated. As visual artists, we spend much of our time working alone and we imagine that our work has value; a place in the world. Throughout the month-long symposium, that value was affirmed on a daily basis. Artists rarely experience validation to this degree. I was especially pleased when my project received the children’s popular vote. For the most part, conversations with the public were insightful and warm. Of course, there will always be a few oddballs, but they made for very funny dinner conversations amongst the artists.
Which brings me to my favorite part of this experience: connecting with the other artists. Fourteen of us (put links to their websites), two from within Canada but outside of Quebec; myself and Vasilis Vasili, one from Germany; Irene Anton and eleven from the province of Quebec; Chantal Lagacé, Sylvie Laplante, Michel Boulanger, Oli Sorenson, Carolyne Scenna, Hédy Gobaa, Sébastien Lafleur, Marilyne Busque-Dubois, Serge Clément and Sylvie Rochette and Ladislas Kadyszewski (SYLLAD), shared this experience. We spent our workdays in the same building, and we were soon in the habit of frequenting each other’s studios. Seven of us were given the opportunity to live together and share a kitchen (too small for seven people…). Interestingly, a month was not too long. I know that I am obsessed with my work, and frankly, I like it that way. Being with thirteen other artists who were just as obsessed, as hard working, as committed and as inspired in their own unique way, was a real treat. Each of us did a one-hour public presentation describing our work and our process. This gave us insight not only into each other’s work but, equally importantly, into the person behind the art. The camaraderie and humour that emerged from the connections we formed was an unexpected bonus. I cherish the memories of that time spent together.
And then there is Baie-Saint-Paul, a beautiful ancestral town founded in 1678 on the north shore of the St. Lawrence Sea way, an hour and a half east of Quebec City. It is best known as the art capital of Quebec, and for good reason. From its earliest days this community has attracted creative people including many famous Canadian artists, such as Jean-Paul Lemieux and Marc-Aurèle Fortin, who took up residence for a time. It is also the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil. Surrounded by rolling hills and overlooking the magnificent St. Lawrence, just before it turns to salt water, the town sits in a valley at the end of an inviting bay where the tide ebbs and flows. It’s worth the trip if only to experience the town’s charm and the region’s beauty. The Symposium has not been immune to the influence of this small town. In its forty-year history, it has managed to evolve from a painting symposium to one that welcomes art in its most contemporary forms, ever renewing and expanding the public’s interest.
Despite all the hours spent working in the studio, I made sure to find the time to tour around, visiting small towns close by and riding the Charlevoix train on the shore of the St. Lawrence (a lovely treat). The many family members and friends who came to visit ensured that I got out and experienced my beautiful surroundings. While work was my priority, it was important for me to get to know this inspiring place, if only a bit. After all, my maternal grandparents where both born in Baie-Saint-Paul, so in some ways, it was also a return to the land of my ancestors.