Power Ball, the notorious art party and fundraiser, is back this year with Stereo Vision. Power Ball XIX, hosted by the Power Plant Contemporary and Max Mara, will once again transform the renowned gallery into an immersive artscape with works by architecture and design studio Pedro&Juana and artist Francesco Pedraglio, among others, alongside performances, cocktails, hobnobbing, chit chatting, admiring, and more!
In anticipation for the big event, Novella had a chance to speak with Gaëtane Verna, the director of the Power Plant regarding not just the Power Ball, but also what she has to say about our contemporary art scene.
Hoon: Tell us about this year’s Power Ball theme, Stereo Vision.
Gaëtane Verna: For this year’s 19th edition of our major annual fundraiser, we wanted to move away from our previous years’ themes of pleasure and excess. The TV series Stranger Things had just been released around the time we had started to brainstorm for this year, and we loved the idea of the Upside Down world. We were also inspired by similar elements from works such as Cronenburg’s films Videodrome and Stereo and David Lynch’s TV show, Twin Peaks. This led to the idea of seen and unseen worlds, which ultimately became Stereo Vision. The beauty of Stereo Vision is that it can be interpreted in many ways: our art installations will reflect the theme in different ways through various interpretations, and immersive environments. We want the party to really transport guests, and be this otherworldly space where visual art, music, food, fashion, community and society intersect.
H: How did you come across Pedro & Juana and Francesco Pedraglio? What drew you to their work and led you to work closely with them for Power Ball XIX?
GV: For our Power Ball VIP Party we always feature insightful living international artists; artists who have never been seen before in Toronto and Canada – in all, the best of the best in contemporary art. Collaborating with an internationally recognized artist to present a one-night-only project is an essential part of our annual fundraiser.
For this year’s theme of hidden worlds, parallel universes, we thought, who better to build and realize this vision of an entirely different world than an architecture and design studio? Pedro&Juana is completely unique and a departure from the types of work we had previously highlighted for the VIP Party. Their ability to cleverly design and redesign a space, and the thought they put into how that space affects the relationships between those present in an environment is certainly what drew us to them. Not to give too much away, the Mexican architect and artist duo will be working in collaboration with Italian performance artist Francesco Pedraglio to create a room where the real and the represented will be questioned by creating a mirroring play of vignettes.
H: Aside from being a notorious art party, the Power Ball is also an important fundraising event. Tell us what the fundraising is for.
GV: The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery is Canada’s leading non-collecting public gallery dedicated exclusively to contemporary art and culture. This is, in fact, our 30th Anniversary Year and we pride ourselves in delivering the best in contemporary Canadian and international arts in everything we do.
Power Ball is, of course, no exception and we always deliver a not-so-ordinary fundraising gala (and art party!) experience for two reasons. First and foremost, and very simply, we aim to raise funds so that we can continue presenting new works by living Canadian and international artists and have our audience visit us and see these artworks for free – our gallery is admission-free, all year. We also provide opportunities for audiences to engage with the work in alternative ways, and this is where our public programs and educational events come in. The donations from Power Ball are crucial in helping us produce these as well, and many of these programs are free. Power Ball is the engine that powers The Power Plant and we could not deliver our many commissioned works and public programs without the support of all our guests to this annual event.
Secondly and equally important, this event helps us showcase the work of local artists to an audience that may be different from those that visit us during the regular exhibition seasons. Part of our mandate is to present the work of diverse artists to an equally diverse audience, and to be a forum for the advanced artistic culture of our time. Our aim is to encourage visitors to engage, ponder and interact with the artwork presented within the walls of The Power Plant and through the years we’ve understood that this is an important exercise that does not have to centre solely on our shows: we can do this through outreach programs with youth, workshops with children and their parents, and yes – even a unique art party, once a year, featuring the best in contemporary culture for our many patrons and supporters. Our mandate drives all of our choices here at The Power Plant and this fundraiser is key in allowing us to continue those important conversations at the intersection of art, culture, outreach, society and much more.
H: Contemporary art is a broad term. The term itself and/or its ethos is often misunderstood, parodied, or simply looked over. How would you define the term?
GV: In my mind contemporary art is the art of our time. It is the work that artists all over the globe to shed light on blind spots – perhaps one could say, the hidden and unseen aspects – in our ever-changing world and society. Contemporary art does not have one unique form. It is a multi-disciplinary practise and combines equally diverse sources and contexts that are current to our world. Contemporary art is both lyrical as well as disturbing. It is poetic while exposing the worst possible expressions of the human injustices of today and the past.
H: What would you say makes Canadian art exciting?
GV: In 2017, within the context of Canada’s Sesquicentennial, Canadian contemporary art is forced to break many barriers and establish a visual arts discourse that is as complex as the world in which we operate – within Canada and beyond. As a country of indigenous people and immigrants we are forced to take a closer look at our 150-year legacy. The best contemporary artists are not afraid to tackle important local and personal stories, whether they are current or whether they explore histories that go beyond 1867. These stories, often hidden, are key to understanding who we are as a country and how our stories and artworks are relevant within our country as well as within the rest of the world. The multidisciplinary nature of Canadian contemporary art is what makes our strength. Many of our artists are practicing simultaneously in Canada as well as abroad, confronting their work to the rest of the globe and connecting their practice across borders and topics.
H: You’ve spent a lot of time in Montreal and Paris, two centers of francophone culture. Had this influenced you in the way you think of and look at art? Or do cultural backgrounds and geography have little to do with way one approaches art?
I was born outside of Canada and this has always made me a citizen of the world. I was raised in Montreal and I studied and lived abroad for close to ten years. My time in Paris, where I could encounter various aspects of the world converging in this city on a daily basis, has been critical in building my approach towards the arts. I see no borders between people or disciplines and in my world I am constantly searching for artists that are able to expose universal themes that will connect with a local – local to Toronto, that is – perspective, national perspective as well as global perspective. The Power Plant is located in Toronto but it is also a national institution that is respected all over the globe. My past years in Quebec and France have given me the outlook and the curiosity to explore all the angles that the best artists bring to their work and present it to Toronto audiences, show its relevance to all of our perspectives and continue building on to our 30 year legacy.
H: You’ve been deeply involved in the art community for over two decades as a director, curator, publisher, teacher, etc. How have contemporary art and society’s relationship to it changed over time? And where do you see it going in the near future?
GV: Contemporary art is now on the forefront of society. The increase in the number of art fairs around the world, as well as Biennales is an indicator of a new role of contemporary art, whether as an investment, as a catalyst for change or as an expression of social innovation. Since the end of the Second World War we have seen a constant increase in biennales, arts programs and curatorial programs in universities. As a result, we are producing more artists than ever before and more curators. Art plays an important part in the economy of Canada and of Toronto. Arts institutions like The Power Plant have many roles within our society. We are a place that promotes and presents the work of contemporary living artists. Additionally, we also function at times as an active cultural centre or a forum – a place of ideas and debate that affects our society as a whole. The role of museums and cultural institutions has evolved and artists are more so on the forefront of socio-political change and action. This convergence between the areas of art and activism will certainly carry on into the future.
H: The Power Plant is dedicated to, among other things, showcasing emerging talent. Could you tell our readers about a few exciting artists you’ve come across recently?
GV: At The Power Plant we develop and showcase talents in both artists and curators. Through two fellowships sponsored by RBC and TD Bank we have been able to contribute to the next generation of curators. I am looking forward to seeing what our alumni Fellows like Clara Halpern, now at Oakville Galleries, and Adrienne Costantino, now at Lakeshore Arts, accomplish next in our arts community. In terms of Canadian artists, I am excited by many, but a shortlist includes Brenda Draney, Jen Aitken, Patrick Bernatchez, Jacynthe Carrier, Howie Tsui, Maria Hupfield, Dawit L. Petros, Hajra Waheed, Brendan Fernandes, Tony Romano, Chih-Chen Wang, Marvin Luvualu Antonio, and Kapwani Kiwanga – who we just presented in our Winter 2017 Exhibition – amongst others. We can see great diversity in their types of practice and the sources they draw from, but the strength of their work is the diversity of perspectives that they bring to our Canadian landscape. There are many more artists which makes this an exciting time for our field.
H: Are you working on any new creative programs for the Power Plant at the moment?
GV: Needless to say, we’re incredibly excited about Power Ball XIX on June 1, as we outdo ourselves year after year. It is as much part of our creative work as the exhibitions that we develop throughout the year. But what perhaps is most exciting is just that, the programs that we have upcoming after Power Ball XIX on June 1. They are simply the work that we do on a daily basis and that we’ve been doing for the past 30 years: presenting the work of the living artists of our time regardless of generations and provenance. I’m thrilled to be presenting the first major institutional exhibition of Ydessa Hendeles this summer. Opening with a free public party on June 23, this will be her first retrospective show in Canada, and as an important figure in Toronto’s contemporary art scene we are honoured to have her collaborate with us on this occasion. Following that, for the last exhibition season of our 30th Anniversary Year in 2017, in our Fall 2017 Season we’ll be presenting two solo show by Amalia Pica, from Argentina, and Sammy Baloji & Filip de Boeck, from Congo and Belgium respectively; along with a site-specific installation in our Fleck Clerestory by British artist, Michael Landy. Finally, to kick off 2018, visitors to our Winter 2018 Season in January will view solo shows by French-Algerian artist Kader Attia and Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh.
H: Anything else you’d like to add.
GV: All I can say is we will continue to present the world in one place at The Power Plant, but further to that…you’ll just have to follow us and see!
We are constantly traveling the world to bring it back and present it within our gallery walls to all Toronto audiences. We are an institution where all are welcomed through our ALL YEAR, ALL FREE admission-free program thanks to BMO. We are so excited to continue the journey with our staff, our board of directors and our audiences that represent all that Toronto has to offer to the city and the world. We take seriously our responsibility to contribute to breaking the barriers that too often exist between contemporary art and its public. I invite everyone to join us on June 1 as well as throughout the year. We have programs for everyone and everyone is always welcome.