Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just Before They Set Off - Artistic Duo, Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky on Their Way to Glenfiddich Residency

More on the 2014 Canadian Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize Winner -
Artistic Duo, Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky

The people at Glenfiddich know how to throw a party and a bunch of us recently feted the Canadian Artists in Residence Prize Winners at Toronto's Spoke Club. Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky are actually the first Canadian artistic duo to take advantage of the chance to spend three months in the storied Valley of the Deer in Dufftown, Scotland making art. You can check out more on the background of the competition in a previous post.

The pair leave on May 1 and I got a chance to talk to them before the endless round of cocktails, smoked salmon, lamb chops and other distractions began. They've been working together since 2004.

"We were shortlisted last year," says Trevor, "this year we went for it again."

There was a small display of their work on view along with videos showing previous projects. "A smorgasbord of our work," laughs Rhonda. Their sculptural work is colourful and features ordinary objects transformed and reformed, some in resin, others in copper foil. Their pieces often have a playful kind of flair that's fueled by a sense of invention/reinvention in reaction to the objects themselves.

A residency gives them the opportunity and the space to create. "We don't actually live in the same city," Trevor explains. "We work on a lot of public art projects." A residency abroad also offers the opportunity to grow as an artist. "When you're local all the time, it starts to feel like that really is the whole world."

"You're really isolating, working in your studio all the time," Rhonda adds. Working alongside other artists (the residency includes artists from around the world) is energizing. "It's so great that a company supports contemporary art. As a Canadian you want to promote your work and our culture (abroad)."

"The main material we want to work with are oak veneer and copper foil," Rhonda mentions. The pair's desire to use the materials of the whisky distilling process - the oak casks and the copper pot stills whose use is deemed essential to producing scotch's unique aroma - is in keeping with much of their previous work. A previous installation - the All Night Convenience store you may remember from Nuit Blanche 2012 - featured a storefront with foil shopping carts among other items. Their piece Rozinante is a canoe made of thin wood veneer. A reaction to materials and objects fuels much of their work.

Their desire to immerse themselves in the whisky making process and culture and use the materials in their work was also - according to Andy Fairgrieve, the dreadlocked Coordinator and Curator of the Glenfiddich Artist in Residence Program - what tipped the scales in their favour in a field of just under 200 entries from artists across the country. The Residency prize continues to grow, now in it's 10th year in Canada (and a dozen for the program internationally). (Trevor, Rhonda & Andy pictured left)

"We were inspired by the materials and the culture (of making whisky)," Rhonda says. The idea is to let that inspiration lead to a unique work that wouldn't have been made otherwise.

Three months seems like a long time in some ways but making art isn't often done on a strict timeline. Trevor names time management is an essential skill. "There's that pressure: I gotta produce something," he says. Rather than having set plans drawn up, the pair want to let the chemistry of the place and the whisky distilling process and culture suggest the work. "We have a more general set of materials in mind," Trevor says. "We do make a lot of ephemeral work so it might be something along those lines," he speculates.

I'll be looking forward to seeing the results in the fall.

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