Guelph’s Artist in Residence prepares a parade for Culture Days

Guelph’s Artist in Residence prepares a parade for Culture Days


Interviewing multimedia artist Carolyn Meili  

The Artist in Residence program invites Guelph artists to submit expressions of art that portray public engagement through creative experiences. In its fourth year, the Artist in Residence program tasked artists with addressing the theme of Canada’s 150th anniversary as well as Guelph’s 190th anniversary.

Carolyn Meili was chosen as Guelph’s 2017 Artist in Residence.

Meili’s work as an artist and her experience in art administration as the director of the Guelph Film Festival provide her with a diverse background.

Having gone to art school and trained in multiple disciplines, she specializes in different mediums. Currently, Meili’s work concentrates on sculptures and drawing installations.

The Ontarion interviewed Carolyn Meili about her work and becoming Guelph’s fourth Artist in Residence.

Crystal Gong: If you could summarize your artwork in one sentence how would you describe it?

Carolyn Meili: I’m a multimedia artist that deals with the absurdities of everyday life.

CG: What motivates and pushes you as an artist?

CM: I love the absurdities of everyday life and I like bringing those into my artwork to share them with others.

That can be non-sequiturs, that can just be the absurdity of modern life — where things don’t always make sense — but mostly there’s a sense of humour in my work, as well as a search for identity.

CG: When you construct your works of art does it require discipline or bursts of inspiration?

CM: It’s a combination of the two. You need the discipline; you can’t just sit around and wait for inspiration, so you have projects or things you’re working out. So, I often have multiple projects at the same time so that when one gets stuck you can shuffle to another. You have to spend time in the studio ideally every day, but you also have those moments of inspiration, which are very exciting, and some of those happen through the grunt work of having to work out material. Something new and surprising can happen, and those are always the best times.

CG: Do you ever experience bouts of artist’s block? What sort of things do you do to overcome it?

CM: That’s a good question. Sometimes you get over it by doing something really boring like a craft. Something I like doing is covering objects with stitched felts or pompoms, so they become abstract. Sometimes I just pick an object and cover it as a way of “I’m still working,” but there’s no pressure and there’s no result that has to be one way, so that helps me when I feel stuck.

CG: Congrats on becoming Guelph’s Artist in Residence for 2017! Could you tell me a bit about the program and what you hope to bring to this experience?

CM: So, this is something that started four, five years ago from the city and each year they pick one artist to be the resident. As well, each year there’s a theme that is the focus, so there’s a call for different artists to see how they would respond to that theme, this year’s theme is Guelph’s 190th birthday.

So, what I’m going to be doing is creating a parade of wearable sculptures that will be images that represent us and some will be more obvious than others.

Some are historical, some are experiential for individuals; it’s a culminating body that will paint the picture of our community. They will be beautiful and ridiculous and hopefully both confirm ideas of what it means to be a part of this community and expand them.

Because other people’s voices will be involved it will be a bigger sense of community than a single person’s point of view because I’m asking people to contribute ideas of what symbolizes their community for them. So, I’m going to be taking those ideas and distilling them into simple symbols, and they’ll be presented at City Hall as a static museum display of a parade during Culture Days from September 29th to October 1st.

CG: How are you going to gather these individual viewpoints from the community?

CM: So, we’re setting up a Facebook page that will be titled “Guelph Parade” and I’m also going to different events like the Farmers’ Market and cultural events the city’s putting on and setting up a table and recruiting ideas. I’m also hoping to connect with the libraries to recruit that way.

So, basically, I’m going to have the Facebook page and a submission form that I’ll be handing out to people so they can draw or write their ideas down.

CG: Can you tell me about your expectations for the final Artist in Residence project?

CM: I just got a studio yesterday, so I’ve got a large space for four months for the project. So up to this point I’ve just been researching and sketching ideas and gathering materials. So now, starting tomorrow I get to start making things. The plan is to make things, gather new ideas from the community, and basically, it’s like a blitz of making — to make an entire parade of outfits that are large sculptural pieces is a large project in a short amount of time — but it will be mapped out and then presented as this parade of static objects.

Part of why I’ve made it a static parade is so that people can get close up to the pieces.

I can also add information panels so you get some of the history that’s coming into this. And thirdly, I want people to imagine what it’s like to be in these costumes, so in a way it’s a performative work but the performance is in the viewer’s mind.

CG: Finally, why do you think it’s important for the residents of Guelph to be exposed to different art forms through the Artist in Residence program?

CM: I think knowing that there’s a wide range of different ways of making art will both open people’s ideas of what’s possible as far as expression — empower them to make larger things themselves — but also to expand the world, that maybe it’s got more possibilities than what they’ve imagined.

Photo by Cami Brenchley Photography.