Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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2 Rooms Contemporary Art Projects - Bonavista Biennale

Location: Duntara, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: Community Arts Program
Amount Funded: $5,000

crochet exhibit

Photo by Brian Ricks

Festival Dates: August 17 to September 17, 2017
Festival Contact: Katie Butler Major
Festival Website:
Festival E-mail:

The Bonavista Biennale, Art Encounters on the Edge, is a curated exhibition of contemporary visual art that is on now until September 17, 2017. The regional event has a number of locations set up to exhibit a variety of professional artistic installations throughout the Bonavista Peninsula, to mark the Canada 150 celebrations.

The event features the works of 26 artists from Newfoundland and Labrador, and other parts of Canada, including several indigenous artists. Artwork is being displayed in non-gallery spaces – including heritage sites, community halls, beaches, unused schools, a fishing store, as well as some other non-traditional spaces.

The biennale event is being run by a six-person organizing committee.  Co-curators Catherine Beaudette and Patricia Grattan have taken care to select a broad representation of visual artists; some senior and internationally known, others emerging on Canada’s art scene. They sought out works that exemplify exciting diversity in current practices with respect to media, modes of presentation, content and perspectives, and – given the unusual sites – they are creating an exhibition that explores how art and context intersect. The 23-site loop of installations is taking visitors through towns, outport communities, and along splendorous coastal landscapes with an exhibition passport in-hand, challenging them to take it all in.

Tuckamore artwork

Tuckamore artwork (Photo by Reg Winsor)

The experience is far from the expected “white cube” type gallery spaces you might expect be associated with visual arts installations. There are interpretation panels setup at the installations, and guests’ experiences are further enhanced by a number of artist talks and presentations, workshops at heritage and other sites, social media, and reaching the national and international art community through an expansive website.

The displayed works include digital media, video and sound installations, photography, crocheted sculpture, site-specific sculpture, painting, and more. Organizers anticipate the event will increase the number of visitors to the region by as many as 1,000 over the four weeks, bringing as much as $600,000 in new tourist revenues to the peninsula. The event has also created 12 seasonal jobs for the area, not to mention valuable skills exchanges and networking opportunities for exhibiting artists and guests to the biennale.

The biennale is a project of 2 Rooms Contemporary Art Projects which provides a platform for contemporary art, on-site installation projects, and displays of material culture. The organization runs an art gallery and museum, as well as an artist residency program – all out of a restored 1881 fisherman’s saltbox house in the small community of Duntara on the Bonavista Peninsula.  Their programming reflects the confluence of historical, natural and cultural conditions that exist interdependently in Newfoundland's outport communities. 2 Rooms was founded in 2012 by one of the biennale co-curators, Catherine Beaudette.

With the inaugural Bonavista Biennale recently kicked off on August 19 at the Ye Matthew Legacy Centre in Bonavista, we chat with curator Patricia Grattan to learn more about what’s in store in the weeks ahead…

Q and A with Pat Grattan...

ArtsNL: How, when, and where did the idea to create this larger scale, in-depth event take place?

Pat: In July 2015, I attended an opening at the tiny 2 Rooms Gallery in Duntara. Over a rather wine-fuelled dinner, artist and gallery founder Catherine Beaudette confided her vision of mounting a Bonavista Biennale some day. I described my experience, at Memorial University’s Art Gallery, with mounting shows in non-gallery places like the Cape Spear bunkers and a historic downtown bank building; with organizing dozens of exhibitions for national and international touring; with securing grant support. I also knew that special funding would be available because of Canada’s 150th anniversary. So we decided that “someday” could be 2017. What better way to celebrate than to show the powerful work of Canada’s contemporary artists to new audiences living in or visiting a rural area?

By October we had fleshed out curatorial parameters and the overall concept, and recruited Ruth Weller-Malchow, Kiloran McRae, Sarah Agnew and Marg Ryall to the team. Between December 2015 and early 2017 we applied for numerous grants. We did not have a cent and had never worked together, but among us we had a formidable range of skills, contacts, knowledge, and experience. We also had a very clear, detailed, innovative and exciting concept, persuasively presented - so persuasively that the major public grants funders bought in. Our first positive response came in May 2016 but our largest grant, from Canada Council’s New Chapter program, came only in January 2017. At that point we could confirm the scope of the event and sign artist and site contracts. The six-month period to pull off what Canadian Art had called one of its 20 Shows We Want to See in 2017 was a bit scary – but we did it.

Positive responses included Canadian Heritage’s Canada 150 program, Canada Council’s New Chapter program, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, ACOA and of course ArtsNL. Fishers’ Loft became our founding corporate partner, joined by bellgroup and Deloitte. Private donors, within the province and outside, also have provided support.

ArtsNL: What was your process like reviewing various bodies of work from different professional artists as you faced the challenging task of curating the exhibitions?

Pat: We established the curatorial concept early on – contemporary art from across Canada that included a strong presence for this province’s artists. We also sought a range of artists - from senior, well-established figures such as Michael Snow, Marlene Creates, Peter von Tiesenhausen to younger people such as Matthew Hollett and Catherine Blackburn, as well as diversity in media, ways of working, themes. We both had artists of particular interest but did additional research, particularly on indigenous artists elsewhere in the country. However, given its Bonavista Peninsula location, to me it made sense to emphasize works that connect in some way to the history, environment, social and cultural traditions of this place. That’s not hard. We all relate to the kinds of themes that weave through many works – the impact of change on humans and environment, loss of language or identity, the natural environment… But artists help us see the world and our own relationships within it in new ways.

Dil Hildebrande (Photo by Brian Ricks)

ArtsNL: How were the various sites chosen? And, what challenges are presented when using non-traditional spaces like these, how were they overcome?

Pat: The use of diverse and unusual sites is a distinctive aspect of this exhibition and one that had a major impact on what we are showing. In the end, few traditional artforms were appropriate. In the absence of “proper” gallery space, we scouted out 23 sites – from a church, a brewery, a disused salt fish plant and a Fishermen’s Union-built factory to a meadow, a one-room school and village halls, then asked for a loan of them. We have been deeply gratified by communities’ and individuals’ willingness to lend spaces to what must have seemed a strange and improbable project.

Sites needed to be vetted for safety with respect to any artworks to be installed, and in consideration of the public coming into them. We also matched art and location carefully. Every site has its own history and physical characteristics that provide an inescapable context for the art. A powerful example is our presentation of Dene artist Catherine Blackburn’s Our Mother’s Tongue, about residential schools, loss of identity and language within the Ye Matthew site, marking Cabot’s arrival and the beginning of European settlement. Another is the installation of videos, photography, and paintings with architectural references within a raw, partly-renovated school being turned into a wellness centre.

ArtsNL: Can you talk a little more about the Newfoundland and Labrador artists involved in the exhibitions? In fact, three of them are exhibiting new work for the first time developed with a Professional Project Grant from ArtsNL …

Pat: This is a rare opportunity to see Newfoundland and Labrador artists’ work within a national group exhibition - even rarer to have it happen in their own province. Here too the range is from senior artists to those, as yet, less well-known. Barb Daniell, who lives in Woody Point, turns a crazy mix of materials (from pantyhose and sink strainers to dried plant stalks) into complex works about birch trees in a one-room school that is beautiful space in its own right. With his ArtsNL funding, ceramicist Mike Flaherty, of Catalina, has made SpaceCraft - an experimental solar-fired kiln with which he is producing tiny ceramic ‘planets’. Periodically, as sun permits, he will take the kiln outdoors for a public demonstration. Two of the biennale-commissioned outdoor site-specific works are by Newfoundland and Labrador artists. Pam Hall’s Re-seeding the Dream East refers to the dream of a fully-recovered cod fishery through 150 codfish windsocks flying in a Port Rexton meadow. The Green Chair by Will Gill is a steel sculpture installed on an ocean ledge at Maberly Lookout where the play of wind, light and water over it changes constantly. It already has become the icon of the Biennale for viewers.

ArtsNL: And please tell us a little more about the artists who are involved in the exhibition from outside of Newfoundland and Labrador?

Will Gill (Photo by Brian Ricks)

Pat: Several of the incoming artists are Newfoundlanders and Labradorians now living all or part of the time away. Omar Badrin, Malaysian-born, grew up in Elliston and his masks and sculptural works that are knitted of bright fishery twine reflect on identity issues. Steve Payne, working between Toronto and Harbour Grace, is exhibiting Isthmus, which is a collection of photographs about change in small towns on the isthmus of the Avalon. Photographer Barry Pottle, from Rigolet, now lives in Ottawa where his imagery focuses on aspects of Inuk life and efforts to hold onto their own culture. Other biennale participants such as painter John Hartman, sculptor Reinhard Reitzenstein, and composer-musician Gayle Young have longstanding ties to the province.

Barb Daniell (Photo by Brian Ricks)

ArtsNL: There are a variety of Speaker Series events set up; can you let readers know a bit about each of them in an overview?

Pat: Four Speakers Series events offer people expanded commentary on art and draw them to locations around the peninsula. Art and Place has taken place at Coaker Foundation’s Factory. Art and Object, with artist Pam Hall and folklorist Peggy Bulger was at Duntara Hall, on August 24, starting at 7:30pm. Art and Architecture is at the Ryan Premises in Bonavista on August 31, also at 7:30pm, with noted architect Robert Mellin and John Norman who spearheads Bonavista Living, the celebrated townscape revitalization in that community. Pub Night at Port Rexton Brewery is on September 7 at 5pm – it will feature curator and critic Gloria Hickey talking about tattoo culture in the context of Ned Pratt’s portraits of tattooed individuals, on display at the brewery. All talks are free for the public to attend.

ArtsNL: Similarly there are a number of workshops in the bursting schedule, please let us know about those as well – what can people learn, mark, or do?

Pat: Seven related workshops are being presented, also free of charge – listed at They are connected with artists’ works on display – for example Mimi Stockland’s workshop on Sculptural Crochet relates to the crocheted large sculptures of Doug Guildford and knitted pieces by Omar Badrin, both using fishery industry materials like stainless steel wire, polytwine and tarred hemp.

A more sustained event is the Knowledge Exchange at Keels Community Hall, done in conjunction with Pam Hall’s installation Toward an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge. Pam will be there daily from 12pm to 5pm from August 21 to 27 and is inviting Bonavista-Trinity area residents to see the work on the walls, and then share various kinds of “local knowledge” with her.

Pam Hall with her exhbit

Pam Hall (Photo by Brian Ricks)

ArtsNL: Are there any costs associated with the biennale exhibitions, speaker series events, workshops, etc? Important times or things they should know if they wish to take in the whole experience?

Pat: Events are free except for the September 14th Art Film Night at the Garrick Theatre in Bonavista, which is $8.00 for admission. And, of course, biennale is not buying your beer at Pub Night.

Almost all indoor sites are free. They are open daily from 10am to 5pm. All have some interpretive signage and in most places we have site attendants. Feedback tells us visitors are enormously enjoying the opportunity to interact with people who are drawn in from the communities.

ArtsNL: Are there any plans to extend the biennale into new partnerships, or the future?

Pat: Our name, Bonavista Biennale, suggests continuation on an every-second-year basis. We will be doing an intensive review of this first event to assess the potential. We would look for additional partners to expand the biennale’s cultural, economic, and social impact in the future. For example, we worked with Grenfell College’s Fine Arts program on involving students who would get course credit for their work; it couldn’t happen this time around, but the approach to do this in the future is clear.

Photo by Brian Ricks

ArtsNL: Why do you think it’s important for this event to take place? And, why was it important to approach it unconventionally?

Pat: We believe this is an important event not only in its specifics today (an opportunity for 2017 visitors and the artists participating) but as an important Canadian model for taking diverse, challenging contemporary art to new audiences - to small towns and rural areas which tend to be overlooked.

We are proving that you don’t need formal spaces or large permanent organizational structures to make something large-scale, exciting and fruitful happen. The unconventionality of our approach was a necessity – but we are making it strength. Our sub-title Encounters on the Edge captures it – we are creating new, broad encounters with art, people, and place.

ArtsNL: How does the ArtsNL funding from the Community Arts Program help 2 Rooms Contemporary Art Projects plan and run the Bonavista Biennale, and continue to develop and achieve its goals? And, why is the funding important?

Pat: We may not need formal spaces and structures – we do need money. ArtsNL’s Community Arts Program was an essential contribution to bring a major visual art project into being in this rural area – and to engaging many communities and individuals in it, as viewers, as short-term employees, as business operators, as heritage architecture advocates, and historic sites operators.