Shelley Ouellet

I am very interested in participating in the upcoming Once Upon Water art residency and know this would be a tremendous opportunity to reflect on my work and the subject of water in a new environment and context, and with other related practitioners. The geographical, ecological and scientific significance of Pico Island is intriguing, particularly in contrast the land-locked, prairies where I base my practice. The itinerary of water-related activities, thematic presentations and exchanges during the ten-day journey have tremendous potential for thinking and researching in new directions. I am interested in the invitation to theorize and socialize with artists and islanders alike. I share Theresa Ascencao’s cross-disciplinary interest in “inner and outer corporeal experiences” and I hope to explore movement and performativity with Ana Sofia Sousa. Participation in this residency will have a long-lasting impact on my artistic practice.

For a quarter-century I have blended my experience working as an arts administrator, educator and advocate to develop a socially engaged artistic practice that recognizes the importance of collective activity in community development and cultural production. Working across a variety of media and in various sites, I have designed projects that encourage inclusivity, co-operative action and participation in the physical and social space of the exhibition. Responding to sites such as galleries, museums, public toilets, libraries and homes, these organized communal efforts have resulted in sculptures, videos, installations, interventions, web-based works and performances. The examples I include with this application are works that examine constructs of national identity through representations of landscape. I make large, beaded sculptures depicting untamed, Canadian wilderness appropriated from historical paintings and, more recently, contemporary tourist information. Commissioned or consigned for global marketplaces, the landscapes I reproduce have bodies of water as a focal point and romanticize the site. In Sunrise on the Saguenay (1880), the source for my work of the same title, is selected as the painter, Lucius O’Brien, has omitted a bustling river port out in his depiction of the site. The recent work, Johnston Falls (2009-2014), is based on a photograph from the 2008 Parks Canada website, but similarly shows a constructed view of the raging waterfall from below with site amenities such as trash cans, public pathways and guardrails cropped out sight. The rectangular structure of the beaded curtain is designed to reference the image source while suggesting both seen and unseen information. The curtains are a visual and physical barrier penetrable by light only. In Johnston Falls, the structure is more sculptural and the weight and hang of the beads is utilized imitate the flow of water represented. Scores of giant of necklaces are looped side-by-side allowing strands of beads spill outside the picture plane and pool onto the floor.


Shelley Ouellet is an artist and arts educator based in Calgary. She teaches in the School of Visual Arts at the Alberta College of Art and Design and has a long history actively supporting local and regional arts organizations. Her practice is cross-disciplinary and aspires to recognize the importance of collective activity in community development, advocacy and the arts. Her work has been exhibited across Canada and the United Kingdom and represented in private and public collections including the Canada Council Art Bank and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

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