Interactive art is not necessarily about preservation

Artist Leah Dorian uses a chainsaw to take down her own creation outside the Provincial Court House on Saturday, Oct. 9. Photo Susan McNeil

People touring the Mann Art gallery this weekend will have noticed a common theme about some of the pieces, they were being painted over, pulled apart or cut up with a chain saw. 

While public tours of the vault – a place where art works are carefully preserved, stored and catalogued – were available inside the building, on the outside Metis artists were busy destroying the creations they had made, deciding which paper bison they should keep and which should be consigned to a sacred fire. 

It was all part of the focal weekend of Culture Days from the galleries perspective. 

“This is kind of our big weekend day at the Mann Art Gallery,” said Lana Wilson, gallery educator on Saturday, Oct. 9. “This is the last day to see the Leah Dorian and Ashley Smith outdoor art installations,” said Wilson.

Dorian has taken on the role of mentor to Smith and 2021 marked the second year of the Inter-Generational Metis Artist Mentorship Project, a project she started with a different mentee, Danielle Castle. 

“The goal of this is for Leah to be able to pass on different aspects of Metis culture,” explained Wilson. 

While both mentees brought their own perspectives to the project, Dorian as teacher was passing on skills such as designing and planning a project. 

“It involves Metis materials, skills, teachings and world views. They learned how to plan the project and do art installations,” Wilson said, “and, in these cases, using quite humble but accessible materials.”

An exhibit outside the door of the gallery showed colourfully painted cardboard bison being chased by cardboard horses over the cliff – in this case, a two inch high curb. 

Another next to the provincial court house involved a willow woven meditation walkway decorated with orange ribbon tied on it and is dedicated to the survivors of residential schools.  

“We think that a cross symbol – even a symbol that was widely embraced in the fur trade era by many cultures – placed beside a courthouse, we feel that’s a good site for a reconciliation piece,” explained Wilson. “So many people have interacted with it in a wonderful way.”

Inside the gallery, children or adults could pick a canvas painted by an artist who used to live in Prince Albert and choose to either keep it as is, add to it or paint right over it. 

The idea was to educate people on what artists do with their finished pieces. Some sell it, some donate it or sell it to gallery collections. Others are prolific and just want their work out in the world. 

The artist lives in a city for a few years, paints something every day and then divests it before moving to another city. 

The artist suggested having other’s paint over his pieces.

“We can think of it as a collaboration,” Wilson said. “If they want, they can completely paint totally over his art and make it their own.” This is a technique used when an artist wants to add texture to their work. 

Upcoming in this week for Culture Days activities in Prince Albert are a South Asian cooking class on Tuesday, Oct. 12 and a chance to try pottery on Thursday. 

More details can be found a and by going to Saskatchewan in the Regions pulldown menu.