Arts

'Less different, more alike': This versatile collective uses art to find global common ground

Blue Republic's miniature monuments to instability and fleeting beauty appear increasingly fragile — much like democracy and civilized discourse itself.

Blue Republic's constructions appear increasingly fragile — much like democracy and civilized discourse itself

Made in Blue Republic. (Blue Republic)

If you are a Canadian artist, you've heard the following too many times: in order to "make it" in Canada, you have to do well somewhere else. But what if you already come from "somewhere else"?

The Canadian-Polish multimedia artist collective Blue Republic worked out this particular post-colonial problem years ago: when they show in Canada and other countries of equal measure, they tailor each project to the environments and sociopolitical climates of their hosts. It's a smart approach that is paying off handsomely.

This month, Blue Republic — made up of Anna Passakas and Radoslaw Kudlinski — are showing Made in Blue Republic, a massive survey of new and recent works that is being shared by two major museums in Poland: the BWA in Zielona Góra and the Galeria Arsenał in Białystok. After those exhibitions are up and running, Blue Republic will return to their Toronto studio to begin preparations for their latest public art work Stargate, a $1.5 million commission they won last summer. When completed, Stargate — a very Blue Republic version of an inter-dimensional porthole that includes 15 foot tall aliens popping out of a nebula coloured glass mural — will be on permanent display in Toronto's Yonge-Eglinton corridor. So far, 2017 is a very good year for Blue Republic (and us viewers).

Made in Blue Republic. (Blue Republic)

No small reason for Passakas and Kudlinski's success is their zippy, free-wheeling versatility. They construct enormous, site-specific found object installations that resemble futuristic cityscapes; sharp-edged ephemeral murals made of adhesive tape; "water paintings" made from the application of water onto sun baked rocks, meant to last only moments; as well as more traditional, built-to-last works. The imagination on view is at times playful and at times dark, or both at once — but always just right for the venue they are given.

It is this keen sense of space and, perhaps more importantly, a sense of said space's own loaded history and its interrelatedness to the larger world that makes Blue Republic's work so timely and yet open; free-associative but still tethered to the times. And great fun to engage with.

It's so apparent when you travel, talk to people, listen what they say, that whole world is ruled by the same paradigm: we are less and less different, more and more alike in our concerns.- Anna Passakas

For their double show in Poland, Passakas tells me, "The particular sociohistorical environment in Poland is a variant of what is going on elsewhere around our shrinking planet. We like to think that these two projects form a very personal parenthesis in the flow of global narrative...It's so apparent when you travel, talk to people, listen what they say, that whole world is ruled by the same paradigm: we are less and less different, more and more alike in our concerns."

In a related tangent on the differences between their Canadian and world careers, Kudlinksi adds, "As artists, we have access to a variety of cultural narratives, something which together with Canadian openness has been very enriching. On the other hand, major art institutions [in Canada] shy away from urgent debates and issues that are rolling through international communities...In Poland, art institutions have greater programming flexibility, which allows them to react to current issues and concerns more quickly. [In Canada] perhaps the privilege of financial stability and resources could be translated into greater participation in the important debates of our time, which would mean becoming centres of inspiration for arts communities."

Made in Blue Republic. (Blue Republic)

Jumping back to the projects at hand, Passakas notes that for local audiences in Zielona Góra and Białystok, "We are addressing [the public's] entrapment in games of power, contemporary 'hyper-complexities', homelessness in the world, homelessness in nature, manufactured concerns, fabricated sensitivities, confabulations...These interests come from the empathy with the disadvantaged, the overlooked and the marginalized."

As Europe continues to process the fallout, good and bad, from the ongoing refugee crisis and the alarming rise of far-right populism, Blue Republic's fragile constructions — miniature monuments to instability and fleeting beauty — appear, well, even more fragile, more fleeting...much like democracy and civilized discourse itself.

"We have made impermanence and lack of stability our modus operandi, perhaps because it reflects the instability of civilization's constructs," Kudlinski concludes. "It almost seems that, in order to understand the aleatoric character of the world [and] its fluidity, the only way to keep up is to become fluid ourselves."

Made in Blue Republic. Mar 10-Apr 2 at the BWA, Zielona Gora, Poland. Mar 17-May 4 at the Arsenal Gallery, Białystok, Poland. www.bluerepublic.ca

About the Author

RM Vaughan is a Canadian writer and video artist. Vaughan is the author of many books and contributes articles on culture to a wide variety of publications.

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