Art project that ponders the worth of a book nets Dawson City student $7,500

An artist who studied in Dawson City has been recognized for transforming some "trash" into art, after he made something new out of old books.

Books found at Dawson City's School of Visual Arts become award-winning sculpture

This art piece which netted Chris Dufour $7,500 and space in a Toronto art gallery. (Chris Dufour / BMO )

An artist who studied in Dawson City has been recognized for transforming some "trash" into art.

Chris Dufour's sculptural piece was recognized this year in the BMO 1st Art! contest, which selects works of undergraduate-produced art from across Canada. Judges pick a winner from each province and territory, and one national winner.

The selection won Dufour $7,500 for being the winning selection out of Yukon.

His piece, called 'Commodity Chains,' will also be shown at a gallery in the University of Toronto.

The prize money is more than enough to cover his entire tuition at the Yukon School of Visual Arts.

'Kind of lost' at first, artist finds inspiration 

Chris Dufour says he plans to continue his studies in Victoria, B.C. (Submitted by Chris Dufour)

Dufour, 23, grew up in Halifax. He recently graduated from a one-year certificate program in Dawson City.

His winning piece was a class assignment with the topic of 'reduction.' Dufour recalls at first he was "kind of lost," with his mind going to ideas of food and waste and recycling and consumerism and consumption without arriving at an idea for a sculpture.

Finally a lightning bolt struck. He noticed some old encyclopedias in the school building in Dawson City. The books hadn't been read in years and "were considered trash" he said. 

Dufour took the books and made something new. He pressed the pages into a vice, making a large brick. He then shaved off some of the paper and put it into a measuring cup. 

'What does it mean?' a recurring question 

Dufour says he's happy to talk about what the piece means to him.

He thinks the art plays with the question of books being precious and valuable, even "sacred knowledge" on one hand, and acknowledging they are often just useless trash as well. Dufour thinks there's a comment there about deforestation, consumerism and whether the printing was worthwhile at all.  

"The idea of these books just sitting in this room, rendered obsolete — you can't really use them because they're a 40 or 50 years old — that kind of sparked something in me and it was really fascinating to see how this entire cycle of commodities goes," he said.

"There's a process of deforestation and then it goes to the pulp mill and then on to the printing press. And after all that work? They're just sitting in a room and no one is ever going to read them." 

'The idea of these books just sitting in this room, rendered obsolete — you can't really use them because they're a 40 or 50 years old — that kind of sparked something in me,' said the artist. (Chris Dufour / BMO)

Dufour said he's planning to move to Victoria B.C to continue his studies.

He says aside from the money, he finds it rewarding to know someone else didn't dismiss his piece, but considered it and found meaning. 

"I think that it's really validating," said Dufour. "I think that a lot of people who spend time creating things there's a give and take. You come up with an idea and then shut yourself down, telling yourself it's a bad idea. You go through this ebb and flow of creation and wondering whether or not anyone else who's gonna think that this process is interesting."

Another northern winner in this year's contest is Greg Morgan from Nunavut's Arctic College, whose piece 'Legend of the Qulliq' is made of metals, ivory, and polar bear claws. 


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