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The Resilience of Art: Harcourt House opens its doors to the public

Deann Stein Hasinoff – “Catching Smoke” – Fragment of the installation. From left to right: “The ties that bind III”, 2020; digital drawing (1/3); “Fear mask”, 2020; digital drawing (1/3); “Safe?”, 2020; digital drawing and pencil; hand modified multiple, variable edition (1/5); “Spectres”, 2018; digital drawing (1/3). Photo by Jacek Malec.

By Anuska Sarkar

Art is resilient. It finds a way to live through the good times and the bad. The team at Edmonton’s Harcourt House exhibits this resilient spirit or art and artists throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When the world went into a mass shutdown at the beginning of March 2020, the team at Harcourt House was able to quickly rally to establish the Harcourt’s Greatest Hits Series as a way to make contemporary art and design accessible during the pandemic. The series was distributed digitally through email and through Harcourt’s social media, offering “support and recognition to the many artists, architects, designers, and other cultural producers the gallery works with,” explains Harcourt House’s executive director Jacek Malec. 

This resilience continued as the team decided to virtually open their gallery to audiences in Canada and beyond through the thought-provoking exhibits “Art in Isolation”, and “Absence of Presence”—both incredible exhibitions commenting on the impact of COVID-19 on art and culture.

Now, with the provincial recommendations allowing business to open at 50 percent capacity, Harcourt House has decided to re-open the gallery doors to the public, while closely monitoring and adhering to all mandated protocol. The reopening of the gallery presents us with two distinctive exhibits: “Latent Monuments”  by Jill Ho-You and “Catching Smoke” by Deann Stein Hasinoff. Much like the spirit of Harcourt House itself, both exhibits are a testament to art’s resilience.

Ho-You’s “Latent Monuments” is an exploration of the consequences that the human presence could have on the future of our planet. 

As she puts it, “It’s about imagining a future where everything predicted to go wrong does go wrong.”

With COVID-19 monopolizing the attention of media and the internet worldwide, the conversation around climate-change ‘s very real ramifications have been eclipsed, and she hopes this installation can remind us of the importance of the topic.

This mixed media installation combines etchings, videos, and live bacterial culture to juxtapose rigid geometric structures with the organic biology of the bacteria, an acute depiction of our planet and the combination of organic and manmade elements. To top it all, the installation features a hand-cut 21-foot chain-link fence, an element that Ho-You explains might have never existed had COVID induced social isolation not allowed her more time to work on her art. Despite the challenges that the onset of the pandemic brought, she was able to channel a positive outcome through her work.

This notion of resilience carries through in Stein Hasinoff’s “Catching Smoke.” Her exhibit attempts to paint a physical picture of the experience of anxiety and what that feels like. Inspired by writings of Pema Chödrön and Eckhart Tolle, her work touches on the teachings of mindfulness and meditation and their role in combating anxiety.

“Everyone deals with some kind of anxiety in their life, so my hope is for [this exhibit] to open up a conversation around it,” Stein Hasinoff explains.

The exhibit displays prints of fascinating digital sketches, but the resilience of art can be observed in the very medium of her work. Having developed an allergy to most art making materials years ago, Stein Hasinoff resorts to using a smartphone app Asketch for her work. Not only does this app allow her to work freely, regardless of time or location, it also transcends any barriers that may prevent others from accessing art such as access to materials or cost.

A common thread that can be seen between both artists and Harcourt House itself is that while this pandemic has had its fair share of inevitable negative ramifications, the artistic spirit and ability to create art has found a way to survive. No matter the circumstance we may experience, art is an immortal expression of the human experience. It is a way for us to find meaning in life, and organizations such as Harcourt House take on the onus of ensuring that we have access to art, even in these trying times. 

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