By Paul Owen
Working on her latest art project left Julide Cakiroglu a mess.
Mud caked her red rubber boots, flaking off with every step and leaving dark footprints on the sidewalk as she walked away from the empty field that will house her work.
“This is like the muddiest field in the world,” the third-year visual arts student at the University of Western Ontario said of the northeast corner of Oxford Street and Wonderland Road.
For now, the lot is only a vacant patch of land covered in thick brown mud from the rain and melting snow of London’s mild winter. But Cakiroglu, 20, hopes that, in half a month, she’ll have turned it into an artistic rendition of an old-fashioned drive-in theatre complete with screen.
“I’m going to get old cars in there and have a movie and play sort of dreamy kinds of movies,” she said. “I want to make a space that lets people imagine and celebrate this piece of land before it will inevitably be developed.”
Located between a Costco and a busy intersection, Cakiroglu’s lot is one of 18 sites in two cities being transformed as part of a collaborative effort between art classes at Western University and NSCAD University in Halifax.
The idea for collaboration between senior-level installation classes at the two schools began a couple of years ago, according to Kim Morgan, assistant professor of fine arts at NSCAD (formerly known as Nova Scotia College of Art and Design). She met Kelly Jazvac, an assistant professor of visual arts at Western, in Halifax, and the two discussed working together in some way.
It came to fruition this year after Jazvac won $5,000 in funding through Western’s Cohen Explorations Program, offered to one visual arts course each year at Western.
The two combined their advanced installation courses into this collaborative project, with 12 Western students and six from NSCAD working in groups of three. The hope is to develop practical skills that go into large public installations, as well as the artistic ones, said Morgan.
“When you’re doing site-specific installations in public, there’s all kinds of skills that you need to learn: communication, how to write a public proposal, how to go around in the city, search for the sites, find out who owns that site,” she said.
Collaborations also teach students how to communicate and technique on how to work and build ideas together, Morgan said.
“It’s how artists work contemporarily. You’re constantly shipping your work, travelling your work, getting permission to do things,” added Jazvac.
“It seemed like a way that we could do a project that could be better real-life training to be artists.”
But working with others across the country has also posed logistical problems for the students to deal with, even as basic as how to get ahold of each other.
“We were thinking of names of the show, and it was going to be ‘Long Distance Relationships’ or something like that because it’s very difficult,” Cakiroglu said. “ You set a time to meet and maybe a connection doesn’t work or something falls through, and you feel stood up.”
The show was eventually called “Cities of Opportunity” in a tongue-in-cheek nod to London’s recently released theme song.
All students will produce their own piece of art at a specific site in the city, but the plan is for each group to link its project thematically, in addition to providing feedback and critiques for one another, Morgan explained.
For Cakiroglu, that’s why the mud is so important.
“My partner (Jenna Roy), she’s working with patterns in the ground. My Halifax partner (Lu Zheng) is thinking about working with the Halifax hills, so we sort of have this earthy element that we’re talking about,” she said.
The first of three shows the work will be a part of is Tuesday night with a preview at the ArtLab at the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre at Western.
Projects are expected to be completed in both cities by March 16, and students will then have to transform their work to appear in a gallery show April 10 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax.