First curator of Fraser Valley Biennale evokes place and ecology in art selections

Art, Off The Vine

Boasting 21 artists, showcased at different intervals over the course of the past two years, the third Fraser Valley Biennale opened on January 14 at the Kariton Art Gallery on Mill Lake. Featuring 11 of the 21 selected artists, the gallery was packed with artists and art lovers, enjoying a variety of mediums, and a table of cheese and wine.
In previous years, artists for the Biennale were curated by jury. This year, the Reach Gallery and Museum brought in a curator.
Beth Carruthers is an internationally renowned artist and curator from the Valley, who is currently completing a PhD on the island. She returned home to the Lower Mainland to create her vision for this year’s show.

“[What] I’m really known for is my work in ecological art practice, and the theoretical work in the role of arts in sustainability,” Carruthers stated. “I have this background that I obviously bring with me, as any curator will bring their own personal practice with them.”

As the first guest curator for the Fraser Valley Biennale, Carruthers wanted to naturally let a theme emerge from the works that were submitted.

“That [theme] really had to do with people’s relationship with the land in various ways. That was the strongest theme that emerged,” she said.

This theme becomes immediately obvious when viewing the pieces on display at the Kariton: a selection of abstract and interpretive landscapes, and the inclusion of human intrusion on natural landscape. The pieces convey strong emotions, and longing for spaces that aren’t dominated by city skylines.

“One of the things this region has always been, throughout most of my life anyways,” said Carruthers, “is rapidly changing. People’s relationships, when they move around a lot, those people’s relationships to where they are change. Sometimes they can seem quite tenuous, and at the same time there are […] communities and families that have been there a long time. So there’s all these layers to people’s relationships to these places.”

Reflecting on her time selecting the pieces for display, Carruthers discussed what it meant for her to be a part of the Biennale. “With me coming in, though I’m still a west coast, BC gal, I still don’t have that immersion in the community and those relationships, and all that coming in with fresh eyes,” she said. She appreciated being able to create a theme that so strongly represented the Fraser Valley, in a way that would expand beyond the community that created the artwork. “I think it educates people: lets people in one community know what people in another community are doing. It shows what people are thinking about,” said Carruthers. “What the arts do in culture, is they really represent a lot of stuff that’s churning under the surface, and the artists can really focus that through the work.”

The Kariton Gallery will continue to host this year’s Biennale until February 7 before moving on to the O’Connor Gallery at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. From there it will show at the Rock Family Gallery in Mission, then finish at The Reach Gallery and Museum in December, showcasing the full breadth of the selections chosen for this year’s exhibition.