PROJECT: ArtisT in REsidence at PAVIA Gallery 


Brian Riley is a Halifax based artist who has been designing, building and facilitating art projects throughout the province for over 12 years. He does nature-based residencies and afterschool art programs alongside his career as one of Halifax’s primary sound designers in theatre and contemporary dance. He has done numerous projects with the White Rabbit Arts community; a group he has worn many hats in since 2010. His collaborative installation with Josh Collins entitled ‘Inpulse’ was a 2016 Anchor Project for Nocturne, and in 2017 he has been awarded a VANS Residency for his project Landscape Puppets.

About the Residency:

"My residency will be all about... getting my hands dirty with papier-mâché cornstarch glue! Ideally outdoors and involve community as much as possible. I want to schedule group walks (with an open invitation) and explore the surrounding landscape. We will look for unique rocks shapes and papier-mâché these forms for puppet, costume and sculpture making back at the studio. I am planning to do workshops at local schools to help me explore these ideas, and host artist talks and possibly a film screening or two relevant to the work. This residency will flux and flow as it unfolds, but I am thrilled to be taking it on and getting active with my art practice!"

Artist Statement:

My work combines a passion for community building  and cultivating human expression with hands-on work such as puppetry, music, dance, circus, theatre, and sculpture . A sense of discovery through play shines in my approach; adaptability to flow and group engagement drive the facilitation and creation practice.

A Q&A with Brian Riley

When we first met, you described yourself as "an artist" as opposed to a visual artist or fine artist. Why?

I think I had a few things in mind when I mentioned that. I work a lot in time-based performance, usually building moments. I also do build objects, but usually they are objects to support moments...building puppets, props, placemaking installations that sort of thing, but I'm weary to call myself a fine artist or visual artist because of the association with static objects in galleries. I also find myself quite unfamiliar (and uninterested?) with the a commercial art world that is maybe associated with those terms.

I see being an 'artist' as an approach to life, your relationship to your surroundings and how you reflect that back to society with intention. I think maybe incorrectly I see most people I know as artists. More of an engagement with what you are doing then an understanding of aesthetic context.

I feel I am sometimes outside the contemporary discourse around fine arts/visual arts, and don't know the specific systems and language to aggrandize my work to people in that world. I’m getting to know it more and more, but mostly I feel fine knowing the products I make are potentially meaningless in an institutional setting. I make tons of simple and unsophisticated community focused work and a lot of people get engaged and connect to may not be the kind of thing for the galleries really but my hope is that it is alive for people and stirs their imaginations.

Of course, I'm going to contradict myself here, but as my residency went on and the weather kept me inside more than I thought, i decided to challenge some of my with the ‘white wall’ aesthetic that Pavia offered...see what I could learn in this new context.

What was your experience like during the residency with PAVIA?

It was a super awesome. I feel like I learned a lot about how I work through this residency, how I categorize my thoughts and what sort of work flows keep me inspired. I wanted to learn about the area, local hiking trails, any ‘cool spots’ etc to better understand the landscape. I feel like I don’t spend time thinking about landscape in today’s technology driven work so I bundled up and spent a bunch of time getting to know the land.

I connected with different community members and groups in the cafe space of Pavia, and they would draw maps or come with me to these spots, and observe what was unique or collect materials to be used for the work. I used brown 'underlay' paper as my main medium and focused on papier mache forms of rocks and sticks. I found a really great stash of roots that had been dug up on a hiking trails, as well as rocks collected from local beaches.

Another big part of this project I should mention was working at the local junior high. What a blast. These kiddos had A LOT of energy and it was great to see them getting their hands dirty with papier mache. We also spent a bit of time outside checking out rocks, and at lunch some of the kids would come from the Junior high and hang out in my studio.

At the beginning of your residency you had no intentions of a final exhibition. In fact, you were un sure if there would be a final anything and that may just be a process. How did things evolve into a full fledged exhibition?

As I mentioned earlier, I often work in theatre, where spaces are typically all black. It was a challenge I put on myself as in the first couple weeks of the residency. I wanted to see how my work translated into white gallery walls. It also motivated me to look at the piles of experiments I had done with different materials and strip it down to what I thought was most interesting. Sometimes I would spend days on something and in the end it was obvious that it wasn’t really….functioning or evocative in anyway. sometimes one tiny sample of a big creation was all I liked, so it was really helpful to have a final exhibition to make me see the little sample of an idea holding as much meaning as the big thing I had created.

Most of what I did felt like beginnings of a bigger I could have done a 4 week residency on just one specific cardboard sculpture technique I used, but stripping away was my big take-away because it wasn't until the last few days leading up to the exhibition that I could see the next-level I could take things too, but time was up! Until the next project....(the exhibition date also helped me get my studio clean :))