focus of this body of work is a mythic/real community and mythic/real
-- Patricia Brennan
Arkangels, both mythological and human, have captured the reverence and imagination of a rich and varied audience wherever they have appeared. Throughout the creation of the Guardian and Arkangel collection, the presence of one Arkangel inspired the creation of another, until the entire flock emerged as inseparable reminders of the journey.
Ambassadors of human connection, the arkangel collection has been creatively received around the world and at home by dreamers, dancers, doers, artists, musicians and children alike.
the company of Masks, Miniatures and Floating Stones from the artist's
entire body of work, the Arkangels made their first public appearance
en masse at the Galerie D'Art Du Centre Culturel, in Drummondville, Quebec.
At the invitation of Andre Dupont,
friend to the Artists' Guild and director of the Galerie, the four week
installation became a celebration of unity, diversity, immense hospitality
and lasting friendships.
To guide and protect the Quebec Arkangel premiere, snow sculptors Pierre Tessier and Suzanne Ricard were asked to choose a suitable Guardian model from their own community. The pair elected Jacques Rittweger deMoor, favorite uncle and respected advisor to the Quebec Artists Guild, as a fitting Guardian (III) for the exhibit.
The installation was poetic - a pronounced V-formation heading out of the studio inspired by large flocks of geese homing in on the wetland sanctuary at Trois Rivieres. Amused by the voices of inquisitive children filing through the gallery, the artist demonstrated her particular skill for capturing arkangel energy on a work in progress.
Original biographies of the Guardians and mythologies for the first installation of the Arkangels were inspired by the artist and aided by friends from Ontario and Quebec.
Following an invitation from Georgi (Yurah) Kilkevitch , owner of Katran Film Studios and of the Moscow Circus, the Arkangels and Guardians prepared to tour Moscow, Odessa and Leningrad. Russian Arkangels and Guardians became a natural extension of the collection, to capture the hearts and minds of a fiercely patriotic Russian audience.
Serendipitously, the Kirov had started to tour following Perestroika, and the Vaganova Ballet Academy (shool of the Kirov) was scheduled to appear outside Russia for the first time in 283 years. On invitation from the Governor of Ohio, company and school embarked upon a five-city tour in 1991, presenting a perfect opportunity to arrange the sittings for the Russian arkangel portraits needed for the Russian installations. Enter the impetuous Ian Robertson , lifetime ballet student and Canadian teacher trained by the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Leningrad. Ian leapt at the opportunity to reunite with his beloved teachers, artistic directors Natalia Dudinskaya and Konstantin Sergeyev, securing their agreement to sit for Guardian portraits and acting as translator to the artistic process.
So began an eventful 2 week 'head-hunting' tour across the state of Ohio, hot on the heels of the Vaganova Ballet Academy. An RV was fashioned into a sculpting studio, of sorts. Guardian models Dudinskaya and Sergeyev chose to accompany the sculpting entourage, preferring the novel comforts of the RV to those of the tour bus. At the gracious invitation of Dr. Louis Zona, their two Guardian portraits were begun in the studio of the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. As mythical inspiration by these Arkangels is undeniably infectious, Dr. Zona also took a few rare, peaceful moments to provide a portrait sitting as well. Incongruous memories abound from this tour -- poolside sculpting sessions at a Toledo hotel; dining on seafood and champagne in a service station en route to Cincinatti while awaiting a flat tire repair! Eventful, ambassadorial and enlightening, the Ohio tour gave Russian visitors a chance to experience many delights of capitalist freedom.
Hence the Guardians and Arkangels extended their ranks to include international influences from the world of ballet.
Georgi (Yurah) Kilkeyevich, owner of Circus Moscow, had a vision to take the Guardians and Arkangels on an extended tour of three Russian cities, during 1991/92. Danny Grossman's Dance Company was programmed to perform in the same venue. Grand in scale and intent, the tour was destined for Moscow, Leningrad, Odessa and ultimately, Fjaltring in Denmark.
And so, with photos barely developed and clay barely fired from the Ohio sculpting tour, two key ballet Arkangels were packed foam-in-place into musicians' drum cases. On an Arts Abroad grant from the Ontario Arts Council, they were flown halfway around the world for a pre-exhibition reconaissance trip. A warm welcome and generous hospitality greeted the Canadian advance team, as they explored the proposed venues and expanded the possibilites of the tour.
An up close and intimate view of Russian life was provided on this trip, taken shortly before the collapse of the USSR. A month's worth of meat coupons wasrequired to feed the group for 5 days! All hosts extended exceptional warmth and sincerity, in spite of their often sparse communal lifestyle.
The Russian pre-exhibition tour concluded with a memorable train ride across northern Europe, to the Tuskaer Gallery and Tukak Theatre in Fjaltring, Denmark, where Theatre Director Reidar Nilsson was patiently waiting to plan the last stop on the Guardians & Arkangels overseas tour.
The USSR collapsed three months after the advance tour to Russia. Amid the resulting political and financial strife, the early enthusiasm and resources for the tour dissipated. Without this inspiring reconaissance tour however, many Russian figures in the Arkangel and Guardian flock would never have been realised. Articles about the tour appeared in Ukita Skaya Gazedta, a Russian teacher's newspaper (circ. 300,000).
The Arkangel sculptures of the Russian ballet greats Oleg Vinogradov and Inna Zubkovskaya remained in Russia for quite some time. They were finally escorted safely home a year later by two other Russian models, Serge Scalon and Irina Kalishnikova -- just in time for their next appearance.
Artist/collector and Arkangel model Dennis Lukas took a great interest in the success of the Arkangel and Guardian work from its inception. In 1990 he peaked the interest of Mary Rashleigh, director of the Grimsby Art Gallery, who agreed to sponsor an Arts Abroad grant for the Russian reconaissance trip, in return for a Guardian and Arkangel installation at the Grimsby Art Gallery.
Mary was well known for introducing many innovative artists and ideas through her gallery. Here again, Arkangels From Earth drew upon the community it entered, and was greeted by a celebratory performance by the Grimsby choir at the opening.
A moving opening speech was highlighted by the introduction of Sergei Scalon and Irina Kalishnikova, who had tenaciously and finally succeeded in returning the two stranded Arkangel portraits home from Leningrad. The Grimsby Art Gallery was the scene of a festive reunion celebration among well-wishers, friends and patrons of the arts.
Arkangels from Earth, the comprehensive show, finally took place on home ground, Arcadia Artists' Co-Op, Toronto in 1993. The first artists' Co-op of its kind in Canada, Arcadia is a Harbourfront home to many of the kind and gracious people who supported the Arkangel body of work - a unique gathering of professionals in all disciplines of the arts, from music to film, media to dance, and the fine arts.
Capturing the passion and imagination of the community in which they were born, the Arkangels inspired musician friends Michael Baker, Dennis Lukas and Jeff Collinson to compliment the installation with their original musical compositions. A unique celebration of the Arkangels' homecoming was attended by over 250 people, many of whom had facilitated and assisted with installations elsewhere.
Apart from occasional 'partial' migrations, the flock of Arkangels From Earth finally alit in their home studio for a rest much needed in light of the tour de force yet to come.
From sculpture to performance, the two processes unite so successfully that something entirely new is created -- such was the birth of the Arkangel Drum Dance.
In celebration of the Algoma Fall Festival in 1996, a unique endeavour was launched that would take over 18 months and the involvement of no less that 52 talented individuals to make manifest. Initiated by Marguerite Lippert, a unique combination of traditional native arts, dancing, drumming and Arkangels was conceived from a parallel Mexican work in progress.
The Performance For The Spirit Of The Great Lakes tells the story of a Wise Woman, whose cries of lamentation over the loss of the fertile untouched land of her youth reach the ears of the Arkangels of the Seven Directions. The arkangels fly to the 'The Heart Of The World' in Sault Ste. Marie, to offer their help in rekindling her vision of the land from long ago. Revealing their talents, one by one, the Seven Arkangels call forth an eighth, the Warrior Arkangel, danced by James Roach, who leads the community in its act of restoration. The story concludes with a celebratory dance to the renewed and abundant Earth.
Thus through a strong and unifying collaboration of native and non-native dancers, musicians, choreographers, set designers and directors, the Arkangel Drum Dance was born. The presentation supported and presented by the Art Gallery of Algoma under its director Michael Burtch.
Performed to an audience of 3000 people over three nights, the mystical story drummed by native drummers and performed in authentic native dress transformed the White Pines Theatre in Sault St. Marie. Transporting their audience back to magical, mythical times, the men, women and children of the Batchewana Band of the Ojibway danced an unforgettable display of movement, colour and sound with riveting shamanic intensity. The resounding success of this performance may be measured by the life-long friendships found in the process, and in the way in which the Arkangel Drum Dance established an important place for traditional arts and customs in an ever-changing world.
And perhaps that is the gift of the Guardians and Arkangels as a collective work. They remind us that the spirit of both the individual and the community are innate qualities, and that the collective exists to serve the talents of each individual -- and that those talents, being seen, given voice -- will heal the community.
© 2001. The Arkangel Project.