Bonavista Biennale 2019

Geodesic, geological, aquatic and structural are terms that describe some of the artworks in Bonavista Biennale 2019. Nomad, Afronaut, cheerleader and storyteller describe the artists behind the work. This year’s event is a stimulating floe of ideas.
— Catherine Beaudette, Founder and Curator

Bonavista Biennale 2019 - FLOE runs until September 15, 2019 on the east coast of Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost province. The month-long contemporary art exhibition features works by 21 artists from Newfoundland, Labrador, other parts of Canada and the U.S. Visitors follow a 100-kilometre loop along the coast of the Bonavista Peninsula, encountering artworks at more than 20 indoor and outdoor sites including abandoned fishery buildings, historic structures, heritage houses and the landscape.

Meghan Price ,  New Balance 4 , 2017. Structure design and craft using recycled materials

Meghan Price, New Balance 4, 2017. Structure design and craft using recycled materials

This year’s lineup includes up-and-coming Indigenous artists such as Jordan Bennett, Meagan Musseau and Mark Igloliorte, and senior artists at the height of their careers, including Ian Carr-Harris, Thaddeus Holownia, Paulette Phillips and Governor General’s Award-winner Wanda Koop.In addition to Beaudette, 2019 curators are David Diviney, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and Matthew Hills, Director and Curator at Grenfell Art Gallery, Memorial University in Newfoundland. U.S. artists include Anna Hepler, Bob Blumer, Sean Patrick O’Brien and Maria M. Campos-Pons, who curated this year’s Havana Biennial.  

Jordan-Bennett ,  Pi’tawe’k , 2019, Photo: Brian Ricks

Jordan-Bennett, Pi’tawe’k, 2019, Photo: Brian Ricks

The island of Newfoundland sits in its own time zone, a six-hour ferry ride from mainland Canada. It is strategically located on migratory and trade routes that have for centuries linked the cultures and commodities of mainland North America and Europe. The province’s colonial history and economy were rooted in the cod fishery, owned and operated by English, French, Portuguese and other fishing and mercantile companies at different periods over 500 years. Originally inhabited by the Beothuk, Mi’kmaq, Innu and Inuit peoples, Newfoundland is now largely populated by the descendants of the British and Europeans who came to work in the fishery, as well as a smaller Indigenous population. 

After the 1992 collapse of Newfoundland’s cod stock, the bottom fell out of the fishing-based economy. Suddenly jobless, many people, especially younger islanders, moved to the mainland to find work. Coastal communities were particularly hard-hit. The Bonavista Peninsula, a rural area, is a case in point: Once populated with thriving fishing communities, it was left with empty houses, a diminished and aging population, and poor prospects for its future. Now, the Peninsula is a place in transition, like so many rural areas around the world where environmental and economic factors are permanently changing a way of life. 

Click on Map for details of venues.

Click on Map for details of venues.

Cultural initiatives such as the Bonavista Biennale are contributing to the rise of “off-centres” as desirable, viable places to live, thrive and create—sparking new economic opportunities, commodities and population growth. The idea of bringing artists to the Peninsula as a form of economic renewal and social change began in 2012 with 2 Rooms Contemporary Art Projects, founded by Catherine Beaudette. Once a saltbox house built in 1881, now a gallery, museum and artist residence, 2 Rooms was created to attract new people to the Bonavista Peninsula. In 2017, the idea expanded to bring a greater number of artists and engage more communities in a large-scale event.

This historical, geographical and cultural context is both unique and central to the Bonavista Biennale, informing themes and concepts, the choice of exhibition sites and the visitor experience. While the ideas and issues that engage Biennale artists and audiences have local origin and relevance, they are also of global interest and concern—issues such as the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change, the decline of rural communities, the effects of colonization and the erosion of cultural traditions. 

The second iteration of the Bonavista Biennale, FLOE (re)considers the history of exchange and dialogue throughout the broader North Atlantic seaboard, while acknowledging the histories and cultures of the Indigenous peoples of the province. Tracing this north-south passage—with its fluid borders—Biennale artists will present artworks that resonate with distinct qualities of place as they investigate this past and look to its future possibilities.The word “floe” can be defined, of course, as “a large area of ice floating in the sea.” In considering possible themes for the 2019 Biennale, this was one that the curators kept coming back to. Beyond capturing the imagination, “floe” connects the Biennale to a certain place in the world, responding directly to Newfoundland’s special geographic position. It also implies movement, relating to the examination of the history of dialogue and exchange. These multiple readings allow for different points of entry into the work being exhibited in 2019.

The inaugural 2017 Biennale tested the potential for an on-going, rural-based, national art event—unique in Atlantic Canada and significant within the Canadian cultural landscape. It delivered tangible, measurable economic, social and cultural benefits to the area and its residents. Bonavista Biennale 2019 builds on this initial success, continuing to give Biennale-goers—artists, visitors and local communities—new ways to see, experience and engage with the world.

Until September 15, 2019

Tomorrow, Art North’s Contributing Editor (N. America), Risa Horowitz, will report on her visit to the Biennale, with a further update to appear in our winter edition of the magazine.