By: Kolby Kostyniuk
For the viewer that takes out their phone to snap a pic, it’s unlikely that at the 2013 Nuit Blanche Ottawa + Gatineau (NBOG) they weren’t lit up by the giant lamp on William St. between York and George. Standing in the dark street, Alejandra Vera’s Nightlight was a highlight at the 2013 NBOG (pun intended). The alien object required the participation of wandering viewers, inviting them to take part in the art making process. In this case, using flash photography to activate the illumination of the lamp; adding light and energy to the sleepless night.
As an emerging Ottawa based artist, NBOG was a space for Vera’s to bring together her interest in community and her practise. Vera says, “I think festivals like Nuit Blanche are excellent for both artists and the community. It fosters space for people to learn about contemporary art, and for the artists to explore working on something ephemeral and hopefully outside their regular practice.” Born in Ecuador, Alejandra Vera travelled to Canada to receive her BFA from NSCAD University in painting and sculpture, and now her work mostly fluctuates between painting, sculpture and installation. However, Vera is more interested in the way ideas shift between media and types of art, and currently doesn’t find herself attached to any particular medium. Unbound, her focus is the holistic relationship between the medium, space, and viewer. Vera says, “I like exploring the preconceived ideas viewers bring to the works when they think about painting or sculpture; in other words I am interested in the space between what you see and what your mind knows.”
Driven by its participatory nature, Nightlight is exemplary in displaying Vera’s conscious consideration of the gap between what you see and know, relating shape and scale, location, material, and predicted behaviour based on popular culture. Interested in the materials and forms related to our urban environment, Nightlight was inspired by the reflective paper used in road signs. This reflective paper was something that caught Vera’s attention right away when walking the streets at night, but it seems more importantly Vera was “interested in creating an experience mediated by technology that would reflect on our everyday life and behaviours.”
Typically involved in gallery installation and display, Vera took to creating Nightlight for the public space with aptitude. Concerned with really knowing the space she works with, Vera enjoys the process of working outdoors or in public spaces. She says, “it requires that I take everything into consideration: the audience, the characteristics of the exact location, and the connection the work has to that time and place.” In the gallery, there can be more control over the space, and your audience is typically more directly engaged. When creating for public or outdoor spaces, it was important for Vera to understand the movement of the viewer, the dynamics of the environment, and the changing light in the space. In organizing her piece, Vera had to communicate with local business owners; getting them to turn off their lights and signs for a night. When setting up outdoors, the few complications were manageable; Vera had freedom to take control of the piece and space, and the festival was open to the process and change that naturally comes with developing such contemporary work. Participating in a pop-up festival like NBOG, and working with something ephemeral and somewhat outside her regular practise was an invaluable experience.
Make sure to visit Alejandra Vera’s website and check out more of her work.
Kolby Kostyniuk is working on a BFA within the Department of Film, Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Regina.