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Art in the Open: a Sneak Preview

Late last summer, for a single evening, downtown Charlottetown was transformed.

There were sounds you don’t normally hear and sights you don’t normally see: poems in the street and a human crow parade and magical TV towers. Charlottetown’s first-ever festival of public art showcased not only the creativity and theatrical flair of this little city, but also its green spaces and the charm and possibility of its varied urban landscapes.

It was Art in the Open: a hands-on discovery extravaganza.

And this coming Saturday, August 25th, from 4pm to midnight, all over historic downtown Charlottetown, it’s happening again. All over Victoria Park, Rochford Square, Connaught Square, Victoria Row, and the Confederation Centre, Art in the Open will be back for an entirely new collection of magic. There will be installations, performance art, theatre, dance, portable sculpture: a whole array of new transformations waiting to make Charlottetown come alive for another evening of experiential art.

And in the middle of it – ready for you to walk right in – will be the Wonderland Labyrinth, collaborative partnership of visual artists Lori Joy Smith and Catherine Miller.

Catherine and Lori both make beautiful, whimsical things. Long-time friends, they’ve joined creative forces for the first time with the creation of Wonderland Labyrinth: a world of soft marvelous creatures and wind-blown walls. And very stylish animals.

Scaled to big and small alike, Wonderland Labyrinth is a children’s fantasy made real: an exploratory space of touchable toadstools and magic rabbits, where tiny slugs smile up at you from fabric logs and even the rocks are adorably cute.

Large and small, EVERYthing is cute.

I got to visit the inhabitants of Wonderland Labyrinth and their creators and talk a little about Art in the Open and their inspiration for this year’s installation. Lori was busy wrapping a barbamama with genuine Island wool blanket ends from MacAusland’s Woolen Mills, while Catherine fixed a fluffy tail to a nattily dressed bunny.

1. Lori, how did you get involved in Art in the Open?

Catherine approached me with her idea of a labyrinth back in the spring. She wanted to build a large 60′ by 60′ fabric labyrinth filled with creatures and animals. I loved her idea and was really excited about the thought of a collaboration with her. Catherine’s work tends to be big and bold, where I like to work small and intimate. It’s been a great experience trying to blend the two. I feel we’ve done a great job.

2. You have indeed…all the critters are full of personality. What’s your most vivid memory of last year’s Art in the Open?

I think the bonfires in Victoria Park are my most vivid memory from last year. It’s hard to say tho, because it was such a magical night. It felt like everywhere you looked there was art and people. There were people riding story telling bikes, the crow parade, DIY t-shirt in the park… the cannons wrapped in blankets. It was great to see Charlottetown so alive.

3. What inspired you and Catherine to create your particular installation for this year’s show?

Catherine came up with the main idea, but it has grown and developed as we’ve worked on it together these past couple of months. We wanted to make it a Wonderland for kids. We’ve drawn inspiration from the books we loved as kids to create some of the characters, Beatrix Potter books, Wind in the Willows, Moomin books by Jove Hansen and the barbapapas, to name a few. It’s been fun working together on this and truly a collaboration. We worked on each piece together. Catherine did most of the sewing and I knit most of my pieces. We took turns sewing the almost 100 fabric panels though… that’s seriously a lot of fabric!

And it’s seriously a grand collaboration.

Even the garlic is cute.

Come on out, Charlottetown, on Saturday August 25th, and enjoy the magic of Wonderland Labyrinth and all of Art in the Open. Help the city – and this fabulous installation – come alive.

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