By Meghan Power
Kevin and Jamie applied for Calgary Arts Development (CADA) funding with the intention of working with the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre to help them with building a bank of contemporary art rooted in Chinese culture. “We felt a connection between our pop art minimalist style to create young, modern, unique digital art, based on the traditional images of the Chinese Zodiac. We created images in what we call a paper cut-out style which adds dimension and lends a playful, whimsical energy to the pieces. We wanted to create art for the Centre that reflected their vibrancy and appeal to a younger demographic, new members of the community, and of course be social media friendly.”
Part of the project Kevin and Jamie worked on also included a sculpture of one of the most recognizable creatures of the Chinese zodiac — the dragon. A mixed media sculpture, the dragon is about 5 feet long and 4 feet high. The sculpture is built in two pieces, because it is so long, being able to dismantle it into two sections makes it easier to display and transport. The dragon is done in their signature-style but is also illuminated — Kevin and Jamie call their illuminated sculptures night-lights. “They kind of look like those night lights we had as kids — they’re a little cartoon-y with bright colours. For this sculpture we used Lexan, LED’s, wood and vinyl. We try to use up-cycled materials when possible,” explains Kevin.
According to Jamie, they first started making this illuminated style of sculpture in 2021. “The first sculptures we made were of various Chinese fruits and vegetables. We received funding from the regional municipality of Wood Buffalo and the finished sculptures were part of the Ignight: Art Illuminated festival. We also took some time at Fuse 33 Makerspace to work on production.
Kevin and Jamie feel this project happened at an auspicious time — the City of Calgary has released an initiative called Tomorrow’s Chinatown, a first-of-its-kind program in Calgary consisting of three community-informed projects that will help the community move forward into the future. “We feel that these original digital art works offer a way to reimagine tradition. Beyond the familiar, but familiar at the same time,” says Kevin. “Reimagining the image gives way for new interpretations — the outward facing package, so to speak, is new and different but stories and symbolism rooted in the traditional image are still there.”
“The funding offered by CADA to artists like us is important, because it is often a challenge for individual artists to unlock private sector funding and without funding many projects would never come to fruition,” says Jamie. “Funding like this also helps artists and communities create together. Kevin and I come from the mindset that when it comes to community art it should be collaborative, not prescriptive.”
“And,” adds Kevin, “these community-based art projects are like stepping stones to future projects, collaborations, and relationships that create more connectedness, vibrancy, and energizes communities, which in turn draws people in and creates more opportunities for engagement.”