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Interview: Jason de Haan

The young Canadian artist talks about his recent trip to the Arctic Circle and what's up next

by Jonah Samson
on 05 November 2012
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Canadian artist Jason de Haan's star has been shining brightly this year. After being shortlisted for the prestigious Sobey Art Award (Canada's largest prize for young artists) earlier this year, the young, multidisciplinary artist is currently part of a touring exhibition on view in his home province of Alberta, as well as a show at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto. On top of this de Haan has just returned from an artist's residency aboard a vessel traveling through the Norwegian Arctic Circle. To learn more about this recent nautical adventure and what de Haan has in store for the future we caught up with the busy artist to ask him a few questions.

What drew you to the Arctic Circle Residency?

In 2008 I participated in the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture residency in Dawson City, Yukon in Northern Canada, and returned to that town several times afterwards. It's a great program, and I found a love for northern color, bleakness and history. Also, I'm from Edmonton, which was really built up as a gateway to the North about 100 years ago, so I think there was always a bit of a pull in that direction. I've made some work in the past that was loosely nautical. Much of my past work has also been about allowing natural and/or environmental conditions to determine the completion (or in some cases the ongoing development) of a work or action. These were some of the reasons that led to my interest in the Arctic Circle program. It seemed to be a good fit for me.

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What was your particular goal, and what was your experience?

Actually, my goal was to be flexible during the two weeks on the boat, and to try not to concentrate on production of a finished work, but rather to really absorb the environment and the experience of it. Like a number of others who were also participating, I was wary of simply using the landscape as a backdrop for my work. I chose to write as much as possible and to be patient with the experience. I'm not yet sure where it will lead—but I like that.

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With a lot of your work, like the crystalized salt beard, the golden rings and your large collages, you seem to embrace the magical and nostalgic. What are some of the common ideas that fuel your projects?

Generally I work from project to project, alternating the medium and employing a range of strategies to realize works that range from the small and ephemeral, to more traditional gallery works, to broader, site-specific installations and open-ended propositions within natural and unnatural formats. I'm interested in looking at uncertain and unexpected spaces that are able to yield a multitude of possibilities. Also of interest are propositions regarding time, monument, architectural space and potentiality. I am concerned with the flexibility of both natural systems and man-made systems, and the ways in which they can be altered. I am interested in introducing personal narrative and emotion into conceptual and minimal art forms, as well as in experiencing sculpture beyond a material within space.

Your agenda looks pretty busy now that you've been named one of five finalists for the Sobey award. What's on the horizon?

I have an exhibition running until the end of November at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, Alberta. That show will travel in a couple different incarnations over the next year—first to the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Galley in Ontario and then to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. I'm working on a monograph that will accompany these exhibitions. The Sobey Art Award exhibition is up at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto until the end of the year.

Right now I'm working on a print project for a great new publication called "Millions" that's put together by Tony Romano and Claire Greenshaw in Toronto. I'm also developing work for a group exhibition in the UK that stems from a project called "Corbin Union" that I'm involved in with a good friend of mine, Warren McLachlan. Miruna Dragan and I will be presenting a collaborative video work at the Art Gallery of Alberta in January called "The Wood and Wave Each Other Know." This summer I'll be completing the second year of my MFA at Bard. A lot to look forward to in the coming year!

For more information on Jason de Haan's work visit Canada's Clint Roenisch Gallery where he is currently represented.

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