Art On The Rocks: Bonavista Biennale Brings Local and International Art To Unexpected And Amazing Locations

In the late summer of 2017, a month-long contemporary art exhibition unlike anything else existing in Newfoundland launched on the Bonavista peninsula. Born of an artist and curators love for her summer home of Duntara (population 30 as of the last census), informed by Fogo Islands successful arts tourism strategy, and supported by enough people both on the peninsula and beyond to manifest the idea, The Bonavista Biennale was born.

Catherine Beaudette, founder of the Biennale, is a professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design in the winter. She has been running the improbable magic that is Two Rooms Contemporary Arts Project in a salt box house near the ocean in Duntara for several summers now. Bought in 2008 and renovated in 2012, the house has become both a gallery and a sort of experimental, thought-provoking museum. Now it is the headquarters of the Biennale as well.

Image borrowed from  OCAD University

Image borrowed from OCAD University

Beaudette herself is a Wizard of Oz type character (in a good way), her machine like-work ethic, dedication and talent creating an event that is much more than the sum of its parts. Initially working with fewer resources than would be desirable, she cobbled together a professional and world-class event, giving no clue that 'behind the curtain' was one woman doing what would take many events a well funded, cushy boardroom of staff to accomplish.

Sharing the work with co-curators and crew in both the first Biennale and the upcoming 2019 event, Beaudette and company are building on a model of arts tourism that has been successful on Fogo Island. The idea is to bring in a kind of tourism which lures higher spending visitors, essentially making more money from fewer people thus maximizing gain while minimizing the impact on the community. And doing it through events that add value to the area rather than exploiting it.

Will Gill's offering, The Green Chair, was arguably the most popular piece from 2017, with Reinhard  Reitzenstien's Waiting/Watching/Waiting a close second. The site-specific nature of the art compounded its expressive power, the interaction between the works and the landscape creating a feedback loop of narrative far deeper than conventional art display divorced from context. Newfoundlands rugged shores proved the perfect gallery for artistic pondering, and these works ask some poignant questions.

Reitzensteins Waiting/Watching/Waiting

Reitzensteins Waiting/Watching/Waiting

The Green Chair has since been washed away by the ocean, but Reitzenstein's upside down trees still stand. This years theme, FLOE, investigates the flow of ideas to and from Newfoundland as an isolated island placed on a busy seaboard, connected but alone at once. Also explored is the obscuring of Indigenous knowledge by colonial systems. The genius of such an intimate exercise involving artists from here and away is that only when we examine the familiar with both expert and fresh eyes do we get a picture close to the truth.

Contemporary art is a term that can raise anxiety among the uninitiated, but thoughtful curating in 2017 garnered works that pushed boundaries yet remained accessible to those outside the gallery world. Exciting local artists such as Meagan Musseau, Jordan Bennett, Kym Greeley and Jason Holley in the 2019 line up promise an equally relevant, challenging and fun exhibition. The 2019 Bonavista Biennale runs from August 17 to September 15, situated in wild, unexpected and culturally significant locations along the Bonavista Peninsula.