Chris Dufour’s decision to enrol in the Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA) in 2017 turned out to be a good one. Based on an art piece he created in one of the classes offered by SOVA, he was chosen as regional winner representing the Yukon in the 16th BMO 1st Art! competition, an annual event that recognizes visual arts excellence amongst post-secondary and undergraduate-level students from across Canada.

He has won $7,500 and will be showcased from November 15 to December 8 at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto, along with 11 other regional winners and one national winner of the competition.

SOVA is a post-secondary art school located in Dawson City. The school offers students a Foundation Year Program, equivalent to the first year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree.

Dufour already holds a degree in Sustainability and Political Science from Dalhousie University in Halifax. The decision to go to SOVA to study visual arts, he said, was a gut feeling.

“I wanted to study visual arts and be in the North,” said Dufour. “There’s so much stimulation [in Dawson City] and you get to meet an incredible amount of people—there’s inspiration everywhere.”

Dufour’s winning submission, Commodity Chains, is a commentary on Yukon’s extraction industries—particularly forestry—and the entire life cycle of commodities. A lot of his activism, he said, centers around consumption.

“Materials aren’t as valuable as we think.”

A class assignment, in one of the courses Dufour took, revolved around the topic of reduction. Students had to come up with a “reduction sculpture.”

“You have an image of what you want to create in your head, then you take it away,” he said. “It switches your brain and is mind-boggling. What was in my mind wasn’t what came out in the end.”

His inspiration for the sculpture came to him one day while in the school building. He noticed 50-year-old encyclopedias sitting in a room, not being used. It made him think of the process of making commodities and how something that at one time was considered valuable, eventually can become ordinary trash.

Dufour took the encyclopedias and pressed them into a vice, making a large block. He then shaved off some of the paper and kept “reducing” the sculpture, using such tools as an axe, a blow torch and even snow to get to the end result.

Dufour and the other students then handed in their completed work. Three of the pieces, including Dufour’s, were chosen and then submitted to BMO 1st Art! to represent the Yukon. Dufour’s work ended up winning.

As a child, Dufour said he was quite artistic in his expression, but as an adolescent, he questioned his ability to create. He headed towards academia, instead, and earned his degree. But three years ago, he decided to get back into art.

Dufour feels that art is a creative process and is wary of going in the direction of making consumable art. He said he enjoys collage work, but is still figuring out his medium.

“I’ve been experimenting and working things out in the last few years,” he said.

“My art is reflective of moments and the headspace I’m in.”

He’s decided to take some time to figure out a plan and is considering continuing with schooling and looking at a potential masters program, in creative sustainability, in Finland.