Walk on the River Side

Looking for a sample of the vibrant range of media, forms and hues that contemporary Yukon artists are using?

At the 11th Yukon Riverside Arts Festival this Friday to Sunday, you can experience everything from building and flying a “creature” kite, to sewing a button on a Yukon-made button blanket, to playing a computer pinball game.

“The festival aims to be as inclusive as possible, presenting a wide variety of disciplines,” says Megan Graham, one of the Klondike Institute for Art and Culture (KIAC) staff organizing the weekend.

“This year, we specifically included installation artists in our call, which resulted in seven successful applications for that category.”

“It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” is an installation that’s also an intriguing example of the diversity of Yukon creativity.

Whitehorse artist and musician Amelia Merhar, 26, is displaying her video game in a bar, not yet determined at press time, on Saturday night.

“I modeled the video pinball game after the town of Dawson,” she says, who first spent a summer in that town when she was 19.

“There are so many bars, and in the summer you just bounce from bar to bar and place to place.”

She named the video for the atmosphere she felt in Dawson.

“The fire hall alarm and horn on the boat (S.S. Keno) would go at 5:00 p.m., so it always seemed like happy hour, and then the people drinking at the Pit at 10:00 in the morning would always be saying ‘it’s 5:00 o’clock somewhere’. So it just seemed appropriate.”

Merhar, who also plays ukulele and performs as Big Momma Lele and the Juicy Jugs, is looking forward to giving people a chance to try her game in the “arcade atmosphere of a Dawson bar.”

“I feel like it’s art imitating life and it’s going to a lot of fun,” she says.

Christine Spinder, also based in Whitehorse, is another interactive festival artist. She calls her kite-making project Flock.

On one level, the name is a reference to the connection people make with creatures that fly. But the title goes deeper, according to Spinder, who has an ongoing commitment to joining and studying community activism.

“There is an activity on the protest movement called flocking,” she explains, “where groups of people move like a flock of birds without a designated leader but while taking a coherent direction.”

The title of Spinder’s project alludes to that activity. It’s also just plain old fun to make and fly a kite.

Spinder, whose day job is working as the director of the Family Literacy Centre, says she helped adults and kids make about 80 kites at the Atlin Arts and Music Festival in July, before she ran out of materials.

This weekend, there will be a kite-making workshop on Saturday, and then at 4:00 pm everyone will fly their work.

“Being able to create a mass of kites that are linked can create quite a visual impact,” she says.

Rhoda Merkel, who teaches art and sewing in Yukons schools, is the creator of another colourful work.

Merkel is inviting the public to sew a button on the blanket and leave their comments on what they love about the Yukon in a book. About 180 people sewed a button on the blanket at Canada Day celebrations in Whitehorse, and another 50 or so at the recent Adäka Cultural Festival.

She started her “legacy” button blanket, as she calls it, back in June, using a number of materials, including wool and granite buttons in speckled shades of grey, black and white that were gifts from her mother.

“It’s a legacy project in the sense that whenever I intend to pass this on, there will be a showcase aspect to it,” she says. The comment book will also be there to see.

So far Merkel has dedicated over 100 hours of work to the blanket, and she thinks it will probably need 100 more before it is complete.

Raised in Whitehorse, Merkel is the granddaughter of George and Grace Edzerza of Telegraph Creek.

For her, there is a thread that connects the clan and family representations used by the coastal people in their button blankets and the cultural identity all Yukoners may identify through the images in the Yukon’s flag.

“I took the elements of the Yukon flag and picked some of the elements out and combined them into an image,” she says.

Merkel wants to encourage people’s awareness of the Yukon’s past and its way of life by increasing their awareness of the imagery in Yukon’s official symbols, such as mountains, rivers and the fur trade.

“The power is in the people,” she says. “The more people who sew a button on the blanket, the more powerful the blanket is.”

Merkel says she wants to finish the project by beading the representation of a raven head to use for the front button clasp of the blanket, where it will close below the wearer’s neck.

In its first years, the festival was “artists in tents offering opportunities for the public to see, make and buy art,” says KIAC Executive Director Karen Dubois.

“It seemed like a good way to revive Discovery Days and we hoped that the business community would see how the arts could benefit the community.”

While Dubois says the format of the festival has stayed somewhat the same, it has gradually transformed into a more diverse cultural offering, adding a local performers’ stage, kids’ activities, a gallery hop with eight participating galleries, film nights and workshops.

The ODD Gallery offers the Natural and the Manufactured art installations on the same weekend.

In the spirit of experimentation, the festival also includes a storytelling event called a Moth-up, a “sort of true stories told live” thing, which sounds right up Dawson’s alley. (See http://themoth.org/ for background on the concept.)

Of course, to paraphrase a quote, writing about art is like dancing about architecture. The best way to experience the colour and energy of the more than 30 participating artists, 20 musicians, and eight gallery venues is to get over to Dawson from August 11-14.

And if you’re already headed up the Klondike Highway for Discovery Days the same weekend, be sure to check out the action at the riverside.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top