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Carolyn Meili: A Parade through Guelph's History

Carolyn Meili by Cami BrenchleyPhoto by Cami Brenchley

Carolyn Meili, a local artist, curator, and arts management professional, has recently been announced as the City of Guelph’s fourth Artist in Residence. Over the course of the residency, Carolyn will gather a visual language of symbols with the help of Guelph’s residents. The community will be invited to contribute ideas, drawings, stories and pictures through various activities, discussions, surveys and social media campaigns, which will inform the design and construction of Carolyn’s contemporary artwork, The Parade.

Carolyn is a multidisciplinary artist, her practice focuses primarily on, sculpture and site-specific installation. Her work uses familiar everyday materials and found objects to confront the boundary between daily life and art. On her practice, Carolyn explained, “I’m trained in a wide range of artistic disciplines, which gives me a sort of toolbox for different projects. My training was a combination of classical and conceptual, so the idea often leads and the materials follow. I used to do performance art, but I realized what I really wanted to do was make the costumes. So my sculpture work has become much more costume based. I often think of them as sculptures that you perform in your mind. You imagine what they are like to be worn or activated.”

The residency explores Canada’s 150th birthday and the City’s 190th anniversary while encouraging reflection of Guelph’s collective history in a unifying way. “My artistic practice has always been about place and identity. I’ve lived in Guelph for 14 years, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere. So I really feel anchored here and very affectionate to this community. I’m a big walker. I’m always walking through town taking in details like architecture, people's behaviour, and everyday objects. So to work on a project that is so unique to the city is a great way for me to articulate all that gathering that’s been happening over the years.”

“I thought, what a great way to explore my interest in costume and symbols of place. I’m interested in how we form identity through symbols. The project I am doing for the city is a parade of wearable sculptures that all reflect some part of the Guelph experience. A mix of historical and contemporary experiences condensed down into very simple forms. These are then turned into costumes that can be worn or turned into small floats. Materially, they are very humble. There’s cardboard, duct tape, sewn fabric, lots of found bits.”

Carolyn has been working with our community to develop the ideas behind The Parade, she explained, “I’m doing a lot of outreach to the community during the project. I don’t want this vision of Guelph just to be my vision, but one of a collective. I know it can’t be comprehensive, that’s impossible. It’s a big thing to take on, in any way, to name an experience of the community. It's been great to have the community’s feedback and to take their ideas and transform them into my art pieces. I hope people will follow and contribute their ideas.”

“I feel a great responsibility to depict the city and its complex well. There are layers of history and politics, so there’s a lot of delicate things to balance. It also felt very important to have an indigenous voice in the project and recognize how fundamentally important that history is.”

Carolyn hopes that, “Through the experience of the work, people will have a broader sense of what art can be. And see that this community is complex and diverse, full of many different voices, and yet it comes together in this beautiful somewhat absurd cacophony of who we are. And that it's something to celebrate and be proud of.”

The wearable sculptures that will make up The Parade will be fashioned into an art exhibition, organized in a static, frozen-in-time parade, inside City Hall over Culture Days weekend, September 29 to October 1 with an artist talk with Carolyn Meili. You can also see The Parade in action at the Santa Clause Parade on November 19th.

For more information on The Parade and to contribute your ideas to the project visit, fb.me/TheParadeGuelph 

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