Eric Moschopedis and Mia Rushton are award winning interdisciplinary visual artists, facilitators, and community organizers. By combining the playfulness of childhood chums with the scrutiny of ethnographers, we create community-specific, relational, and participatory works that invite audiences to become active agents in the creation of community. Throughout the last eight years, we have developed a collaborative practice that operates in both a gallery and post-gallery context. Our projects, workshops, artist talks, and lectures have been presented in formal and DIY festivals, galleries, and post-secondary institutions throughout North America and in Europe.
As visual artists, our work crosses disciplinary boundaries and utilizes a number of materials and processes. We bring together elements of craft, performance, printmaking, and cultural geography, to create playful, but highly critical projects. Thematically our work is concerned with mapping communities, collecting and processing overlooked “information,” and investigating everyday systems of organization—those things that structure citizen’s experience of urban environments. The projects we create are strategically ephemeral and are designed to have resonating effects within temporary or established communities. Having a conversation with a stranger, eating a popsicle made of foraged ingredients, or napping at the base of a public monument, for example, are lived actions—experiences that can precipitate dialogue and affect social or spatial change. The form of representation our work takes is ever-changing and is generated in response to specific sites, groups of people, socio-economic conditions, and extensive research. To date we have created interventions, printed material, temporary public art, and durational art objects. Our projects are multi-layered with frameworks designed to repeat and generate new content in different locations. In this way, the structure of the projects remains constant, but the reflection of each community we engage is wholly unique. We are interested in how performance can be used as a tool for social action and we are fully committed to creating community through performance.
Our work is as much conceptual as it is rooted in real world consequences. We address issues of social importance and ground them, quite literally, in physical space. For instance, with our first collaborative work, "Z's by the C: a Radical Crafting and Public Napping Project" (2008), we sought to challenge mean-spirited anti-loitering legislation by legitimizing, if only temporarily, sleeping in public under the protection of art. We saw the by-laws as not only an affront to the civil liberty and basic human rights of society’s marginalized and fatigued citizens, but also, an attack on public dreaming. By combining craft and intervention, we encouraged participants to act against the by-laws by creating a personalized sleeping mask and napping en masse in the city. "Z's by the C" was presented in Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Zurich, and New York City between 2008-2010. This seminal project established a trope that now runs throughout our work: using playful, performative gestures as a means for social misbehaviour and creating critical civic discourse.
We feel, as artists and as citizens, that the physical space necessary for citizenship is as important as the idea of citizenship itself. The concept of citizenship is foremost in our practice and our work aims to actively engage participants in performing this role. “Imaginary Ordinary: A Community Mapping Project” (2009), created in collaboration with Laura Leif, transformed a derelict storefront into an active community gathering space for three adjoining neighbourhoods north of Calgary’s downtown. Residents were invited to meet one another, participate or initiate their own programmed events, collect unnoticed elements from the community on "bingo cards," or simply hang out and drink free tea. Open seven days a week, “Imaginary Ordinary” sought to map a community based on shared geography, as opposed to shared demographics or ideals. We sought to bring participants’ own identities and actions into play within the work to create new relationships between people, ideas, and the spaces they inhabited. Over the course of four months several thousand people participated in “Imaginary Ordinary”.
"Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor," which debuted at the 2013 Alberta Biennial curated by Nancy Tousley, deepened our investigation into how cities, neighbourhoods, and people are affected by the places they live. Through a series of performative gestures, “Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor” responds to the social and geographical context of a city and the distribution of a city’s indigenous and planted flora. By collecting vegetation from several communities in a city and processing these ingredients into edible art objects—popsicles—we are creating a performance for a highly specific and intimate site: the participant’s mouth. With “Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor” we are instigating a discussion about economics, ecology, and place by tasting class difference and geography. The community-specific nature of this work has allowed us to present it in different cities and within various contexts and formats: as a walking tour, mobile ‘pop-up’ shop, and gallery installations. With each iteration of the project we have prepared small publications to accompany the popsicles. The publications are a mixture of drawings, recipes, and personal narratives that provide fodder for future considerations about citizenship and community. Since February 2013, “Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor” has been presented in Edmonton, Charlottetown, Toronto, and Montreal.
Although we work largely outside of the gallery, the gallery as a site of presentation has become of real interest to us. In 2011, we began a year of research with the expressed purpose of learning how to translate ephemeral social engagement into static art objects that could be presented in formal art gallery settings. The series "Because even under the cover of darkness we are haunted by the past”—a durational text-based quilting project—is one of several works that we created during this time period. The process of the project is as important as the objects that we create. By interviewing select individuals we are able to learn about their lives, memories, and future aspirations. From these highly intimate encounters we generate a statement about the person—for instance, “A body for bears/a body for lightning”—and integrate it into a quilt. The quilts themselves are physical objects that document a memory or possible future for an individual and are forever co-owned by the participant and us. The participant keeps the quilt, uses it as they see fit, and repairs it as needed. For our part we get to borrow the quilts back for public exhibition (as we did in 2012 for an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Calgary). To document the quilts as they were originally created (knowing they will deteriorate over time), we created performative photographs of the quilts. The photographic representations of the quilts are more a type of portraiture, than they are documentation. The quilts in the photographs are surrogates. They are standing in place of and physically obscuring the person who the quilt is about. The photographs are the public face of a largely private art object (the quilts) and representations of a much larger process of social engagement. The photographs have been purchased by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and collected by private individuals.
In addition to our creative practice, we are actively involved in the Calgary arts community. We are regularly invited to participate in public art selection committees, governmental granting juries, provide artist talks, and sit on boards of directors for artist-run-organizations and artist support networks. For two years beginning in 2011, we managed the Seafood Market Studio—a 15,000 square-foot building that housed fifty-artists across all disciplines and stages of development. As evidence of our peer recognition beyond our on-the-ground contribution to the community, we have been awarded several municipal, provincial, and federal grants through a peer-juried process. In 2013, we were honoured to win the inaugural MacLachlan Family Community Beacon Award for our commitment to creating social engagement and community-specific art works. The $5000 award was presented by Mayor Naheed Nenshi, at the Mayors Lunch for Arts Champions and was used to publish "Knock on Any Door (A Revised History): Art and Social Engagement in Calgary, 1912-2012”.