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Bears help produce art in collaborative effort with Regina artist

A wild new exhibit for art and animal enthusiasts

YORKTON – The Godfrey Dean Art Gallery opened with a wild new exhibit over the weekend.

Regina artist Jeff Meldrum's 'Art for Animals' is a "playful commentary on land and ecology," as noted in the exhibit's press release.

Meldrum has spent the past four years capturing images of wildlife alongside his artistic structures.  In an interview with Yorkton This Week, Meldrum explained his process and how it came to fruition.

"I have a small quarter section of land along the Fort-a-la-Corne forest," said Meldrum, adding, "it's in treaty six territory near the confluence of the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers- east of Prince Albert."

"There's bears, elk, moose, deer- all sorts of critters that come through," said Meldrum of the types of wildlife his artistic pieces display.  

"I started by putting some sculptures out there and setting up trail cameras to take photos of the animals interacting with the sculptures, and that process became more complex," said Meldrum, adding, "I work with humor a lot- in particular I work with satire because it allows me to make critiques about things without being too direct."

Meldrum's use of satire is validated in his arrangement of an oversized cheque that had been covered in lard and presented to bears as a fee for their collaborative efforts.

"I think the cheque is my favourite because it is quite humorous," said Meldrum, noting, "I presented the bears with an artists fee to see if they wanted to collaborate with me," adding, "it was sort of a tongue-in-cheek way of deciding whether or not the bears wanted to collaborate." 

With the bears signed on to participate, Meldrum began to work with them.  He came up with with what he referred to as a modular sculpture.

"I set up an initial form of the sculpture, and then the bears came in and kind of messed it up- and then I would reconfigure it based on what they did.  It was sort of this back and forth between me and the bears, which is definitely kind of inspired by their inquisitive nature and how they've destroyed previous sculptures of mine."

"I just wanted to be a little bit more direct with this one, and actually try and make something with the bears as opposed to just putting something in their habitat and imposing something upon them."

Meldrum said he would seldom see the animals during his time spent in the forest, but recognized that they were always close by.

"I'm always surprised at how the animals are around but stay out of your reach," adding that the bears dismantled the sculpture a mere four hours after he had set it up.  

The process of setting up the structures and gathering photos took time.  

"I don't live there, so I kind of just have to set up the sculpture and then go back in a months time or two months time and see what's on the camera," said Meldrum.  "I probably go through a thousand photos for every one that's in the exhibition here."

Meldrum said he also takes the time to retouch the photos, as the raw images aren't always in pristine condition.

"The photos don't get a super crisp image, but I do go in and spend a lot of time in Photoshop touching them up," adding, "the camera has an internal algorithm for deciding focus and exposure, so sometimes that's quite off from what it should have been."

Meldrum said his collaborative efforts with the wildlife of the north isn't limited to bears.  

"I've been starting to collaborate with the beavers a little bit," noting,"last summer I set up a trail camera at a beaver dam and was doing some work with the beavers there- helping them to create their dam."

Meldrum summarized the purpose of his exhibit and voiced his apprehensions about continuing on in the same vein.  

"I've been concerned about getting into some of the trappings of anthropomorphizing some of the animals, because I think it might be doing a disservice to the animals- comparing them to humans."

"Because, you know, animals are their own creatures with their own needs and wants. I think I've been able to do that with more of the latter work, where the premise I set up for the animals is a bit more ridiculous- like the cheque, and I think it's able to create some more space between the work itself and the animals. Because people aren't thinking about what the animal is getting out of it, and hopefully they're questioning their own interests and thoughts about art."

Jeff Meldrum's 'Art for Animals' will be on display at the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery until May 28th. 

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