Vancouver Art Gallery names Jillian Christmas its inaugural Poet-in-Residence

Christmas connects with gallery staff for collective dreaming and plans towards art activations within the gallery spaces

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“The Vancouver Art Gallery is not just a space for viewing art; it’s a place where art is lived, breathed, and experienced. We are honoured and excited to welcome Jillian Christmas as the Gallery’s first Poet-in-Residence,” said Anthony Kiendl, CEO & Executive Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery in a statement. “Her unique approach and interpretation of art through the lens of poetry will inspire vibrant conversations and engagement, adding a new layer of depth and understanding to our exhibits and enhancing our shared understanding of what an art gallery can be.”

Christmas will be in her new role until the spring. That tenure will include the upcoming program A Day of Delight with Jillian Christmas at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Feb. 6, 2024,

Postmedia got Christmas to answer a few questions about her residency, which is titled Toward Delight.

Question: What is your day-to-day role at the gallery going to look like?

Answer: Since November, I have been holding office hours at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Thursdays, generally between noon and four, during which I have the chance to connect with the gallery staff for collective dreaming, as well as coworking toward planned events or art activations within the gallery spaces.

Some days I arrive at the gallery to spend some alone time with the exhibits, learn about the artists, or host conversations and walk-throughs with interested gallery patrons. On other days I have had the opportunity to work with three different brilliant high school groups that regularly visit the exhibits. In that work, I utilize my lens as a poet and multidisciplinary artist to offer new perspective, insight, and action to the work on display; including context building, personal interpretation, and reflection, as well as prompts to get the students writing about their connections to the work. I have enjoyed this very much, and even had the pleasure of being sketched (mid-workshop) by one very capable young artist, Livie.

Q: How will your poetry join with the visual nature of the gallery?

A: As a performance poet, an important aspect of my work is that it is embodied. These are stories I carry in my muscle memory, and as such, they have an ability to move me, to keep me in my body, or teleport me into past dimensions, and importantly, to help me articulate both with my words and with the alternate languages of movement, expression, sound, colour-theory, flowers, weaving and so much more.

My residency exists in response and in ongoing conversation with the exhibits moving through the gallery (present and past) and the artists who have created them. Thus far, I have written and created in conversation with the works of the late, mental health oracle, Rebel Fayola Rose, beloved Vancouver sculptor, Parviz Tanavoli, the late Trinidadian Canadian painter Denyse Thomasos, multiple phenomenal weavers who have been curated within the local Woven from the Land exhibit, as well as numerous other Vancouver creators, both living artists, and those no longer with us in form.

Q: What is the connection that you are most excited about making between your art and what the VAG has to offer?

A: One of the central projects of my residency has been a collective grief process called GOOD GRIEF, where I have built a collaborative and public grief altar, where folks living on the unceded territories of the Musqueam Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people (and beyond), can offer time and attention, writing or song, to any grief they have been carrying inside them. Whether that grief is attached to a person, a past version of self, a place, or even an idea, people have been invited to name them at the altar, which was opened for visits in December. All of those names were written down and safely kept inside the growing and changing (and slowly decaying) altar piece.

With the help of friends Anjalica Solomon and Kungjaadee Kennedy, The Annex workshop space hosted a beautiful solstice event which invited people to engage with their grief, and the love that propels it. The paper on which each of those names are written will soon be transformed into paper pulp, then, Pacific Northwest pollinator seed paper, then student poetry, and then they will be planted on the Vancouver Art Gallery rooftop as living representations of our love. A transformation of sorts, which I hope will bloom for a very long time to come.

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