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Interview with an artist: Alisdair MacRae


‘El Sol’  by Alisdair MacRae

Oct 22 to Dec 17, 2015
Meet the artist: Oct 25 and Nov 29, 2015

AOE Gallery
Shenkman Arts Centre
245 Centrum Blvd,
Ottawa, ON K1E 0A1
*Free Parking

Alisdair MacRae is an artist working in sculpture and installation art, who now calls Ottawa home I moved from BC to New York following grad studies there, and moved north when I was down-sized. Born in 1974 in Dawson Creek, BC and raised in Victoria, he received a BFA from the University of Victoria in 1998 and an MFA from Bard College in 2002. He completed a graduate thesis in Art History at Carleton University in 2012. MacRae uses schematics plans, as they can cover a broad range of plans, instructions or directions, as a starting point for interpretation, examining issues of scale and perspective, as well as community and exchange. He is experienced through a hands-on, do-it-yourself approach that enables social and economic interactions. He has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions in New York City, Halifax, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver.

1-What are your early artistic influences?

My mother always encouraged my brother and I to make art. Beyond that, it was something that allowed me to feel less socially awkward, which is funny; since art is often seen as “odd” or “strange”. I still find the most common reaction to art and artists is that they are “weird”, or somehow out of step with society; after all, they don’t fill an immediately identifiable role.

2-Can you explain your hands-on approach?

I really appreciate making something myself, rather than simply buying it from a store. It’s not that I’m so exacting, but I get a sense of self-worth from being to make something, rather than having to rely on mass production materials to provide it to me. In addition to a sense of self-worth, I like to be involved in the making of something for an interest in process. That also goes back to an interest in building something from schematics or plans.

Alisdair MacRae, 'Office Depot'

Alisdair MacRae, ‘Office Depot’

3- Do you repurpose known materials; do you have an interest in introducing the extraordinary in the ordinary? Is it an interest of yours?

I typically use what I can get at the hardware store. I tend to shy away from precious materials. I will definitely repurpose known materials, but I usually see it as a pragmatic step rather than introducing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Things just are, I would rather avoid hierarchies.  I also enjoy using ready-made or recycled objects, I suppose in the way that they can be seen as raw materials.

4-Have you experimented with other mediums?

I like drawing, which I find practically synonymous with installation. I used to paint, until the paintings got very cluttered with materials, and became more like sculptures. I also enjoy working with video, and have become interested in analogue photography.

5-Can you tell us more about your recent work?

I’ve been working on some very large cyanotypes on canvas with various community groups in the Ottawa-Gatineau area (2015). I also developed an image for the City of Ottawa’s cARTe Blanche project (2015). That was the first time I got to work with a billboard, and it’s an interesting format.

6-What is the main message that you want to give through your artwork?

Self-empowerment, as I dislike the idea of artistic genius. I think that was an invention of Renaissance artists to bring attention to themselves. People can enjoy the arts whether they are artists or not. It pleases me that someone may get something, whether it’s an emotive quality or learn something new by looking at what I might present as art. However, that person could be just as creative in their own right, whether she is a chef, a police officer or a neurosurgeon.

7-How are you connected to the Ottawa arts community?

I have been a member of the Public Art Renewal Committee with the City of Ottawa since 2012, and recently joined the board of Gallery 101. I am one of the artists at the Stafford Studios in the Nepean Creative Arts Centre and a member of AOE Arts Council since 2013.  I lead a workshop for Art Place grant applications and moderated a panel of the 2014 grant recipients in April, 2015.

8-Tell us about this exhibit ‘El Sol’. Why choose solar energy and the urban landscape? How this idea did came out?

The work has developed during a 2013 residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. The work addresses solar energy and the urban landscape. Cyanotype prints on dyed canvas were created using available objects such as shopping carts and chain link fencing. A selection of solar-powered objects was also created, including a hot dog cooker, and a still for purifying water.

Solar power ties back in with the idea of self-empowerment, and I believe solar energy should be more prevalent in the urban landscape. I have environmental concerns, and art is not always a good way to address them, as galleries and museums have very particular constraints that often run contrary to maintaining the planet. It was very fortunate to work on the project in Santa Fe, as it receives a large amount of sunlight, even in December.

El Sol

Alisdair MacRae, ‘El Sol’


9- Do you find relations to make with Barb Andersson’s work to yours, as she is doing black and white photography exploring abandoned houses and is a visual artist and interior decorator drawn in by the changing flux of fashion and design — influenced by nature and landscape?

I find her images of exterior settings quite haunting, and I think it will be interesting to see how she draws on her design sense to present them.

Quote from Alisdair MacRae

‘My practice is centred in two interacting domains: questions of community and the exchanges by which community is structured, and our bodily experience of architectural and social space. My built objects are often domestically useful, made from hardware store kit plans, and enter the world through ‘for sale’ posters, classified ads, raffles, and other straightforward means. My built installations are depictions of sensory experience that require our bodily participation.’

More about the artist



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