In the face of crisis, a year of imbalance fuels creativity

April 13, 2021 | Arts & Culture, Society

On March 18, in the final forum of the 2021 Interdisciplinary Dialogue, MacEwan University students, staff and faculty joined special guest presenters in a discussion of Creative Responses to Crisis – Innovating, Experimenting, Imagining as part of COVID-19's Calls to Reimagine Relations.

Throughout the discussion, creative freelance artist Meredith Bratland provided a live "graphic recording" of the discussion, demonstrating that creativity can happen any time, anywhere — a common thread shared throughout the event.

When COVID-19 restrictions shut down creative activities, including gallery exhibitions, in-person art classes and theatre performances — and therefore the income those activities generated — artists like Oksana Zhelisko and Fernando Villa Proal let themselves grieve and connect with their sadness. They also opened themselves to reinvention during this time of crisis.

"When I'm happy, and everything in my life is going great, I don't feel like creating," said Zhelisko, a classically trained painter from Ukraine who now lives in Edmonton. "But when I'm going through a lot of emotions, I go into my studio and work. I can honestly say my strongest pieces were done this year."

Actor/director Villa Proal said the idea of being unbalanced is what fuels creators to create. "We don't want to be comfortable when we are creating. We need to be out of balance." He added later that it is important that an artist experience what others feel, so that their creations can connect with others.

So Villa Proal said he let himself feel sadness at the start of COVID-19. "I just started flowing with whatever happened, and it was actually my neighbours who asked me about performing for them." What began as performances in his courtyard for his curious and encouraging neighbours expanded to online shows via Zoom for audiences around the world.

Others, like Theodora Harasymiw, best known for creating large murals throughout Edmonton, found a way to offer their creative connections to others. Her response to crisis was to start an artists' collective.

"I realized at this time that I could give something back," said Harasymiw.

She opened her space to five women artists. They built a support system, but after a few months, they wanted to take it further. So they opened a small shop in the middle of the space for other artists and makers who didn't have a way to sell their work. Harasymiw's collective now supports 25 artists.

Dr. Joanne Lemieux embraced creativity in science. The professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta primarily focuses her research on the molecular study of proteins, but in the past year, she has been working to develop antiviral therapeutics against coronavirus infections.

"We were faced with a medical crisis that affected everyone, and I felt there was an onus with my experience with enzymes to see if I could make a contribution."

Dr. Lemieux worked seven days a week as part of an interdisciplinary team to render 3-D models of a structure within the coronavirus to see how it might bind with a drug used to treat a fatal form of the virus in cats. If successful, the drug could be repurposed and redeveloped to treat the human SARS-CoV-2 responsible for COVID-19.

The renderings were able to show the effectiveness of the drug, and a clinical trial is the next step.

Dr. Lemieux added that it was refreshing to see scientists working together to solve a problem rather than working in competition — a sign of community coming together, much like Harasymiw's collective.

"One of the things that artists are really amazing at is communication — communicating ideas and information," said Dr. Christina Battle, a mixed media artist whose work focuses on environmental issues.

This past year, she continued work on seeds are meant to disperse, a project in which she grows, saves and shares seeds with others. The project draws attention to issues related to food insecurity, sustainability, species diversification, seed copyright, urban renewal and climate change.

When the presenters began to discuss what their lives and processes might be like in the face of a new normal, Dr. Battle noted that the imbalance experienced throughout the last year is a way to disrupt systems, but it has also shed light on other crises, like systemic racism.

"I also see this imbalance as something that's really energizing and a form of potential," said Dr. Battle. "It's a way for us to think differently about the future and disrupt the systems we've been living through."


View the complete presentation — and past forums — online.



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