Cathedral-like in its proportions, the simplicity of décor and peaceful ambience of the Esker Foundation encourage quiet contemplation of the art installations on display. As you enter this huge art gallery and look around at the 800 feet of white wall space and 32 feet high ceilings, time seems to slow down and a meditative state of mind takes hold.
I went along to see the gallery's Spring/Summer exhibition which runs until the third week in September. This is one of only three annual shows, which combine original exhibitions developed by the Foundation and others from outside galleries. The current show features the work of Canadian artists Mia Feuer and Kevin Schmidt, and Dutch artist Guido van der Werve.
Mia Feuer's 'An Unkindness' is particularly striking, comprising a sinister mishmash of black birds' wings, tree trunks and broken sections of pipe, suspended high in the air.
Interior of the Art Block showing the stairs leading to the Esker Foundation
It reflects a disturbing view she experienced of reclaimed oil sands in Northern Alberta, where wheat had been planted to take the toxins from the soil, which had in turn attracted too many mice. To get rid of the mice, ravens were introduced but they needed somewhere to roost, so inverted dead birch trees were introduced, their branches anchoring them in the soil. The resulting landscape was a macabre vision of the natural world.
Equally thought-provoking is Guido van der Werve's 54 minute long film, which is a surreal tapestry of visual and musical compositions by the artist himself, exploring topics such as solitude, loss and belonging. The dreamlike quality of these narratives is enhanced by the screening taking place in a darkened room with giant beanbags which you can sink into while watching the film.
Founded by businessman and philanthropist Jim Hill and his wife Susan in 2012, the Esker Foundation is Calgary's largest, privately funded, non-commercial contemporary art gallery. Created in response to a 'desperate need for more quality visual-arts space' in the city, the Esker Foundation is named after the geological form left by winding streams under glacial ice. Hill's vision was to bring art to a wider audience, linking generations past and future, just as eskers once transported water.
The 'Nest' meeting room at Esker Foundation Contemporary Art Gallery
Entering the Atlantic Avenue Art Block in Inglewood, Calgary, which houses the Esker Foundation on its fourth floor, it is easy to mistake the entire building as one, huge gallery. The steel and glass stairway rising up from the lobby is a work of art itself, created by sculptor Gord Ferguson and painter Chris Cran. The mezzanine meeting room in the gallery's first atrium is also a sculptural piece, comprising a huge, oval ball made of intertwining bands of steel, which emanates an eerie blue light. As well as the main gallery there is the Project Space in the street level window of the main building.
The leased commercial space in the Art Block pays for the operating costs of the gallery – a fiscal model developed by Hill.
Complimenting its exhibitions, the Esker Foundation runs a programme of talks by artists, exhibition and external tours, workshops and screenings.
If you find yourself in need of refreshment after visiting the Esker Foundation, there is an excellent café on the ground floor of the building, called Bite Groceteria and Cafe, which serves beverages, cakes and snacks at reasonable prices.