There’s an exciting artistic adventure eagerly awaiting your attention down at Southpark on Whyte! Discover the multi-dimensional collaboration between Vignettes and Michel Côté of ECKZ studioz when you stroll down Whyte Avenue. We spoke with the collaborators to better understand the piece and discuss the passion and vibrancy found in the community and neighbourhoods of Old Strathcona.
Michel Côté of ECKZ studioz & Leigh Wright of Vignettes
Can you tell us a bit more about ECKZstudioz and Vignettes’ relationship and how this collaboration came to be?
Michel: I met the great folks over at Vignettes, Victoria, Leigh and the rest of their team, in 2018 when I decided to enter as an artist in that year’s Vignettes design series competition. My unique contributions that year seemed to have made an impression on them and the relationship emboldened the following year, with me taking a more active role in helping with the staging of Vignettes' design series in 2019 as well as competing. A partnership between MINBID & Vignettes for art events was formed that same year and we’ve been working together on making this city as awesome as possible ever since. For this particular project, Vignettes contacted me, knowing I had some large scale items/ideas kicking around. They mentioned what they had in mind, it seemed like a perfect parallel to my idea, and this is the result.
Vignettes: As Michel said, we met him when he applied to become an artist in our annual art and design festival called the vignettes design series. We were blown away by Michel’s contributions to the show, and he ended up winning artist of the year when we did awards. Very much deserved. After that, our relationship blossomed, and we came to know him and his organization Minbid. Michel has always been an artist who constantly over-delivers in every collaboration we have ever done, so he was perfect for this installation.
The collaboration is described as “playing with the notion of life being everywhere, with some eckztra ordinary paths, destinations and forms at times.” How did you pull inspiration from your own lives to convey this message?
Michel: Having a child, as much as I thought I knew it all before, amplified the paradockz that is life for me. Eckzplorative Chaos. The only reason the space Munkey has a moustache is because of my little one. The more life you live the more it blends into one's art, and the counter is absolutely true as well.
Vignettes: We are constantly in the art world. Whether it’s with work, play or our own family lives, we draw inspiration from everything we see. We love to deliver out there in original concepts, but we also value upcycling and reusing as much as possible. So how he pulled and drew inspiration was just from life
Michel, your contribution to the collaboration “Munkeys in Space” tells the story of “an eckzplorer ordaining the power of the cosmic strings unto the arriving space brains to usher the continuation of life’s intellect to propagate through the universe at will.” Can you tell us a bit more about why you chose a monkey to fill the role of the eckzplorer tasked with such a profound task? Or are we reading too deeply into the monkey’s significance haha! Does the Munkey have a name?
Michel: One of the main theories of life getting onto the earth is a rogue asteroid from a different solar system smashing into our planet. A rock floating through space is a pretty boring installation though, so my inner 5-year-old took over, with the components I had on hand (AKA a rocket, teacup, spacesuit), mashed it together with a current fascination with brains to represent intelligence. So a floating rock with seeds of life turned into this whimsical scene using the creative nonchalant approach of a child and went straight from thought to action with no stops in between (a move I came to fully doubt in a sweltering garage studio as I feverishly finished the project ).
But, I also branched off on a more eckztreme theory on human eckzistence, where we, as primitive hominoids, got our DNA altered by space eckzplorers. Put String theory into the mix via the teapot pouring strings, the cup for the Milky Way and add a twist of an obscure Matthew Broderick movie from the 1980s called “Project X” the result is this playful yet surreal depiction of the great unknown, the origins of life.
As for a name, civilizations across millennias have attempted to name this force, but for this, let’s call the Munkey space eckzplorer “Shane”.
Vignettes Team, your contribution to the collaboration titled “Deep Tranquillity” reflects the concept that. How do you think that older generations can revisit their inner child to explore carrying childlike whimsy into adulthood?
Vignettes: I think we need to stop following as many rules and become softer and malleable as an adult. It’s almost like we become hard boxes with very narrow-minded thinking as we get older. As a child, there are endless possibilities, but at some point life seems to take over and the design of our systems change how we view our world. We need to stop following the easy road and allow our imaginations to take us down paths that are not travelled. A simple exercise for adults is to create, play, and immerse themselves in something that only has meaning in the moment.
The materials used to create the installation are upcycled and reused components. Can you speak a bit more to the significance and importance of creating art with everyday items?
Michel: I have been enthralled and dismayed as to the destructive nature of art-making in the modern world. But Art finds a way, and when it’s an unavoidable passion you find resourceful ways at sharing your artistic visions at a low cost. Making something out of nothing is a very addictive premise, it’s almost like a magic trick. In a digital world that was formerly a paper world, imagery on paper is in abundance, so collaging was my gateway into upcycling art. But that has led to all sorts of disregarded materials being found in other aspects of my daily life. Anyone can glue diamonds together or shape gold into something with enough money but just like peasant cooking, the effort involved in turning simple ingredients into something eckzquisite is something far more valuable and satisfying in my opinion. And given anything a second chance by transforming it into something else is great. And for this, we tried really hard to utilize things we had around (granted, in art studios) and utilize everything to its fullest. Even when I built the rocket years ago, the wood was salvaged, the inner/outer layers were donated to me and the top was scrap foam. The adornments are all recouped. Even the lights & LEDs are from previous projects. Wiring is salvaged. Over the years you just learn nothing is completely without value. But mind you, it’s a thin line between being resourceful & hoarding, you have to actually use the materials at some point.
Vignettes: It's extremely important that we reuse and upcycle as much as possible as we watch our world be affected by human impact. We see so much waste and leftover materials when we build installations that we have made it our mandate to upcycle as much as possible. Our shop is filled with thousands of random objects that we could not throw out. Ironically all The objects found in our installation our ups cycled however they seem to all be present in our oceans. Despite being a beautiful work of art there is obviously a hidden meaning to the human destruction of the oceans and our ecosystems
Whyte Avenue is known for its vibrant arts community and local creativity hub. What inspires you about Whyte Avenue and its ever-growing liveliness?
Michel: As a person who spent a lot of time in the area in the ’90s as a youth, living in & around the Strathcona neighbourhood for the better part of my 20’s & early 30’s, Whyte Ave has definitely been the cultural icon in the city and embodies everything this city struggles and thrives with. From being a big city with a small-town feel to the nostalgia of the past rubbing up against modernization, independents battling corporate entities, free spirit clashing with liquid courage and family fun mixing with youthful revelry, Whyte Ave will forever walk to the beat of its own drum.
Vignettes: Coming to Edmonton as a teenager, Whyte Ave was always a draw to us because of its huge art background whether it was the fringe, street performers, cool art stores, art walks, festivals and markets, the community has always embraced the artist and creativity and has become a hub for that in Edmonton.
When you visit The Ave, do you have a favourite spot to stop for a bite to eat, shop, or find entertainment? Let the people in on the hidden gems that keep you fed and inspired?
Michel: To be honest The Ave has changed so much in the last few years, I haven’t had a chance to catch up, but there’s definitely some gems I’m still familiar with such as the Next Act/MEAT/Pip, Farrow, Block 1912, Cafe Mosaic and Seoul Fried Chicken to name a few. As for shops, Foosh & Blackbyrd are always nostalgic favourites of mine. The Grindstone Theatre is quickly becoming a big live entertainment hub. The Lobby is still going strong for those eckztracurricular entertainment needs.
Learn More About the Artists
A self-taught artist, Michel Côté, lead imagineer at ECKZ studioz, has been showcasing art across western Canada for the better part of the last decade. Predominantly with the art collective known as MINBID, which he co-founded, the Vignettes design series, where he is a two-time best artist award winner and with commercial commissions. From painting, sculpture, collage, live creative performance to audio and electronic components, going through the process for self-satisfaction and turning it around to help viewers eckzpand the potential of new perspectives on “the possible’’ through visual arts has become one of the greatest and most fulfilling endeavours he has ever embarked on. Eckzploring the vastness of making something out of nothing can only embolden the strangeness amongst us.
Vignettes is an Edmonton based full-scale art and design agency that aims to design for experience. From concept to creation, their team works with a range of festivals and organizations to design and produce both small and large scale immersive installations to convey messages through engaging interactions. Vignettes first started as an art and design festival highlighting Edmonton’s creative design community. Fostering meaningful partnerships in the community is still very important to the agency, as they regularly collaborate with other like-minded creatives to create unique and memorable experiences.