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this is a piece that a lot of contemporary young artists here in newfoundland don't know. so happy that it's being discussed again. i constantly miss don.
For current background on Red Trench, I posted much of the following on the comments section for Peter Jackson's column but thought it would also be helpful to post here for those interested. Red Trench is publicly displayed at MUN. It has been since it was installed in the early 1990s in what was then the new Arts Building Annex. At the time, the university also developed a pamphlet to go along with the exhibit (it was placed on the wall adjacent to the installation) that provided context of the piece, including Don Writght's process in developing it.. Its placement is prominent and very public. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and visitors to MUN see it every day - tens of thousands over the course of the year. They come from all over the province and all around the world. It's placed in a heavy traffic area. And if viewers wanted a closer look, they can take the glass elevator ride to the top floor in the annex which takes passengers the full length of the several stroies high installation. For those interested in seeing it, the Arts and Administration Building is the main MUN building on Elizabeth Avenue (with the flags in front). Just walk through to the back of that building to find the Annex and Red Trench is installed in the atrium on the wall opposide the glass elevator.
My problem is the omission of a key timeline in the Trench kerfuffle. Some advocates scolded people for daring to even suggest the resemblance, as if it didn't exist. Wright didn't speak up till after the fact. You suggest we need to "make amends" to Wright. I agree his excellent contributions to the local art scene are worth celebrating. However, I think some perspective is owed to those poor sods who were ridiculed and berated simply for not feeling comfortable with a giant vagina on their wall. It was the wrong idea for the wrong place. More to come in my Wednesday column.
I'm with Peter on this one and I not only think it looks like a vagina, but a not so clean on at that. I wouldn't want to have to see it every day. Sorry if that makes me less of an "art appreciator", but it seems ot me that ppl can do anything under the guise of art.....there was a dead dog on display here in Halifax. And it was "art".
Peter, your criticism is off base. If Wright actually did acknowledge that the resemblance to a vulva was intentional, I didn’t see that back then. Nor did the people I interviewed for this entry. Clearly Wright was coy about it. But there can be no question that there IS a resemblance and it was deliberate – I said as much in my conclusion. The point is that Wright’s intentions were not prurient. By calling my blog “one sided,” I suspect you think otherwise; that you think Wright was playing a sniggering joke on the government. I certainly don’t agree with that. I sought out the people I interviewed for this column. They were surprised to hear from me and are not seeking “beatification” for Wright. Further, the suggestion to relocate Red Trench to the Rooms was mine, not theirs. My blog is an opinion piece, but I did conduct three interviews to add depth and perspective. When is the last time you interviewed and quoted someone in your column?
I did the original Here and Now pieces on The Red Trench. I believe I did two. I'll never forget going to Don's studio and interviewing him about the piece. I asked him directly(because I was sent out with that charge from the executive producer of Here and Now) if it was a symbolic vaginal representation. I can still see the slight smirk on his face ... Twinkle in his eyes as he said - no not at all. One can bring what one may to a piece of art. He was actually quite patient and gentle with the brand new journalist in his studio. Then I was told to go up and question the construction workers about what THEY thought the piece resembled. You can imagine the comments I got on camera from that visit. Finally, I came back - edited my piece - and brought my intro into Billy Kelly to be approved for Glen Tilley's broadcast. I was coy in my intro - not quite sure how to approach it. Bill Kelly was not having none of that. "Vagina. Vagina. Lets not leave people guessing here. Lets just put it out there - just say what everyone is already thinking." So I went back to my typewriter (what?? What was that?? Typewriter???) and banged out an intro that didn't hide behind innuendo or euphemisms. I sat there amazed as I watched Glenn read my copy ... He really pushed the word 'vagina' too: "some say its a VAGINA ... Described as art." I remember feeling quite sad when I learned of Don's death. I was so green in my reporting experience and he knew it. But he was very gentle with me that day in his studio. And I never forgot it. The construction workers - however - are a different story.....
Don Wright did talk publicly about the Red Trench before he died. He admitted he vagina resemblance was, at least in part, deliberate. I don't know why this important fact has been conveniently forgotten over the years, but I suspect it has something to do with keeping his artistic beatification on track. Wright was a great artist, and worthy of tribute. But this summary of the Trench story is sadly one-sided.
I am old enough (and then some) to remember the uproar. To display the Red Trench prominently at The Rooms would speak to our cultural growth in this province. To continue to allow it to languish in relative obscurity screams the opposite.
I grew up in Port Kirwan and I knew Don Wright to be a rare and beautiful human being. He always took an interest in us kids when many adults did not. He always made time to chat with us whenever we dropped by and to teach us to draw, to make kites, to bake gingerbread men. We all loved him. I remember Don Wright organizing a bus trip for children from Port Kirwan to come to St. John's and see an art exhibition at the Arts and Culture Centre. I was one of those children. It was my first gallery show and I have never forgotten it. On one of my many visits to Don's studio in Clears Cove when he was busily working on what would eventually become the Red Trench I asked him what he was making. He explained that he was capturing water flowing into trenches he'd made in the sand in Clears Cove and the light from the sun reflecting on it. It made perfect sense to me. Don had always spent a lot of time walking, keenly observing and he took his inspiration from everything he saw around him. So, needless to say when this crass, obscene interpretation of the Red Trench hit the media those of us who knew this kind, gentle soul were horrified. Twenty five years after his death, you're right, Geoff, it is long past time to make amends to Don Wright and his family. If the Red Trench is not an individual's artistic cup of tea, that is one thing. We are all entitled to our opinions on art, or anything else for that matter. But the indignity and insult committed on this remarkable man - one of our most talented artists, the co-founder of St. Michael's Print Shop, an institution which has allowed our artists to flourish - needs to repaired. It won't undo the harm done. But would speak well of our society's respect for its artists. Better late than never.
Thanks for this thoughtful reflection on one of the most inane episodes in the history of art in the province. Working at MUN, I get to see this piece every day and to me it evokes images of the sea relating to the genesis of life. I agree that this piece does need and deserve a place as a permanent installation at The Rooms. The Red Trench is not only a great art piece by an important and influential contributor to the local art movement, it is now also part of the history of our reaction to artistic expression. The piece has some damage in the upper section, which I believe I once read was sustained during its time in storage. The Rooms is the appropriate place for such an important piece to be properly preserved and professionally curated.
It is sad to say, as an artist born in Newfoundland that unless the picture includes some form of Newfoundland Outport it is never understood or appriciated. If the typicial ugly colored salt box is not the main focal point ....nar a glance will be given..SO SAD. I lived in St.John's at the time of the Red Trench and was not surpised at the uneducated comments. Hanging this work in the ugliest salt box of all ...The Rooms ..would be an even greater insult to the artist. Newfoundland Artist living away.....thank God