Nuances of Self-Refinery: Review of Art Gallery of Alberta Event

by Monika Viktorova

On the evening of Saturday, March 25th, Edmonton’s art afficionados gathered at the Alberta Art Gallery (AGA) for the latest iteration of its “Refinery” evening party series. Last night’s theme was ‘selfie-culture’, focusing on the effects of social media and pop culture on portraiture. The AGA built excitement for the event in the weeks preceding it, allowing its guests to vote on the food served, pick the music to be played, and win a chance to be part of Aaron Pedersen’s photography installation that ran throughout the night.

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Under soft pulsing pink and purple lights, guests mingled, ate perfectly glazed mini donuts off of skewers and interacted with the various exhibits, photographic displays, and activity stations. The popular temporary tattoo station on the third level was surrounded by guests clamoring for their turn throughout the night. Across the floor a team of artists adorned the faces of willing attendees with rhinestones and glitter, sending them back out into the crowd asparkle. DJ Thomas Culture set the mood with contemporary tracks, 90’s throwbacks and everything in between. Guests crowded the dance floor during particular favorites, some abandoning the heels they had worn to let loose.

Above the dance floor, a projector flashing the images captured by Pedersen’s camera watched over the revelers. Beautiful black and white photographs of the 15 lucky winners flashed across throughout the evening. As Pedersen’s assistant fanned hair into billowing clouds on the ground level, a perfectly captured shot of the smiling subject, hair aflutter, appeared on the screen above. The ever-changing screen periodically caught the eye of attendees, who stopped to watch the series of photos, either looking up from the dance floor or observing at eye level on the second floor.

Nestled in a far corner of the first floor, a long bar provided guests with a wide assortment of  drinks. Waiting in line for the bar, guests were washed in the fluorescent glow of the giant screen hung above, where illustrated images mirrored, flipped and zoomed in a kaleidoscopic array. Flitting in and out of galleries, guests would leave their drinks with gallery attendants, mindful of the art. One long, winding photographic installation caught my eye- two photos of the building sites in a new neighborhood wound in an almost conch-shell form around each other. Despite the sunny, bright weather in each shot, a subtle comment on Edmonton’s urban sprawl revealed a darker side to the staggered panoramas.

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Before leaving, I took a moment to look out at the view of the city lights, framed between the patina of the irregular steel paneling of the walls and the crisscrossed steel beams holding the glass of the windows. Three women next to me posed against the undulating metal, taking turns to snap photos of each other before deciding to capture the whole group in a ‘selfie’. Though some might label the ‘selfie’ narcissistic, the Alberta Art Gallery’s Self-Refinery highlighted that understanding self-portraiture as self-obsessed misses the mark: we take selfies to capture ourselves in the moment, to celebrate, and to record our cherished memories.

Photography courtesy of Mat Simpson.

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