CANDID: Meet grad student Carolyn Mount
Artist Carolyn Mount is one of the roughly 3,800 students enrolled in the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Graduate Studies. Students like her come from around the world to study here and UM Today is getting to know some of them on a more personal, candid, level.
Mount’s artwork will be showcased at an exhibit in the School of Art Gallery from June 5-12, 2015. The opening reception will be held on Friday, June 5, from 5-8 p.m. The Gallery is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check it out. Now, let’s meet Carolyn Mount.
UM Today: Are you from Winnipeg?
Carolyn Mount: No, I’m originally from Ontario but I moved here from BC a year and half ago. I was on the BC coast for the past 14 years.
So where were you born?
Niagara Region in Ontario.
And then you moved to BC?
Yes, my brother is almost seven years older than me and he went off to university when I was 12 and we didn’t know each other as adults. And when I was finishing my undergrad he said, ‘Why don’t you come out here,’ and he was living in Victoria. I thought, ‘Well, if I don’t get to know you now I probably never will.’ So I said okay, packed up my car and drove across the country and started a new life in Victoria for five years and then Vancouver for 9.
It was a really good choice to do that.
How did you end up at the U of M?
I lived in Vancouver for 9 years and didn’t really want to move there in the beginning – I was in a great community in Victoria that I didn’t want to leave but my partner wanted to go to Vancouver to continue her schooling…. So, we went thinking it would be for a year or two and 9 years later all our other friends have come and gone. We were the last to leave, so it just felt it was time to move on.
I had an exhibition here in Winnipeg at Martha Street Studio two years ago. I had applied here because I wanted a smaller school and wanted to get out of Vancouver, and when I came for the show at Martha Street I was really impressed with Winnipeg in general. The arts community was super welcoming – so different than Vancouver. Yeah, it just felt like the right place.
What do you mean about Vancouver’s arts scene?[The Vancouver arts scene] is super competitive in every aspect, and really cold. I found the whole city cold and plastic. It’s austere and beautiful on the outside but it’s really hard to get to know people and engage people. So it was like night and day coming here.
When you were younger, did you want to be an artist?
Yes. Always. But my parents were like, ‘Well, you can’t make a career as an artist. So you have to have a backup.’
So my undergrad degree was in fine art and psychology.
I’m assuming your parents aren’t artists, so what do they do?
My mom was a nurse and my dad was an engineer. I don’t think they really get what I’m doing but that’s okay.
So what is it about art that drew you to it?
It’s the only thing, well it’s not the only thing I can do – I have a lot of skills – but I have always said I will have an occupation to support my vocation. So it’s not a choice. It’s just I need to do it. It’s a part of who I am. It’s just in me. It’s part of my structure.
What is it you try to say in your art?
For my thesis I’m working with alternative economies and I have actually committed to either giving or trading all the work I make for a year. So I’m not selling anything and I’m letting my audience set the price.
I’ve never worked abstractly before so this is super new and weird and scary for me, but I created a series of abstract images where I’m trying to represent our social connections and interactions and systems, and then use that as a tool to make new connections.
I have been very disconnected and discontent with just staying in my studio and making work to sell. I think the gallery system can be very exclusive and limiting and not inviting to a wider audience. So I wanted to make connections through my work. I wanted to know, can I build community through my work?
…. So then I thought, ‘Well, what happens if I give my work away and invite people into a relationship with me and my work?’ So I started this gifting process.
So the images are about our social connections and then I use them to build a connection by trading with someone in a public place – like flea markets.
…. I have all these objects and each represents a trade, and each is an interesting discourse in itself about how people may conceive of value, but that’s not what it’s about for me. It’s about making connections and each object represents a person and each person represents a story and I now have a piece of their world and they have a piece of my world, and there’s this connection.
Are you happy with how it’s going?
Yeah. I’ve actually made over 110 trades in four or five months, and that’s just through 11 trading days….
The art world seems like a place that requires its own vocabulary and it can be intimidating for amateurs to enter. Do you have any advice for people who want to engage, who want to go to galleries or shows?
Well, that’s why I was doing this project. I wanted to go out of galleries and engage with people. I think Winnipeg is a wonderful place because there are so many opportunities to engage with the arts. There are always gallery opening and shows, and I think this is one of the greatest places I’ve lived in terms of artists being accessible.
But it’s also about taking risks. Just go. And ask questions; there are no stupid questions. Like, I’m hoping I’m working on stuff that is relevant to someone else, but we’re only going to know if we ask each other those questions and actually listen to each other.
Have you gotten any good advice from your advisor, Mark Neufeld, or other artists?
Yeah. It’s interesting: in the last two months I have been stuck in ideas. I’ve just been going over ideas and getting nowhere and not being able to make anything. And so I was having a crisis of faith last week. I met with a couple of faculty… and when I was talking to Cedric [Bomford] he was talking about his MFA experience and advice people gave him. And he said, ‘Do what most scares you. Stop thinking and start doing and go where you’re most afraid to go because that’s where the most authentic work comes from.’
Do you have any regrets?
I don’t know. I try not to let them hold me back. I don’t think regrets bear a lot of fruit if you let them hold you back. So learn from them and keep on moving.
I could say I regret thinking for the last two months because I haven’t been creating, but that’s been part of my research and process. I regret I haven’t been more productive, but I needed to go through that to get to the point where I can say, ‘Okay, I have to do it. Let go now.’
Do you have any hobbies outside of art?
Not really. Just reading. And I wouldn’t say it’s a hobby, but I enjoy walking my dog.
In your career to date, is there something you look back on and find particularly rewarding?
I try to be grateful for every little step.
Like, after finishing my undergrad I remember my first day in Victoria with my brother: We were walking around – he was giving me a tour of the city – and we went by the art gallery and he said, ‘Maybe you can get a job here,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah right. I can never get a job at an art gallery – I don’t have any experience.’
But I went from starting in the retail gift shop to becoming a security guard to becoming a curatorial assistant to becoming the educational assistant to becoming the assistant to the director. All within five years at the gallery.
So every little step, like even if it’s … ah … for me it’s a matter of being open and gracious and generous with life, and I think life will meet you in that place. That’s not to say its all roses and puppy dogs, but I think there is something to learn from every situation.
So I don’t think there is one great success that changed my life. I think it’s every step along the way. Growing, and taking more risks.