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Wearing Her Art on Her Sleeve

Jennifer Pickering is a little breathless when you talk to her. That’s because she’s organizing this year’s Wearable Art Gala, the fundraiser for the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art.

“It’s a little crazy here,” she says from her office in Kelowna. “We just had a press conference and a parade; it’s our first parade, but it won’t be our last. Maybe we’ll have one every Friday. . .”

Photo of Jennifer Pickering courtesy of Jennifer PickeringWearable Art is just the latest Alternator project and will involve 60 artists and performers all joined together in the theme of body adornment. Like any good show, there’ll be an amazing after party, Pickering says, chock full of deejays and performers, all exploring the idea of interactivity and play.

“It’s takes thousands of hours of volunteer work,” she says. “It’s an amazing effort by everyone and totally worth it.”

Pickering and the arts collective are on the move, re-defining and re-organizing everyone’s concept of art. Stuffiness be-gone – it’s all about exploring arts and ideas in any medium.

“We’re always looking for a way to get outside the walls of the gallery and focus on a more eclectic program,” she says.

As the artistic and administrative director of Alternator, Pickering doesn’t just sit behind a desk. She gets down and dirty and is ready to pitch in at a moment’s notice. For Pickering, that constant change is just a part of the alternative art scene.

“I love it,” she says. “I love working in this alternative stream. It has so much dynamic energy.”

An installation artist herself, Pickering holds a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia. Pickering always had an art attraction.

“I’ve always wanted to be an artist – art has so many possibilities to agitate, transform and express,” she says.

Pickering explores concepts around the circulation of information and uses library shelving in many of her installations. Her most recent project delves into the circulation of people, ideas and information across large geographic distances, and features hard-backed suitcases from the 1960s and 70s. She cuts into them to show the inner workings and displays them open and illuminated.

“I expose what is already there, what was otherwise hidden from view,” she says.

Illumination is also one of the goals of Alternator. A recent Chatter and Whirr Festival, part of a BC winter festival of artist-run culture, involved an all-night interactive gallery show with music, interactive sound, video and experimental media. Non-traditional interactive shows, says Pickering, give people a chance to get close and be immersed in the art. In these shows they become more than just on-lookers.

Alternator is also working on other fronts with connections to arts communities across Canada.  Last year, in conjunction with a raft of like-minded organizations, it hosted the national Independent Media Arts Alliance, a conference that showcased Indigenous media artists from across the country.

“Indigenous artists are so under-represented, they really struggle to get where they are, so it was an opportunity to celebrate the amazing work they do and also educate members and the community about the issues these artists and organizations experience,” Pickering says.

The recent name change from Alternator Gallery to Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art is another example of how dynamic this artist-run centre is.

“We’re reinventing ourselves, questioning everything we do, and figuring out ways we can serve the needs of the community,” Pickering says. “It’s an excellent time. It seems like there are no limits and endless possibilities – if you can imagine it, it can happen.”

Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art is funded in part by the BC Arts Council, supporting artists and arts organizations in communities across BC.