Approximately 120 kilometres northwest of Toronto lies a 6000-square foot barn on a 100 acre farm. Built by visual artist and poet Don Miller from reclaimed turn-of-the-century post and beam barns, it is the main hub for an annual 10-day residency known as Don Blanche (a cheeky nod to the infinitely more corporate and rigid Nuit Blanche). Known as the Frankenbarn, it reflects the sprawling creativity inherent in the temporal family who gathers there to explore conceptual ideas, production limitations and personal reflection. There is no running water, electricity comes from solar or wind power, and most residents camp in the field or sleep in a dorm reminiscent of a Burning Man comedown tent.
Initiated in 2009 by Miller and fellow NSCAD alumni Christine Swintak, Don Blanche is the ultimate anti-residency: no proposals, no expectations, and no funding (other than occasional grants from OAC to feed between 25-80 people each day, and access to salvaged materials found on the property). For the past five years, artists of all disciplines - sculpture, ceramics, painting, video, performance, music, food - have collaborated on physical structures and interpersonal ephemerality alike, some working tirelessly to create work that will either perish before the week's end or will remain hidden in obscurity on this strange, sprawling property.
Previous projects still found on the property include: a tin pyramid; a chain-link structure suspended high in the trees known as the Fuck Trap; a functional sauna constructed from industrial refrigerator doors; a cult shack buried deep in the woods; a levitating cottage with trees growing up through the floorboards; a hand-assembled radio transmitter so that residents may sign up throughout the week to host their own shows.
Amidst the beautiful chaos, Swintak and Miller shine. Balancing groceries, programming, radio show signup, arrivals and departures, Swintak holds court as the administrative madame at a tiny antique desk in the corner of the Frankenbarn. Miller, decades older than most participants, has energy to spare as he tackles intensely ambitious projects. This year, with an enthusiastic gaggle of young assistants, Miller uprooted a neglected barn from its foundation and transported it on rollers across the property, where it became a focal point for the Labour Day open house weekend. The welcoming spirit of Don Blanche is a stark contrast to the often stressful deadline-and-deliverables atmosphere of Toronto's arts scene, and the participants owe a debt of gratitude to Miller and Swintak's vision and dedication. In an interview with Canadian Art, Swintak summed up the ethos nicely: "Our curatorial premise is 'yes'".
Photos courtesy of Yuula Benivolski, Dierdre Fraser, and Morris Fox, from Don Blanche website.