Regina, Treaty 4: Amber Phelps Bondaroff
(Intro by Alex King, photo by Aidan Morgan)
I moved to Regina not much more than three years ago, and it didn't take me long to find Amber. Were we ever introduced? As is often the case here, I believe we simply fell into step with one another. I liked her unselfconsciousness, her brightness and her geniality. As I learn more about my neighbour, I envy her navigation of time, which doesn’t seem to possess her and which she handles carefully.
Amber is a person who does. She’s a performer, arts administrator and musician, but I know her best through her artistic practice. This one always has something cooking.
Making, making, without a sense of preciousness. Ordinary things are good. Amber’s artwork has taken many physical, often craft-based, forms. However, the objects she creates form an astrology that speak more than anything about human connectivity. These objects are tools for her participatory practice, where traditional relationships between artist, participant and spectator are unmade. I enjoy the invisible primacy of these often-soft gestures, which care little for measurability. During the course of her projects, participants will share their bodies, handiwork, imaginations, and even their psychic energies (or at least the performance of them) in an infinite division of authorship. I believe the use of these methodologies is particularly suited to Amber because of her warmth toward others. They’re also a lot of fun. Such gestures comprise part of the fabric of our little city's cultural community. Many of us have been implicated in one way or another.
Recently, I've come to know Amber in a more formal capacity, in her role as Programming Coordinator at Neutral Ground where I was a Board member. She has long contributed to the backstage labour of Regina’s arts administration, which keeps us all buoyant. She co-ordinated Pop-Up Downtown, and supplies serious voltage for Swamp Fest as co-Artistic Director. I can see an unsurprising symbiosis between her administrative work and art practice, and the rich relationships on which they all depend.
So, a brief guide to Amber PB, by an observer. I've found her sitting crosslegged, wearing a crown of plaited dough, in communion with buns. She makes thunder with Girls' Rock Regina and teased out salty secrets from clients in her Cheap Tease Salon during John Waters’ legendary visit last year. In a rare moment of solitude, she climbed mountains in Banff with self-imposed Sisyphean cargo on her back. She makes Super 8 shorts and is a passionate advocate for the sandwiches at Gilmours on Scarth Street . I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention her companion Le Petit, the perfect pup she shares with her partner Jeff. And on blistering days she can be found swimming on the most perfect stretch of beach in the province.
KC: What kinds of projects are you involved in right now?
I run a little music and arts festival called Swamp Fest in Regina, along with four others. The festival’s second year is scheduled for September of 2018. We are conceptually guided by the existence of a Swamp creature named TAB (Toxic Algae Blob) that dwells in Wascana lake, the human constructed ‘lake’ in the centre of Regina. The winter months have been a time of intense grant writing, planning and reflecting on what happened in our first year, and how we can make things better as we move forward. Some things that I feel proud about having done with this festival include (but are not limited to): (In bullet points because of aforementioned heavy grant writing season…)
- Working collaboratively with some rad people and making closer connections with them throughout the process;
- Making an inflatable swamp monster suit;
- Enabling an open platform for creative contribution from so many people who came to the festival and contributed in their own way (whether through making Swamp monster themed fan art, or songs, or just taking the opportunity to be freaky!)
On a more solo note: I have recently been getting more invested in my body as a creative tool/coming to terms with the title of ‘performance artist.’ Last year I made this wearable mountain sculpture and wore it around the mountains near Banff and documented it. I’ve been investigating other interactive performance actions in various ways. This process has gotten me more engaged in various physical practices, some new, and some that have been with me for years. I have a daily yoga practice, both asanas and seated meditation - that is super important to my over all wellbeing and ability to cope with the world. More recently I’ve been going to the Regina Boxing club and learning how to throw punches. This sometimes feels like the opposite of yoga, and sometimes like the same damn thing! (Focussed aggression and physical exertion!)
I’ve also been doing this pretty modest, yet I think pretty important weekly structure where I’ve set myself the goal of practicing things once a week. I have this colour-coded calendar, where each creative act is coded as a different colour. (Drawing, music, writing, meditating, reading and ‘body’ for using my body mindfully, either in exercise or a yoga context.) This started just as a way to keep track and motivate myself to keep up the practices that I felt were slipping due to over load of other administrative and job related tasks, and has now taken on an important role in my day to day/week to week/month to month life.
This was instigated, in part, by a late night conversation with a musician that I met, where I was lamenting the fact that I don’t play music very often these days. (Ive played various string instruments for pretty much my entire life, both classically and in various bands, and more recently electric bass and keyboard, but performing musically has taken a bit of a back seat recently.) We talked about making it a goal to just play music once a week, in whatever context makes sense. This felt so much more doable than the more ambitious daily practice attempts I had put on myself in the past, and failed.
When I look at the week or month of the calendar it is filled with various colours, designating time spent. It’s incredible how this simple, self-reward system motivates me to keep up practices and makes for a more colourful life, literally.
KC: What's your day job? What do you like about it? What's challenging?
I currently work at Neutral Ground Artist Run Centre in Regina as Programming Coordinator. Since starting in November this job has consumed a lot of my time and energy, which is both good and bad. I don’t see this ‘day job’ as necessarily separate from the other creative initiatives that I am involved in. I have always enjoyed facilitating the creative production of others and feel inspired to enable artists to exhibit their work.
One of the challenges with this job is that we recently had to relocate our gallery space, due to a roof leak in December. This was a pretty intense process to oversee, but we have secured a new gallery space, and are scheduled to open it in early April. It is exciting to anticipate this new phase, after working out of a temporary office for the last 3 months. I am excited to start working at a gallery again, and to play an integral part in this new phase for Neutral Ground, which has been around since 1982.
KC: What's important to you?
My family, my friends, my pets. Being an engaged and conscious human in the world. Pushing myself to take risks and be the best human I can be. Travel. Speaking out against injustice. Listening, sincerely and honestly to those around me. And the big ones, Music, Art, Love….(!?) House plants.
Oh, and snacks. Gotta have snacks throughout the whole process.
KC: What do you like most/least about Regina?
The things that I like best and least about Regina are largely one and the same. The insular nature of the community is one that is both incredibly supportive and uplifting while also sometimes stifling. As an ‘outsider’ (having moved here only 5 years ago) I see a lot of long term connections and associations that people have with one another and there is a real beauty in that camaraderie and in those connections. There’s this thing that has been happening to me only recently, where long term Reginian’s will refer to things that happened a long time in the past in my midst – of restaurants that used to be around, or of people who used to live here etc. Sometimes I say, ‘yeah, that was before my time here,’ and they do a double take and go ‘Oh, right…’ It feels sort of like a right of passage, like I can finally pass for someone who is ‘from around here.’ I’m not sure how I feel about that….I think I mostly like it.
On a more practical note – I like that when my car gets snowed in in March it doesn’t matter much because I can walk most places I need to go and also run into five people who will help me push it out.
KC: What is your impression of Saskatoon?
Saskatoon is like Regina’s cooler older sister. They’ve got a little more going on, they’re in some bands, hang out at the cool places in town, and that river, don’t get me started on the river... but Regina is working on an album in the basement and when it comes out – it’s gonna be killer!
KC: Finish this sentence: If the best of all possible worlds was reality....
I would be a house cat. Well fed, well pet, and completely content to stare out of the window all freakin’ day. I’d take my roll as neighbourhood watch cat incredibly seriously. Except on napping breaks, which I’d take readily, in front of the radiator, for about eighteen hours a day.
KC: How has your identity helped you / hindered you?
I might, for the purposes of this context, let my slight confusion about the question guide my answer. I spend a lot of time in my head. It’s a constant narrative, overlapping conversations and sometimes-outright arguments with a chorus of myselves in there. While this has lead to some pretty real battles with anxiety and other mental health challenges, it has also pushed me to pursue creative work in ways that I would not have done if I didn’t have the identity that I do. But that’s how identities work don’t they? Everybody’s got one?...
Could you choose one question from the Proust Questionaire and answer it?
Because Im an Aries and I can’t focus on one thing while simultaneously over thinking everything, I’ve chosen to answer five questions, very briefly:
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
A friend recently brought to my attention that I way overuse ellipses when communicating in email and text…He was absolutely right…but I haven’t changed…A true friend always tells you when you’re over ellipsesing…
- Which living person do you most admire?
Because I literally just saw her speak and she was a whole other level of fierce, eloquent, outspoken and humble, and whose very presence on a stage sent waves of emotion tearing through my very being, Angela Davis.
- What is your current state of mind?
Pensive, calm and a little tipsy.
- If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
(see above re: House Cat)
- What is it that you most dislike?
I’m gonna go real petty here and say, celery. Just the most offensively bland vegetable ever. And, stringy as Fuck!
Links to my Work:
personal website: www.amberpb.com
Swamp Fest: www.swampfest.ca
Neutral Ground : www.neutralground.sk.ca