Jan. 13 saw the latest incarnation of LUGO, Saskatoon’s core high-art event. Although the night featured a variety of great performances, the event needs a new vision to fully fit into the Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan.
Held at the Mendel Art Gallery and O’Brians Event Centre in previous years, LUGO took place at the new Remai Modern for the first time this January. In contrast to the smaller venues from earlier occasions, LUGO 2018 spanned across the three floors of the newly built and award-winning gallery. Organizers had much more physical space to fill, and a significant amount of pressure, as they worked to match the high expectations set by the Remai’s recent success.
At its core, LUGO is a celebration of Saskatoon’s ever-growing art scene. Bringing in performances from many mediums — whether it be experimental music or interpretive dance spanning an entire floor — the event had it all. It also offered drinks and food hailing from many great restaurants in Saskatoon, such as the Hollows, Sushiro, the Night Oven Bakery, Calories and more.
The night saw performances scattered around the Remai Modern, allowing easy access to entertainment wherever a person happened to be throughout the evening. For example, the haunting sounds of the local cloud-masked group, 3 Ninjasks, echoed fittingly throughout the large space.
Terry Riley’s famous 1964 ensemble piece, In C, was another standout performance of the night. This minimalistic orchestration was recreated by musicians from all over Saskatoon, who exhibited a wide range of instrumental ability.
However, the most fascinating aspect of LUGO was not the individual performances themselves but the fact that those in attendance got to witness a relatively small city — which can often have the blasé attitude of an insular, tight-knit community — come together for the love of art, particularly for these experimental and unusual art forms.
LUGO was the mashup of a congenial atmosphere that comes from an easily recognizable crowd of friends and acquaintances with the exploratory kind of art that is often found in more intimidating settings.
Despite the event’s $40 ticket price, all 1,300 placements were sold. Fortunately, the costs for food and drink were more reasonable. Grub tickets were $2.50, and food items were typically available for one ticket, whereas drinks ranged from two tickets for a glass of wine to three tickets for a cocktail. That said, LUGO clearly was not economically accessible for all Saskatonians. Considering student budgets, paying two Elizabeths simply to gain entry to an event is not very affordable.
Aside from the cost, LUGO was also plagued by an unfortunate lack of crowd movement. The Remai’s three floors were packed with people, resulting in confusion regarding where to go and what exactly one was supposed to do. It often felt difficult to find performances, despite the fact that they were scattered liberally throughout the gallery.
Because it was easier for people to stand around and talk than to see the performances, LUGO felt more like a social event than an annual celebration of the Saskatonian art scene.
Although LUGO had the potential to deliver something new and spectacular at the Remai Modern, the event felt undeniably adrift. While the performances were spectacular and demonstrated the strength and growth of Saskatoon’s art scene, LUGO is evidently still trying to figure out exactly what it is and how it fits within the colossal Remai Modern Art Gallery.
It’s clear that LUGO has potential to facilitate artful expression in Bridge City, despite missing the mark this year. Simply put, Saskatoon has many other crucial celebrations of art that have succeeded in terms of accessibility, affordability and scope. LUGO, however, needs to take its time to fully grow into its role as an important Saskatonian event.
Photos: Dave Stobbe / Supplied