Artist Michael Markowsky responds to an art challenge on the CBC-TV program Crash Gallery. Photo courtesy CBC.
Some artists might find turning on the creative taps for the camera challenging. For Michael Markowsky, a Calgary-born, Vancouver-raised artist, however, that’s small beer compared to some of the places he’s made work.
Markowsky is one of the artists featured on Crash Gallery, a new CBC TV immersive program that debuted at the start of October. The default tendency might be to describe it as reality television – and it is a kind of staged, documented TV show featuring a group of 15 artists of different artistic backgrounds who are assembled and asked to create on cue, in a series of art challenges filmed in front of a live audience.
But in true we’re-nicer-than-Americans Canadian style, immersive TV is reality TV minus judges (although it’s got a host, Sean O’Neill, scoring) or anything resembling a prize package. (And could anything be more Canadian than that?).
Not that Markowsky – a graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), who also spent stints studying at Cooper Union in New York and the Royal College of Art in London – with a habit of being creative in some of the most unlikely places you can imagine (on the North Pole, in a fighter jet) minds being put on the (creativity) spot very much.
“It’s not about making anybody look stupid,” he says, “or embarrassing anybody or having moments where people fall flat on their face.
“It’s more about documenting creativity,” he says, “and the creation process.”
For Markowsky, a self-described multi-tasker who spent a stint with the Canadian military in 2009 as an official war artist, being asked to create on the fly, in front of rolling cameras, isn’t such a big ask.
“Maybe,” he says, “I might have had a bit of an advantage in the sense that I’ve done a lot of stuff interacting with the public, where its been documented by the cameras.
“I didn’t really stress about that too much,” he says, “because I kind of feel some level of comfort in that respect.”
All of which begs the question: what’s more gut wrenching: making art while embedded with the armed forces in the cockpit of an airborne fighter jet, or as part of a television cast?
“Two extremely different experiences,” Markowsky says, “but both under a lot of pressure.
“One is making art while in a plane,” he says, “and while that’s difficult on its own, I also felt pressure from the pilots.
“I didn’t want to disappoint them,” he says, “the same way doing this thing on television, you’ve got a very short amount of time, and millions of people are going to be watching it and you don’t want to look like a fool. So stakes are pretty high.”
That fits right into Markowsky’s artistic wheelhouse.
“When I’m under pressure,” he says, “I tend to make better work, because I just don’t have time to question what I’m doing.”
Which, he adds, is a good life lesson.
“There’s a tendency,” he says, “to always want to make everything perfect and if something is a little askew, just sort of throw your hands up and say, screw it – but when you’re in that kind of (pressure) situation, you just have to embrace it.
“If you get a few drips here and there,” he says, “you think OK, maybe we should have more drips!”
Now that he’s tried making art on TV, in a fighter jet and up at the North Pole, he’s set his (very big picture) sights on a new goal: becoming the first artist-in-residence on the moon.
After all, if NASA can have a charming, Canadian, folk singing scientist be part of a space mission, why not enlist the services of an artist with experience being creative at supersonic speeds?
“Why not?” he asks. “We’ve sent somebody from pretty much every profession up there – from kindergarten teachers to scientists to a whole bunch of soldiers. If you think about it, they trained (Neil) Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – pilots – to go up there and take photographs.
“What would happen,” he adds, “if you’d actually taken trained photographers or trained artists and sent them to the moon?
“They would make very different kinds of photographs and different kinds of documentation of that experience.
“Considering how NASA has this whole problem,” he says, “getting people excited about space, why not enlist the very people like myself, whose job it is to show people the beauty in the world that they overlook?”