Local knowledge 

Museum enlists community members for upcoming exhibit

What: Picturing Whistler

Where: Whistler Museum & Archives

When: Exhibit opens to the public Saturday, Sept. 11

I resided in Austria for several months in the mid-1990s and out of all the memories of great snowboarding and rustic Bavarian guesthouses one incident stands above the others.

One sunny afternoon while walking along a road, a car pulled up beside me and asked me for directions in German. I answered back in German. They understood. And with a cheery wave they headed off.

I watched them drive away slightly stunned. As a foreigner slightly out of my element due to language and cultural quirks I felt, for the first time, like I belonged to Austria. Those people had assumed I was a local. And I felt like I was a local. I had been able to communicate in the locals’ language and successfully impart local knowledge. It felt great.

Of course, the centuries-old farming families that inhabited the area would probably have choked on their Topfenstrudel at my audacity.

But it’s precisely that subjectivity of "what makes a local" that is behind a new exhibit at the Whistler Museum, opening to the public next weekend.

As far as towns go, Whistler is so new the founding members are still alive and kickin’. On the other side of the coin are the scores of temporary residents bedding down every winter with no intentions to ever buy a home or raise a family. Yet after a couple weeks of powder runs, they’re wearing their current address like a badge of honour.

What does it mean to be a Whistler local?

Museum curator Kerry Clark, a Whistler resident for the past eight years who still can’t say for sure whether or not she is a local, felt that the concept was worth the attention of her institution.

Clark and her staff rounded up a dozen Whistlerites to represent as many walks of local life as possible, including a pair of tourists, a Whistler-born teenager, old-timers, youngsters, artists and star athletes. Each participant was given a no-frills, disposable camera and a week to capture images unique to their point of view.

Of approximately 300 images, 53 will be enlarged and displayed on the museum walls. A corresponding sourcebook will be published featuring all the images organized by participant and accompanied by a profile.

The exhibit, says Clark, is based on an innovative new theory of user-generated content whereby the curator takes on the role of a facilitator. The model has been employed by esteemed institutions such as the Smithsonian, which sought contributions to document the events of 9/11.

The disposable cameras used for the exhibit presented a challenge in that they allowed no confirmation of shot quality until they were developed. While many of the shots are indeed striking, the exhibit is no professional photo exhibition. That’s not to imply it’s without artistic merit. The found-object aesthetic of point and shoot snapshots has many fans and is used regularly in instalments by exciting young artists such as Montreal photographer SB Edwards.

Picturing Whistler is bound to raise its share of eyebrows and is guaranteed fodder for discussion.

When all is said and done, the question of what it means to be "local" will probably be even more disputed.

But in another sense, Clark sees Picturing Whistler as a unique way for visitors to get a better grasp of what this town is like, who we are and who we think we are.

The exhibit opens to the public on Saturday, Sept. 11 and will remain on display throughout the winter. For more information call 6004-932-2019 or go to www.whistlermuseum.org.

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