The following remarks were presented by Shary Boyle at the opening reception of Canadian Artist, BMO Project Room, Toronto, January 18th, 2012

I’d like to thank Dawn Cain and Elisa Coish, for their organizational brilliance and enthusiastic support throughout this year-long process. The project room gallery would not exist without these women and their total commitment to celebrating art and artists.

My sincere thanks to Dustin Baldwin for his superior installation skills, and to my dear pal Alissa Coe for her fantastic studio assistance and wonderful company.

Jean-Francois Furieri and Briar Ford of Iconoplast Inc. created the molds and cast the plaster for all 44 chalkware portraits. Their craftsmanship is inspiration and anchor.

Thank you to Sholem Krishtalka for his essay which can be found on the website, and his help in editing my own unruly realms of thought around this project.

I have worked with Lisa Kiss many times in the past but this time we finally had room to run—the poster and invitation are by her magnificent design. Michelle Astrug designed the gallery card and wall text beautifully under a very tight deadline.

Gordon Hicks has created a masterfully smart and elegant website where one can explore the stories and writing that are the foundation of this multi-layered project. This site is a necessary companion to the project; conducting the research was as important and fascinating for me as creating the sculptures themselves.

And finally I want to thank and acknowledge the Bank of Montreal, for funding and thus valuing original creative projects made by Canadian artists.

As this is a financial institution, it only makes sense to talk for a moment about artists and the economy.

The funding for this project does not only commission my work as an individual artist. With the support of the BMO I was able to hire many individual artisans and creative workers, as well as disseminate that money into the larger community through purchasing supplies and services at many small businesses. In this way the artist becomes a distributor of funding throughout the community, and an important member of the local economy. Through donations and volunteer work, artists supplement the social and cultural life of a city, where government falls short. When private corporations support artists, that money does not stop at the individual, but supports and encourages a diverse range of related cultural practices.

The title Canadian Artist is a tough one, and I wonder what the response for many of you here was when you first saw the invitation. What does it mean to you? Do you draw a blank? If you are an art world insider, do you cringe? The title is meant as mildly satirical, as is the ostentatious presentation of the glorious invite. But at the same time, I mean it—I intend to put something into the world that is audacious and strong, and I mean to invent a mythology where I am dissatisfied with the current bland interpretations. The government of this country has had policies of sending out its artists into the world to act as ambassadors, representing some kind of unified culture that does not exist: flag-planters. But of what? What do we offer? Who do we represent?

As contemporary, sophisticated urban artists who take our cultural cues from larger cities in Europe and America, we’d rather avoid this conversation altogether because of its awkward, national identity-obsessed nature, which at heart is not very cool. But you can’t escape who you are, or where you’re from. We also can’t allow a picture of Canadian cultural identity to be created for us, by forces we do not care to represent us: our government and its version of history sanctioned for public schools and tourism.

I’m interested in what forces in life shape a person. I am very interested in migration, the patterns of movement of humans across the earth throughout history. How people came to where they are. I reserve the right to invent and imagine my own mythologies, ones that better represent the way I wish life was, or expose the hard truths of what is so often buried.

But in the end we are simply the sum of how we were raised, whom we have loved, and our mounting tallies of damage. The most interesting part of this year-long project for me has been the research and invention of each portrait’s story—and imagining how that individual could have possibly intersected with their counterpoint in procreation.

Thank you all for coming here tonight, it’s such a pleasure to see so many good faces in one room.

Shary Boyle, 2012