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The Globe and Mail

Meet The Globe’s Canadian artist of the year, plus seven other top talents

To celebrate a remarkable year of film, television, music, theatre, visual art and more, The Globe asked its writers and critics to nominate their choices for the Canadian artist of 2014. Discover who they selected, and whom you, our readers, chose as the winner


Tanya Tagaq was always a polarizing outlier at the folk festivals where I used to encounter her. She stormed and howled and made herself a vessel for a kind of visceral music you don’t hear from most singer-songwriters. And yet there’s no roots music more grounded in nature and the messy cycles of life. This year, Tagaq found her proper stage, and it turned out to be the whole world. Her album Animism won the Polaris Prize, drew strong reviews internationally and landed on many best-of-year lists. And when she performed, no one seemed to notice that she was partially lodged in a tradition of improvised music that’s usually too out-there to rock the mainstream. It helps that her music and performances are stronger than ever. But Tagaq’s third album also appeared at a time when indigenous artists, from Joseph Boyden to A Tribe Called Red, are making a bigger mark in the world. Non-indigenous people seem more ready to hear from an Inuit singer who is in touch with profound realities, and who’s mad as hell besides. Animism’s messages about colonialism and environmental degradation need to be heard, and Tagaq’s way of delivering them will shake you to your bones. – Robert Everett-Green


At 40, David Altmejd is hardly the new Canuck kid in the international art bloc, nor is he old enough to rank as a venerable. The Montreal native is in something of a sweet spot now. In the past 15 years, he has produced enough installation and sculptural work, in an idiom described, variously, as “camp-Goth” and “the gorgeous grotesque,” to have established a closely tracked oeuvre; yet he’s young enough not to have to be slavishly beholden to that history. 2014 was a stellar year for the artist who, since obtaining his master’s degree in fine arts from Columbia University in 2001, has made New York his home. In January, the Art Gallery of Ontario gave ample play to The Index, an installation of mirrors, monsters, stuffed birds, fake plants and Styrofoam that earned Altmejd international recognition upon its premiere in the Canadian Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale. A few weeks after the AGO reinstallation, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art hosted Altmejd’s The Holes, part of the National Gallery of Canada collection since 2010, in a well-received group show on “the contemporary baroque” called Misled by Nature. Atmejd’s most impressive showcase, however, occurred in Paris where he was feted with a retrospective at the prestigious Musée d’Art Moderne. Titled Flux and running until early February, 2015, the exhibition includes Altmejd’s most recent epic, The Flux and the Puddle, described by The New York Times as “a labyrinth of mirrors and Plexiglass … werewolves and birdmen … pits of plaster and puddles of gooey resin.” The Grateful Dead once sang that “too much of everything is just enough;” if Altmejd has a credo, it could be that. – James Adams


As his latest film, Mommy, won the big prize at Cannes and accolades at the Toronto International Film Festival, Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan told one industry gathering that this was the first time he ever felt the critics weren’t correcting his homework. Perhaps the extraordinary attention that Dolan, now 25, has received since he burst on the scene with J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) in 2009 has sometimes been patronizing. Certainly, this year he seemed to come into his own as an adult artist. In Mommy, he has drawn an intensity of performance from his actors – Antoine Olivier Pilon as a violently disturbed teenager, Anne Dorval as his tough-talking mother and Suzanne Clément as their tragically withdrawn neighbour – that speaks of a mature talent in total control of the form. He has also reminded audiences in 2014 of what an extraordinary actor he is in his own right, playing a charmingly manipulative inmate in a mental ward in the psychological thriller Elephant Song. This is the year that Dolan won the jury prize at Cannes; it is also the year he graduated from prodigy to master. – Kate Taylor


Stan Douglas has had his adept fingers in many techno-amazing contemporary art pies this year, creating exceptional experiences in the theatre, the gallery and on screens large and small. With a diverse range of projects, each bursting with ambition and excellence, Douglas, 54, reasserts himself as a multimedia virtuoso in possession of one of Canada’s great artistic brains. His cinematic theatrical wonder, Helen Lawrence, which he conceived and directed, was a trip. Actors perform in front of cameras and a blue screen onstage, their actions instantaneously inserted into a meticulous 3-D rendering of two specific 1940s Vancouver settings, and viewed on a movie screen – wowing audiences in Vancouver, Toronto, Germany and Scotland. (The NFB’s complementary Circa 1948 premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, with an immersive installation. There’s an iOS app, too.) His six-hour jazz film Luanda-Kinshasa screened to raves at his New York gallery. There were photographic exhibitions internationally and in Toronto (at Contact, the result of his 2013 Scotiabank Photography Award). These kick-ass visual experiences also elicit careful introspection. By showing us our contemporary and (recently) historical selves, Douglas helps us take stock. Prolific and exciting, he continues to insert his work, and thus Canadian art, into the global conversation.– Marsha Lederman


In Strange Empire, Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik has delivered the most creatively ambitious Canadian TV drama in years and the long-awaited Canadian entry into the arena of serious-minded, expansive, premium cable-type TV. It’s a western, a female-centric fantasy and simultaneously a sharp probe into the dark corners of Canadian history. It is uncommonly fresh in its visual aesthetic, stylish, challenging and poignant. Set in 1869 in a wild, lawless time in a lawless place, it is about women and what they must do to survive and thrive in a culture that sees them, primarily, as whores. Everything turns, literally and metaphorically, on that. In the key central character of Kat Loving (Cara Gee), a Métis woman of imposing strength and rage, Finstad-Knizhnik has created an iconic figure, a heroine-provocateur for the ages. Strange Empire is set in 1869, but it could be now. It could be here, there or anywhere. It’s a puzzle, it’s plaintive and gripping, an extraordinary act of creativity. Best of all, Finstad-Knizhnik’s creation is a rebuttal of a decade of mediocrity in Canadian TV, unencumbered by our usual limitation of imagination in serious, searing TV storytelling. – John Doyle


“I’m just me,” insists British punk Sarah Manning, in an early episode of the head-tripping cult hit Orphan Black. But who is that, exactly? Sarah, after all, is one of eight clones given life by the singular Tatiana Maslany, the 29-year-old Regina-born star (and raison d’être) of cable channel Space’s breakout series. For two seasons now, Maslany has been giving a master class in acting, displaying not just an extraordinary range – from sullen Sarah to uptight soccer mom Alison and all the colours in between – but often an impressive chemistry with, well, with herself. For a sci-fi thriller studded with mystery, existential doubt and droll wit, Maslany’s fierce courage and quicksilver cunning both elevate and keep it grounded in reality. This year, nominations and awards rolled in: Maslany is in the running for what would be her first for a Screen Actors Guild Award, and she signed with a major L.A. agency. The only question hanging over her future now is how long Canada will be able to hold on before she is lured away by Hollywood and its deep pockets. If that happens, we’d be happy for her, of course, as long as she stays herself. Whoever that is. – Simon Houpt


The new year will be busy for Toronto-based Jordan Tannahill, who has at least five separate productions as director or playwright on his plate – in Calgary, New York, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg. But it won’t be any busier than the past year, when the 26-year-old dramatist’s concerns lined up perfectly with the country’s. Concord Floral, premiering in Toronto in October and starring actual teenagers, was a spooky, suburban legend that had at its core the sexual harassment of a young girl by her peers. In Vancouver, his Late Company had a professional premiere at Touchstone Theatre that one critic called “excruciatingly good.” In it, the parents of a gay boy who committed suicide invite the teen who tormented him and his parents over for dinner. Both works are about bullying but eschew simplistic explanations or naive solutions. Age of Minority: Three Solo Plays which includes the script for Tannahill’s excellent live-streamed play Rihannaboi95, picked up the Governor-General’s Award for Drama in November (making Tannahill the youngest winner in the history of the prize); and, in December, he topped things off by winning the John Hirsch Award, a triennial prize given to up-and-coming stage directors. Add in a short film at the Toronto International Film Festival (Father) and a short choreography with Christopher House (On Display: Rough House) – and that’s quite the year for the poster child of a new generation of (theatre? film? dance?) artists for whom “interdisciplinary” is not a buzzword, but a way of life. – J. Kelly Nestruck


More than once an author has told me that their new book was one they felt “had” to be written. Miriam Toews, a novelist of great empathy and grace, almost certainly wishes she never had reason to write All My Puny Sorrows. A novel that was born in tragedy (the suicide of her older sister) was also the most triumphant book I read in 2014; it is a celebration of everything that makes life what it is, from the darkest hours to the most joyous days. It was published in a year when our Supreme Court revisited the moral question of a person’s right to die, yet all you’ll ever need to know about the issue can be found in the novel’s 336 pages. How does one confront the trauma that comes with losing a beloved sibling? Toews, in fiction, found a way. A distillation of her impressive skill, All My Puny Sorrows is brilliant, bittersweet and, somehow, brutally funny. It is a novel that will endure, in the sense that it will be read for years to come, but it is also a novel that will help us endure, and stand as a testament, a beacon, for those who can’t. – Mark Medley

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