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Laughter, tea and art : yes please!


Laughter, tea and art : yes please!

Culture / torontomercer / Mar 21, 2016

The perks of my job are many: I discovered the hidden treasures of Winnipeg, long before the adventure seekers flock there thanks to National Geographic Traveler’s recent list of the top 20 cities to see in 2016; I had a refreshing exchange about frescos and importance of encouraging emerging artists with En Route’s Sommelier of the Year, Anton Potvin, while sampling a series of delights at his new Toronto restaurant DaiLo.

Don’t get me wrong. We work hard at Group Germain Hotels. Very hard. We also play hard. During my first week on the job in 2012, Christiane Germain, the cofounder and copresident said to me: « Business and pleasure are not mutually exclusive ». They have become words to live by. That is why, when Olena Kassian invited me to visit the studio she shares with Ann Bartok during a recent trip to Toronto, I said: yes please!

You see, they are the artists behind Cloud 9, the artwork commissioned for the new guest rooms at Le Germain Hotel Toronto.

I had seen mock ups of the renovations planned for the rooms but nothing compared to how I felt when I walked into the space. The first –and only– rule of art is that is should make you feel something, anything. When I walked into the new guest room, I stopped in my tracks and immediately asked about the sculpture above the bed. Graceful. Moving. Light. Airy. What is it made of? What is that texture? Where did we find this incredible piece? I was moved and I had to know more. Thankfully, Louise Dupont from Lemay Michaud Architecture Design, the designer who led the renovations, also led me to Olena and Ann.

So, on a grey Saturday afternoon, I found myself sipping tea and eating homemade muffins in the warm and light-filled spaces of BARKAS Studio. Ann and Olena explained how they met and took me through their creative process, each completing the others’ sentences. When they met, Ann was creating mostly large-scale sculptures for multi-use projects, many of which were structured in papier mâché, whereas Olena worked with powdered graphite on mylar and light-box sculptures. After having had decades of discipline and success as Toronto-based artists, Olena and Ann rented adjoining spaces with a three year lease to give themselves the gift of time, time to explore and experiment.« To play », Olena says. « I did not want to have a deadline or an order to fill, I simply wanted to be inspired and to create. » That lease has been extended again and again!

They both exuded complete happiness and fulfilment, a state that can only come from days spent laughing together as they try to adapt yet another household appliance for a use it was not intended. They compared techniques and materials, playing with everything from driftwood and aluminum to egg cartons and fiber-based insulation. Little did they know that they were laughing all the way to their largest commission to date: 119 original works of art! Does happiness breed creativity? I wondered. Yet another argument in favor of mixing business and pleasure.

The process for each piece is lengthy: the wood fibers must be broken down and soaked so they are transformed into a softer and more malleable state. The shape is created and the drying process begins. « That is when the work takes on a life of its own. It twists and turns as we guide it back to the path we envisioned. We must respect the material and listen to it, » says Olena. Ann jumps in with a wry smile: « But ultimately, we decide how it will end up. We pull it, stamp it, trace it, push it and weigh it down if we have to. It is tricky but so much fun! That is where the pliers and dumbbells come in. »

« We have fun every day. But, to have someone be touched by something we created is the greatest reward of all, » said Olena.

And, to have spent two hours in Ann and Olena’s joyous world is mine – it has been one of my favorite job perks so far.


About Stacey Masson, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications

Stacey is far from being new to the communications world. Since she graduated from Concordia University, she has held a succession of prestigious positions in telecommunications and public sector corporations, and advised numerous clients for a public relations agency.

In 2012, her passion for travel and design led her to Group Germain Hotels where she saw an opportunity to share her expertise with a nationally expanding company, whose design and values fits her like a glove. This is a happy marriage both for the company and Stacey, who skillfully orchestrates marketing and communication strategies from coast to coast. In parallel, she actively contributes to MU, a non-profit organization that is working to turn Montreal into an open-air MUseum by creating murals in communities across the island.

She has worked as Mission Head for Public Relations without Borders, an organization that works with populations in developing countries. This role allows her to actively give back while leveraging her language skills to their full potential – Stacey speaks English, French and Spanish.