Q&A: Up Cannabis on collaborating with Elie Kimbembe’s first photo exhibition, ‘SOLO’

Rising photographer Elie Kimbembe hosted his first photo exhibition, SOLO, in his hometown, Toronto on March 28. In collaboration with StackLab and Up Cannabis, the sold out event was an extraordinary experience for art enthusiasts and creatives alike. The gallery featured 16 photographs, all which seamlessly floated in between an arrangement of illuminated chambers and vaporized mist.

In celebration of Canada’s first legal 4/20, we’ve published our Q&A with Up Cannabis’ Vice President (Creative and Strategy), Liesbeth Teerink. Liesbeth breaks down working with Elie, the vision behind SOLO and how recreational cannabis plays a role in creating art.

Q&A: Liesbeth Teerink

How did this collaboration with Elie begin and what was Up Cannabis’ role behind the vision of this exhibition?

Liesbeth: We invited Elie to our launch event Up North last July. What followed were months of get-togethers with Elie to get to know each other. We were blown away by this young talent, his smarts and most importantly what a good guy he is. At Up we don’t believe in simply handing over money to buy ourselves into a cultural space. It’s about real relationships, mutual respect and collaboration. So yes, an important role was funding the full development and event execution of Solo, but our other role was one of partners, collaborators and even friends. During these meetings between Up, Elie and also Stacklab Design (the environment designers behind the exhibit) the vision for Solo slowly came together. The exhibit is a wonderland of photography, spacial design and movement. It allows a visitor to almost float around and discover. That experience, though not spelled-out in the exhibit, is closely linked to a possible cannabis experience. But we leave that to the consumer to interpret that or not.

Being that this was Elie’s first showcase, what were the biggest challenges you faced to turn his ideas to life?

Liesbeth: We had to provide a lot of support in terms of the planning of the event. Like you said, this was Elie’s first showcase. He is a crazy talented photographer and visionary, but it takes a big team and a very structured process to create an event that delivers on very specific objectives. The process is always a challenge, and that is absolutely to be expected. The beauty of doing these mash-ups is not just the end result, but the journey. There is tremendous learning when you go through something like this. We embrace challenges and so does Elie. We talk a lot about how we are doing things and how we can do it better. We challenge each other and that’s fantastic. 

Everything about SOLO was so detailed and intentional. What was your end goal for each attendee’s overall experience?

Liesbeth: To have an experience—full stop. To get something out of a moment. Whatever that something is. Art is very personal. For the makers and for the experiencers of the art. Life can get stressful and life can get dull. To be able to go to a place and walk into another world, even just for half an hour, and to feel something… there is something very valuable about that. That was our end goal. For people to go away and say: ‘Hey Elie, Up and Stacklab gave me an experience.  And it was good for me.’

There are artists (of all disciplines) who often turn to cannabis for inspiration – what are your thoughts in relation to the use of recreational marijuana and creating art?

Liesbeth: There is no denying certain strains of cannabis—our Sativa strain ‘Gems’ is a good example—are used by artists because they say it creates this state of ‘Hyper-focus’, where surroundings, thoughts and other ‘distractors’ are pushed away as an effect of cannabis, allowing the brain to create in-the-moment. In ancient civilizations, spiritual leaders used cannabis for the same reason, to access spirituality. But again, these experiences are very personal and it is really up to individuals to decide what works and does not work for them. We don’t tell people what to do. Just experiment. Be safe. Enjoy.   

What steps is Up Cannabis taking to remove the stigma behind the use of recreational marijuana?

Liesbeth: Everyday Canadians are going to lead the charge in removing the stigma, not us producers. My 86-year-old mother-in-law has been dealing with insomnia for over 40 years. She has been asking me about cannabis for the past year and she has been telling all her friends about it. We are going to visit a retail store in Toronto next week on a shopping trip. A bunch of 80+ ladies happily shopping for cannabis…that’s removing stigma for me. And what Up and all other licensed producers need to do is to provide safe, quality products and lobby the government to allow us to provide as much information as possible about these products.  

Overall what is one great takeaway from this experience you can share with us?

Liesbeth: Working with talented emerging Canadian artists is a great way for Up to position itself in the marketplace. There is so much benefit to be had for our brand to be profiled together with an artist brand. It’s a true symbiosis where both parties benefit. One plus one becomes three. The artist is looking for ways to bring their vision to life and take their art and notoriety to the next level and we are looking for awareness and affinity for our brand. As long as both parties are very aware of the objectives of the other party, it’s a guaranteed win.

What other collaborations or partnerships should we be watching for in the future?

Liesbeth: Well…Up is and will always be connected to our creative partners, The Tragically Hip. In addition to that we are launching The Upside (exploretheupside.ca) in a few weeks from now where you will be able to watch our first content series, EatUp. It’s a great mash-up of cannabis, top chefs and creatives. In April, we are coming out with our skateboard collaboration with Kadence, with a special event for their latest edition of The Canadian Trek video series. And there will be more…much more. And yes…we invite The D’ARCC-featured artists to introduce themselves and their ideas to us. We’d love to meet.

Photography by Jordon Bailey and Up Cannabis