Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fire in the HOLE

Outdoor alcove transformed into tiny, vulnerable gallery

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Hole in the Wall Gallery measures 23 centimetres wide, 13 centimetres deep, and 16.5 centimetres high at its tallest point. It's located in a brick wall that faces the back alley along the north side of Portage Avenue, between Arlington and Burnell streets. Neighbourhood residents Frank Livingston, a visual artist, and University of Manitoba history professor David Churchill first noticed the accidental alcove while cutting through the alley on their way to Shoppers Drug Mart, and the idea to create "a tiny improvised public art space" was born.

Since its first "opening" last month (an amusing gesture considering the venue never closes), Hole in the Wall has hosted a scaled-down, temporary exhibition by a different local artist starting each Sunday afternoon. Left exposed to the elements and passersby, the work never has lasted in the space past Tuesday, but the site's vulnerability is ultimately part of its appeal.

Where most of us expect to encounter works ensconced in pristine galleries, there's nothing to separate works shown in the Hole from the business (and shenanigans) of everyday life. They've tended to be ephemeral, unexpected, accessible and fun.

Cliff Eyland, whose work you might know from his imposing installation of 1,000 paintings on display at Millennium Library, contributed a delicate series of drawings for the inaugural event. Like much of his work made since the 1980s, the irresolute, sensitively handled pen-and-ink caricatures were roughly the size of standard index cards. Their scale and format were perfectly suited to the informal setting -- and virtually begged to be absconded-with.

Elise Nadeau, a ceramic artist and program director at the Edge Artist Village, presented pieces from her series Shot Glasses. The miniature porcelain vessels, which Nadeau cast from found objects including bottle caps and old keys, looked right at home in their gritty surroundings, but they hardly went unnoticed. Additional pieces had to be brought in several times as old ones disappeared from the space.

This past week, recent School of Art grad Jeff Kent suspended a tiny origami cube from a length of brass chain set with pink- and purple-cut glass beads. Looking like a tiny wrapped present during the day, the box cast a subtle glow after dark, lit from inside with a battery-powered LED -- a gentle surprise for anyone taking a late-night shortcut.

Dany Reede's illustration and mixed-media artwork reflects the irreverent, macabre esthetics of alternative comics and punk fanzines, which he imbues with an undercurrent of self-deprecating melancholy. His installation, a pile of stylized white dismembered hands set within an eerie miniature landscape of matchsticks, candle wax, thread and found objects, managed to be disconcerting and sweet in equal measure. It stands as probably the Hole in the Wall's most genuinely surprising -- and surprisingly affecting -- offering to date.

This week's exhibition features painter Craig Love and is set to open Sunday, Sept. 8, at 3 p.m. It's anybody's guess how long the work will stick around, however, so you'll want to walk, bike or drive by sooner rather than later.

As for the Hole in the Wall itself, Churchill and Livingston plan to keep clandestinely curating the space until it's filled for good.

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2013 c14

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