In the low-rent, no-margin world of alternative art spaces, it can be a struggle just to keep the doors open with a roof over one's head.
David Churchill and Frank Livingston, founders of the city's smallest and most accessible artist-run centre, learned that lesson the hard way.
A literal hole in an actual wall, Hole in the Wall Gallery didn't have doors or a roof as such. Its lease came up last June when, after a run of 28 unsanctioned micro-exhibitions, the missing brick behind a Portage Avenue grocery store was finally filled in.
Undeterred, the pair are back this summer with their just-as-aptly named Box Gallery — half a cubic foot of prime exhibition space in a conveniently portable wooden box. With a grant from the Daniel Macintyre/St. Matthews Community Association to cover artist fees, the Box has been touring the West End all month, hosting week-long exhibitions by neighbourhood artists.
The series began outside the DMSMCA, 833 Ellice Ave., on Aug. 1 with a new work by Anishinaabe painter Jackie Traverse. A sombre bas-relief portrait of an unnamed indigenous woman, All Women Are Sacred echoed a sentiment that urgently bears repeating, even if we wish it didn't. The unconventional gallery's openness to the elements and passersby added a further, wrenching sense of vulnerability.
That same vulnerability informed both Rachel M. Schappert's fragile-looking found-object assemblage, Crown and Anchor, and glass artist Brook Drabot's exquisite Boreal Nesting. With the Box installed outside Orioles Community Centre, Drabot placed three tiny, green glass eggs in a clear glass bird's nest filled with moss, surrounding it with river rocks and pinecones. (The piece survived its week-long run intact, miraculously.)
Also at Orioles, this time by the Bike Cage, the final show in the series opens Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. With a little help from their Daniel Mac/St Matthew's neighbours, Suzie Smith and Kristin Nelson compiled three quirky, circuitous sightseeing tours that highlight "back lane murals and art," "elaborate front yards," and hidden distractions for kids and pets. Embodying the Box's freewheeling community spirit, the duo's Risograph-printed Map of Interesting Places (available free on-site) invites West End denizens and visitors alike to explore and get lost, leaving space for us to map our own places of interest.
Ordinary brick-and-mortar galleries can be as vulnerable as any Hole in the Wall, of course: last week, C Space — the city's best, most credible and most important venue for up-and-coming visual artists — was forced to vacate 318 Ross Ave., along with the building's other tenants, following failed inspections.
While the closure comes as a serious blow to morale, the gallery's next scheduled exhibition has at least found a backup location. Opening tomorrow in Aceartinc's Flux Gallery, I Was Trying to Describe You To Someone is the first half of an inter-provincial exchange between emerging Winnipeg and Vancouver artists. Five recent graduates of Emily Carr University of Art + Design — Tommy Chain, Catherine de Montreuil, Scott Kemp, Michael Lachman, and Graeme Wahn — will share their oblique impressions of Winnipeg and meditations on "distance" (geographical, emotional, etc.) in works spanning sculpture, video and photography.
Late next month, Kristina Banera, Hannah Doucet, John Patterson and Rachael Thorleifson (all 2015 Manitoba grads who share their West Coast peers' slick, cerebral sensibilities) will return the gesture in Vancouver with their own exhibition, Anticipating Distance.
The exchange was a response to the difficulty of finding exhibition opportunities, especially outside of one's own city. It's both exciting and comforting to remember that, when pressed for space, artists will usually find or make their own.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.