Uptown 7th changes coming?

Uptown 7th Buildings

I have been wanting to write about this space for quite some time. I have always needed a reason to write about it, and now I have found the reason.

The space is Uptown 7th.

Located in the Delamere Block at 125 and 127 – 7 Avenue SW, it is located directly across from the First Street C-Train Station. It can best be described as a bit of an outlier when speaking of art galleries in the city.

The primary face to this project is a J.J. (Jonathon) Sunstrum. Also involved his partner Kayla Shimbashi.

I first met Jonathon when he gave me a tour of the original space shortly after he took it over and I was actively researching art spaces in Calgary for the past 100 years. It was in pretty rough shape then and the space that was predominately used is what is visible from the street now. When he refers to the space, it is usually as an “art gallery under renovations” or some variation thereof. It is for this reason I became interested in the space, and have remained so since that time (partly because I pass it so often).

Sundstrom took possession of the former Express Café space on October 3, 2012 which was located in the 125 space. The Express Café began operations in 1980, and was closed by the Health Board in January 2012. This was the beginning of the Uptown 7 space.

Uptown 7th expanded to include the neighbouring space at 127, probably at some point in either 2013 or 2014. This space is more suitable for art exhibitions as it has better lighting, larger windows, level street access and the floors are probably in better condition.

Who is J.J. (Jonathon) Sunstrum?

I could find very little information available on him.

As a result I had to depend on what he himself provided on his website. In the Uptown 7th website, he has indicated that he previously owned the Powder Horn Saloon in Bragg Creek and the Mountain Pizza and Bistro also of Bragg Creek. As best I can determine the Uptown 7th website was probably created in 2013 and has only had a few minor updates since that time.

In the Uptown 7th website it would appear as if Sundstrom moved to Calgary during 2001. In 2007 he showed that has some local political ambitions by running for Mayor against the incumbent Dave Bronconier. During that election, there were nine candidates running. Sundstrom placed last, receiving 1813 votes (0.86% of the vote).

This was followed in 2013 when nine candidates also ran for the position of Mayor against the incumbent, Naheed Nenshi. Sundstrom placed 8th receiving 775 votes out of 262,577 votes cast.

Programming

The name for the gallery as best I can determine, and it is speculation on my part, is as a derivation of Uptown 17 which was the name of the BRZ for 17th Avenue SW. I suspect it is still in operation, but the focus has definitely changed in the past ten years or so.

I am quite familiar with Uptown 17 (now known as 17th Avenue Retail & Entertainment District) as I was actively involved in conversations with the BRZ as a result of my working in a commercial gallery which was located in the BRZ. We worked closely with the BRZ when it actively supported the visual arts and prior to the time when the approximately 10 (sometimes more, sometimes less) galleries all shared frontage onto the small section of the avenue between 4th and 10th Streets for approximately 20 years (or more?). Now, I think there is only one recently established gallery on the avenue and it does not have street frontage. At one time the BRZ championed the visual arts quite a bit and commissioned respected artists through a yearly(?) open competition to create murals to enliven the street.

Enliven the street it did, as there were some significant artworks created by artists such as Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Alexandra (Sandy) Haeseker, , Bill Laing, Barbara Milne, Gary Olsen, John Snow (destroyed in a fire), Wade Stout and I am quite certain that I am definitely missing others who should be listed.

I found an unattributed image of one of the murals that once was located on 17 Avenue on the internet without any indication of who took the photo. This is a work by Sandy Haeseker from the time when she was working on a large series of prints and paintings of English Sheep Dogs that she did for an extended period of time.

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However in the name of progress many of those artworks were quietly removed, the maquettes were sold off. As an aside I once purchased a Dulcie Foo Fat painting that was a maquette for a mural that was never commissioned, that I subsequently sold. The demise of 17th Avenue as a gallery row occurred around the time when Shopper’s Drug Mart removed an old building located on the corner of 7th Street and 17th Avenue, a building which housed my favourite drinking establishment in those days – the old, dark, and dingy, brick-lined Mercury that had paintings of Brad Harms on the wall. Usually there was a fluctuating number of artist types who would meet every Friday after work and regularly stay from early to quite late in the evening usually ending up getting serenaded by the sounds of Sideshow Sid and his epic collection of vinyl. The death of the gallery strip was followed shortly thereafter by similar action the block west where the Best Buy is currently located. Both of these buildings were not in sympathy with the buildings in the area. In my opinion, it became the death of the strip as a viable place to do business as a small business owner, and now has the personality of a factory outlet by comparison. The ascent of the Red Mile which was also just starting around the time when the entire cultural change of that street became noticeable.

But I digress after this small walk down memory lane.

Back to Uptown 7th.

Somewhere along the way, I recall seeing a defaced Uptown 17 poster/pennant/ flag in the window of the Uptown 7th space. Someone had painted over(?) the #1 in 17 but otherwise everything else was the same. Those flags are not used any more, so I am sure that it was salvaged in some way, probably around the time, or before Uptown 7th became what it is now.

As a gallery, there have been surprisingly few exhibitions. The space which I have attended art exhibitions (the 127 space) is marginal at best. From sources that I believe correct, there is black mold in the interior spaces and the building roof leaks into the spaces below. It is probably unheated and is lit by construction lighting and heated by electrical space heaters. Quite frankly the buildings have been neglected for a number of years (probably decades). I am sure that the conditions predated the beginnings of Uptown 7th.

Sometimes you have to work with what you have. I am trying to be as objective as possible. This no doubt affects the type of shows that can be presented, and to an extent the type of art that will be presented.

The most visible aspects of the programming are the regularly changing messages, quotes and jokes that are placed on the blackboard of the 125 building exterior. The music (usually CKUA) and the large screen TV in the window often plays older movies. All these are seemingly meant to entertain those waiting for the C-Train on the station across the street.

The 127 space, occasionally has exhibitions, events and occasionally features backlit dancers at night that perform Latin dances that are usually out of synch with the music playing outside.

Because of this, I often look at the space as being a performative type of venue whether intended or not. There is a theatrical type of element present in everything that this space does. In so doing it does play to a core cultural attitude for the city.

One cannot deny the importance of theatrical, musical, dance, festivals, entertainment (I include sports here) and how these activities are viewed as core cultural values in the city. This often is done to the exclusion of the visual arts and those small little niche markets mentioned above that can be defined as elitist by some (i.e. chamber music, modern dance, etc.) except for their small core constituencies. Why this is, I do not know.

When there were traditional exhibitions, and the last show was about a year ago in November 2015, they usually featured artists that fell under the radar and are not part of the traditional gallery community. I am aware of a number of the artists who have shown work in the space through just being active in the community and talking to whomever will listen – even though I do not operate a gallery anymore, nor am I really involved. But when I was, I loved given unproven artists a break, even though I didn’t always sell their work and sometimes showing their work cost me more money than it was worth. For many of these artists, just having the chance to show their work is a small success. A career is built upon a series of small successes. Many of those artists have never forgotten me and usually want to chat me up when we cross paths and usually ask when I will get back into the business again.

These shows usually lasted for a couple days to maybe a week in length. They are as follows:

  • Watercolours by 17 year old artist Natalie Slaba – November 2015)
  • Paintings by Mateja Šmic (or alternatively Mateja Schmitz) – October 2015
  • Paintings by Enriquito Selfismo – September 2015 (a Cuban artist that I understand is now living in Florida)
  • Traditional b&w photography by Clarke Kinaschuk – August 2015 (now living in Toronto?)
  • Paintings by Enrique Hernandez (Selfismo?), Yulin Qin and Juyan Chen – June 2015 (Grand Opening event)

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The space with the most amount of activity is the apartment above 129. It is here that Sundstrom and Shimbashi reside (November 15, 2016 edit: This information is incorrect as the space is used as an office instead, as will be discussed further in  an upcoming posting). What we see here is bubbles that are often discharged at random times of day and night from one of the upper storey windows. It creates a bit of a magical effect. While waiting for or riding the C-Train I have heard more than a few times people commenting on this part of the space. I have seen children trying to catch the bubbles, occasionally an adult too.

What benefit does this space provide?

I remember this section of the street from when I was still in high school. Occasionally, after school, I would go downtown with some of my fellow classmates. There was an arcade in one of the spaces, possibly below the residence. I also remember being propositioned to purchase drugs on this section of the street periodically during that high school timeframe as well.

7th-ave-sw-100-block-circa-2006

When Art Central opened, this section of the street definitely was seedy. There is no question about that. It was an area of urban blight. It was a section of downtown that was considered to be unsafe by many people and an area to be avoided.

Around the time that Art Central opened (across the street and other end of the block from Uptown 7th) the C-Train platform was moved from between 1st and 2nd Streets to it’s present location between Centre and 1st Streets. During this time there was a C-Train platform on the south side of the street which was removed and relocated one block to the east where the current Centre Street platform now resides adjoining the Hyatt Hotel and the Calgary Convention Centre.

Approximately when both C-Train platforms were relocated and Art Central opened, Heritage Property Corporation purchased a series of these buildings. For a number of years Heritage Properties tried to create the Seventh Avenue Autopark Inc. which was a driverless, automated parking lot which was to be located directly above these buildings. This would allow the refurbishment and rehabilitation of the buildings similar to what they did in the Lougheed Building around the corner on 1st, which houses the Grand Theatre and buildings that once housed the old Calgary Public Museum.

Stuart Block, 7th Avenue, Calgary

Presumably around the same time, there was a forced eviction of “undesirables” who were residing in the three-storey Stuart Block. It is this building in the photo above. Because so many of the people who used this building as a home lived on the margins of society there was little uproar about the forced eviction. However, This is My City Society in cooperation with the High Performance Rodeo presented a performance which addressed the last days before the eviction as part of the Cultural Capital activities during 2012. The building outside for the most part has been vacant since that time.

This all was taking place around the same time that the York Hotel and the Regis Hotel were getting vacated; the Art Central project was nearing completion; and The Bow building was beginning; the Calgary Convention Centre was expanding and the Hyatt development was happening. There was definitely some over-riding desire to gentrify the few blocks in that area during that time.

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In the end, numerous attempts were made to City Council to make the auto park project happen. Ultimately, it never got off the ground. No doubt, there was substantial amounts expended to do the engineering reports and other related expenses. Having the buildings mostly vacant, and the few that were occupied were probably barely covering operational costs for the remaining buildings. With the local economy in a tough spot, and the last attempt to make it happen got shot down (again) around the time that the price of oil collapsed in 2014, that probably was the end of the road for the financial viability of this project. In some ways, I am surprised that they lasted as long as they did. As a result, the buildings were placed into receivership (or bankruptcy) as evidenced by the photo at the top of the page.

Legacy of this project

The biggest legacy to this project is public safety. With this project being where it is and activity happening all the time, Uptown 7th has become the eyes on the street. Often we will see Sundstrom on the street doing things like sweeping up cigarette butts and trash. He will be up on the roof shovelling off the snow. He is out there often. By blowing bubbles from an upstairs window the human presence is evident.

By doing these things it has created public safety for C-Train patrons that may not be as noticeable at other downtown C-Train stops.

For illustration, I will use the Centre Street platform located the next block over as an example. Here there is no human presence across the street after hours where the old Regis Hotel (cardboard is currently in the windows), the old Calgarian (now a fitness centre active during the day) and the Legion #1 which are all located in that block. In addition to this there are no C-Train platform entrances to either the Convention Centre or the Hyatt leaving the platform virtually unattended at any point outside of the business and daylight hours in the downtown core. There are a few small businesses that keep their doors locked and a Calgary Transit ticket place that is busy at the end of every month and various points in between. There also is some public art piece of standing people which allows for a place to blend in with the sculptures and rest while taking advantage of the heating vents located below them, where police will often visit at night to check on those who like to hang out there.

When comparing both the Hyatt block and the one located where Uptown 7th is located, there is a significant difference in terms of activity. The Palomino usually has people on the street most evenings at one end of the street. In the middle, they both are the same with unoccupied heritage buildings with Uptown 7th on the other end. The platform of course may change once the Telus Sky project is completed in a couple years, as I understand there will be a residential component to it.

There is a measurable difference in the number of transit customers who wait on the two platforms after hours, using comparable times.

Although the cultural significance of the art gallery is debatable, the appearance of safety that has come with the gallery and the activity surrounding it, is undeniable.

This all brings me to the compelling reason to write about Uptown 7th

I often pass by Uptown 7th at various times of day and night because of the C-Train. I also often read the chalk board messages, just like many others also do.

About three weeks ago, early October (maybe it was late September) there was a message indicating that the buildings may be sold and that they would find out on the following Monday. I paid more attention as a result. Early the following week, I noticed that there was a message indicating that the building had been sold.

By the time I remembered to bring my camera with me, the message had been erased and replaced with another. Nevertheless, we do know that the building indeed has been sold. This is confirmed from the listing agent who has stated this fact on their website.

My assumption is that because it was a judicial sale, possession would take effect as quickly as is reasonably possible. A possession date, that starts at the beginning of the month after receiving court approval would seem like a plausible timeframe.

This means that the possession date could reasonably be expected to occur as soon as today (November 1, 2016).

Therefore, we may see changes to this block in the very near future.

I would also think that something big will happen in terms of development in this block in the near future. It will probably will not happen right away. I would think that with this block of buildings, the purchaser owns enough property on the block, that it is merely just a matter of time before something moves forward and this block will be gentrified.

A number of years ago in 2006, when The Bow building was still in development, Bob van Weegan penned a story in the Calgary Herald, which talked about heritage buildings. This quote which I feel is as relevant now, as it was then, is from that story.

When an old building is sold to developers, that is often bad news for heritage. In some cases, the city or province may provide funding or tax breaks, or use overriding legislative power to preserve a building. But typically when heritage is at stake, there is a negotiation between the developer and public authorities. If a developer is sympathetic and can achieve what he needs on a site without destroying heritage, there is a good chance for a win-win outcome.

I close with this thought to muse upon. Recently, there is an increased city-wide awareness that heritage buildings should be protected (in some way, partly through the Century Homes project which I was happy to be part of). Is it possible that the new project will incorporate the historical buildings in a manner similar to what was done in the Hyatt and Calgary Convention Centre expansion along Stephen Avenue Walk?

8th Avenue Hyatt & Convention Centre facade

My guess is that something like that probably will happen, and it probably will not be a small project either.

I will be watching to see what developments are waiting in the wings.

___

 

Reference (quote):

Bob van Weegan. Calgary Herald. Will EnCana’s twin towers make the most of our heritage?, June 11, 2006.

 

Wreck City Demo Tape thoughts

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A week ago this past Friday (June 19), I attended the opening evening of the newly opened incarnation of Wreck City. I got there late as the last band was packing up. I was only able to see a few things that evening and had to return to see the remainder the following day. Sadly, even though I began writing this on the second day, this project called Demo Tape has now ended.

The last project that this curatorial team called Wreck City was involved with was entitled Phantom Wing. It occurred in the fall of 2013 and I have written at least one or two posts about it. If you are curious, follow the Phantom Wing link to the right.

Phantom Wing (from what I understand) was under the direction of cSPACE (working in collaboration with the curators of the successful original Wreck City project in Sunnyside). I have written a few things about it during the time that the project was running. It was coordinated to kick off the impending demolition stage of the new wing of the King Edward School that is intended to be an arts incubator.

About a month or two ago, the official sod turning event happened at the King Edward School. Two years later (after Phantom Wing), it would appear as if the King Edward School project has finally began the building stage process. As stated optimistically in the press release above, occupancy is scheduled for mid-2016. But given how long it has taken to get to this stage, and with some knowledge of how long construction projects often take, it is my speculation that occupancy will be more likely occur at some point during 2017. But since I am not involved in this project, it is possible that I could be wrong.

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After my little introductory diversion, the curators of Wreck City put the word out in January and in February that they were looking to resurrect the concept once again.

At that stage, they indicated that they were looking for space in the inner city communities. From what I understand there were a number of options that came as a result, which is not surprising given the rapid gentrification and upgrading of older communities in the city. Obviously given that this concept occurred – they found a suitable space.

This event was held in the former Penguin Car Wash overlooking the Elbow River between Fort Calgary and the Esker. It has a fantastic view of downtown Calgary and the mountains behind.

It also has a connection to an art mystery.

Specifically, this mystery involves a series of Rembrandt letters which prove that two recently purchased Rembrandt paintings were indeed forgeries and also involve a murder that was tied to an incident to obtain these letters. Of course, this whole Rembrandt story is a complete fabrication. But it was a small piece of the plot for the movie Silver Streak (1976) featuring Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, Patrick McGoohan and Richard Pryor.

The Penguin Car Wash connection takes place at the bottom of the small hill that the car wash is located upon. The CP railway bridge which crosses the Elbow River and is located directly below the carwash. See next photo, as it is quite possible that this scene was shot from this viewpoint (or nearby).

At the beginning of the third act of Silver Streak, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump from the train into the Elbow River below. I tried to find a clip of the scene, but could not track it down. I guess that means you will have to watch the whole movie instead. It is possible that the Penguin Car Wash is visible in the movie. However, it has been so long since I have seen it, I am uncertain whether it is visible or not.  Now I have to track down a copy and view it again as well.

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After, yet another diversion, back to the Penguin Car Wash and Wreck City’s Demo Tape.

As stated earlier, I visited opening day toward the end of the night. The band that I heard while waiting for the freight train to pass, was already starting to pack up by the time I arrived. As a result, I only got to see some of the installations. However, I came back the following day when it was less busy and saw the remainder when there were less crowds.

It was interesting, however this version, did not have the same amount of buzz around it that I recall from the first iteration. Why that was, I am unsure. Maybe it was a bit more structured, formalized and probably a bit more thoughtful.

These are all good things, that are to be expected as an organization matures and changes.

Midway through the event, the organizers were forecasting that they would get 5000 attendees. Although the final numbers of those who attended have not been released, based on the following comments, a guesstimate can be made that probably somewhere between 2500 and 3000 people most likely attended. This is a solid attendance for an art event with little media support.

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Of course this cannot compare with the approximately 8000+ that attended the original project. We can attribute this variance to any number of reasons, given that both took place over a similar time period. Some of these reasons are:

  • Public transit accessibility – original was two blocks from a C-Train platform vs. Demo Tape had little transit infrastructure nearby and about a kilometre away from the nearest C-Train platform.
  • Time of year – the original event occurred at the end of university/college school term (last week of April) vs. Demo Tape occurred at the end of primary school term and the beginning of summer holidays for many.
  • Cultural awareness – the original event ramped up in the fading days of the year-long Calgary 2012 event when awareness of cultural events was high (with Calgary 2012 receiving seed money and support from organizations such as the federal government’s Department of Heritage, Calgary Arts Development Authority, Calgary Stampede, Calgary Public Library, Calgary Parks and Recreation and others) vs. Demo Tape which depended upon the connection to Sled Island and Wreck City’s own base who attended previous events.
  • Number of artists – original had approximately 150 artists vs. Demo Tape which had approximately 50
  • Cohabitation – to my recollection the original had more cohabitation happening between artists in the same (this is probably the nature of the more intimate nature of the buildings used, where the spaces were smaller and artwork would cross over perceptually even though they were placed in separate spaces in each house) vs. Demo Tape where each artist had more distinctly separated physical spaces for their artwork and larger spaces in general.
  • Newness – the original concept had the perception that it was new (in some ways it was, and for many attendees it was definitely something new. In other important ways it was not. I state this because it was a derivation of a previous project one or more of the curators were involved with a project that occurred in 2011 a few blocks away from the original Wreck City project in the community of West Hillhurst) vs. Demo Tape being the third project by the Wreck City collective after a two-year hiatus.

Were these reasons enough to make a difference?

Maybe. Maybe not.

These will all be factors that the curators will need to figure out when they do their post-event analysis, debriefing and reporting (if they actually do that). Potentially, I am actually doing it for them (or at least giving the curators something to think about).

Audiences can be very fickle and it is hard to determine what the root cause is that will prompt attendance in one case and not the other.

Media

I also have to mention media. Even the news outlets, didn’t get behind this event like they did for the Sunnyside project. During the 10-day run of the project, I believe that only the Calgary Herald actually reported on the project. There also was an interview with a number of the curators on CJSW radio. Both happened on the first day and nothing else happened afterwards.

To be fair, there was certainly coverage leading up to the week leading up to the event, In addition, the media really helped put the word out about the collective’s search for space back in February.

Whatever happened, and why it was not covered as it was previously, I suppose will remain a mystery.

Of course, it is worth mentioning once again, that the visible absence of arts reporting through the vehicle of FastForward Weekly is still noticeable, especially for special events such as this.

This has subsequently made the act of talking about visual arts and exhibitions, somewhat like talking to an audience (that may or may not be there) in a steel drum. I have said it before. I will say it again. Local arts reporting is critically important for an artist’s career and development. It is the same reason why music reporting is important, why theatre coverage is important and sports coverage is important. At the end of the day, they all serve the same type of purpose – to a point.

But, I guess removing visual arts coverage entirely, and/or having said coverage take place from a different geographical location is all done in the name of progress and it is not my call to make. I just try to add my little bit from time to time – and when my own time allows this luxury (since I don’t get paid to write this blog).

The actual event

I must be honest. Although I went, my heart was not overly engaged. The first night I came immediately after work and spent more time talking to people I knew than looking at art. The second day I spent more time relaxing on site and talking to an art teacher who travelled by herself from Madison, Wisconsin to volunteer at the Demo Tape event. I feel bad, because I spent at least an hour or more talking to her – and now I have forgotten her name. She had never visited Canada before, but came with the intent to volunteer, see some scenery, but also to see the two performances of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a few other groups she wanted to see as part of Sled Island before heading back to Wisconsin. She was a very interesting person to talk to and it was a very enjoyable time.

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There were a number of interesting projects, however overall it gave the appearance of a glorified art school project focusing on installation-based work.

This is understandable, due to the nature of the event. So this is not necessarily a criticism. The majority of work was slated to be destroyed along with the building at the end of the actual event. By that very nature, the works will have an unfinished and raw quality to them. As a result, it will rarely be like something one would see in a gallery setting.

That is both the blessing and curse of this type of event. Expectations potentially can be high, when they shouldn’t be. And the reverse is also true.

As mentioned previously, much of this show had much more conceptual bent than was the case with the two previous iterations – Wreck City (the original) and Phantom Wing. I am unsure why this is the case (and it is certainly not an issue), maybe it was partly curatorial; maybe it was the artist’s interests who applied; maybe it was the nature of a long lead time, with limited amount of time with access to the space; maybe it was just delivery (and how it was perceived); or maybe it was a combination thereof. In the end it doesn’t matter.

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For me, some of the highlights of this event were (and there were certainly more):

J.D. Mersault’s installation/performance/story entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see http://fortyfourfragments.tumblr.com/).

At first I did not pay much attention to what was going on, when I saw the artist sitting at a desk writing, since it was the first piece I encountered upon entering the site and wanted to head straight in knowing that I only had a limited amount of time.

However, once I realized that this was part of the exhibition, and the more I looked at this work, and thought about it – the more I found it fascinating. It was a multi-disciplinary piece that was not static, but combined elements of durational performance, installation, memory, poetry and more. I was very intrigued by what he was attempting to do.

Obviously, what I encountered on the first night was a work in progress. What intrigued me was the dialogue that the artist had with two works that I was previously familiar with – 1.) John Scott’s piece Trans Am Apocalypse No. 2 (1993) which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada; and 2.) Joan Cardinal Schubert’s The Lesson (1989) which was first shown at Articule Gallery in Montreal.

In Cardinal-Schubert’s work (which was included in the Glenbow’s Made in Calgary: The 1990s large group exhibition. In this Made in Calgary show it was recreated and incorporated as part of that exhibition a little over a year ago. In that installation Cardinal-Schubert installed school desks, chalk boards and other related ephemera as it talked about residential school for aboriginal students. There is an image to her work as installed at the Glenbow in 2014 here. Of course, this is timely given the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report. It however should be stated that Mersault’s work does not have the same political edge that Cardinal -Schubert’s has.

In John Scott’s piece, the artist transcribed and etched the complete Book of Revelations of St. John the Evangelist into the entire surface of a black Trans Am. In JD Mersault’s piece he was in the process of writing the contents of a new book onto a steel desk. This was intended to cover the surface of the desk in a manner similar to John Scott’s piece mentioned above. I am somewhat disappointed that it was only the top surface, and the not the entirety as in the case with Scott’s Trans Am. But I also understand, that it is a time-exhaustive process with only a limited amount of time – so I cannot be too disappointed. This work was being written during the duration of the Demo Tape event in his position as writer-in-residence – a piece entitled Forty-Four Fragments for a Car Wash (see hotlink above) which he would like to publish at the end of the event. I am very intrigued and curious to see where this work will lead.

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Palmer Olson’s installation My Favourite Buildings. Here the artist deconstructed the office space, catalogued the items; and packed it up. He then attached a packing slip with all the contents of the office listed; provided instructions and renderings, ready for reinstallation elsewhere.

The dialogue involved with this work engaged with the larger concept of gentrification; adaptive re-use of historical spaces; demolition of marginal space; sustainability; and other issues surrounding construction waste as a result of new development (in both greenfield and brownfield areas) which all adds to our landfills.

It is an interesting dialogue to have in the city with all the rapid gentrification (although not to the same extent as was happening even a year ago); and the generally prevailing concept that new is better than old, bigger is better than small.

This dialogue is an important one to have and it lends itself well to this type of project.

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Lane Shordee’s and Desiree Nault’s installation With Sprinkles.

This installation which was located directly beside Palmer Olson’s was a two part installation. I hate to use the word beautiful (and maybe even a bit magical), but sometimes these terms fit.

One of the rooms, presumably an office space of some sort was enclosed and it was possible to only look into it. Above this room was a windmill made from materials salvaged from the car wash. Using this windmill, 24 kg of iridescent confetti was ground up and passed through a hand-made sieve and allowed to descent into the room below like snow. Presumably through wind-currents in the room it created this magical space that had a sense of otherworldliness, but yet at the same time was very familiar. Because the photo was taken quite early on the iridescence is not as visible as it would be toward the end of the 10 days.

When I visited the space earlier today to get a photo of the CP Rail bridge, the windmill was still operational. It is visible in a photo that I took on opening day and have placed near the top of this posting. It is somewhat easy to overlook, but you can see it in the image with bicycles in the front and the building behind. It is on top of the building to the left of the sign that states “The Club is Open”

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Lane and Desiree’s installation tied in well with another magical space created by Ben Nixon and Rachelle Quinn entitled Perhaps this Sound.

I was fortunate enough to have been asked to leave (along with everyone else at closing time on opening night) as I was just entering the room where this installation was located. I say fortunate, because had I actually visited it, I might otherwise have missed what made the space interesting.

The following day, on Saturday, I was the only one in that room.

As a result, I was able to interact with the keyboard that was part of the installation and play around with it without feeling pressure to move on. The interactive element, and there were other installations that were interactive and interesting such as The Cave were interesting as well, but in that case, I encountered it with lots of people around. Perhaps the Sound installation appealed to me on a more personal level and the other may have been different if I was the only one there. With the immersive music; the ability to control lights and sounds (somewhat, even though the outcomes may be unpredictable); and the immersive nature of the space with multiple senses being activated was a very enjoyable diversion and short-term escape that I enjoyed.

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Overall, this iteration was different, and had a more thoughtful feel to it, than was my recollection and perception of the previous two iterations.

* * *

Now that the space is vacant, what is the plan moving forward?

This is something that has not really been talked about to the best of my knowledge.

From sources that I believe to be knowledgeable, the space is slated to be demolished (which is probably common knowledge given the nature of the project).

This is being done to make way for a new residential complex. Unlike most recent constructions of late, this will be built as a rental property. This is potentially an interesting location for a new residential development as recent news has had a fair amount of conversation about the new LRT Green Line expansion.

This all gets back to my initial comments about Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in the movie Silver Streak in a round-about way. Let me explain.

Recently, the federal government made a $2.6 billion announcement of new federal infrastructure funds for transit infrastructure in Toronto made by the current Prime Minister in Toronto, the day before Wreck City Demo Tape opened. No doubt, as the journalists who penned the Globe and Mail story intoned in the opening paragraph, this was timed to create warm fuzzy feelings amongst the voting electorate in the critically important Toronto battleground for the upcoming federal election in mid-October. Cynically, but also recognizing the nature of electoral politics (it is a fair assumption, that each party running wants to form government, or at least that is the theory. Otherwise, why would they run?). To do so they will each make announcements to entice voters to vote for them. Because of that, I am sure there will be further announcements in the near future that will be equally as transparent.

Currently there are 23 ridings which are currently split almost evenly in terms of representation between the three major federal parties (9 CON, 7 NDP, 7 LPC). From what  read as well, the polling for the GTA is very, very tight with only a few percentage points between each party. With the new electoral district redistribution the city of Toronto will get two new ridings (and the province of Ontario as a whole will get half of the 30 new seats), it will make Toronto that much more important, for any political party that wants to form the next government, but I digress. As someone who is very interested in the political process (not so much party politics), and given these facts, to my mind, it made perfect sense that the current government made this new funding announcement in Toronto.

Of course, this prompted Calgary to also get on track (I know, I know – bad pun) to immediately seek it’s share of the newly announced federal transit infrastructure funding for the Green Line expansion and the Green Line North (aka North Central LRT) which is part of the 30-year plan RouteAhead project.

If this expansion moves forward, it will be adjoining or certainly within close proximity to this new residential development. I say this, as my understanding is that the Green Line is proposed to follow (at least in the inner city portion) the current CP Rail line which is located only a few metres from the Demo Tape site (a jumping off site, if you will pardon the lame joke that references the Silver Streak movie).

Of course this new redevelopment may potentially reduce the current view of the downtown core from the Esker Foundation space. This is interesting given the recent Calgary Herald story earlier this month, which talks about the purchase of the former Farmer Jones auto dealership which was located across the side street from the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker to save the view from the gallery.

It is probably doubtful as I have included an image from beside the CP Rail bridge (the Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor jump off site) which shows the Atlantic Avenue Art Block which houses the Esker (the four story building that the rail beside the tracks points to in this photo) and the Demo Tape space (Penguin Car Wash site) to the right of the two trees in the photo below. And ironically the jump-off point is right in the middle of the two.

As with all new higher density developments, it will be interesting to see how the new development changes the nature of the communities of Inglewood and Ramsay.

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* * *

24 July 2015 @ 12:45MDT edit:

Further to my comments above regarding the GreenLine LRT and RouteAhead expansion, I read with interest that there was a Federal government announcement made this morning with regards tot his project. According to this posting made earlier this morning in the City of Calgary’s news blog, this announcement is the “single largest infrastructure investment in Alberta’s history.” This project will run from the as yet undeveloped community of Keystone Hills in the far north end of the city through to Seton in the deep south which is still undergoing development surrounding the newly established South Calgary medical centre.

An early look at the High Performance Rodeo troupe

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Tonight I made a special trip to visit my personal archives.  While rooting around trying to find a couple old things that I was looking for, I happened to come across an old magazine I knew that I had, but had forgotten where I put it in one of my recent moves.

It is a rather interesting magazine as it was glossy and covered the arts in Calgary.  As best I can determine it had a very low circulation and was active during the mid to late-1980s.  It was called Last Issue.  This was the Winter 1987 issue (based on what is inside it is the 1986/1987 issue).

The High Performance Rodeo ends this Saturday, the first day of February.  It also is the 28th iteration of the Rodeo.  As I opened the magazine to investigate what was inside, I found an image on the inside front cover which lists a lot of people involved with the High Performance Rodeo.

One Yellow Rabbit and the High Performance Rodeo both have their roots in dance.  Here, the University of Calgary, Faculty of Physical Education was doing an inter-disciplinary sponsorship of this young troupe of performers, in a three day performance entitled Red Dress Journey and other dances during the year that the High Performance Rodeo was formed.

It is interesting seeing the names Denise Clarke, Anne Flynn, Blake Brooker, Ronnie Burkett, Richard McDowell & Infradig together with Lisa Doolittle, Murray Marshall, Vicki Moreland and Terri Willoughby.  What a great group of people who all played a role in forming the High Performance Rodeo.

This occured when things were just starting to happen for the two organizations.  Kudos for the Faculty of Physical Education for the foresight to recognize this group for it was to become, way back in 1986 before the Olympic Arts Festival brought culture and sport together.  These type of partnerships are always interesting to see.

A quiet performance

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Long ago, probably in late 2010 or early 2011, I first encountered the performance artist Stephen G. A. Mueller.

It was a time of personal crises and substantial upheaval occurring in my life.  At the time I spent a fair amount of time in the area around Art Central where The New Gallery was then located.  The artist they featured during that time was Stephen Mueller.

The New Gallery show was entitled Please Dont Go.  Briefly the show involved a durational performance where Mueller would occupy an illuminated glass box made out of one-way mirrors (reflecting inwards), which he resided in for six hours a day, five days a week for the duration of the exhibition.  There he would repeatedly create the phrase “I miss you” in Braille on a long strip of paper, then meticulously cut out the braille dots and with a pair of tweezers place each dot in the Braille sequence into its own small individual, unmarked petri dish.  And repeat.  There is a review and image of his show at The New Gallery which is available online (see http://www.canadianart.ca/reviews/2011/01/06/stephen_mueller/).

At times there were just the two of us sharing the same physical space of the gallery – he working, and myself as a voyeur, most likely with coffee in hand while taking a break from my own work.  This act of watching Mueller work, somehow was a grounding and meditative experience that allowed me to quiet my own mind and focus amidst the angst-filled period of my life at that time.

I never forgot it.

Fast forward three years.

Earlier this month, on September 13, Untitled Art Society opened a show of Mueller’s work entitled Starting Over in their Satellite Gallery.

Like at The New Gallery, this show is of a durational performance.  The difference is that here, it is presented as a pair of videos which is a record of the private performance.  The performance took place over an uninterrupted period of 55 hours, 16 minutes and 39 seconds of time (Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:34:34 EDT – Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 17:51:13 EDT).  The artist has described the performance during this timeframe, and the contents of the two videos, as this:

  • During that period, I manually extracted every beard hair from my face, one hair at a time, using a pair of surgical tweezers.  Each hair was then placed into a specimen jar.  Immediately following, two photographs were taken remotely: one of the front of my head and one of the back.

This video performance recently, and in the near future, will also be presented at a number of artist-run centres across the country.  This Untitled Art Society show is located in their Satellite Gallery space, located at 343 – 11 Avenue SW and will continue until October 19th .

Once again, Mueller just completed a new durational performance.

This time the performance was at Phantom Wing located at the King Edward School which began on Friday, September 27, 2013 at 20:00 MDT and ended on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 20:00 MDT.

During this performance, entitled A Place for Us Before You Go the artist walked around the exterior of the school, going counter-clockwise, walking continuously with the fingertips of his left hand maintaining physical contact with the building, or objects attached to it (i.e. fences, railings, trees or shrubs) during this 24-hour period.  By the time I arrived and took this photo near the north entrance around 16:00 MDT Saturday afternoon, the circuit the artist had taken alongside the building was evidenced by a noticeable pathway.  This was created by compressing the grass where he had walked many times in the hours beforehand and in time will disappear.

In this 24-hour performance period, he did not wear any timepiece.  By doing this, the artist was talking about how in the name of progress “we no longer recognize time and space, yet our bodies remain instruments for recording them”.

As with the other two works mentioned previously, this work also deals with important issues that are worth talking about and opening a dialogue surrounding them.  It is my hope that some evidence of this performance will remain, outside of the physical indentation of the ground caused by his walking on it.  I am very intrigued to see what will come from it.

Effigies at Phantom Wing

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As stated previously, I attended the opening night of Phantom Wing.

I talked then about Leslie Bell’s and Chris Bell’s sound installation just inside the main doors.

Now I want to talk about one of the classrooms on the second floor – room 204, the science room.  I happened upon a performance using three members (four actually) of the Six of Hearts Collective whose work Effigy is a time-based work.  It is in progress during the five-day duration of Phantom Wing.

First a caveat, I must state up front that I am not actively involved with performance as an art form – so find many performances easy to dismiss.  The statement “I know nothing about art, but I know what I like” would find currency with many people I have had professional dealings with for the majority of my career to date.  This is both a blessing and a curse and has probably influenced my connection to performance as an art-form more than I might readily admit.

Upon first encountering the performance it took a while to figure out what was going on and I could have easily missed the fact that a performance was occurring in my presence and kept on going.  Maybe that is what is appealing about this work.  There is something compelling about it which made me want to stay.

Some background:

However, having said that, to properly appreciate and engage with this work, it is important to enter with some background on the work.  This is something I hope to achieve for those people who will attend later this weekend.

In the artist statement, there is a little sentence which sums up what this collective is trying achieve.  It states:

  • The performances will consider questions of how a space (constructed, physical or emotive) can be transformed by actions or through symbolic representations of memory and history (the effigy).

The three performers that were present in the science room on Tuesday evening, when I was there were Luna Allison, Tomas Jonsson and Holly Timpener.  In addition a fourth artist (Brianna MacLellan) who was unable to attend was present in the room through video projection.  During this upcoming weekend the four artists mentioned above will be joined by Alma Visscher and Nicole Nigro to complete the Six.

About the performance:

The performance itself, or at least the part I encountered was generally quiet and unobtrusive.  It allows the observer to recollect their own personal histories as a child in schools.  It draws on the history of the King Edward School as both an elementary school and a junior high with students attending between grades 1-9 at various times during its 100 year history.

This history is what makes this performance particularly appealing.  When I entered the room, one of the artists was tracing objects which were situated on the lab table, outlining a moment in history of this room.  In another part of the classroom, a number of decks of cards were on the floor – open, and a couple observers were in the process of using them to build a structure using the cards.  Another artist was sweeping up refuse.  In the corner, just inside the door was a video projection playing a loop of vignettes of an artist in a classroom setting.

As the performance progressed, one of the performers sat in the corner and in a burst of channeling teenaged-angst dropped a few F-bombs in the context of a potential personal history as experienced by a teenager.  This was followed by drawing on the walls capturing a memory of a moment in time where the artist visible in the video occupied this space.

In this context, it is important to note that there is speculation that the King Edward School is haunted.  This adds an interesting element to this performance.  It creates a dialogue and further accentuates this interesting history.  As a temporary installation and performance it successfully achieves what it intended to do.

The memories, the moments in time, the personal histories of former students, staff and observers as a collective, all form an effigy.  This is an effigy which will remain in these spaces, no matter how ephemeral and transitory they may be.  These drawings on various places throughout this room create an apparition of time past, present and also project into the future.