Pet Peeves: Freddie, Moe and Kate

The fourth installation of Pet Peeves is here! Can you believe it? Join us as grunt’s Gallery Assistant, Hedy Wood, continues her investigation of the grunt gallery staff by interviewing their pets.

Pets prefer a Scottish accent, period. You can say, “Whooooooo’s got those dog pants? Whooo’s got those PANTS?!” until your head expands like a melon, but really, it’ll get you nowhere. Likewise, “Where’s that pretty kitty cat CAT?!” Totally useless.

No, if you want to befriend any pet, any time, a simple Scottish burr is the way to go.

Example: “Och, aye, what a bonnie wee laddie/lassie ye are.” Boom, done, they melt like butter.

I was putting this theory to the test when I went to visit Kate Barry, Freddie and Moe. Not that I was exactly in the greatest mood for belting out a bunch of fake Scottish lingo, due to the heatwave, fifth-floor apartment and broken elevator, but I was doing my best.

Now Kate Barry is a bit newer to grunt, her job title is Screen Coordinator for the Mount Pleasant Community Art Screen, and I have to say she is one of the few interviews that I’ve done where a refreshing SNACK was provided. I think other pet owners might want to have a little think about that…

Freddie greeted me when I arrived at the apartment. I was sweaty, breathless, and talking a bit too much about arthritis. He was actually so adorable, my Scottish theory went right out of my mind.

Me: Oh hi Kate. Now who’s THIS? Is that the Freddie dog?! The little Freddie dog DOG! Whooooo’s the pupparazi? Well, that’s you, yes it is!

So, as you can see, pretty much a total failure of interview technique AND nothing Scottish whatsoever. I have to give Freddie extreme credit for rolling with all this nonsense in a very gentlemanly way.

Freddie: Why hello there Hedy, how charming to meet you, please, have a seat. Yes, that’s good, right there. I will jump up and sit right beside you. What could be more pleasant? Well, a small dog snack would really make this a perfect moment, wouldn’t it?

(I found out that Freddie, who looked perfect to me, is on a doggy diet. Some cruel and unusual vet has decided that Freddie needs to lose 3 pounds!)

Me: So, Freddie, how did you and Kate meet? How did she get so lucky?!

Freddie: Well, actually, I was on an online pet dating site, looking for a positive change in my relationships, and that’s how I met Kate. I didn’t know at the time that I was to become part of this beautiful, blended family, here with Moe. I LOVE Moe so much.

   

At this point in the interview, Kate did a little cat conjuring magic with a can of tuna, and Moe appeared from his upstairs man cave.

Me: Hello Moe! You are a CATLY cat!! Who’s got those whiskers?!!

(As you can see I had by this point pretty much gone completely cuckoo because Freddie and Moe are just so exactly the kind of pets anyone would love to have. Moe is a large luxurious tabby, and Freddie a perfect mix of Shitsu and Poodle, what’s not to love?

Moe: Are you by any chance here to interview me about that dog? Maybe you would like to talk about my perfect lovely life before SHE brought HIM home?! Everything was perfect until he came along, and now he just LOVES me so much all the time! He’s all LOVE LOVE LOVE every day, all day! What is wrong with him?! It gets on my very last nerve. Honestly, why exactly does he live here? We were FINE before he came along. AND he’s getting fat.

Me: Oh…….

Moe: And what kind of breed is he?! A Shit Poo, that’s what I call it, heh, heh, heh…..get it? Shitsu and Poodle.

Me: Oh………dear……well, now Moe, surely there must be some benefit to having Freddie around? He seems like a very sweet dog to me. Surely you must have gotten fond of him over these last couple of years?

(I think it was at about this point in the interview that Freddie jumped out of his chair and ran over to lick Mo’s nose. That sent me into cuteness overload, and I swear I saw a tiny Cheshire grin on Moe’s face.)

Moe: There! You see? That’s just a perfect example of what he’s like! LOVE! Barf! If he wasn’t so darn cute, I’m sure I would have killed him by now….little cutie….little shitty poo poo….

I began to sense a bit of a game or pattern going on between these two. Much as Moe repeatedly stressed his general loathing of Freddie, I could see a real bond and genuine caring between them. This, combined with the gracious hosting by Kate, and the general ambience of warmth and happy pets and all the rest of it, began to annoy me. I ended my little visit as politely as possible and went on down the five flights of stairs and out into the summer heat. Always easier going downhill, that’s what I say….

The thing is, I was thwarted once again in my quest for pet peeves. My quest which had in actual fact, mainly become about discovering bad behaviour ANYWHERE at all, on the part of any of the grunt staff, or their much loved pets! Everything was just a bit too peachy keen everywhere I went, and, as Moe would say, it was getting on my very last nerve!

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Curator Interview: Tarah Hogue on #callresponse

#callresponse, co-organized by Tarah Hogue, Maria Hupfield and Tania Willard, began at grunt gallery in 2016. The exhibition has toured across Canada and the US for two years and recently came to a close at TRUCK Contemporary Art and Stride Gallery in Calgary. To mark the end of the tour, grunt’s curatorial interns, Whess Harman and Nellie Lamb, chatted with Tarah about #callresponse and the roles of collaboration and mentorship in her practice.

Ursula Johnson with Charlene Aleck and Cease Wyss performing at the #callresponse opening in 2016. Photo by Merle Addison.

NL: Can you start by briefly describing #callresponse?

TH: #callresponse takes as its starting point five projects that were commissioned by Indigenous women-identifying artists based across Canada and into the US. The invitations were extended to these artists in particular because they are all very much enmeshed in working with community in different ways and their practices are all quite diverse, ranging from performance to ceremony to new media. The context that we asked those initial five artists to respond to was around reconciliation but in a roundabout way. We thought about how the projects that these artists are already committed to working on have a really transformative capacity, and looked at that as a starting point in order to turn that settler-nation-state-to-Indigenous relation within reconciliation on its head. We then asked each of those artists to extend that invitation to a collaborator or respondent to create these dialogues between practices. We were thinking about this call and response structure, but the artists took that in so many different directions. Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch decided to work together and position the land as their respondent, so there’s different degrees of collaboration or mentorship or response throughout the project.

WH: I was just reading over everything on the website again and the initial outset of how the project was described and, as an artist and someone at grunt now, it stood out so much how present these questions still are, not just as institutions but as artists. One of the questions I had about that is, how do you think institutions now are responding to this idea of reconciliation? Do you think that’s changed a lot or do you think #callresponse could just keep going until institutions responded in a meaningful way?

TH: [laughs]…until decolonization?

WH: [laughs] Yeah, until we achieve decolonization!

TH: That’s an interesting question because the experience of working with all of the institutions that we partnered with was very different and demonstrated where different organizations are in that relationship-building process. Like at Blackwood Gallery, we were in the context of an academic institution—they’re at the University of Toronto Mississauga—and part of what we did when we were there was to meet with university faculty and talk about their efforts to indigenize the academy, which is something that was a relatively new path for them at that time, or at least was new in terms of the university recognizing the work that Indigenous faculty were already doing in a systematic way. And then at a place like AKA Artist Run Centre in Saskatoon we were building upon work that they had already been doing within the community there, so it was really just about how we could give our resources over to the work that was already happening. I think that because the project doesn’t centre that settler-Indigenous relationship within reconciliation in the same way, that it could keep going on for a long time. Not that I don’t think that other projects that privilege that relationship aren’t important but it’s also like, who’s benefit is that for?

WH: It’s a heavy load on Indigenous artists. I feel, again speaking as an artist, being asked to do that, it’s like, I don’t have the answer and that’s what so many of these projects seem to frame like: “We’re going to have a reconciliation project and we’re going to have an answer!” But you are not! It’s going to be exhausting and I might be kicking and screaming by the time you’re finished.

TH: I asked Maria and Tania to work with me because they’re two people who I look up to immensely, and we further invited other artists who we looked up to immensely. A lot of the artist-respondent pairings had that aspect woven into it. Some artists chose to respond more directly to that context of reconciliation, like Christi and Isaac saying we’re not ready for reconciliation; we have to reconcile ourselves with the land before we can do something else.

WH: On the [web]page there’s a little thing where you’re quoting Leanne Simpson that was something that stood out to me about the whole process. With reconciliation are tied in these concepts of recognition and those concepts of recognition are so different when Indigenous people are working with other Indigenous people—it strengthens those bonds.

TH: That idea of living as if, as if we have realized the realities that we want on the ground. I love Leanne Simpson.

NL: I really like this web-like, looking-in-multiple-directions-at-the-same-time idea. When I originally read about the project I understood it as starting with you and hopping over to these artists and then they hop to these [other] artists, but listening to you talk about it now, it’s not so linear.

TH: No it’s not. That web of relationships, I’m coming to realize, is part of my curatorial practice both unconsciously and consciously. Translating that way of working to working at the Vancouver Art Gallery is a little bit complicated. How do you maintain that? How the institution responds to that methodology is interesting.

WH: It must be hard with larger institutions. I imagine there is this unspoken thing about making things palatable for an audience but a project like #callresponse is asking, well, what’s palatable for an institution?

TH: That’s something that I’ve puzzled over about the exhibition in general as it’s travelled to different places, because the story of the project is so rich and all of the different in-person interactions and experiences are at the heart of the exhibition, and then you have a series of works that stay the same, that travel to each place with a few changes, like when Ursula did a new song line that would go into the gallery instead of the initial one that she and Cheryl did together. A lot of the works in the show point outside of themselves. Maria’s felt bag is an object that’s activated in performance and the plywood cut-out buffalo robe points to the fact that that original object is not there any more. I’ve always been curious throughout the process of the exhibition about how people experience that pointing outside of the gallery through these objects that are inside of the space. Allison Collins, when the show opened here, said that the role of imagination in looking at the exhibition was something that stood out for her right away. Thinking about what the stories of the objects were outside of the space. She said something along the lines of imagination is not valued as much in exhibitions as it should be.

WH: Initially I also had the same idea that this is a very linear project in many ways, but did you find overall that you were enmeshing more into things, into networks?

TH: Yeah, I would say so. It’s interesting to re-install a show over and over again and see how it shifts in every location and every context and what kinds of conversations come out of those contexts. The most enmeshed aspect of the project was me, Maria and Tania working together. That kind of coordinating but also curatorial conversations around each project—it was really thinking about, in each context, what projects we could activate or what artists we could bring in that would speak well to that context. Really it was about being responsive to that set of conditions, but sort of diving deeper into the projects each time.

NL: Do you have an example of one install or experience of install that changed really drastically or in an important way?

TH: Ursula’s project is a good example of that. Her project, The Land Sings, was in existence before #callresponse started. She had already done three or four song lines, so the project was a way of building on that work and acknowledging that work. We did song lines here, in Mississauga, New York, and Halifax. It moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and then back again over the course of the tour. In each case Ursula is working with singers, hand drummers, and language speakers in that area, and thinking about the relationships between the gallery and the closest First Nation community. That project shifted each time. In New York the song line was mapped onto the skyline of the city as something that’s such a defining feature there and is overlaid on top of Indigenous space and closely follows historic travelling routes that Indigenous Lenape would have travelled along.

NL: That site-specificity seems like such an integral part of the project.

TH: I think so. The initial five commissions were asked to be “locally responsive”; we didn’t really use the term “site specific.” I guess it started by thinking about how all of these artists are committed to doing the work that they’re doing in their own communities. That community is differently defined by everyone. It’s not about an ancestral or reserve community. It can be a shifting context that the artists are all responding to. Also, when we approached galleries for the first time we always asserted that this is a partnership. So the galleries need to take the lead, developing programming that makes sense in their context. We’re not just going to parachute in and do this exhibition; it wouldn’t be in line with how the project began or how it developed. It’s all the context; the responsiveness to context has always been a really central aspect to the project.

WH: Did you find some resistance from some places that didn’t understand where the project was coming from?

TH: No, luckily our partnerships were formed well in that way. Certainly some institutions had much more active, or ongoing or in-depth conversations than others that just rolled with it in their own way. Or [with] some people, it was a really collaborative coming to understand what needed to happen. I think that most of our partners understood for the most part what we were trying to do. There were challenges along the way. I think once we had done the first few, you kind of figure out what questions to ask, what kind of conversations need to happen at the beginning in order to get to what needs to happen. There’s always going to be a set of possibilities that we are responding to and another set of considerations that can be discussed with the partners.

WH: It seems like a difficult thing to do something like an exhibition, which is very administrative just by nature of being attached to an institution, [and] to also have it sincerely engage with the people that are going to see it. A thing I think about a lot when I’m asked to do a workshop is, well, what’s actually beneficial to you? To stop you from just dropping in and being like, “These are my ideas!” and then peace-ing out and ending the dialogue.

TH: I think that a lot of relationships were formed through the project. The participating artists are variously involved in communities where the show went to, so we were able to build upon those relationships a little bit.

WH: I was never able to make any of the performances just by nature of always travelling myself. I just remember each time there was a performance there was a spike in the hash tag and just feeling this intense feeling of FOMO. But also, going through the comments and seeing everyone else who couldn’t make it, there’s this weird outside community that wasn’t able to attend.

TH: Speaking of spider webs and networks, right? The amount of people who have followed the project online and through its various iterations has been pretty spectacular. It’s been really heart-warming in that respect. All of the artists, especially the five initial artists, they’re all such powerhouses. Huge amazing forces to be reckoned with. That was apparent always throughout the exhibitions.

WH: What curatorial projects are you inspired by outside of your own?

TH: Because I’m now working at the Vancouver Art Gallery I’m looking more intensively at what other large-scale institutional work people are doing and always puzzling to myself how they pulled that off. The work that Jamie Isaac and Julie Nagam are doing at Winnipeg Art Gallery, it’s very clearly connected to the community there and has enlivened the space when they activate it through their work and also their ethic and methodology. The way that they work together is really something I admire. And one of the best shows that I’ve seen in the last couple of years is We Carry Forward by Lisa Myers. I saw it when I was in Ontario. It was a group exhibition that just really floored me. She’s a really smart curator. And Lorna Brown at the Belkin, I was thinking about Lorna and Lisa together because they both play upon the meaning and structure of language and then extrapolate that into the artworks that they include.

NL: I’m just thinking about #callresponse ending: it recently wrapped up at its last stop at Stride and TRUCK Gallery in Calgary. Is there a story or a feeling about the impact of the project—maybe something in your own practice—as it comes to a close? How are you reflecting on the project?

TH: Two things come to mind: the scales of intimacy and really public-facing discourse that have both been really fulfilling. I think that’s encapsulated at Stride and TRUCK Gallery in Calgary. We worked with youth from Tsuu T’ina First Nation, which is a program already established with those galleries. A dozen kids came from the rez and we had pizza lunch,we gave them a tour of the show, Maria let them mess with her performance objects, and then we did a pirate radio broadcast in the gallery at TRUCK, which would have a radius of about a block. And the kids, like, played Drake songs and told jokes and we ate chips. It took a few hours before, right at the very end, everyone’s warmed up to each other and we’re chilling and it’s natural. It’s a little different with kids, but there’s a number of moments throughout the project that are small scale and focused on that kind of moment. And then there’s a moment, like opening the exhibition in New York and doing a round table to a packed house, attended by arts workers from around the city. And you recognize that you’re part of a dialogue that people really need to be hearing there and need to be having, because it doesn’t happen enough and the ways that [it] happens aren’t always Indigenous-led. It is a small moment, but you just feel like you’re connected to something that’s wider and urgent. Those nodes of the project are what will resonate with me for a long time to come.

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Pet Peeves: Atom, Hank, and Vanessa

The third installation of Pet Peeves is here! Join grunt’s Gallery Assistant, Hedy Wood, as she delves further into her investigation of the grunt gallery staff by interviewing their pets.

After all of that British swearing from the Hounds of the Barkervilles over at Meagan’s place, I planned to go and visit Vanessa and her partner and their cats. Their nice delightful quiet cats, that’s what I was in the mood for.

Vanessa Kwan (grunt curator for the last 4 years) and her feline friends were to be my 3rd pet interview, and I have to say that I had already pretty much given up on finding any dirt. I know Vanessa to be consistently lovely, and I highly doubted that her cats were going to shed any light on some other shadowy, dark side of her personality that was completely made of evil. It just didn’t seem likely….

There was however, a millennial cat (Atom), and like a lot of people of my generation, I had a few questions about technology that I wanted to ask him. So I headed out, with my trusty phone that I barely know how to make an audio recording on, and the obligatory pocket full of cat treats. I figured Hank would enjoy a treat, being the older cat, but she preferred to sit on the other side of the room, working on her best stink eye.

Now, everything would have gone really well at Vanessa’s, if only I hadn’t sat down on the couch. THE COUCH!!!! It is the BEST goddamn couch I HAVE EVER SAT ON! I can’t stop yelling and swearing just thinking about it! That couch is dreamiest, comfiest, cushiest, softest, most cloudlike thing I have ever had the pleasure of lying on in my entire life!! I LOVED their COUCH! So, of course, that was a bit distracting when it came to trying to conduct my interviews with the cats. I mean, how did they meet Vanessa? Where did they come from? I DID NOT CARE! All I wanted to do was sit on that couch until the day I die…  by the end of my time there, I was completely horizontal and ignoring the cats entirely… I tried, but honestly, the couch won out.

Here’s a small sample of what was in my notes…

Me: So, Atom and Hank, do you two actually get to lie on this couch every day?! Don’t you love it?

Atom: Well, I DO enjoy the couch, when I feel like sitting still and watching a bit of television, but normally I am too active to lie around… I like to play computer games, and things like that that Hank does not enjoy, Hank is quite old, JIC you didn’t notice…

Hank: I, wait a minute, what was the question? I don’t think I like you, but I can’t remember why, exactly… oh, the COUCH, yeah that is good…

I found out that Hank suffers from some short term memory loss, which made interviewing her a bit more difficult. She also only likes Vanessa, no one else, only Vanessa. There was something about that I could relate to. It so exactly mirrored my feelings for the couch.

Atom: Did you know that Hank hates technology so much that she puked on the iPad? What kind of a person does that? She’s so jelly about that iPad!

Me: Aren’t you being kind of a snitch right now? Come and sit on the couch with me? Be nice!

Atom: I feel more like running around the place!

Hank: Yep, I still feel like I hate you Hedy….can’t really put my paw on the reason why… well, you’re not Vanessa for one thing… hey, wait, was there another question? Lot of questions…

Me: Well, yes, how long have they had this couch? Where did they get it anyway? Might have been expensive… must have been… sooooo superior to that old piece of lumber I’m sitting on at my place, I might as well be lying around outside on the concrete, that’s how bad my couch actually is… hmmmmmm, I think a short lie down would be good…

Atom: Hedy! HEDY!!!! Look! LOOK! Hedy, LOOK! I got a new game on my phone!!!! Come and look!! I can play it while I’m hanging upside down from this chair!!!!!

Me: Zzzzzzzzzzzz

Hank: Gack! Barf! Excuse me, hairball…

It might have been around this time that Vanessa began to talk a lot about having to get to work. I tried to check around, sort of surreptitiously, to make sure I hadn’t left any drool on the couch, and prepared to head out.

Once again, I had not actually uncovered any real vices in the grunt staff… I mean apart from the fact that Vanessa literally SHAVES Hank on a regular basis. Hank is really a long haired cat, which you would never know at all from looking at her. The thing is, Vanessa shaves Hank as an act of kindness, (so annoying). Otherwise Hank would continually chew on and eat her own hair, then throw it up all over my couch. Then, she would forget that she’d done it because of the memory thing. So, you see, Vanessa is not doing anything mean at all by shaving her, or even anything particularly memorable… And Atom? Well, he is just a sweet young Devon Rex who would enjoy more screen time, if only the humans of the household would turn the darn thing on and watch a nature show or two… nothing very sinister lurking there either.

No, no, no no no, these pets weren’t pissed at all! Possibly there would be something at Kate’s place, but I was beginning to despair, AND I already missed that couch.

** Since this interview was conducted Vanessa’s cat gang has grown by one, Prune is pictured with Hank and Atom above.

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Pet Peeves: Sugar, Wendell, and Meagan

Welcome to the second installation of Pet Peeves! Join grunt’s Gallery Assistant, Hedy Wood, as she investigates the grunt gallery staff by interviewing their pets.

It is entirely possible that I am more of a cat person. Of course, I was not scared in any way at all while visiting Meagan, Sugar(?!) and Wendell. And I was definitely NOT standing out on the porch until the dogs were secured upstairs behind a completely insubstantial looking gate. No, no no no! I was just waiting politely to be invited inside.

After all the pleasantness over at Dan and Boris’ place, it’s fair to say that I was on the lookout for something a bit more visceral. I’d like to emphasize the words, A BIT. I wasn’t actually prepared at all for the piranhas in dog bodies that I met at Meagan’s house…. and I have to say right now that in my humble opinion, SUGAR is a bit of a misnomer for an animal that would literally enjoy chewing the limbs off your body. Sugar?! Seriously.

Meagan Kus has been grunt’s Operations Director for the last 9 years and she described to me what that job entails. Budgets, HR, and daily thingies, oh my! I sort of dozed off a little in the middle part of it all.

The one thing I did notice is that her personality is basically the complete polar opposite of those hell hounds that we are calling British Bulldogs. At 60 pounds each, Sugar(?!) and Wendell greet visitors to the household in a snarling mass of fury! To say that they are “protective” is understating the situation.

I attempted to interview the dogs, because I was not at all intimidated by their histrionics, but it didn’t actually go well. For one thing, I had to stand at the bottom of the stairs and yell up at them while they tried to break through the gate and eat my legs off.

I’ll give you a little sample of what was on my tape.

Me: Er, hello, Sugar(?!) and Wendell….

Dogs: Barking in unison,

WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THIS HOUSE YOU BLEEDING BEGGAR?!!!! GET OUT NOW POXY BITCH!!!!! SOD OFF!!!!! AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!! CRIKEY!!!!!!

DON’T BLOODY WELL TOUCH MEAGAN!!!! ARE YOU TOUCHING MEAGAN?!!!! YOU’RE GONNA DIE DAFT COW!!!!! DIE!!!!!!!AND A LOT BLOODY SOONER THAN YOU EXPECTED!!!!!

C-WORD!!!!BARK! SNORT!!!!

(So, of course these dogs swear in British! It’s the weirdest swearing I’ve ever heard. How many times can an animal tell a person to “sod off”? Quite a few as it turns out……and I still don’t know why they said I “ponged like a smelly old armpit”.)

Me: So, ummm, how did you and Meagan meet?

Dogs: SOD OFF OUT OF THIS HOUSE!!!!!BLIMEY!!! DIE!!!! GAAAHHHH! BARK!!! SNORT!!!!!!!!!!!

At this point, I did not exactly need to haul out my degree in rocket science to see how well the interview was going. Meagan put the dogs in the bedroom which made them slightly less loud, and we sat down for a bit to have a chat. I was determined to dig up a little dirt on Meagan, but it was starting to look like the only thing wrong with her was the canine component of her household.

Meagan told me that the dogs were from Abbotsford, and they had a predecessor, Bubba, who actually had a good personality. Bubba is the reason the Sugar(?!) and Wendell came to be Meagan’s pets in the first place.

So, to recap, Sugar(?!) and Wendell came from a breeder in Abbotsford. Did I mention there is a distinct possibility that they are related to each other? Like, they may be crazy British first cousins or something.

When it came to finding out the dogs’ pet peeves, I had to rely on Meagan, because there was obviously just no talking to them.

I found out that Wendell (recent history of near violence with a doggy day care worker!) cannot abide any kind of contamination AT ALL in his water bowl. AND he doesn’t do what any other dog might and simply sip from the toilet bowl water, no no. Wendell will actually sit beside the water bowl, yelling, whimpering and crying until someone, whose name starts with M, and ends with Eagan, gets up and refreshes it….he also will eat all of his food so fast that he is in serious danger of choking. In fact, he DID choke one time and needed some serious Heimlich maneuvering to save his life. Now he and Sugar(?!) both have special ridged dog bowls to slow down their eating….think of the short work they would make of a human limb!

Sugar(?!) has a strange fascination with Meagan’s husband’s head. She likes to LICK it, she likes it a LOT. Apparently this has gotten to the point where Craig cannot even have a nap on the couch because he knows he’s in for a licking!

Both dogs, allegedly, have a sweet and loving side to their personalities. I suppose this can be sort of seen in the head licking incidents….and they also enjoy physical contact in the form of sitting or lying on top of the humans in their household. Isn’t that nice?

Their main complaint seems to be about PEOPLE COMING OVER. They just don’t like it, at all. AND they would like a lot more physical affection and human contact, a LOT more. They are not at all content with a bit of weekend head licking…..well, I mean who would be, I guess.

All in all, nothing I saw reflected badly on Meagan in even the tiniest way! She does an amazing job of dealing with those dog personalities, and she does the same thing, (with less barking) at grunt.

No, my search for dirt was stymied once again! It was time to hit the road and soldier on, most likely there is something quite beastly going on over at Vanessa’s place. I was eager to get over there and investigate, and oh, did I mention? Vanessa has CATS.

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Pet Peeves: Dan and Boris

We are pleased to present the first instalment of Pet Peeves, a series in which grunt’s Gallery Assistant, Hedy Wood, investigates grunt gallery’s staff by interviewing their pets. We will post a new instalment of Pet Peeves each month. Enjoy!

It had honestly never occurred to me that there might be a pet without a peeve until I went to Dan’s place. I mean, who has a cat that is so content, he doesn’t destroy the furniture? Or wake you up in the middle of the night by sitting on your head? Or sit beside the food bowl, yelling? Well, apparently DAN has that cat! Apparently, everything is all just super duper all the time over there!

It’s not exactly that I am obsessed with finding fault with grunt staff, but really, there has to be something wrong with them. At work they are kind, inclusive, courteous and professional, while also managing to be fun…..and good looking. I mean, Come ON! Gah! How is that interesting?

No, there has to be something else going on and I figure those pets are the ones that know. Surely they are harbouring some kind of secret grudge? They’ve got to be peeved about some terrible thing the staff is doing. I just need to get to the bottom of it.

Boris and I met at the beginning of March at Dan Pon’s east end apartment. (Dan has been grunt’s archives manager for the last 3 years, and was involved with the gallery for 4 years before that in a variety of capacities. He also works as a librarian at Langara College and West Vancouver Memorial Library. He probably barely has time to even feed a cat.)

Boris is a lanky, handsome, debonair black and white cat. He also appeared to be a bit shy, but totally charming, hmmmm, I did not see how this was going to help with my particular mission. But I put my phone on record and commenced with the interview, optimistic as always, and with a pocketful of cat treats on hand.

Me: So Boris, tell me how you and Dan met.

Boris: Well, about six years ago, I had fallen on some difficult times and I was temporarily living in a shelter down in Seattle. I had been living with a big gang of cats outside a warehouse, but that situation was about to end, and I fear, all of our lives with it!  Dan and his partner were in desperate need of a feline rescue, and of course, I was looking for better accommodations, so I caught their eye when they came into the shelter. Long story short, they ended up terminating their vacation in order to bring me to their home in Canada. People just do not realize the amount of effort we cats put in to rescuing them. I had to lure them all the way to Seattle, AND disrupt their vacation.

Me: Yeah, ok, good, that’s nice, what a sweet story. But what I really want to know is do you have any complaints about Dan? Here have a treat.

Boris: Actually, there is literally almost nothing wrong with Dan. I mean he works a lot, and he could be here, spending time with me and doing things for me, but that’s about it.

Me: So, would you say everything here is all perfect and completely GOOD?!It’s just NICE and PLEASANT all the time?!!!

Boris: I have to say that I do worry a bit about Dan’s hearing. I mean how loudly does a cat have to YELL before he realizes that I need something? What if I’m hungry, or need to go outside, or the litter box is in bad condition? Sometimes I have to yell at him for ten minutes or so before he responds! But he is really so excellent in every other way, I’ve got no complaints at all.

Me: F WORD! What about snoring? That can be very annoying, or excessive gassiness and farting? Or stupid nick names? He can’t be THAT perfect!

Boris: Sometimes they call me Flatfish, which has to do with my elegant, low slung hunting posture, but I kind of like that. And no, no particular gassiness that I have noticed….

Me: Come ON! There’s got to be SOMETHING!! You’ve been together for what? Six years now?

Boris: My word, you certainly are a very persistent person, dogged almost…..all right then, I do think it would be very nice of them to get me a little kitten buddy…..there, I said it! Oh, and they might want to do something about the condition of my scratching post, it’s a tad shabby…I don’t say these things as complaints at all, more like helpful suggestions….

Now, I have to say that by this point in the interview, I was beginning to grind my teeth. My own good opinion of Dan was completely unaltered, and Boris was ready to get out for a bit on his neighborhood patrol. And what kind of dirt had I dug up? Absolutely zero, zilch, zip nada! Everything was just a little too good around Dan’s and it was getting on my nerves. Definitely it was time to leave.

While I was grumpily riding the #4 back to my place, I thought about Meagan and her “protective” bulldogs and the way they vigilantly guard her house. That must be a terrible situation. Goody. I planned to call her as soon as I got home….

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Recollective: Vancouver Independent Archives Week 2018

November 2-13, 2018 – A series of free public events, panels, conversations, and screenings that highlight artist-run centre archives, artists working with archives, and the intersections between contemporary art practices and social movements in Vancouver.

PROGRAM SERIES: RECOLLECTIVE: VANCOUVER INDEPENDENT ARCHIVES WEEK 2018

ARTISTS:
Sid Chow Tan, Josh Gabert-Doyon, Christine, D’onofrio, Cindy Mochizuki, Elizabeth MacKenzie, Laiwan, Dr. Sunera Thobani, Raghavendra Rao K.V., Dr. Anne Murphy, Casey Wei, Elisa Ferrari, Salia Joseph, Samantha Nock, Syrus Marcus Ware, !Kona, Regent Park Film Festival, and more.

PARTNERS:
221a, Artspeak, The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Rungh Magazine, VIVO Media Arts Centre, and Western Front.

STAFF:
Emma Metcalfe Hurst, Dan Pon

DATES:
NOVEMBER 2 – 13, 2018

FIRST DISCUSSION EVENT: Touch Change: A co nversation between Syrus Marcus Ware and !Kona, NOVEMBER 2, 7 – 9 PM at grunt gallery

This series is the first part of a robust two-year program that will include presentations from international contexts to take place throughout 2019. All presentation documentation and accompanying critical responses by writers, artists, activists, and others will be published on archivesweek.ca as a research resource for wider and remote audiences.

Recollective: Vancouver Independent Archives Week broadens the context, understanding, and awareness of independent archives by exploring what is at stake when artists and arts organizations confront the tasks of arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access to material history. Focusing on the intersection of arts and activism, social justice movements, and community networks, Recollective features perspectives and approaches that employ grassroots strategies, hybrid models, collective organizing, DIY spaces, open source solutions, and counter-archives that facilitate ownership of community memory by and for the community.

We are excited to partner again with Western Front, VIVO Media Arts, 221A, and The Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery, and welcome new partners Artspeak and Rungh Magazine to our initiative.

For more information please email Emma or Dan at grunt gallery. (Emma@grunt.ca or dan@grunt.ca)

(more…)

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BLOG: Beyond basic, base and a little repugnant: the evolution of grunt gallery

Please enjoy this deep, but short chat between Director/Curator Glenn Aleen (GA) and Curator Vanessa Kwan (VK) presented in short form.
For our first blog, we thought it was crucial to set up the site lines for both the beginning of grunt and where it currently stands today. These views are differently expressed through two generations of curatorial practice here at our artist-run centre and are the focus of this back and forth email conversation between our two curators. 

 

VK: I think this is a nice opportunity to talk about the curatorial priorities/ thoughts about grunt, and how it has evolved and continues to evolve. Maybe that’s a good place to start.

First question: Every time I introduce to a tour group or someone who has never visited the gallery before, I always start with the historical details: the gallery was founded in 1984, and the impetus at that time was to be a place for artists who were not, for whatever reason, being shown or recognized in Vancouver. This led to an emphasis on many practices and subjectivities being represented here – many from traditionally marginalized communities; artists of colour, queer artists, Indigenous artists and performance artists all found a place to show their work and build community. Does this work with your own thoughts/recollections of those foundational years?

VK: And as a follow-up question – how do you see this mandate having evolved?

GA: I understand the introduction we give but these days it often gets read solely through the lens of identity politics which doesn’t really tell the whole story. Not to say that identity politics wasn’t there at the time, it was, but it also included other marginal practices that get left by the wayside in the retelling sometimes. The art scene was a lot more siloed then in all kinds of ways and galleries and artist centres fit inside of these silos in ways that don’t happen so much now or at least not like that. And that marginality back then wasn’t just Indigenous, queer, feminist, or POC artists’ communities but included outsider artists, graffiti artists, comic artists, performance artists, etc.  Also, contemporary artists doing serious work in ceramics or printmaking or textile work. grunt was really about breaking down the silos or working across them in many ways. I guess intersectional really–though that word wasn’t used at the time. Because of this plurality, people had a hard time categorizing what we were doing because it didn’t fit any of the reductive lenses they were looking at us through. They thought of us as all over the place, scattered and maybe a bit unfocused. In hindsight, I think that was really the point, but it took a while before some people got it.

The nature of the community that got created was really based in diversity. You knew going to grunt that you would have conversations with people who weren’t like you and see art that wasn’t like yours. The people who felt the most comfortable were the ones who didn’t feel that comfortable anywhere else. It was a community of loners in many ways. I remember Aiyyana Maracle saying after she made her transition that without grunt it would have been a much harder experience. It was the one place she felt normal and nobody was judging her.

How did the mandate evolve? I think mostly in response to the art world itself. It changed and we changed in response. In the 1990s few galleries would show Indigenous contemporary art. There were places to show if you were doing traditional work but it was much harder for contemporary work. Especially if you were an emerging artist. So, many would apply at grunt because they had so few other choices and we had to respond. You would show one and six more would apply. This is no longer the situation. Indigenous emerging artists are everywhere now – as they should be. As you know the last part of our curatorial process is asking if we didn’t show a certain artist or body of work would it get shown in Vancouver? That question we have been asking since the beginning but the nature of what work fits that category is always changing. But it wasn’t just oppositional though. I think grunt’s success is that the larger art world recognizes how important that mandate has been to a healthier art community.

In your court!

VK: I like this clarification of how things took shape in the early years. I think my tendency is to put a lens on what grunt did back then so it aligns with a particular cultural or political context, but you’re right – it was about a true (and uncategorizable) diversity of forms and personalities coming together. Paul Wong once said to me that he thought grunt was the “gangly nerd” of the Vancouver arts community, and that phrase has stuck with me ever since – maybe because the idea of a nerd is that there’s a weirdness there that resists a clear picture of what the future holds: the archetype (can you say a nerd is archetypal??) of the nerd is that they grow up to be something you probably didn’t expect, and possibly underestimated.

Now we say in our “About” blurb that grunt focusses on practices “that challenge and problematize existing hierarchies of cultural value” which is another way of saying we try to remain responsive to what’s happening culturally. I really appreciate this aspect of how grunt works. I think it’s typical in the art world to look at what has currency and try to get ahead of that curve (it is a speculative market economy after all) and I would say grunt has another kind of investment philosophy. You and I have talked a bit about non-proprietary approaches to cultural capital, and also about what it might mean to disseminate rather than accrue resources. This is ranging dangerously close to navel-gazing, but I wonder what you think about capital and how it has been disseminated over the years through the gallery and what it does. I say this knowing that grunt has also engaged wholeheartedly in financial capital expansion (we own the space we’re in, we have worked and continue to work with for-profit developers to gain stability, etc), and it’s important to be clear that a flexible approach to cultural capital comes from the privileges of having a sustainable place to be and operate.

And then, with all this in mind, how do you see the new things on the horizon playing into these ideas? The Blue Cabin, the Mount Pleasant Community Art Screen are all big new projects for grunt, and represent unknown directions for the gallery. How do you think these new projects will expand or evolve our mandate? Will they?

GA: Paul is right we were the gangly nerd on the scene and in some ways we still are. We certainly weren’t hip or happening or trying to be. The real reason we called it grunt was because it wasn’t cool or clever. It was basic, base and a little repugnant. And despite the fact there was incredible diversity among us in hindsight it wasn’t very politically correct back then; people didn’t watch their tongues and got called out on it all the time. That said in hindsight, also those were gentler times before social media and there was a sense of humour about it that there isn’t now (and I’m not suggesting there should be now!). But in that flux, a lot of things could happen and did. So instead of a highly negotiated space, it was more like a barely negotiated space and lots of alliances, friendships, and collaborations emerged, some still continuing. And the clashes weren’t hostile – they were enjoyed for the most part. They took us places no one else was headed. When you throw personalities into the mix things happened. And there were some big personalities all who left their marks. And they formed and informed what we were doing.

I appreciate what you’re saying about our cultural capital approach. It is non-proprietary but that’s only part of it. Our ability to take cultural capital from one place and move it into a different arena is essential to grunt’s history and something it still uniquely does. We have been very successful in taking our credibility in one area and using it to open up opportunities in a completely unrelated area where frankly we should have no credibility at all. This plays out in all kinds of ways. One of the reasons we were able to purchase our space 20 years ago was we had done the Mount Pleasant Community Fence the year before and worked pretty much with the entire community, so we had incredible word-of-mouth in the community at that moment. That paid out directly with the development company we eventually worked within a marketing deal that enabled us to purchase the space. They were looking for the community credibility we had, but it was definitely a big part of that project. The year before it probably wouldn’t have worked. Recognizing that opportunity was a big part of it though.

Those shifts have been essential to our growth. I notice we change modes every 6 or 7 years. In 1999 we started LIVE and left it in 2005, We spent the next six years producing websites and then in 2011 started into grunt archives. Now in 2018, we are taking on Residencies and the Urban Screen. Again though, we are using our credibility in certain areas to move into other areas. It always means we are moving into areas where we have no expertise and we need to learn new skills and best practices. In many ways, the work we have done in the last few years around institutional structures and how we look at them has made us more resilient and able to take on these challenges, but it’s still a tall order. But we were ready to expand. We paid off our mortgage so had very cheap facility costs so The Blue Cabin didn’t look so onerous. It’s an exciting project that mixes cultural production and heritage in ways we haven’t seen before and I think it will open up space for artists and create a unique public monument. The Mount Pleasant Community Art Screen was really more opportunistic. We were offered an urban screen to program media art and in many ways to take it at face value would have been problematic. By turning the curatorial focus for the screen on the community we have an opportunity to take this to places urban screens have never really gone before.

What ties our work together, though, is working out of a sense of a larger community, and that word “community” has evolved in meaning over the past 35 years. Along with collaboration, these two really have been present through all the stages. Also what has evolved, I think, is grunt understands its role in the ecology now more then we did at the beginning, how we fit in and what we need to do. Will these projects live up to their potential or our vision for them? I hope so, but they are both important to do even if we fall flat on our faces. What they become will be interesting to watch and develop. I think looking for successes and failures is not as interesting as watching the paths they will take us on. The work is the reward. I’m not sure they expand our mandate as much as evolve it. They will definitely give artists opportunities they never had before. That’s always good. 

Please come back for the next blog to be released soon at grunt.ca
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