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,




(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?


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

Recollective: Vancouver Independent Archives Week is a series of free public events, panels, conversations, performances, and screenings that highlight artist-run centre archives, artists working with archives, and the intersections between contemporary art practices and social movements in Vancouver and beyond.

In its 2019/2020 programming year, Recollective looked beyond Vancouver to host a series of national and international presenters and respondents to examine these issues in a range of global contexts.

In 2018, the program featured perspectives and approaches to archival practice through grassroots strategies, collective organizing, hybrid models, DIY spaces, open source solutions, and counter-archives that facilitate ownership of community memory by and for community. In its 2019/2020 programming year, Recollective will host a series of national and international presenters and respondents to examine these issues in a range of global contexts.

Recollective also commissions a variety of artists, writers, and activists to create critical responses to our events. This research is added on an ongoing basis to our website to extend discourse and access to wider audiences.

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

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

Image: Architecture Reearch 6, Jawa El Khash.

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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
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