SFU's Audian gallery home to process-oriented exhibit
//Brittney Kroiss

While the historic Woodward’s building was once a symbol of Vancouver’s prosperity, now its location and use has become an issue of contention. After being a popular shop from 1903 onwards, the iconic building ended up deteriorating after World War II.

In 2002, the “Woodward’s Squat” took place, with activists and residents of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood occupying the building, demanding low income social housing be developed in the then-abandoned multi-level department store. Today, the building is now home to a variety of uses, including mixed-income apartments, a number of shops, SFU’s contemporary arts campus, and the Audain gallery.

The Audain gallery is currently hosting an exhibit that is exploring the social and political issues of the DTES, often referred to as the “poorest postal code in Canada”. The collaborative process-orientated project, The Mapping the Everyday: Neighborhood Claims for the Future, has run since Nov. 17, 2011, and will continue to Feb. 25, 2012.

The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC), a feminist organization founded in 1978 which provides a safe space for the women of the DTES, has collaborated with Audain Gallery’s curator Sabine Bitter and visiting artist Elke Krasny. They have joined together in order to turn the Audain Gallery into a meeting ground to bring up and share various issues affecting the surrounding area.

Bitter is a Vancouver-based Austrian-born artist and a visual arts teacher at SFU. She is excited about the project as “it really shows what we can do as artists to work for different groups and have an exchange of different knowledges.”

In order to expand on the various types of knowledge, the project grew to include a number of different art collectives, SFU Contemporary Art students and members of the DTES Community.

Under Bitter’s guidance, SFU Contemporary Arts students ran Out of Bounds: Festival of Site- Specific Interventions, which took place over a two-week span and in the space that the students routinely travel: between the school and their 611 Alexander St. studios. The students took part in a number of ways, with individual actions, installations, and short performances on the street.

Alexis Vanderveen, one of Simon Fraser’s Contemporary Arts’ students, refers to the project as a “move to make Woodward’s [into an] ‘open’ space for the Downtown Eastside.” The Audain gallery, whose doors are usually locked and put under heavy surveillance, often makes members of the community feel as though they are “being watched.” Unlocking the doors during the duration of the exhibit is an attempt to make a place for those in the community to meet, bring about a comfortable sense of community, and inevitably assist the community in reclaiming “their space.”

Vanderveen took part in the Out of Bounds festival, documenting trips between her studio and the Audain Gallery by three methods: by foot, by bus, and by car, in order to contrast them. Recording the experience with a video camera around her neck, she explored the concept of space by taking in the sounds and sights of the neighbourhood. She found that her experiences, sense of time, and connection to the neighbourhood varied greatly depending on her method of travel. While she will most likely not make the videos public due both to the poor quality and out of respect of privacy of the others in the footage, she will join with the other students who took part in the festival on Jan. 19 at 7pm in the Audain Gallery to discuss the varied socially-engaged art practices and experiments that took place.

Art collective Downtown Eastside Media, or desmedia, engages artists and members of the community in collaborative art projects. It considers itself a “living archive” of the neighbourhood. As part of the collaboration, they hosted the “Collective Futures in the Downtown Eastside”, a public forum between artists and residents to discuss successes, challenges, history, and potential futures of the area. Desmedia’s workstation and archive of videotaped interviews is currently on display in the gallery, as it is without a home. Similar to Vanderveen, the archive is not available to the public eye for viewing out of respect to those who have taken part.

Playwright and performer Marie Clemens, who has worked with the DEWC in the past, teamed up with Michelle St. John, creating a collaboration called red diva projects. They intend to produce a new performance that “explores the potential of fiction to express critical truth.”

Artist collective Coupe was invited to the Audain Gallery to host “Wednesday Night School”, which facilitates a bi-weekly reading group that is open to the public during the duration of the exhibit. Coupe aims to “address the acute condition of art of our time, identify the current aesthetic mode corresponding to Vancouver's regime of monopoly-capitalist development, and attempt to articulate the aesthetic and political practice proper to undermine it.”

The project’s main installation, located in the Audain Gallery, consists of an open white room wrapped with headlines and demands from the DEWC newsletter over the past couple of decades.

The excerpts range from the late 1970s to 2011, and include: “Stop the War of the Poor!” (1996); “Stop Police Violence!” (2003); “We’ve Survived the Long Winter” (1990); “DTES is Not for Developers!” (2011); “Gentrifu*kation!” (2011); “People are Dying!” (2008); “You are not forgotten” (1989); “Rise Up!” (2005); “We demand an inquiry into the missing woman!” (2008); and “Take back your power!” (1987).

The bold, black statements covering the walls make a strong impact, describing the various causes that have been fought for in the DTES over the last three decades.

Other Mapping the Everyday events include art workshops such as cedar weaving, discussions, reading groups, live performances, presentations, a short-film screening, and the annual Feb. 14 Women’s Memorial March.

While the exhibit is free, the Audain Gallery is accepting donations of books to build a library for the DEWC, which recently had all of their books stolen.

//Brittney Kroiss, Writer
//Illustration by Sarah Vitet

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com