This year saw the 10th annual Swarm night in Vancouver. Being my second time around to the gallery-hop/art party, I was much more prepared than last year: I had printed and marked a map of all the galleries participating in the Friday night Gastown area (since the map on the website didn’t work for anyone I talked to). More importantly, I had my posse with me. If anything (besides the local and international talent, of course), Swarm is known for its’ hive mentality. With the crowds of Emily Carr students, professors, and art heads buzzing from gallery to gallery – taking their fill of cheap wine – Swarm promises an eventful evening for all who attend. With all this business happening around you, it can be challenging to get a good look at all of the works on display, so below are some highlights from the evening, and shows that are worth going back to see again.
Before meeting everyone at our first stop I finished off my flask of Disaronno to get in the mood, which was a good thing because the show at 221a Artist Run Centre, “Future Expansion, Today”, by Daniel Oates-Kuhn, wasn’t my favorite. The installation with a Vancouver-under-construction theme was awkwardly placed in the exhibition space, and overall seemed very simplistic. Plastic sheets hung from one wall, a box of asphalt on the floor was covered with fencing, and that was basically it. So we waited for the rest to join our tour in the other room of the gallery and had a beer.
The sculptural pieces at Access Gallery were more thoughtful, albeit very different in nature from those at 221a. Daniel Laskarin’s fibre glass forms resembled both precarious industry, and homage to Jospeh Bueys. The words written in clear tacks on the wall, “Things, Not Pictures,” invite consideration of the relation and separation between the two categories and how each signifies meanings. Jen Hutton’s wooden ‘C’ shaped sculpture that reflect the viewer’s feet when looking into the top, similarly played with how the viewer interacts with and perceives the material object before them.
Across the street from Access is Artspeak, which had a collection of video and books entitled “Speaking Truth to Reconciliation”. The show, like at last years’ Swarm, was arranged on Christian Kliegel’s ONSITE installation of white blocks that created a viewing area for the two videos. The combination of the installation and all the people trying to awkwardly funnel through to the back room for drinks made our stop at Artspeak a short one, as it intensified the hive effect of crawling over other people and made viewing the works difficult.
My favorite stop of the evening was at a gallery whose name I did not catch due to the darkness and the wine I drank while watching a video of a child running through a field toward the camera in very slow motion and negative colors that made the process disturbing. There were a street art style manatee painted across multiple wooden blocks, and canvases with stenciled Western figures and broken bits of wood and rusted metal on them that were stunning. I plan to find this magical, dark hole of a gallery again, and will tell you all about it then.
The most socially responsible show of the evening was at Gallery Gachet, which is no surprise considering their mandate to demystify issues surrounding mental health (and I would add race, class, and gender issues) by exhibiting the work of outsider artists. SD Holman’s “Stealing Masculinity” was very illuminating in its showcase of the physical transformation from female to male through the use of testosterone and surgery. Through personal journal entries on transparencies tacked on and around photographs, a more subjective account of one person’s gender identity was able to shine light on larger issues faced by transgendered people.
Our last stop of the evening was at the Or Gallery for “Death and Objects,” a group show featuring Debra Baxter, Dawn Cerny, Barb Choit, and The Goggles (Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge) that consisted of sculpture and photography. I enjoyed the Sci Fi show I saw at Or Gallery earlier this year, and the arrangement of sculptural objects on and around a centrally placed table had a similar flavour. I especially enjoyed the belted pillow with quartz growing out of one end. Some of the pieces showed death in objects very literally; a series of photographs of light fixtures with one less light every picture, or the large photographs of books with holes cut in them that resembled ghost faces a child might cut in a sheet. I get a very whimsical feeling from the Or Gallery, and I like it.
All of the walking and drinking took its tole by this time, and we parted ways with our posse to get some pizza before heading home. We ended up skipping out on the Fillip launch party, which was really too bad, because they do good work in the area of contemporary art criticism and theory.
By no means was this an exhaustive coverage of Swarm. On Friday alone we went to ten or so different galleries, and the night before had just as many openings in another part of Vancouver. I sincerely hope that this is not my last Swarm, and so do many galleries of the Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres (PAARC), which puts on Swarm each year. As a number of galleries highlighted with information sheets at the door, the provincial government has proposed major slashes to arts funding in the next year. For more information on this, see the post below. Swarm 2009 is a wonderful event that supports a lot of artists and the artist run culture that has been an integral part of Canadian art history for many years. It would be a tragedy if the government fails to see the importance of this aspect of Canadian culture.