Imagine a city without art. There would be no colourful murals in the neighbourhood, no books to read before bed and no shows to go to when you just want drink a beer and listen to noise.
Furthermore, imagine a society without art. What do your shoes look like? What moves do you bust out in your kitchen while waiting for the microwave to ding? What song would you listen to on a bad day?
Art influences just about every facet of our daily lives, from which mug you drink your morning coffee out of to the car you drive. A basic primal instinct for humans is to create art as a means of communication, expression and as a justification that we exist on this earth.
As small and remote as Winnipeg may feel at times, our city is chalk-full of contemporary art galleries, spaces showing strictly artwork created by living artists which reflects the present state of society and deals with current issues affecting people from all parts of the planet.
“I think contemporary art adds diversity in how we understand the world,” Jennifer Gibson, Director and Curator at Gallery 1C03, says. “Contemporary artists are responding to situations going on around us. It’s a reflection of our current time.”
Located within the University of Winnipeg, Gallery 1C03 focuses on connecting with students who have perhaps never stepped foot in a gallery before, as well as drawing parallels with the academic programs of study offered at the University.
“We really appreciate faculty bringing classes into the space to engage in discussions with the work as it applies to what they’re learning,” Gibson says. “Often in schools there is a lot of focus on communications verbally and not so much visually.”
A common theme in contemporary art is to tackle a concept with an interdisciplinary approach, the artist working in whichever medium best communicates their idea. Another theme of contemporary work is the role of the curator.
“There’s a lot of discussion on artist as curator, curator as artist, and the flexibility of those boundaries,” Gibson says.
At Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, one of Winnipeg’s oldest contemporary art galleries, the focus lies not only on exhibiting work but in the creation of it as well.
“Plug In ICA is a hybrid between a research centre, a gallery and a museum,” Janique Vigier explains. “It’s a space where people can experiment and try out different processes before making their work shown.”
Work by Jeanine Saurette
Vigier, Events Coordinator at Plug In ICA, got involved while working as an intern for the gallery after obtaining a degree in linguistics from the University of Winnipeg. The location of the gallery, situated between the University and the Winnipeg Art Gallery, a major centre for art which doesn’t focus on contemporary work, creates an interesting dialogue.
“It’s three institutions facilitating this potentially larger conversation and context about contemporary art and the issues surrounding it,” Vigier says.
The interior of the gallery also boasts intelligent design; it is one of the few galleries in the city that is wheelchair accessible and the entrance also doubles as the gallery store. The transitional commercial space was designed as such in an attempt to quell the all-too-familiar discomfort felt when entering an alienating gallery space.
Vigier suggests that some of that fear is due to a lack of public literacy around art and that, through education, art can be an integrated part of peoples lives rather than a just thing to include or an event to attend.
“It’s also important to have public programs of all kinds and I believe that will rid of some of the stigma and fear,” Vigier states. “It’s just educating people about what’s going on in the exhibition and trying to raise these bigger issues. Galleries should be a place for education on a larger scale.”
Michael Mogatas (R)
Jamie Wright, Co-Director at aceartinc., feels contemporary art has in the past scared a lot of people away by favouring a more academic and over-intellectualized approach, citing it as largely the art establishments fault for taking aesthetics generally out of the conversation.
“We’ve lost the ability to talk about what we see sometimes,” Wright says. “Also to like a piece because it just speaks to us based on how it looks and how it fits with it’s environment.”
Breaking some of those societal barriers in terms of visual art culture is the first step to making gallery environments more accessible.
“It’s very rare to hear people talking in galleries and it’s even rarer to see people interacting with things,” Wright says. “It’s not a library. It should be a place of critical discussion that increases critical engagement through lectures and publications.”
Aceartinc. is an artist-run gallery which focuses strictly on exhibition for artists and opportunities for emerging practitioners. Because they don’t have to worry about the financial impact of a show, the gallery is able to exhibit highly experimental works. The space also acts as an artist resource offering not only exhibition space and a project room, but also a library, technological resources, a fully equipped woodworking shop and staff that can provide studio visits and feedback if necessary.
Winnipeg as a city also provides an abundance of resources to artists. Take for example video pool, based on the resource-sharing concept of the wheat board, or Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA), which focuses on multidisciplinary mentorship between artists and can often lead to future collaborations.
“There are a lot of things that are said as to why Winnipeg breeds this kind of resourceful and supportive community,” Rowan Gray, Co-Director at C SPACE, says. “Some say it’s the weather or because of it being inexpensive, which allows for artists to live and work here. Also the fact that it’s not as competitive as other cities.”
C SPACE is one of the newer contemporary galleries in the city, located in the Frame Warehouse arts hub. Similar to Aceartinc., C SPACE is artist-run and has open calls for submission, giving the artist free-reign of the gallery space.
Winnipeg also plays host to one of only three Aboriginal-art mandated galleries in Canada. Apart from showing contemporary aboriginal art work from around the world, Urban Shaman is also focused on the difference between craft-based traditional practices versus contemporary Aboriginal art as well as outreach to northern communities.
“We are currently trying to understand how to communicate as a gallery with people who don’t have as much contemporary art education,” Daina Warren, Director at Urban Shaman says. “It’s very different coming from a reserve community into a formally based art exhibition.”
One recent project that was able to transcend the boundary between traditional and contemporary art was the Walking With Our Sisters installation, which consisted of almost 2,000 moccasin vamps adorned with traditional beading to bring awareness to the contemporary issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada and the United States.
“It was quite an emotional way to engage the community,” Warren reflects. “A lot of people who hadn’t before seen an exhibition were coming to the gallery.”
Joe Kalturnyk, Director at RAW: Gallery of Architecture & Design, believes there is a general movement away from anti-craft work and towards work that is comfortable in it’s imperfection and where the creator is present.
“The nice thing about art and culture is that it osculates, it’s actions and reactions that happen in society so that we can understand ourselves,” Kalturnyk says. “It’s a universal thing to make art as far as humans go. The reason behind it I think is because we’re trying to find our place here and that’s going to change from time to time. Making art is a part of us, it’s a language.”
RAW focuses on site specific work where the viewer is challenged to respond to the physical space of the gallery, akin to the way architects traditionally approach spaces. Kalturnyk believes that it’s not only art institutions that can aid in making contemporary art more accessible, but the artists themselves.
“The artists here work like dogs. It is the most comprehensive and intensive scene that I’ve ever been in,” Kalturnyk states. “It’s a major output art scene here in Winnipeg.”
The largest burden hanging over Winnipeg’s art community today is the lack of steady funding. Our current funding per capita is below six dollars compared to the national average which is closer to $32; pretty bleak for a city that prides itself as a culture capital.
“What the arts can teach society is that there is more to life than collecting, that the act of doing and the act of making and producing culture is quite rewarding in and of itself,” Kalturnyk says. “Kurt Vonnegut said that everybody should paint, even if it sucks. It’s a very valuable human thing to do, to just make art. Artists are absolutely fucking fundamental.”
Artists featured in artist studio shots are Michael Mogatas and Jeanine Saurette. Cover shot features work by Marijana Mandusic.
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2nd floor, 290 McDermot Ave. R3B 0T2
300 Ross Ave. R3A 0L4
318 Ross Ave. R3A 0L7
Cre8ery Gallery and Studio
125 Adelaide St. R3A 0W4
Edge Gallery & Urban Art Centre
611 Main St. R3B 1E1
65 Albert St. R3B 1G4
515 Portage Ave. R3B 2E9
Gallery of Student Art (GoSA)
105A University Centre R3T 2N2
Gallery One One One
313 ARTlab, University of Manitoba (Fort Garry Campus)
180 Dafoe Rd. R3T 2N2
Graffiti Art Programming Inc.
109 Higgins Ave. R3B 0B5
Gurevich Fine Art
200-62 Albert St. R3B 1E9
La Maison Des Artistes Visuels Francophones
219, boulevard Provencher
Saint-Boniface Manitoba R2H 0G4
Martha Street Studio
11 Martha St. R3B 1A2
Mayberry Fine Art
212 McDermot Ave. R3B 1B6
Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art (MAWA)
611 Main St. R3B 1E1
Platform Centre for Photographic & Digital Arts
121-100 Arthur St. R3B 1H3
Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art
Unit 1-460 Portage Ave. R3C 0E8
RAW: Gallery of Architecture & Design
290 McDermot Ave. R3B 0T2
Basement Corridor, 264 McDermot Ave. R3B 0S8
Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art
203-290 McDermot Ave. R3B 0T2
Video Pool Media Arts Centre
300-100 Arthur St. R3B 1H3