Commercial and public galleries in Vancouver often stick to the predictable roster of usual suspects so it’s always refreshing when a new venture opens up in the city, especially one that isn’t driven by sales. Exercise Projects, run by Vanessa Disler and Nicole Ondre, both practicing artists and recent graduates of Emily Carr University, recently inaugurated its space with an exhibition featuring the paintings of Elizabeth McIntosh. A local artist well-respected for her abstract paintings, McIntosh’s work in Three Oranges looks at details of still lifes by artists such as Bonnard, Matisse and Picasso; she has taken these specific areas and transformed them into the whole, creating bold abstracted patterns as well as subtle explorations of colour. Better known for her large-scale abstractions, McIntosh has cleverly played off of the quirky architecture of the space by scaling down her paintings so that they are domestically-sized, and created an engaging installation by painting one of the walls a pinkish-peach so that her paintings hang on this wall work, layer upon layer. Interested to see where Exercise Projects is headed, we asked Nicole and Vanessa a few questions about their new venture and they very kindly obliged:
Here and Elsewhere: What prompted you to open Exercise?
Exercise Projects: Before opening Exercise we both studied visual arts at Emily Carr. During the last two years of our degrees we, with our friend Alex Turgeon, ran a small student gallery called VSA (Vancouver School of Art – the original name of Emily Carr University). VSA was conceived as an independent mini-institution within the school, a space where students could present and discuss work outside of the classroom, within a peer-to-peer context. At the time, we tried to run the space as a professional gallery: we wrote press releases, sent mail-outs to local galleries, and created exhibition publications, but in a very D.I.Y. way. It was at this time that we began to have a lot of drunken conversations about how we could do this outside of school.
Two years later we were looking for a studio and we found this storefront. It had a separate space in the front, which is now Exercise, and room for our studios (and the studios of two other friends) in the back. Because of the ample space and large front window, we instantly thought about using this front room a project space.
H&E: We like the idea of a ‘Project Space’ as opposed to a ‘Gallery’ – what do you consider to be the difference?
EP: We decided to call Exercise a project space as we are neither curators nor gallerists, but artists interested in showing the work of other artists. Programming and all decisions are made between the artists and ourselves, we don’t receive outside funding or aim to sell the work, so don’t feel the sort of responsibility an institution or commercial gallery would. Acknowledging our positions as artists having recently finished art school, we are generally showing work we want to learn from by experiencing it in person, and this attitude makes the whole thing feel like an artist project in and of itself, more than a gallery, so ‘project space’ seemed appropriate.
H&E: How did you decide to open your space with a show of Elizabeth McIntosh’s paintings? What future programming do you have planned?
EP: Elizabeth was our teacher at Emily Carr, and has really been a mentor. It was a big honour to have her exhibition open our space. Her attitude towards making paintings is inspiring and the more you get to know it, so brave. We thought the space would present an interesting opportunity for viewers to experience her work in a different environment. The paintings which make up Three Oranges are quite different from the work that McIntosh has previously exhibited, they are small and intimate and are installed conversation with the architecture of the space. The space itself is quirky, and was never designed to be a gallery, so each artist who shows will have to deal with it and how it converses with their work.
The next show is going to take place in February with Vancouver/L.A. based artist Yunhee Min. After that we will be having group show with artists from abroad, and then a solo show with Rebecca Brewer. Lots of things to be confirmed, but we are hoping to bring in a few artists who haven’t shown in Vancouver before – we will see how it goes!
H&E: Since you are independently funded, it sounds like you have a lot of freedom in determining whose work you want to show – is there any kind of loose criteria you are working with in setting your exhibition schedule?
EP: The artists that we have invited to exhibit at Exercise all make work that we feel is important to experience in person. Another major factor for us is that there is so much artwork that living in Vancouver we only have the opportunity to see on the internet and in magazines. For example, Yunhee Min who is having the next show at Exercise, lives and works part time in Vancouver, but hasn’t shown here since 1997. She shows in Los Angeles, and other major cities. Yunhee’s presence in Vancouver has been mostly as an educator. Our goal is to bring her work here as well.
H&E: Are you planning on supplementing your exhibitions with other types of programming?
EP: Since the beginning we have thought of Exercise as a space that is flexible and experimental. Within the next several months events such as film screenings, readings, performances, and other social gatherings are to take place at Exercise. The nature of the space with our studios in the back is fairly informal, and we hope that it will be a social and casual space for discussion around the exhibitions and other events. Aside from this, with each exhibition we will be creating a small edition of prints that will be for sale.
H&E: Thanks Nicole and Vanessa!
P.S. Enter through the back when you see a cedar bough and you trust us, you won’t be sorry.
All images Courtesy of Exercise Projects.