357 Rusholme Projects
357 Rusholme Road
January – December, 2015
357 Rusholme Projects was an exhibition site, project space, and residence based on a DIY model of exchange and productivity. It was a space to test, fail, build, co-habitat, socialize, think, dream, and create moments of discovery in my apartment building in Toronto.
357 Rusholme Projects was spurred by two points of inspiration:
1) My neighbours. There are numerous areas of the apartment building which people have self-designated as share spaces (much to the disapproval of the management). The residents place household items, clothing, and food for free in the hallways, elevators, and in the back and front lobby spaces. These become a conversation of conviviality and generosity between unknown occupants. In the parking lot there is a B’nai B’rith donation drop box where these items could easily find themselves, but the residents have created an independent social system of exchange that offers the items as a selection of gifts to their immediate community first. The items never last longer than a day.
2) My colleagues. Torontonians are very generous with their space, as it is at a premium. There is a long history of domestic exhibitions and personal space-shares that I am fascinated with and excited by. Artists and curators close to home have generously opened up their spaces as sites of innovation and creation to artists and collaborators across the city. For example, Sandra Brewster’s curatorial venture Open House, that spans every crevice of her home and makes space for what she so desperately wants and needs to see in the Toronto art community; Su-Ying Lee’s Rear View Projects, which saw the construction of flipping properties, a large-scale sculpture by Jimenez Lai in her back-alley parking spot to utilize all spaces one owns and controls as a creative endeavor; Elle Flanders and Tamira Swatsky’s Public Window that added to the every-growing change in the Dundas West district (and now their larger, more entrepreneurial, venture a cultural centre on Geary Street); and VideoFag that had a long run of experimental arts programming as an active, queer, social, art hub in the front of Jordan Tannahill and William Ellis’ Kensington apartment. The list continues with the Feminist Art Gallery (Allyson Mitchell & Deirdre Logue); Double Double Land (Jon McCurley and Daniel Vila); VSVSVS (Wallis Cheung, Ryan Clayton, Anthony Cooper, James Gardner, Stephen McLeod, and Miles Stemp); The Convenience Gallery; the Lower Mailbox Gallery (Dufflet’s window gallery); the now defunct Zsa Zsa (Andrew Harwood); Wedge Curatorial Projects (Kenneth Montague, who has moved into collaborations with institutions); The White House (shifting collective members); Astrid Bastin Projects (Astrid Bastin); The Balcony (James Carl); and those not so far outside the city: Film Farm (Simone Urdl and Jennifer Weiss); Funny Farm (Laura Kikauka, Meaford); and Don Blanche (Don Miller, Shelburne). I have always been a big fan of the do-it-yourself-ness that comes with producing opportunities rather than waiting for invitations. In Toronto we do it well.
In 2015, I invited three artists into my home and residence to begin a dialogue with my neighbors.
First, Colombian-Canadian artist Alejandro Tamayo produced a series of sculptures for the lobby spaces in 357 Rusholme, an area loosely designated for exchange. Tamayo is known for his extremely minimal actions, so I felt that his interventions in the share-spaces would not be obtrusive. The items that are regularly placed in the spaces already appear as ready-mades, therefore Tamayo’s sculptures, built of household objects, were almost invisible as works of art for public consideration. The artist’s interventions were seamlessly inserted into the residents’ origination of a place to encounter conviviality and generosity. Objects never last longer than a couple days. Because of this, Tamayo understood that all of the works would most likely be removed and/or consumed within a very short time span (none of which last more than 10 minutes), and that the audience is very tiny. The management has also expressed annoyance at the appearance of “stuff” in the lobbies, but the residents persist regardless of the signage asking them to discontinue the practice. The act of leaving the items becomes an act of defiance and subversion, therefore it feels rather illicit in the moment of drop off.
Project 1 was an old radio and a note, which read: “Tune the Radio into the station you prefer like or, if you like prefer, take the Radio with you.” I was given simple instructions to leave it in the space, plugged in and tuned to a station. Within minutes, the radio was in a man’s basket on his motorized scooter and headed upstairs. The sign remained on the wall until I took it down the following day. Project 2, process of disappearance, came with no instruction. I was handed an envelope with three sticks of incense, a wooden incense holder, and a pack of 30 Camel matches in it. I placed the objects on the shelf in the front lobby and returned 10 minutes later to find that they were gone and replaced with three bags of grain-free dog treats. Tamayo himself positioned Project 3, when I was out of the country. I received an email with documentation of an orange and foldable blue ruler propped against a wall in the front garden. All three of the works became a stealthy conversation of hospitality and kindness with an unknowing audience.
The next project got a little closer to home and reached into the most intimate of spaces, my bedroom. Amy Wong, whose work takes inspiration from the assemblage and franticness of a teen girl’s bedroom, spent a week-long research-based residency in my apartment. I invited Wong to test the concept of the bedroom collage as a potential exhibition model. This was the end of a two-year intensive process for Wong, who was completing her MFA at York University. The bedroom project was the final gesture in a series of exhibitions and events that put her theory into practice. The first was a formal exhibition at the Gales Gallery on campus where she considered “…converting a cold white cube into what felt like a slumber party and a safe space that sparked conversations about feminism, race, class, art and music.” Second was a backyard rave, in her own private space, inviting friends and friends of friends to dance and drink to her DJ party-mix (with a fog machine of course).
Without the pressure of an audience, she used my room as a learning prospect and play-space to build her practice and visualize new possibilities of display and construction. Over the course of the week, the installation grew. Paintings rested on the wall. Pieces of paper were adhered to doors and drawers. Stacks of tape piled up on window ledges and photocopies of eyes peered from the floor and the bed. The frenetic collage transformed my room into another dimension. It became the stage for a character that I understood more each day with the building of the set. A type of mess and excitement that had long left my life was seeping back into it, and I embraced the girl culture that re-introduced itself to me. There is a freedom and earnestness in making all of one’s likes and interests visible. Creating a space that is distinct and personal, putting it at odds with the rest of the space that is kept and aesthetically designed by an adult.
The third project was an installation in my living room window (33½ x 40 ½”) facing the neighbouring buildings by artist Jade Rude. This venture united two residential spaces – Rude’s Project 674, a window project space on the 3rd floor of 674 Queen Street West (2013-16) and mine, just north of hers on the 10th floor.
Rude has contributed to the cultural history of domestic spaces in Toronto. Her project window galleries open up and give over private space for the public to have a chance encounter with art, in an area of the city that was once the site of experimental art production and is now deeply gentrified. Her Queen Street exhibition site seamlessly blends into the urban landscape of the busy street. Her initiative invites a viewer to find a hidden message in their daily travels by looking up. Mimicking that of an outmoded independent business, the plastic signage exhibits muddled lyrics and statements that can only be decoded if read aloud. I invited Rude to take her window on the road (well up the road) to continue that conversation with my neighbours in the piece Goodbye, Hello, (2015-16). The two sign boards were backlit by the light in the apartment. With red letters upon corrugated plastic boards the notes spelled out:
Like the objects in the lobby, the window became a small gesture of extending a way of collaborating together and attempting to talk to strangers that are hopefully strangers no more.
As someone who straddles an institutional and independent practice, it was a refreshing pace. There was no pressure to construct deadlines for artists, which made the whole endeavor very fluid and accommodating for us both. Rude’s window stayed intact for over a year in my window. Wong’s installation happened when we both had the time and space to create it, and Tamayo’s sometimes happened when I wasn’t even there. The audience was small and unknowing, but it was more about how to live in a space and a city where the joy of connecting to a stranger is lost.