When The Source on 17th Avenue S.W. was transformed from a snowboard and skateboard shop into LESS 17 a trendy store still owned by The Source that sells menswear a new art gallery took shape in its basement. Called Secret Eight as an homage to a favourite hidden skateboard haunt in Calgary the project space came out of renovations to the site when Austin Taylor the gallery’s director and a manager at the store saw an opportunity in a forgotten closet space once used to house extra helmets and boots.
It isn’t big — you could fit in a maximum of about 10 people inside at once — but it’s certainly unique: nestled into a corner the space abuts a brick wall and features a concrete stairway of eight steps. The exterior walls are transparent allowing visitors to see the art inside from across the room.
“It’s a project space where we really didn’t want it to be a commercial-style gallery” says Taylor. “It was really based on artists stepping outside what they normally do to really work with the space rather than putting a painting on the wall to be sold.”
The space opened in July 2014 and is now on its fourth show having previously exhibited Omar Lalani Dana Buzzee and Jesse Stilwell. And so far people seem to like it — some have even wanted to purchase work. “It enhances the experience and that’s why I believe that the owners are interested in doing the project space because we really want LESS 17 to be a cultural hub” says Taylor. “For a retail shop the number one thing you want to do is get people to come into the shop and spend time in there and that’s really what we were going for.”
Taylor has a history of curating art shows in unconventional spaces and so the idiosyncrasies of Secret Eight suit him perfectly. “I’ve always thought the most interesting part of doing each show is to create work in response to the space and I feel like white wall galleries don’t influence that very much.”
The non-commercial mandate is similarly about opening up possibilities; by not limiting artists to work that can be sold Secret Eight can accommodate installations and other less portable art forms.
The current show Pressure Point was curated by Lee Plested of Vancouver’s The Apartment. The work is diverse — video installations about grime rap fine drawings hand-carved sculptures posters prints and more. In this case none of the art was created specifically for the space but all speak to its gritty subterranean character.
“A big thing [for the space] is underrepresented artists but for this show there are some of the most successful up-and-coming artists in Canada” says Taylor referring in particular to Zachari Logan whose work is on loan from the Alberta College of Art and Design’s Illingworth-Kerr Gallery as well as Raymond Boisjoly. The work of Matt Browning Aaron Chan and Andrew Dadson is also on display.
Taylor hopes that Pressure Point and future shows will help people realize “that there is this kind of pulse in Calgary for young artists.” He also comments that there are a lot of opportunities for businesses to create space for art. “It’s really not that difficult to do… if you’re motivated to do it it’s not impossible” he says.
“I think the big thing is cultural capital. Sometimes people underestimate the power of that.”
PRESSURE POINT runs until April 19 at Secret Eight Project Space (930 17 Ave. S.W.)