FFWD REW

Windows into contemporary art

Plus-15 galleries a microcosm of Calgary’s art scene

Maybe you’re kicking around the Epcor Centre waiting for a show to begin looking for a place to warm up on a cold day after skating at Olympic Plaza or it’s lunch hour and you’re itching to take a walk. Head up to the Plus-15 level of the Epcor Centre between Theatre Calgary’s offices and the second-floor entrance to the Jack Singer Concert Hall and you’ll be treated to a mini-gallery of six art-filled windows.

For the last 15 years the Epcor Centre has loaned the spaces to local not-for-profit galleries including The New Gallery Stride Alberta College of Art and Design’s Marion Nicoll Gallery Truck and the Untitled Art Society (UAS). The Alberta Printmakers’ Society (A/P) joined the ranks about six months ago and a new space for the University of Calgary is slated to open in the new year.

The galleries themselves are narrow trapezoids 14.5 feet wide at the back and eight feet wide at the front (except for A/P’s window which is flat to be more conducive to 2D work). The artwork rotates every two months but they are not all on the same schedule so there’s frequently something new to see.

“It provides a really interesting opportunity for the public to engage with contemporary art and ideas outside of a traditional gallery setting” says Ginger Carlson programming co-ordinator at UAS a gallery committed to showing and providing training resources for emerging artists. “The Plus-15 is a central part of our mandate as it really extends these commitments out of our gallery space and provides an external outlet within the wider creative community for engagement with contemporary art and ideas.”

From a programming side there is a definite slant towards emerging artists in the window galleries. After all the scope of these spaces is perfect for an art student or recent grad who might not yet be able to sell a solo show in a gallery’s main space.

However Randy Niessen programming co-ordinator at Truck is trying to dispel the idea that the window galleries are exclusively for students or early career artists: “I don’t like to look at the Plus-15 windows as a stepping stone or a second-rate exhibition area; it’s not. We do really great programming in those spaces” he says citing a Plus-15 show by Chicago-based artist John E. Bannon in 2011 as an example.

Niessen also notes that Truck receives fewer submissions from artists to showcase in the Plus-15 window compared to the main space — although interest is growing. The lower level of interest may be due to a perception of the window galleries as a student space or possibly the nature of the windows themselves. “Physically the space is a little bit difficult” says Niessen. “I’ve always found that showing 2D works can be a little challenging in the space; you have to be a little more creative in how you present it.”

Still unless you happen along on the right day the mechanics of sifting through submissions soliciting artwork and installing the exhibits is invisible to viewers who only see the art itself. ““It’s kind of a point at which to (do a) double-take” says Carlson. “People walking on their way to work can step outside of their normal day and maybe interact with something they might not normally do consider something out of the ordinary engage with contemporary art.”

The Epcor Centre itself manages another series of seven window galleries on the main floor across from the Max Bell Theatre. Tammy McGrath visual and media arts programmer at the Epcor Centre explains that visual art has always been part of the centre’s mandate originally manifesting itself as art loans from commercial galleries and organizations like the Canada Council for the Arts Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the City of Calgary. About seven years ago that shifted to a local focus. “We decided that we’d create more opportunities for local artists and that would have a direct impact on their practice instead of it being mediated through another organization” McGrath says.

The main-floor window galleries showcase emerging mid-career and established artists who work in a variety of genres. “We have thousands of theatre patrons that come through the centre that are obviously interested in the arts but may not be experiencing visual art in the same way that they experience the theatre” says McGrath. “This gives the public a new experience but also gives the artist a new audience that they won’t reach anywhere else.”

Back upstairs those who walk past the Plus-15 galleries experience all the exhibits together even though they are programmed independently. So while passersby may be moved by a particular artwork the subtext of the space is that it exemplifies in one short hallway the breadth of contemporary art institutions in our city. “It shows that Calgary’s arts scene is really united and doing lots of stuff because the shows are constantly changing over and there’s always something new in there” says Niessen.

Jessie Bryant director of studio and gallery for A/P lauds the opportunity that the Plus-15 Window provides for artists and audiences alike but also notes that it “allows us… to establish stronger connections with other artist-run centres that use other Epcor Centre Plus-15 windows.”

For UAS’s part Carlson observes “It’s actually pretty exceptional to have a collective space where a variety of artist-run centres can come together and show off emerging talent that we have in the city and a really public space where there’s a lot of foot traffic.”

WHAT’S ON IN THE PLUS-15 WINDOW GALLERIES

Alberta Printmakers’ Society: “Field Notes” comprises two complementary prints by Edmonton-based artist Lisa Matthias that evoke the natural world by blending structured cell-like patterns with an organic improvisational touch.

Marion Nicoll Gallery: A sequential installation by Tait Wilman takes us from an embroidered “I’m Sorry” (also the exhibit’s title) to a sweater in Hudson’s Bay colours to a pyramid of impaled sausages and marshmallows to a map of Canada highlighting each region’s eatables.

The New Gallery: A hot dog perpetually spinning in its bun is the centrepiece of Jeremy Pavka’s “No More Bad Days.” Assess how your day is going in the series of mirrors at the back of the installation which depict cheerful palm trees as well as the piece’s title.

Stride: “17041961” by Natalie Lauchlan is an eerie monochromatic installation. Dozens of suspended light bulbs float throughout the space partially filled with a dark ashy substance.

Truck: Are you there? Nathalie Quagliotto’s piece “HERE” perhaps answers the questions: the entire installation is a hanging neon sign that affirms “RIGHT HERE” in bright yellow.

Untitled Art Society: Nicole Bracey’s “Finale” offers two neat cabinets filled with knickknacks magazines and other artfully placed clutter. There are plenty of details and connections to examine more closely.

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