Walking towards the VA building on one of the first cold days of the season, the building’s dark grey exterior does not betray the fact that this is a place where people come to learn and create art.
Once inside, the nondescript hallways, so unknown to the massive student body outside the fine arts faculty, keep up this demure facade.
That is, until you get to the second floor, where the smell of coffee leads you to a bright and colourful space. Before you know it, you are at Gallery X, one of Concordia’s more intimate galleries, located in Cafe X.
With its large windows that allow for unlimited sunlight to stream through, mismatched furniture scattered about the space, and of course, the art hanging on the wall, it is easy to see how one can spend an entire day studying and relaxing in the gallery’s atmosphere.
So the question is, how is it that people stumble into the gallery every day, not knowing it was there before?
“I think that it is under the radar a lot,” offered gallery curator Clinton Glenn. The marriage of art exhibitions with a cafÃ© setting also plays a role not only in the way people discover the gallery, but also in the experience they have when they are there.
“It actually gives a little bit more exposure, because people come into the space to buy food and relax and actually study,” said Glenn. “And I don’t know how many people go into, say, VAV gallery, study and look at the art.”
With past exhibitions that have included themes such as monsters, all sorts of mediums, from painting and drawing, to sculpture, have been exhibited in the space. And of course, there is always room to experiment with the actual installation of the works.
“Because this is a non-traditional environment, we can use this space in really interesting and unique ways,” Glenn explained.
Although it nearly goes without being said, the art exhibited in the gallery also veers away from safe or predictable routes. The submission guidelines for art include a plead for provocative works.
“I like art that’s really provocative, and gets people either loving it or hating it,” said Glenn. “I tend to go for things that get people really, really pissed off or people being like, ‘this is amazing.’”
Toying with the ideas of possible themes of death and deconstruction for this upcoming year, it is safe to say that some provocation should be in order for the gallery.
Showcasing the work of undergraduate Fine Arts students of all different disciplines, not just studio arts, the gallery offers itself as a manageable bridge for students who want to show their work in a fuss-free setting, without having to succumb to overly stuffy or nerve-pinching guidelines.
“In terms of exhibiting at Gallery X, my most important point to get across is if you’re thinking of submitting something, just go ahead and do it, because we’re open-minded, we’re willing to work with people who are really interested in showing,” stressed Glenn.
“My title is curator, but I see myself more as a facilitator,” he continued. “So if people want to show, I will help them. I will help with the setup, do the logistics, that sort of thing, get the word out there, and then help them curate the show […] I’m here to help people in any way I can.”
“It’s more open, everything is a little bit less rigid in terms of what can happen here,” co-curator Emma Carey echoed later. “So I really hope that it becomes an alternative place for people to do whatever they want and that we can foster that and help them exhibit and have publicity.”
For all the room to experiment and shake things up, they are sticking to the gallery’s tradition of exhibiting the work of Cafe X staff for the first show.
Titled Self-Portraits: Introducing the Staff of Cafe X, the show will feature work by 10 artists who work at the cafÃ©, allowing them to step over the counter and giving viewers a glimpse into the talents of the people who brew their coffee every time they come in.
And, of course, it will include everything but your typical self-portrait. From paintings to sculpture, and even a zine, the artists did not just step out of the box, they completely walked away from it when creating works of art to represent themselves.
“It’s all sorts of different creative output and I really didn’t have any rigid structures around what they could submit,” said Carey.
“They’re taking it to places where it’s not specifically your standard or stereotypical self-portrait,” added Glenn. “It’s more, ‘how do I want to represent myself in a way that is unique and isn’t just a headshot.’”
“[The] work that I’m gonna show here is a self-portrait […] a small canvas that I made with emotion and you can see three primary colours, so it’s very filling for the eye,” said contributing artist FÃ©lix-Antonin NoÃ«l of his submission, Hooles. “It shows some craziness and aggressivity at the same time, so I don’t know how people are gonna react seeing this.”
From hearing the artists talk, it is apparent that they are passionate about their workplace and the creative opportunities Gallery X lends them.
Artist Tony Wilson submitted a sculpture titled I Have Something to Show You (a figure standing covered in gelatinous-looking pink plasticine and silicone). He called the gallery “comfortable and welcoming.”
“I’ve always taken pride in being able to contribute. I hope that people who see the show will feel that they can identify with the staff and get to know all of us a little better.”
With more shows planned for the coming school year and the proverbial sky as the limit to where the artists and curators will take the gallery this year, Gallery X may just make its way into the collective consciousness of the Concordia art landscape.
And like any endeavour, artistic or otherwise, it will have to start somewhere.
“Right now,” said Glenn, “I think I’d like people to refer to it as not just being the gallery that’s in a cafÃ©, but as being a gallery space as well. We’re trying to bring something that’s a little more outside the box and a little more laidback to the gallery scene at Concordia.”
Self-Portraits: Introducing the Staff of Cafe X is running from Sept. 20 to 30 at Gallery X (VA Building, room 229). The vernissage is on Sept. 20 at 6 p.m. For more information, you can check out their website at www.gallery-x.com.