In anticipation of his upcoming solo show at Wil Aballe Art Projects, April Thompson sat down with Patryk Stasieczek of Gallery 295 to discuss 295's current exhibition, gallery programming, Stasieczek's curatorial process, and beyond.
SM: Gallery 295 is currently showing ‘Float Copper’ a solo show of works by Nich McElroy. The show is centered around a quote by Rebecca Solnit, taken from her book Migrations and speaks to the ability to sense change by assuming a static meditative position. Nich’s photographs achieve this meditative state and have an ability to slow us down as viewers. In the current moment, where images are instantly transmitted & we are faced with large amounts of visual stimulation online, how attainable is a photographic practice that operates from this kind of slower space?
PS: Nich is a photographer who is invested in writing framed by the photographic image. The way in which he executed the exhibition was certainly considering time as a metaphor through the phenomenon of float copper, and he was considering this idea through photographic installation. He presents his images in a way where they themselves appear on a page together in sequence, which again, is a hint toward literary aspects of image making and photography as linguistic system. When it comes to the idea of images being readily available online, Nich’s work allows for a moment of slower consumption, and I think that is really achieved from phrasing an exhibition and being able to show work inside a physical space – to have the work sit and relay a bodily relationship. His images are evocative and ask for your attention. The sequencing at play is in the images as they speak to one another on the page, and also in the relationship between the images as one walks through the gallery space.
SAD Mag: So I suppose that it’s not necessarily mutually exclusive to have this capacity to speak to the contemporary fast consumption of images online as well as achieve this slowed down pace within the exhibition space, as I notice that with Nich’s work he is also present on Instagram and social media.
Patryk Stasieczek: Nich’s images do get looked at and shared quite extensively online. For us, it was exciting to be able to bring his practice into the gallery and allow for a different viewership and mediated relationship with his photographic practice. It’s been a rewarding experience.
SM: Nich’s show places a lot of focus on how passages of time are written into the landscape (in the forms of eskers, kames and moraines) often in subtle and at times imperceptible ways. Vancouver is a city that has seen rapid change and this has often been documented through photographic works emanating from its locale – whether it be in the work of Fred Herzog or the lauded “photo-conceptualists.” Do you think that living and working as a photographer within the spatial zone of Vancouver comes with a need to recognize this cultural sedimentation of what went before?
PS: I think it’s good to pay tribute and recognize ones position within that history and also an understanding in how you take up your practice. Nich doesn’t necessarily directly speak to those artists, but for the sake of being someone who is physically showing work in Vancouver, producing the work in the States, Nich’s work acknowledges that cultural sedimentation. I think, especially for someone who is so thoughtful and critically engaged with every little detail of his practice, for Nich just to not consider that history would not be an option. It is there; it may not be explicit. And that would be the case for most of our artists.
SM: Nich McElroy is American born, Canadian based and this series was mostly shot in Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan. In past shows you’ve featured artists from as diverse places as Columbia, Berlin, and L.A. while other shows, like your juried INDEX group show celebrates local talents. How important is it for you as a gallery to both be rooted in the local scene whilst in touch with what is happening elsewhere internationally? How do you maintain this outreach?
PS: Our mandate is to promote emerging artists and emerging photographic practices. What that means is that we are looking at, not only artists who are local and require the opportunity to show work within Vancouver, but also through the submissions we get from artists all around the world. Mike Love and I look at these submissions regularly. We consider the relationship that their practice has to potentially invigorate a conversation about photography in the lower main land. Outside of Presentation House Gallery and a few pop-up exhibitions, there are not many spaces dedicated specifically to photography, written into their mandate, within the city.
SM: Gallery 295 defines itself as you say, as being specifically grounded in the photographic medium and engaging with contemporary photographic dialogues. Yet, few contemporary artists would align themselves with having solely a “photographic” practice and many test the institutionalized discourses on medium specificity. How do you engage with these questions around such medium specificity and the contemporary emergence of works that cannot be neatly packaged solely within the medium of “photography”?
PS: Of course interdisciplinary approaches are saturated in most contemporary artist practices. You are more often to find less emerging artists working in just one medium. What we do, is we recognize that photography can take up many forms; it bleeds into sculpture, it bleeds into painting, it bleeds into installation, performance etc. It’s a muse and it’s a practice that gets taken up in a diverse number of ways. For instance, currently we have Joseph Staples in our light box project space. He takes up collage but is presenting it with photomedia materials that record trace elements of a cut and an outline of a figure repeated over and over again. So, the work is not necessarily photographic but it takes up the position of engaging with photographic theory and photographic materials. In the past we also had Derya Akay, who did a light box painting collage where he brought in drawings, glue, painterly materials, lighting gels, back-lit prints of scans, and then physically collaged onto the plexiglass of the light box to create an ephemeral work. We are really open to alternative forms, and when we select our artists, even if the work isn’t completed focused in photography, it always takes up a contemporary position towards photography and that’s really how we program the space.
SM: The Gallery is also closely associated with the LAB (you work within both capacities as well as teaching at Emily Carr University of Art & Design). This kind of connection between the polished white cube gallery and the messy, experimental space of a Lab lends a uniqueness to gallery 295. How has this association shaped the dynamism of shows that occur within your programming?
PS: The owner of the Lab, Hieu Nguyen, had approached Michael Love and the previous Director, Jason Gowans, to see if there was a way to engage with the art community because he was noticing that his client base was shifting from that of a commercial practice, fuelled by Vancouver’s film scene, to that of a fine art practice (in the wake of digital production workflows). He observed that a lot of the photographers in Vancouver that were still printing generally also had an exhibition practice or were working through images in a more traditional way in terms of maintaining a print practice. That is how Gallery 295 was born – the gallery space is was a gift from the Lab to the greater Vancouver community to program freely. It’s been rewarding to have had a few exhibitions that take up this relationship between the working lab and the gallery space. What’s interesting for me, and I am sure for our interns, is the beeps and the blips that happen from behind the wall when the gallery is open and the lab is running and we’re processing film, making sure the chemistry is on point, printing files, and mounting images. Most of The Lab’s clients make their way into the exhibition space whenever a new exhibition is mounted. Felicia E. Gail’s show, which preceded Nich’s, worked with a lot of found materials from The Lab. She and I, when planning that exhibition with Mike Love, walked through the space of the Lab and looked at discarded items, waste, remnants etc. She had a piece with a pile of empty film canisters, which we had started collecting, that showcased Vancouver’s photographic community –all the film that were processed in the Lab for a period made its way into that exhibition through their vacant canisters. The nature of our relationship to the Lab really depends on how each artist chooses to work, The Lab offers a substantial discount towards the development of film and the printing of works for artists exhibiting, if they wish to use that aspect towards their production. That being said, I enjoy the relationship the gallery has with The Lab because for me, as Director, Co-Curator, Tehnician and an Artist, that service allows me to sit with someone and help them realize their work multidimensionally. I get to see it through all aspects with the artist, from curation and writing to working as their technician. Every detail gets considered and I really like operating within that space. It’s a challenging honor to be able to do that.
SM: Your speaker series, One Hour Photo, is a way to continue the discussion around exhibitions through open dialogues, often between curators and photographers. As someone who works in both capacities (curating for gallery 295 and as an artist in your own right with an upcoming solo show at Will Aballe Art Projects) how differently do you see these two roles when it comes to critically thinking about the world? When you enter into exhibition making as an artist rather than curator, do you shift your thinking? Especially given that there is this prevalent contemporary slippage between artist and curator.
One Hour Photo was something that I brought to the gallery soon after taking over as Director. I had conversations with Mike Love on how we could allow the artists (specifically, with emerging artists in mind) an opportunity to talk about their work and contextualise their work to a better degree. The title plays off the idea of the one hour photo lab, in which you drop off your film and have an hour to kill before you get the prints. Mike and I wanted to offer a space that could really take up any form. The One Hour Photo series can do this – it can even include performance (though it hasn’t yet). Most of the sessions have been conversations organised by Michael and myself, the artist, and at times an invited guest. We don’t necessarily require it as part of the exhibition, but we offer it to artists as a way to further engage. This idea of the artist as curator, is something that I take up and have since I’ve started my practice. Working as a curator is really more an engagement in a type of community development. By curating, programming, and working with artists towards realizing an exhibition (and a talk), you are affording your peers an opportunity to have a conversation, with interested ears, and offer a space to see what comes up.
SM: For your upcoming solo show at Wil Aballe Art Projects how was the curatorial aspect set-up in terms of how the exhibition takes form?
We have a conversational process wherein we do studio visits, talk about the work, and dive into the subtleties of the practice. Wil and I have a great relationship, one that I feel very blessed to have, in which he offers these opportunities to showcase my work and try ideas and experiments that push my practice while at the same time he opens up my work to new audiences. The show coming up, Burn Out, is a development of what I’m thinking through in terms of embodied knowledge, photography, action oriented ontologies light, and queering space. My practice is focused on the idea of photography on the fringe, and frames the body as an apparatus as a site for photographic engagement, working within dark rooms, doing iterative gestures through improvisation. In my studio, I think about pluralistic and obsolescent nature of photography, how photography relays embodied knowledge systems, and how to think through photographic processes to create works that engage with colour, the pictorial space of light and exposure, and the threshold of perceptual experience.