INTERVIEW BY SCOTT PARSONS
PIX BY REBECCA STORM
In agriculture, a terrace is a flattening of dynamic geographic topography implemented to decrease erosion. The Vancouver based artist-run space Sunset Terrace is similar to this type of landscaping—it is the perpetual conversion of urban space, implemented to facilitate the existence of artist-run culture in Vancouver. At the time of its inauguration, Sunset Terrace was already the reaction to successive erosions of Vancouver’s creative landscape. Spaces like this one exemplify a crucial adaptability to developing forces outside of community control, and give workable land to artists creating in Vancouver’s urban environment. Sunset Terrace currently houses 12 artists, granting them work space and potential gallery space. This caters to two undeniable needs of an artist: a supportive community, and more importantly, space. Over the summer I had the pleasure of speaking at length with Maya Beaudry about Sunset Terrace’s identity and function, and the necessity of adaptable, artist-run space on the city of Vancouver’s undulating terrain.
So who is currently co-inhabiting the studio/exhibition space at Sunset Terrace?
Current studio tenants are myself, Graham Landin, Ben Marvin, John Burgess, Katrina Niebergal, Soledad Munoz, Tess Rafael, Chad Murray, Kristina Jaggard, Nick Howe, and Ian Edmonds. Past members are Tristan Unrau, Adam Shaw, Emma Lamorte, Kalli Niedoba, Justin Worhaug, and Michael Rattray. Our newest addition for the coming month will be Logan Sturrock. The show up in the gallery right now is by Viktor Briestensky.
Katrina Neibergal’s studio
Ben Marvin’s studio
How do you see Sunset Terrace fitting into Vancouver’s history of Artist Run Centers?
The term Artist Run Centre (ARC) is a complicated one. To me, it brings to mind bureaucracy, committees, paperwork, applications, and a much older generation of Vancouver artists. From my understanding, there are a limited number of ARC’s in Vancouver that are able to receive funding, and those spots have been filled for a really, really long time. We don’t refer to ourselves as an Artist Run Centre, since it seems to have a pretty rigid, official definition according to the city and the arts-funding organizations. However, we are often referred to as being a part of an “Artist-Run culture” in the city, which seems a bit more fitting.
In the past Vancouver has had a history of shutting down spaces that foster AR culture due to re-zoning and construction. Has sunset felt any of these types of pressure?
In a lot of ways, Sunset Terrace was born out of the demise of the original Red Gate space at 156 W. Hastings. Graham Landin, who is one of the main organizers of Sunset, was also one of the original tenants of Red Gate, and was super involved with that building for a number of years. Red Gate was an incredible space that hosted massive parties, performances and art shows, and has since moved to a new location further east on Hastings after a couple of years of battling with the city. More than half of our Sunset studio, current and past members, shared a space upstairs at Red Gate in the final years before we got evicted.
Our floor at Red Gate was the most inspiring place I had ever been at that time in my life. I was completely smitten with the studio lifestyle, both for the art production and the way it functioned socially. It played a huge part in my desire to be an artist, giving me that feeling of “this is the kind of place I want to hang out in, forever”. Of course, that attachment to the space made it’s demise really heartbreaking. The final year of that studio was full of attempts to clean it up, get it up to fire codes and fix the sketchy bathroom. There were a lot of long talks with Jim Carrico (who runs the Red Gate organization) about his meetings at city hall, and a lot of hate and anger towards the city and the developers who were pushing us out.
We learned a lot from that experience, primarily that having massive all night parties is basically an invitation for police to come into your space, and after the police come the building inspectors and the fire inspectors, and then all of a sudden you’re spending all of your time and money dealing with the city. Sunset functions largely by slipping under the radar, trying not to piss off the neighbours too much, and looking like a functioning, productive workspace. This means no raves, no one gets to live there, and no skateboard ramps in the space. We also have the good luck of an extremely absentee landlord, and very chill neighbours.
Red Gate quickly became lucrative commercial real estate after its upheaval from 156 W. Hastings and the space is now a Crossfit Workout Center. This seems fairly indicative of how neighbourhoods shift in Vancouver. How do you think AR Culture fits into Vancouver’s commercial landscape?
Ironically, Sunset Terrace is right next to a different Crossfit, so we have a constant stream of exercise people running around the block in this weird industrial neighbourhood. Artists tend to get blamed for gentrification, as the first wave to move into an area, before the condos move in, but at this point in Vancouver I don’t know how much there is left to gentrify. Everyone’s on the hunt for space. You can feel it on Clark Drive (where we’re located), which is a mix of industrial buildings and the other types of things that exist in warehouse districts, like breweries and graphic design offices. The building that we’re in is a funny mix, we have a stone cutting company on one side, which is an amazing resource for materials, and a printing company on the other side. We’ve worked really hard to maintain good relationships with both of them, and they let us get away with a lot.
I don’t really know how we fit into the commercial landscape, I know that we took a really dingy, sketchy looking space and made it look really beautiful, which will probably make the rent higher for the next tenant, but I think that’s just the injustice of commercial real estate. Our landlord is really old, and when he dies, I would imagine our building will get flattened, and some dumb condo called The East Van Cross or something will get erected, but I’d rather not think about that. Sometimes Graham and I fantasize about getting on really good terms with him and inheriting the building when he dies, but so far we haven’t made much progress.
Paintings by Tristan Unrau
Paintings by Ben Marvin, Tess Rafael, Tristan Unrau
How is the gallery space curated? How is the exhibition schedule planned and realized?
I actually have no idea. It just sort of happens. When we first started the space we put a calendar on the wall and made up a system where all you had to do to book a show (for yourself or someone else) was to write it on the calendar, and promise to come through on that date. This system actually worked for about a year. By the spring of this year, however, we were having a show almost every 3 weeks, and it was way too intense. We are always encouraging people to “go big” with their shows, like, paint the walls, build some crazy structures, do a performance, so the install/promote/opening/de-
We tried to take a break this summer, but it wasn’t really a break, since pretty much the day after our last show we started taking down the drop ceiling in the gallery. Graham, Ben and Johnny put in the most impressive late night work hours, and now we have this amazing high ceiling and a space that is generating a lot of new ideas for ways that it could be used.
Basically we are functioning on excitement levels, like, if there’s an artist that you’re really excited about and they’ve got an idea that you can’t wait to facilitate, put it on the calendar. Our mandate exists on a kind of psychic plane, where it’s mutually understood and agreed upon by everyone in the space but never articulated or discussed.
We also have 12 studio members who are entitled to shows whenever they fit in the schedule, and I really think that some of those have been the most exciting ones. There’s something really special about setting up an exhibition when your studio is 20 feet away, in a zone where you feel totally comfortable, in a gallery space that you’ve been looking at and thinking about every day for a year. When I did a show I gave myself 10 days to install, which is a privilege that at this point I would never get in another space. That amount of install time became a huge part of the work, and the resulting show really felt like it belonged in that space–like it couldn’t have existed anywhere else.
Since many of the exhibiting artists also share studio space, do you see any through lines existing between exhibitions?
I am asked this question often, and I think that the answer is really hard to articulate. If I were concentrating more on a writing practice, this would be something that I would be trying to communicate. The answer is yes, definitely, but I think that the explanation is a visual one, and that someone outside the space would be better suited to identify it. We are so deep in our studio vibe, and so well versed in each other’s work, that finding the places where one person’s ideas are autonomous from someone else’s doesn’t seem like a productive exercise. I love when everyone borrows from each other, when you find references in someone’s work to one of their studio-mates, to me it seems so natural and honest. We don’t live in Berlin or New York, we don’t have these huge exhibitions rolling through town every day, so most of our art experiences happen in the studio, rather than in galleries. I think that everyone’s work benefits when we start seeing the art making experience as a communal one. To me, the feeling that someone is stealing your ideas, or that maybe you’re stealing theirs, is a toxic one, and sometimes all it takes is a shift in perspective to make it go away.
How much of the daily operations of the gallery are a communal effort?
Because of the constantly shifting lineup of studio members, those of us that have been here since the beginning tend to be the most involved with the operations. Obviously 12 people trying to do everything communally is unrealistic, so there are moments when a bit of leadership is necessary. As the person with their name on the lease, I take on a lot of the boring responsibilities, like paying bills and answering emails. We’re extremely lucky to have the dream team of Graham, Ben and Johnny, who are all very capable builders and handymen, and also work together like psychic brothers, so most of the building projects and preparation work gets realized by them. Space is at a premium in the studios, so everyone is very sensitive to junk and mess, and as often as possible we do big group cleanups, and re-evaluate which objects are art materials and which are just funny junk.
Ha Ha, Do you have any noteworthy examples of what ‘Funny Junk’ might be?
Adam Shaw was our most notorious hoarder, so now that he’s gone things have mellowed out a bit. I wish I had better examples, but it’s mostly like a funky shape of styrofoam or a weird log or a nice towel or something. I once bought a giant fleece one-piece suit that I thought would save on the heating bill, like you could just wear it over your clothes if you got cold in the winter, but i tried wearing it a couple of times and I was not quite as agile in it as I had imagined. We also recently acquired a big stack of Butt Magazines from someone’s lobby and they have been very inspiring.
Chad Murray’s studio
Graham Landin’s studio
How is Sunset funded?
We are funded entirely by studio rent, paid by the 12 tenants. The reason we are such a big group is primarily so that the monthly cost of inhabiting the space is manageable. We are able to fluctuate between 10 and 12 people while still making rent and paying all the bills, which gives us some wiggle room when someone leaves. People are constantly leaving, it’s a very transient time for everyone, having just finished undergrads and going away to grad school, so the lineup is always changing. We also make a little bit of money on beer sales at the openings, which goes towards materials for renovations and studio projects.
In addition to temporary exhibitions you also have one off nights that showcase music, performance and even some off site excursions. Is reaching out beyond the physical walls of the gallery important to Sunset?
Because of the number of people in the space, our social reach is really wide. Alongside their art practices, a lot of studio members have strong ties to the music scene in the city, and we’ve tried our best to strengthen those ties and foster a community that isn’t just about painting and sculpture. The Sounds at Sunset series, which was organized by Soledad Munoz and took place in our parking lot this summer, was an incredible way to bring new people to the space. I remember at the first one, looking around at all the people who were showing up at the beginning of the night, thinking “who are these kids?”, and throughout the night talking to people and realizing that these were all really young electronic musicians, with a totally different vibe than we were used to, and feeling so grateful to be hosting such a cool little scene.
It is interesting that you mention the electronic music that is currently flourishing in Vancouver. I think that there is a shift happening in how that practice is presented. With electronic music, there is often a ‘Party’ mentality that precedes many performances, but with the broadening horizons of the genre, the gallery space is becoming a seemingly more suitable venue, one that fosters deeper contemplation and immersion. Is this applicable to some of the musical output occurring in Vancouver? Do you see Sunset as perhaps being capable of further fulfilling this need in the future?
This is a really cool question and I want to answer it well. Vancouver is really small, and right now it feels hyper-productive. There seems to have been a huge surge of energy here recently that has manifested in a lot of inspiring ways. I feel so grateful to the people in this city making and playing music late at night, it’s a really important ritual that we all partake in together, and the people involved have to work really hard and take a lot of risks to make it happen. The art school is a super fertile environment for breeding scenes, and I think that the mix of kids with really tech-y brains and kids with more romantic, aesthetic brains all hanging together, sharing knowledge, planning parties and starting bands is one of the most important functions that it serves. Soledad is one of those amazing brains that I never would have met if I hadn’t gone to Emily Carr, and she’s played such an important role in facilitating exchange between so many people with different interests around the space. Sol can code and build synthesizers and weave tapestries and sings like an angel, and she is constantly bringing people together with new ideas.
Electronic music is based so much on technical innovation and manipulation, and I think that people who are inclined to think about structures are really drawn to it. Manipulating or modifying an electronic instrument is quite an object-based, “sculptural” experience, and it makes a lot of sense to me that art school would lead people in that direction.
I think that in a party environment, a lot of this experimentation gets lost, and Sounds at Sunset was a really good opportunity to see what people were actually doing, what toys they were playing with, and what kind of experience they were able to craft.
In addition to the physical gallery space, Sunset also keeps a thorough online documentation of its shows via its website. How important is this documentation to the identity of the gallery?
Because Vancouver is sort of an isolated place, it’s really important to us to be sharing what’s going on in the gallery. So many of our friends have moved to Europe and the States, and a big part of keeping in touch is talking about what we’re working on, which is way easier when there are accessible photos online to reference. I also think that in order to have people interested in what’s going on here, our website has to have some content, something that you can spend a bit of time with. Most of the exhibitions have been installation based, which usually requires a ton of photos to capture faithfully, and I am a huge supporter of excessively thorough documentation, because why not? It doesn’t cost anything, and all it takes is a little bit of effort. We also have really beautiful daylight in the gallery, so we don’t need very fancy cameras to get good photos. In terms of the identity of the gallery, I would so much rather explain what we’re doing in photos, rather than in words.
The front door of the Gallery shares affinities with monogrammed doors commonly seen on apartment lobby entrances around Vancouver, was this intentional? Is Sunset a place that you hope the viewer or artist can ‘come home to’?
The space faces west, and we get an unreal view of the sunset over downtown, so the name was largely a literal description of how we felt in the space. We wanted something that didn’t sound exactly like a gallery, because initially we were conceptualizing the exhibition space as a “showroom”, where the works that were being produced in the back could be viewed in the front. Graham had met an old sign painter through his work, and really wanted him to come do our front door. We let him do it exactly how he wanted to, he picked the font and the layout and the technique, so the similarities that it shares with apartment doors come mostly from his area of expertise.
We definitely value people being comfortable in the space, in the studios as well as at the openings and events. We want people to be excited to come see what we’re doing and to feel like they can stick around for a while and hang out. When artists from outside the space have a show, we do everything we can to make them feel supported in whatever they’re doing. I have an Astro van that I’ve been driving since I was a teenager, and it often plays a crucial role in making the exhibitions happen. If you can drive, I’ll probably just give you the keys, and let you use the van for your install week. We want everyone who shows there to feel a part of the space, and we also want everyone who visits the space to feel invited and welcome. The openings are really special because in addition to the current exhibition, people also get to hang out in the studios and see what everyone’s working on. It’s an incredible way to have these informal, party-style studio visits, with whoever happens to be poking around your studio at the opening.
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