Something fantastic has been happening in Calgary this weekend. What’s been so special for Sara and I is that we have been at the heart of it. You see this weekend was the opening (and closing) of The House Project. Curator Caitlind Brown described it as follows:
The House Project is a one-time only group installation featuring 8 artists with an interest in re-appropriated, transformative and re-imagined spaces. Based out of a small home in Kensington, Calgary (229-10A street NW), at the end of the project, the house will be knocked down and all the art inside demolished with it. With this in mind, the pieces inside will be fashioned either from garbage, found materials and re-appropriated trash, or by ripping apart and using the house itself. Each room of the house will be treated by a different artist, along with the exterior of the house, culminating in a collective installation.
Sounds pretty interesting right? This gets exciting for us because it turns out that 229 10A Street NW is the house that Sara and I bought last year. We’ve been renting it out to students until our plans to rebuild have been finalized. With luck demolition will begin this month, taking the house and the art with it. So the House Project is a grand farewell to the house that was. More pertinently it is a wedding present to us from our dear friends and future neighbours, Ashley and Turner. I’ve not blogged about our exciting house building plans yet [YOU HAVEN'T BLOGGED ABOUT ANYTHING MUCH RECENTLY. Ed.] but the short fact of the matter is we found a house in the nicest part of town that just happened to be right next door to my best friend in Calgary. In the midst of all this planning Sara and I got married (twice - more on that story coming up). Now, I’m an old geezer and Sara has been married before, so we asked for no wedding presents as we didn’t need anything to help us set up home.
That wasn’t good enough for some people, and certainly not for Ashley. However her and her husband understood that we didn’t want “stuff” so she contacted Caitlind who she had met on a photographer course at Alberta College of Art and Design. Caitlind’s artistic mojo impressed her from the start and Ashley talked to her about creating a temporary installation on our lawn on the day of the wedding. In the end that idea was abandoned but in the course of talking to Caitlind about us the subject of us having the house next door that was due to be demolished came up. Caitlind’s eyes lit up and said how about working on the house before it got flattened. She knew just the people. Ashley told Sara about the idea and Sara was keen, saying she had read about something similar in Toronto where a group of artists had taken over some abandoned properties and it sounded amazing. “These are the same people!” said Ashley. So we said yes and it was on!
Yes, it turns out, is a simple but powerful word. Improvisers swear by it. Sara and I like to think we have improv spirit on and off stage. This whole project was powered by Yes: we said Yes, Ashley and Turner said Yes, Caitlind said Yes, the Arbor Lake Sghool said Yes. And after the exhibition closed today we think over a 1000 Calgarians said yes to it. Amazing.
We met the artists at the end of July. They seemed like a lovely bunch and we told them to have at it. We were certainly intrigued when Caitlind emailed us shortly afterwards to say:
1. One of the artists - Lane Shordee - wants to build a two-level man-powered whirlpool from the kitchen into the basement, and he’s wondering if there is any possible way for him to utilize the existing washing machine (essentially, gut it for parts for his whirlpool). I know it’s a working appliance, and I hate for it not to be used as an appliance, (he does have a Plan B, so no worries if you prefer to donate it), but I’m also confident that he’d put it to good use. What do you think?
2. Another artist - Danny Kirk - is intending to create a large-scale external painting, along with an internal installation/painting in one of the basement rooms. Danny’s hoping to dedicate an uninterrupted week in early August to the endeavor. Part of his process in the past has been performative (last summer, he spent an entire week locked in his shed producing a pretty amazing mural) and he’s wondering if it wouldn’t be too imposing to spend a week inside 229 creating his paintings. His intentions would be to sleep in the space, spending every waking moment creating art for the space. He’s very respectful, and I know that, considering that you folks are still paying for utilities, etc., he’d definitely be willing to shower/do energy-inefficient things elsewhere. Would this be something you’re comfortable with? Again, there’s always a Plan B, so think it over and let me know your thoughts.
We talked it over online:
Sara: Hiya honey!
Sara: Just fwd’d an email from the artists - or should that be Artists?
I’d like to say yes to a two story man powered whirlpool
Sara: Ah, I see
And to buddy that wants to sequester himself for an art marathon
me: Have at it I say
me: Sounds amazing!
Sara: For shizzle
me: and of course the guy can shower etc there right?
Sara: oh yes
me: i do want to know more about the two level man powered whirlpool
they have to promise that it wont create a vortex or summon dark matter that leads to the end of the world because the neighbours will NOT like that
Sara: Ha, all right, I’ll say so
And so it went on. Pretty soon the artists were hard at work and the project started generating some interest. Articles followed in the local listings magazine FFWD, the Calgary Herald and Swerve Magazine (<< really good pics!). CBC radio came and did a piece which I heard on the way to work, then CTV Calgary, then CTV national news, then CBC Calgary came and even interviewed Laura about her thoughts on the matter. This was turning into kind of a big deal! The angle in most of the TV media was the same: what an interesting project and it turns out there is art in Calgary! Who knew?
The house was opened to the public on Friday evening. I'd been following developments on Caitlind's blog but I wanted to stay away from the actual house until showtime. Caitlind captured an archive of what the house was like before the artists started. The finished article was incredible. From Lauren Simm’s blacklight laser display with string:
to Lane Shordee’s human-powered whirlpool in what was once the kitchen:
to the geometric growths spreading out from the living room window (by Andrew and John Frosst)
to Daniel Kirk’s room of nightmares
next to Ian Ward’s room of fishes
at the foot of the thing that made everyone’s day: the slide from the living room to the basement by Caitlind Brown and Wayne Garret
In fact there was a lot more to it all than that. I’ve got 60 photos and 14 videos up on my flickr site. I’ll give you one video to be getting on with. I’ll never forgot my first trip round the house. I’d been for a crawl around Lauren Simms’s work then headed to the slide. I swooshed downstairs through what had been the bathroom into what had been a bedroom cupboard only to find myself “underwater” with Ian Ward’s fish. I had no idea it was there and the effect was properly magical.
Having been amazed by the artwork we were truly blown away by the response. There were maybe 300-500 people through the door on the first night. #houseproject was the most tweeted topic in Calgary that evening! Then again on Saturday and Sunday there was a steady stream of people, of all ages, coming in to check it out. Not only coming to check it out, but loving it! There was an amazing atmosphere of wonder and joy as people made discoveries around the house, and even started to make their own contribution.
Everyone came out smiling. Today I sat on the porch and watched people come and go and I was on the verge of tears the whole time. Tears of joy though, that this was all happening and I was something to do with it. Just because my wife and I had said yes to our wonderful friends, whose friends had said yes to them. This was our wedding present, a unique gift that we will remember for ever and I hope a lot of other people will too. But actually our present from Ashley and Turner was much more special than just this art. I told them on opening night that they had done something amazing: they had made Sara and I look way cooler than we actually are. That is a hell of a gift!