The Surprising Familiar
Written by: Adrienne Evans
Edited by: Wendy Chen
Critical Review: Kitchen, Julia Feyrer, Grunt Gallery, Nov. 1- Dec. 19, 2014
Julia Feyrer’s latest art installation at Grunt Gallery succeeds in its ability to invite public participation that is not scripted, condescending or pedantic. It manages this by taking the form of a kitchen, a space that is defined by a basic capability for function and hospitality, but which doesn’t preclude experimentation or irreverence. In conjunction with Grunt Gallery’s kitchen based history, Feyrer’s work provides a way for the past to reimagine the future of the gallery’s place in the community.
Each of the four sides of Grunt Gallery are touched by Kitchen, an evolving art installation that will be on display until December 19, 2014, with accompanying events hosted in the space on December 5th, 9th, 12th and 19th. The gallery entrance is through a glazed wall that has had several of its windows painted with watery, neon coloured tempera paint. To the right sits a pile of tools, ikea parts, and sawdust followed by a small plywood staircase (the type you might find on a theatre set). To the left, a low shelf with a small pile of books on race relations and colonization. The kitchen portion of the installation is snuggled into the back left corner of the room and features free self-serve coffee.
My initial reaction upon coming out of the bright cold of a November morning, and into the warm coffee-scented construction site of Kitchen was curious skepticism. Upon entering an art installation, I often feel as if I’m entering a theatre set and being asked to suspend disbelief, and Kitchen was no exception. This installation is casually theatrical, in its “just so” piles of sawdust and in the cellophane filtered lights of the fridge and oven range hood (not to mention the carousel of slides projected on the white surface of the dishwasher door).
Feyrer’s Kitchen is familiar to me; it’s similar to a dorm kitchen, or the kitchens in some of the student housing I’ve lived in. It’s a kitchen that, out of necessity, gets used for all sorts of surprisingly inventive discussions, projects and crafts. There’s the sense of a succession of restless people moving through. The one who left behind a box of cornstarch in the 90’s. The one who taped up the cracks in the upholstery. The one who poured plaster all over the counters. The one who took the doors off all the cabinets .
Nothing in Kitchen is precious, and everything is an experiment. The space is generous in both the ability to absorb the impressions of those who use it, and the continuing ability to function as a kitchen. Experimental plaster counter-tops don’t prevent the coffee from being made, but eagerly lap up all the traces of a spill. If you can set aside your doubts and earnestly take up Feyrer’s scrawled notepad invitation to sit down for a drink, the kitchen, and by extension the gallery, becomes more than a set or a frame. Kitchen is a useful place, in an ambiguous state of assembly and disassembly, that you have just participated in making.
Feyrer’s installation is the first of Grunt Gallery’s 30th anniversary artist projects, which according to Vanessa Kwan’s curatorial statement, are meant to reimagine the gallery’s approach to fostering community connections . In her 2001 essay on curating, Maria Lind muses on the necessity of finding new forms to link together art, public and culture, that don’t limit or pre-rationalize what this relationship can be or do through heavy-handed theory . Following Lind’s logic about the sensitive practice of bringing together art and public, it seems appropriate for Grunt Gallery to start by looking back to their former kitchen, the background of photos, conversations, board meetings and gallery openings from Grunt’s earliest years, as a form for engagement. It also seems important that the gallery has involved Julia Feyrer, an artist known for her recreations of lost spaces through a combination of archival materials, fiction and re-imaginative performances .
In homage to Grunt’s history of shared conversations over beverages, coffee is the gateway into this work. If you can help yourself to that, then why not the fridge (unfortunately unstocked when I visited, but not without other surprises), the books or even the tools? In this sense, Kitchen successfully opens itself to speculation about the possibilities and difficulties surrounding participation and public engagement in a gallery context. Anyone can enjoy a beverage but only some people can discuss post-colonial theory using the jargon sanctioned by most academic publications (no matter how well-intentioned). Very few people can safely operate a chop-saw. Likewise in the east Vancouver context, permission to engage in making and critiquing art is distributed uneasily across different levels of education and skill. Kitchen holds both academic critique and community accessibility together loosely, that both may educate and become educated by the other.
1. By taking off the cabinet doors, Feyrer is referencing an anecdote recounted by Grunt founding member Merle Addison from the gallery’s early years in which gallery members removed the doors of a locked cabinet to get at their last bottle of gin. cited by Vanessa Kwan in “Part 1, History creeps: the grunt kitchen and Julia Feyrer,” (November 1, 2014).
2. Maria Lind. “Selected nodes in a network of thoughts on curating,” in Maria Lind Writings. Berlin: Sternberg Press. 29-31.
3. Vanessa Kwan, “30th Anniversary Curatorial Statement,” (August, 2014).
4. Lee Henderson, “Timekeeper, Timemaker: The art of Julia Feyrer,” Border Crossings 123, (August, 2012)