A "pop-up" gallery is a temporary space used by a group of artists - usually young and not very commercial - to show their work.
The Souvenir Gallery is a pop-up gallery funded by a grant from the Greater Victoria Spirit Committee in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the City of Victoria. This Arts and Culture grant provides full funding to rent the space and to pay exhibiting fees to the artists for their work. For Souvenir, the management of Market Square has generously discounted the rent on an otherwise empty storefront (and is extending the gallery's stay into September, when a new show will be presented in conjunction with the Rifflandia Festival). All proceeds from sales of the art work go directly to the artists.
Some might ask why the City of Victoria is spending $20,000 to establish a commercial gallery on a short-term basis. Does this not fly in the face of those other galleries that struggle to pay for a business licence and make a go of it without civic support? In fact, Souvenir was originally conceived as a show-space for up-and-coming artists and has only a somewhat ambiguous existence as a retail outlet.
Curator Tara Hurst told me she is "turning the idea of a non-profit on its head." It looks like a store but not much is being sold. She acknowledges that, while the "curation" is commercial, the gallery is about concepts and ideas.
The artists, according to Hurst and co-curator Cameron Kidd, were "selected to produce their own interpretation of souvenir objects and the series created will be produced and sold as limited edition works." Some chose to work within that mandate. A set of photos of Victoria backyards by Ali Bosworth was produced as a set of playing cards. A series of painted and collaged boxes by Ty Danylchuk carries some sort of totemesque concept. Luke Ramsay has added his signature cartoon characters to pages from an outdated calendar.
A screen print of an eyepopping geometric theme by Cody Haight is part of an edition. The artist known as Pesto is represented by a cutout of his painted signature in graffiti style, and also by a copper-plate etching of City Hall with its first floor adorned with graffiti. A fitting souvenir item, available in multiple versions, is the backpack made by Tamara Bond. Using discarded Dacron sails, she has stitched a useful little knapsack, though just how useful is hard to determine without dismantling the display.
Everybody loves the felted woollen bears made by Hanahlie Beise. Her three-quarter life-size polar bear is the centrepiece of the gallery, and the form and material of her smaller bison is superb. It's her desktop bears, both black and white, which win my vote for what tourists want to take away. Also simple and effective are the driftwood whales which hang in the gallery window, creations of the talented Caleb Beyers. Though Beyers operates a busy design studio, Caste Designs, if times get tough he could clearly find gainful employment as a beachcomber.
The promotional material explains that "Souvenir addresses issues of reappropriation, craft in contemporary art, the commodification of Canadian culture and highlights current production of art and design objects."
Apropos of this reappropriation, I note the single sophisticated photograph by Troy Moth. He has photographed a native mask deep in the rainforest, looking up to a Plains Indian in beaded deerskin and war bonnet carrying a peace pipe. No explanation is offered for this medley of cultural imagery.
A Gulf Island woman working under the name of Mythos offers stick figures wrapped in white garments and embellished with copper, bone and feathers. Perhaps it was this work that the curators had in mind when they said that "as a point of historical reference our project pays homage to Emily Carr's handmade ceramic pottery, which utilized local materials and displayed motifs of indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest."
At this point the mandate fades and we are left with an attractive show of local art production. Ben Van Netten paints smoothly brushed, larger-than-life canvases of the young Queen Elizabeth II and the new leader of North Korea, whom he calls young Kim.
The paintings of Sylvia Palmer, a third-year student of painting at the University of Victoria, are also included.
The Souvenir Gallery positions itself between edgy contemporary creations indigenous to the Island and the desires of roving cruiseship passengers. In the end, it's hard to tell if the gallery is being sincere or ironic by titling itself Souvenir.
Souvenir Gallery, 120-560 Johnson St., 250-886-3180, www.souvenirgallery.ca, open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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