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TRAFFIC | Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980


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A Space

Throughout the seventies, the artist-run centre A Space served as a vital focal point in Toronto's visual arts community. Emerging out of the Nightingale Gallery (founded in 1968 by American expatriate Chris Youngs, and incorporated as Nightingale Art Council in 1971 in order to take advantage of new federal funding opportunities), A Space was initially led by a board consisting of Robert Bowers, Ian Carr-Harris, Stephen Cruise, Bill Graham, John McEwan, and Chris Youngs. Marien Lewis, who joined later in 1971, took on a crucial role. Beginning as the Centre's administrative assistant, by the middle of the decade she had assumed many of the responsibilities at the centre, at the same time becoming a major figure in Toronto's art scene. While the name A Space had been settled on earlier in the centre's history, it was not used until the centre's move in April 1971 to 85 St. Nicholas Street, following a fire at its previous location in March.

In spite of the changing names and locations of the centre in its early years, it quickly developed a reputation for supporting experimental work. With the exhibition Concept 70 (1970), the centre became one of the first to show video work in Toronto. The show included works by Ian Carr-Harris, Stephen Cruise, Dennis Oppenheim, and General Idea, and was made possible through a $1000 Canada Council for the Arts grant as well as an equipment loan from local video supplier Jack Patterson.

On April 5, 1971, the inaugural exhibition under the name A Space opened. Made up entirely of staff or students of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, it included works by David Askevold, Graham Dubé, Gerald Ferguson, Richard Jarden, Patrick Kelly, Albert McNamara, Ian Murray, Ellison Robertson, Doug Waterman, Jon Young, and Tim Zuck. The exhibition stands as a landmark in terms of bringing the strong Conceptual work being produced in Halifax westward. With the exhibition, A Space established itself as a major centre for advanced art in Toronto.

This status was cemented between May and June 1971, when both Dennis Oppenheim and Vito Acconci spent week-long residencies at A Space—resulting in some five video works for Oppenheim and six for Acconci. Oppenheim's projects included Calcium Carbonate, Vibration Project 2, and Do It, a twenty-minute videotape "involving the transfer of the papillary ridges of the finger tips to the surfaces of the front teeth via black ink."1 The residencies brought international attention to the centre and proved central in encouraging subsequent collaborations with artists. However A Space also supported its community with solo exhibitions by Carole Condé (1971), Ian Carr-Harris (1971), General Idea (1971), Stephen Cruise (1973), John McEwan (1973), Tom Sherman (1973), and Robert Fones (1974).

Crucially, in 1972 the centre committed itself to the production and exhibition of video work through the founding of A Space Video. With Tom Sherman and Lisa Steele running the early workshops, and equipment set up by Paul Wong from Vancouver and David Rahn from Montreal, the studio complemented the activities of the centre for a number of years. Towards the end of the seventies, following changes in the administration of the centre, A Space Video separated and began operating as Charles Street Video (1979).

Notable events throughout the seventies included Colin Campbell's Videotapes from Sackville Series and Related Prints (1973); Dr. Brute's residency, consisting of a jazz concert, slide shows, and video screenings (1973); an exhibition of photographs by Lisa Steele, titled Divination by Dream (1974); Greg Curnoe and Pierre Théberge's exhibition Association for the Documentation of Neglected Aspects of Canadian Culture (1974-75), first mounted in London, Ontario; Véhicule Art in Transit, a survey of works by artists affiliated with the Montreal artist-run centre Véhicule (1975); exhibitions by Joseph Beuys and Ant Farm (1975); an exchange exhibition with the Western Front (1975); Paul Wong's Subway Loops, to mark the end of a three-month residency (1976); an A Space/Forest City Gallery exchange exhibition (1977); and Vera Frenkel's installation Signs of a Plot: A Text, True Story & Work of Art (1978).

Radical external and internal challenges—such as reduced federal funding and drastic changes to the board of directors—had fundamentally altered A Space by 1978. Accusations of elitism also dogged the centre. In this way, much like the Centre for Experimental Art and Communication and the Artists' Co-operative of Toronto, A Space underwent a significant crisis toward the end of the seventies. While it survived (unlike CEAC and ACT), a fertile period of collaboration, experimentation, and exchange had come to a close.

Further Reading
"A Space." Avalanche 3 (Fall 1971): 4.


1"A Space." Avalanche 3 (Fall 1971): 4.