The Canadian Art Database


The Winnipeg Effect: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

The Winnipeg Art Gallery, November 3-5, 2016


The Winnipeg Effect (assessing the history of contemporary art in Winnipeg
& the impact of Winnipeg-themed exhibitions)


Sigrid Dahle The Gothic Unconscious

1. The Gothic Unconscious was a year–long 4–part program that opened at Gallery 1.1.1. at the School of Art on Oct 30, 2004 and closed on April 4, 2005. It spanned 500 years of image–making and included over 50 artists, most of them from Winnipeg. The series speculated on the relationship between Winnipeg's deeply troubled social history and the surreal, abject and gothic sensibilities of much of the work produced by contemporary artists in Winnipeg.

2. From time to time (like today), The Gothic Unconscious — both the exhibition and the concept — stages a ghostly return.

3. The first project in the series, called Blind Spot, opened 30 October 2003. For this component, each wall in the gallery was treated in a visually and spatially unique manner, as though each was a self–contained unit — it was up to the viewer to speculate on what the connections between all four might be.

The gallery space — a square white cube with two large windows on the wall adjacent to a hallway — was no larger than a small two bedroom apartment.

4. The two large windows in the gallery wall that was adjacent to the hallway were blocked with red panels. Each had a small a framed opening that offered a peak at what was inside.

5. 1st Wall: The wall opposite the windows was painted black and featured work from the WAG and Gallery 1.1.1. collections of ‘canonical Winnipeg surrealism’… as well as postcards of relevant historical art works, advertisements from magazines, record covers and other ephemera.

Esther Warkov, Sharon Alward, Di Thorneycroft, Ivan Eyre, Don Proch

Works were identified on an accompanying sheet;… rather than labels.

6. This toyed with visitor's exception: For example, some people thought the print by Robert Nelson, Man With Spear, a 1953 University of Iowa graduate who taught at the School of Art into the 1960s, was by Marcel Dzama. (The print was gifted by Ivan Eyre.)

7. I found this postcard AFTER the design for the windows had been determined. It became part of the show.

8. 2nd Wall: The wall opposite the black painted salon wall remained white. The back of the red window panels were painted jail-house grey. Called the Constellation Wall, it detailed the some of the many injustices and tragedies that have occurred in the Winnipeg region since European colonization.

9. 12 October 1905: After a concerted lobby by the Winnipeg Labour Council, Winnipeg's first public library opens at 380 William Avenue with funds from Andrew Carnegie, a Pittsburgh industrialist who brutally crushed the Homestead Steel strike in 1892, leaving seven strikers dead.

1940s Winnipeg–born Monty Hall becomes a game show host after he is denied admittance to medical school at the University of Manitoba on the basis of being Jewish. 10. 1884: Legislation is passed in Ottawa creating a system of state–funded, church administered Indian Residential Schools that would brutalize First Nations children, scorn their customs and traditions and deprive them of their language.

The idea was that I would add events each day during the course of the exhibition so that by the end the entire wall would be red. I didn't go ahead with that plan… the research was too emotionally draining.

The thing is… virtually every one of these events can trace its impetus to forces and institutions as close as Ottawa and as far away as Europe and Asia. Winnipeg is the world and the world is Winnipeg. WINNIPEG IS NOT AN ISLAND WITH MOAT LIKE BOUNDARIES.

11. 3rd Wall: Bernie Miller's mall, from 2001, in all its banal glory, floated alone on the bare white wall.

12. The fourth wall – painted dark grey – changed daily, it featured a micro–one person show by a different Winnipeg artist. Often there would be a mini–gathering, a kind of informal opening, in the afternoon.

13. The exhibition featured on the 24 hour wall opening day consisted of ephemera and documentation from Winnipeg's first 24 hour exhibition — Tunnel Vision, 1989, which was staged place in a back alley behind ArtSpace. Artists were invited to produce installations based on a film script by Gilles Hebert. Interestingly it was called Tunnel Vision. Susan Chafe designed the poster for the 1989… she also designed all the invitations and posters for The Gothic Unconscious.

14. Leanne L'Hirondelle and Cathy Mattes collaborated on a December 3 installation. Leanne's painting is of the former SS Barracks in Lars, Germany where Cathy attended high school as a military brat. It was coupled with text panels in English and German in which Cathy recounted her high school experience of being Metis in Germany will living on a Canadian military base. The source image for Leanne's painting came from an issue of McLean's magazine.

15. Paul Butler, Steve Loft, Bonnie Marin, Reva Stone, Hope Peterson, Susan Chafe, Noam Gonick, Michael Dumontier, Di Thorneycroft, Bev Pike, Wanda Koop, Aganetha Dyck & Peter Dyck… and many others, many of whom are in this room, each had their own mini–one person exhibition.

Steve Loft''s 2510037901, 2000, Video, 3:00 (Colour, Stereo). For one day the picture salon was alive with the sound of drumming.

16. After Blind Spot closed, in the deadly cold month of January, we presented a three–person show, Trauerspiel (mourning play). Almost no one showed up for the opening.

17. The show consisted of three films by Guy Maddin that were screened continuously in a gallery transformed into a space that looked like a cross between 'a church and a movie theatre'. We even had wooden benches, like pews.

18. Photographs documenting early 20th century seances from the Hamilton archives at the U of M and photographs by Winnipeg's turn of the century photographer, Lewis Benjamin Foote, (February 6, 1873 – April 22, 1957) hung on the wall, like stations of the cross. Foote was familiar with death as he served as the official photographer for citys coroner's office – he is also the photographer who documented the Winnipeg General Strike (finished in 1948) – images we are all familiar with.

19. After Trauspiel closed, the gallery transformed into a Philosopher's Café. Jeanne Randolph, who does what Joanne Bristol, a pal of ours has termed STAND UP THEORY, did a four–day long performance. Jeanne returned to the question of surrealism's potential and limitations given that it is the go–to sensibility for contemporary advertising.

20. Then, at the end of February, the gallery transformed into a reading room–library. The two–person Ghost Month/Ice Fishing In Gimli visually pondered the question of how to make peace with ghosts in the context of a consumer society.

21. Rob's 'novel' — a settler narrative that is also architectural theory — is constructed solely from found images and texts. All 4.750 pages. William Eakin's photographic interpretations of beautifully crafted, paper surrogate consumer objects — these are burned as offerings to one's ancestors during the Ghost Month festival in Taiwan — hung on the wall.

22. The Gothic Unconscious thesis in a nutshell.

23. Spectacular displays of privately owned wealth have a way of white-washing traumatic social histories. Winnipeg has never been shiny.

24. Some four years later in 2011 Plug–In ICA took the exhibition My Winnipeg to Maison Rouge Gallery in Paris. My Winnipeg was The Gothic Unconscious on steroids.

25. Paris has a long history of embracing surrealism and the abject — as well as the products of its own colonial exploits.

26. We delighted the Parisians with our strangeness. The snow; the horror; the tall wintery tales that never end.

27. We filled room after room of Maison Rouge with our creative abundance.

28. Our hosts were as generous as they were welcoming; they threw fabulous parties in our honour.

29. They asked me to curate a room that would serve as introduction to the exhibition. I decided it should also offer an introduction to settler colonialism from a Winnipeg perspective. The room was called "There's No Place Like Home."

Rosalie Favell, I awoke to find my spirit had returned, from the series Plains(s) Warrior Artist, 1999

Louis Riel, July 4, 1885 My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.

30. Throngs of people came: they looked and they pondered. They tried to make sense of what they saw.

31. We made it easy for them: We put Winnipeg on a psychoanalyst's couch (it was easy to find a used one in Paris) — and we invited them to offer their interpretations. 32. We cheekily played the court jester for the French art aristocracy.

33. What is it about those colonies anyways?

34. They loved us; they were mad about us. The internet was saturated with coverage of My Winnipeg.

Now we were shiny too!

35. But despite their enthusiasm and amazement that a cold–weather colonial outpost could produce such a cornucopia of CULTURE…the horror… to the best of my knowledge no one ever wrote a single in depth analysis or article about the exhibition.

36. November 2011 My Winnipeg moved to Sete in the south of France.

MIAM Musée International des Arts Modestes

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39. The Professional National Indian Artists Incorporation, better known as the Indian Group of Seven, was a group of professional First Nations artists from Canada, founded in November 1973. The group consisted of Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, Jackson Beardy, Eddy Cobiness, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray and Joseph Sanchez.

Curated by Catherine Mattes.

40. And finally, My Winnipeg returned home.

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43. In Renovations artist Alex Poruchnyk recounts the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to renovating, and making habitable, a condemned north end rooming house… the obstacles to making a home.

Sometimes it feels like nothing much has changed since L B Foote documented the living conditions of North End workers.

44. Geologists think otherwise. They are proposing that "Human activity is leaving a pervasive, persistent and unprecedented signature on planet Earth". This human activity has even produced a new type of rock called Plastiglomerate which will someday become part of the fossil record. Scientists are proposing that these human interventions are so significant that a new geological epoch is called for. Its name is to be the Anthropocene.

45. There are many debates raging which event marks the moment that the Halocene ended and the Anthropocene started (the Halocene started about the time the the glaciers that covered Manitoba melted and the waters receded, making it possible for humans and land creatures to begin inhabiting the region).

The colonization of the America's is one candidate for the inaugurating event; industrial capitalism is another. So is the Atomic Bomb.

46. As might be expected, artists everywhere, even Winnipeg, are interpreting what it might mean to live in newly old geological epoch means.

Between the The Gothic Unconscious, There's No Place Like Home, and Art in the Anthropocene, it can get pretty overwhelming.

Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies — edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, 2014

47. But I when I think of colonial Winnipeg — and that includes the present — and that state of the planet and the trouble we are in… I take heart from the words of a fellow Winnipegger, writer Kathrena Vermette: "We're fucked up, yeah, but not completely fucked."