Art in the Garage: A Review of fast & dirty’s Garage Show

Written by Anne Pasek

Garage sales are always a peculiar form of display. Public and private spaces mingle, collections are unwittingly cataloged and assembled, and precious keepsakes made negotiable. It is little wonder, then, that this format should provide a fruitful space to build narratives about memory and value. This was the realization of the fast & dirty collective: the organizers and artists behind Garage Show.

Robert Harpin and Adriean Koleric, Garage Installation, 2011. Photo Credit: Kristen Hutchinson, 2011.

Curated by Kristen Hutchinson and Jennifer Forsyth, Garage Show combined the works of Adriean Koleric, Robert Harpin and Emily Soder-Duncan in two of Edmonton’s residential garages.  As per fast & dirty’s ethos, this arrangement was temporary, rough around the edges, and far outside the hygienic habitus of the white cube gallery. The show was up for two days, during which hotdogs were tailgated, prices were haggled over, and strangers mingled in art critiques.

Robert Harpin and Adriean Koleric, Garage Installation, 2011. Photo Credit: Centree Photography, 2011.

Harpin and Koleric’s installation seems to have taken its inspiration from the air of desperation that sometimes accompanies garage sales. The pair constructed a darkly humorous narrative of a failed artist who, being unable to sell his work at galleries, is forced to hawk his wares to indifferent customers in his garage.  The pair constructed a darkly humorous narrative of a failed artist who, being unable to sell his work at galleries, is forced to hawk his wares to indifferent customers in his garage.

Adriean Koleric, Go Home Peter… Go Home, 2011. Mixed Media. Photo Credit: Adriean Koleric, 2011.

The work, composed mainly of modified figurines, hunting paraphernalia, and 1950s family scenes, seemed to suggest a construction of masculinity and identity that is transparently unoriginal and defeated. Koleric’s Go Home Peter, Go Home recontextualizes Spiderman’s iconic action pose, pressing the figure against a wall as if curled up in shame. Harpin’s Shed Antlers, similarly, renders the wild virile symbol of a hunters trophy somewhat absurd by painting the rack in bright pop art shades of blue, pink, and yellow. These antlers become domesticated, infantilized and infinitely more consumable.

Robert Harpin, Shed Antlers, 2011. Mixed Media. Photo Credit: Centree Photography, 2011.

There a few humorous nods to the great scandals of conceptual art, be it through the Duchampian toilet hiding under a display table or a Damien Hirst-esque plastic skull half-covered in glitter, tagged for the low, low price of “$2.5 million- o.b.o.” The pricing scheme of the show continued this sense of failed mercantilism, enticing consumption not through the acquisition of material goods, but rather the thrill of a bargain.

Robert Harpin, Tonka, 2011. Found Object. Photo Credit: Centree Photography, 2011.

A formerly priceless work was discounted to “$20- comes with a skateboard.” Likewise a $6000 fiber piece was knocked down to “$15- used by a real artist!” Surprising to some, these bargain bin prices were the actual going rates for the work. The artists performed their roles well, haggling with bartering visitors and caught in-between making the case for the bruised monetary worth of their art and the desire to rid their studios of clutter. These interactions made for a very interesting examination of how conceptual art relies on legitimating structures to maintain its value, materially or otherwise. Readymades and appropriations were placed in uncomfortable proximity to the banal context from which they came, creating an anxiety which is reflected in the deflated pricing.

Emily Soder-Duncan, Garage Installation, 2011. Photo Credit: Kristen Hutchinson, 2011.

Emily Soder-Duncan, conversely, approached the garage as a site of archiving rather than bare-knuckle commerce. Her installation eschewed price tags for museum labels detailing the collections sourced in her display of art, antiques, and the sort of nostalgic detritus that we might find in our parents’ garages. While Harpin and Koleric’s installation exposed the fragility of bringing art back to its source material, Soder-Duncan’s work is instead strengthened by this proximity. The interwoven references between art and objects revealed connections across generations and sites, while the intimate space of her garage immediately greeted the nose with a comfortable mustiness. Suggesting an older form of the museum, of archives formed through curiosity and memory rather than taxonomy, the installation became a charged site of discovery and disparate recollections.

There was an intentional ambiguity to the origin and art-status of many of the objects left in the garage. While bygone antiques such as a croquette set, wooden chest, and horseshoe were labeled as belonging either to the artist’s mother or garage’s owner, other objects tucked away in corners went unannounced. As one became more immersed in the relational history of the display, this categorical imperative to separate art from non-art became less and less important.

Emily Soder-Duncan, Advantage of Leftovers, 2011. Mixed Media. Photo Credit: Kristen Hutchinson, 2011.

Scraps of envelopes, old cigarette cards and crumpled card stock came together in collages that recall the sentimental accumulation of mementos, of memory made vulnerable and tangible. These mixed media materials were then deconstructed in Advantage of Leftovers, consisting of an inventory of ephemera and small etchings preserved in jam jars lit with the warm glow of a hidden lamp.

Emily Soder-Duncan, L.D. Kept is Consistent, 2011. Mixed Media on wood. Photo Credit: Kristen Hutchinson, 2011.

L.D Kept it Consistent, an assemblage born from an appropriated shingle guide, was hung across from a pile of old wooden shingles produced from its form by the artist’s grandfather. Though objectively worthless, the artists and curators skillfully convince us to imbue these objects with a value that stems from shared familiar associations and half-forgotten childhoods. This kind of set up makes the viewer acutely aware of his/her own embodiment and role to play in bringing worth to the art object.

While Garage Show is remarkable for the quality of these installations alone, it further provoked an intriguing play of public space and community. The garages were two doors down from one another, effectively appropriating part of the alley into its wider art project. A furniture scrapheap beached on a driveway became much admired for its sculptural potential, while a half-completed bit of masonry struck many visitors as a perfect Carl Andre. Normal residents working on projects in their garages nearby became the subject of new curiosity, with the immediate expectation that art would be found inside. The distinction between public and private space was blurred, as was the neat separate of art from life in the immediate radius of the installations

Garage Show may be only one of fast & dirty’s growing range of projects, but it typifies the ethos of alternative innovation that Edmonton has come to expect from this collective. Created for artists and by artists, fast & dirty is committed to challenging traditional curatorial practices and exploring the display of art outside of gallery walls.  Fashioning temporary shows in unusual places, the collective’s projects have the means to break the isolation of art from the world while building communities of artists and audiences that lack access to larger cultural institutions. What is emerging in this investigation of possibilities is the sense that DIY exhibition practices are not only possible, but also uniquely rewarding. By intervening in otherwise ordinary spaces Garage Show and projects like it create the conditions for a cogent examination of the detritus and forgotten spaces in our own day-to-day practices of living.

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Garage Show was exhibited on the 20th and 21st of August, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Anne Pasek is a writer, curator and artist based out of Edmonton, Alberta. A graduate of both Grant Macewan University and the University of Alberta, her writing and studio practice have evolved into complementary studies of contemporary theory through art.  As Latitude 53’s Writer in Residence, Anne has been able to share some of these thoughts while working to improve the access to ideas and contemporary art in Edmonton. This has led her to develop Theory for Dinner, a monthly discussion group informally exploring the intersection of art and theory. As a forum for exchange and community-building, Theory for Dinner meets on the first Wednesday of the month at Latitude 53. Anne’s other projects include The Collective Memory Project, a forthcoming exhibition exploring the history and legacy of eugenic thought in Alberta, and work with the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada. She is presently seeking admission to graduate studies for next fall.