In the cellar of artist Dallas Seitz’s 113 year old Inglewood home by the railroad is a new work by Jeff Bray. Organized by Calgary artist Kyle Marks, Cellar is the first in a series of works being shown in odd, unfamiliar and challenging spaces that push the boundaries of an anticipated experience of artwork. As he states, “… we are all some life form of cells floating on a spinning rock around a burning ball of hydrogen…” and if we think about it, we are all yearning for something to lean into.
Peering down from above, you look through the small hole in the floor to see a multitude of driftwood painted in bright hues of orange, yellow, teal, red and blue. Interspersed are objects, perhaps more driftwood, golden hued and critters clambering through this multicoloured wasteland as if lost in a sea expanse that resembles an alien space. You can only access the work from above, looking downward and positioned notably as if reigning power over the piece. This is an interesting perspective considering the political climate we live in today, and if we want to take it a step further, in particular in the United States in the face of the upcoming election that could see Donald Trump return to power to wield hate mongering over minorities. In this instance, we cannot be one with the work but can only see it as if we are in power over it. Positioning the viewer from this stance allows us to reconsider our place in the world and the power we hold, which includes privilege in a white patriarchal society.
What is equally interesting about the work and Marks’ concept is bringing art out of the white cube. In visiting this work at Seitz’s home I’m reminded of a text by Chris Kraus in Where Art Belongs. In the opening piece of the book, Kraus explores the history and narrative of what could be called loosely an arts establishment that existed in Los Angeles - Tiny Creatures. Begun by Janet Kim, Tiny Creatures was a storefront on N. Alvarado in the early 00’s. In her manifesto Kim stated “tiny creatures is / a desire to find a way to live our own way / to have a sense of community, / to see each other while on earth, / to share our lives, our pain, our talent, our thoughts, / to capture a moment in time that will be lost or forgotten, / and to package it with beauty, love, pain and all that we can feel as humans” (1) in effect creating a being of its own that existed outside of mainstream establishments for art and culture. Kim organized record launches, ‘zine distribution, music and art shows mostly made up of collages by her circle of friends who didn’t realize they were artists at all. Hedi El Khoti, in a text for the closing of the space remarked: “What I find compelling about the scene at Tiny Creatures is … Kim brings a generosity and sincerity to her curatorial adventures. … When you’re an outsider, Culture retains an element of strangeness. It’s a learning process, you have to make it yours, and this brings an element of surprise to your choices” (2). While Marks is not necessarily an outsider of culture, the process of pulling artist Jeff Bray and the space in Dallas Seitz’s home together speaks to the phenomenon of what Tiny Creatures was attempting to do.
Further, there is a poetry to the work and the site. In “The Complete Poem / Bernadette Corporation”, the second essay in Kraus’ collection, she outlines the use of poetry in the work of the Bernadette Corporation - as she describes them, “a ‘floating’ collective.” The collective produced with their five members what was called an “epic” poem that they exhibited at Greene Naftali in Chelsea in 2009. What Bray’s work and the location in the Cellar, as such the encompassing grammar of Cellar Door, brings out the poetry in the world for poetry’s job is to take a look at the present and translate it into form, sound, site. There is a beauty in the simplicity of the work - after all, it is a collection of driftwood found along the banks of the Bow River near where Bray and Seitz live. Bringing detritus to life, Cellar Door accomplishes making radical moves through a poetic lens in the Calgary arts and culture scene today.
1) Kraus, Chris. “You Are Invited to be the Last Tiny Creature” in Where Art Belongs. (Semiotext(e): 2011), p. 32.
2) ibid., p. 14.