Most of the time when you visit a small local gallery in a northern city you are treated to art work that is representative of the area. This is a good thing. But in Canada we also have galleries called artist-run-centres and in these smallish places you can find extraordinary work by artists who may or may not live in the area or even the country.
I had this experience at the Galerie du Nouvel (GNO) in Sudbury when I was exhibiting at the Art Gallery of Sudbury a few winters ago. The exhibition was called Phantom Limb and was created by Albertan artist Shyra De Souza. Made from hundreds of dollar store bric n brac and faux antique drawers, the piece resembled an alien like vertebrae – both ancient and other worldly at the same time. It’s a spectacular work. De Souza spent time in Sudbury, added to the work from locally sourced dollar stores and this was all hosted by this tiny, extraordinary centre now in its 20th year.f
Galerie du Nouvel was founded in 1995 by a group of artists focused on creating a space that exhibited current, contemporary art work. Over the years the space and gallery have grown beyond its walls with multiple public art projects throughout the Sudbury area, become a national and international residency allowing visiting artists to experience Sudbury in intimate ways, fostering projects that include national publications and cross provincial partnerships, created the Fair of Alternative Art in Sudbury (FAAS) which is now in its 8th year and this year presented Nouveau Louvre, a salon style exhibition for local artists over the Christmas holidays. It is a thriving, successful hub that at its core features challenging and often controversial work.
From it’s mandate on the website: the gallery “embodies a vision that’s open to all practices in contemporary art with a particular interest for site-specific creation, installation art, and performance. The GNO encourages and supports artists engaged in a creative process that welcomes risk. Through innovative and collaborative projects, the GNO encourages interaction and dialogue between artists and with the public. Aware of its ex-centric geographic location, the GNO favours projects where different ideas, languages, and cultures can come together in a context that’s shaped by northernness.”
Perhaps it is the Franco-Ontarian culture that allows such an exemplary gallery to exist, or maybe it’s also Sudbury and it’s isolated but well connected arts scene that fosters such innovative and energetic programming. For someone who spends a lot of time in smaller places all over Ontario and feels deep affection for what Ontario has to offer beyond Toronto, the GNO is one of those really special places where the unexpected becomes a treat to look forward to. What is supposed to only happen in bigger centers happens here.
I will admit to not always loving what I come across at the GNO but that is exactly what art galleries are supposed to do. They are there to exhibit art work that doesn’t work for everyone. A particular exhibit might seem off putting or just weird while at another juncture make you feel rapturous like De Souza’s Phantom Limb did. Because of this particular GNO exhibit I am now connected with De Souza’s work and following her experiences on social media have brought this huge country closer together for me. The approachable size of the GNO space, it’s a lovely white box and its location, on Elgin Street a block from the Townehouse Tavern make it an extremely accessible place to experience art in all its unpredictable measures.
By: Victoria Ward