The Next Great Adventure
Wil Aballe Art Projects debuts its new location
Written by Dillon Ramsey
From the corner of Frances Street, it’s easy to see where Clark Drive turns into a maze of brick and concrete, and terminates in the industrial warehouses and freight lines of Port Metro Vancouver. It might seem strange that an elegant new art gallery would be nearby – except that this is Vancouver, and in recent years the local art scene has seen a seismic shift east. What were once loading docks and shipping bays have since become some of this city’s cutting-edge art spaces, and the brand new location of Wil Aballe Art Projects (WAAPART) is no exception.
The gallery itself is quite exceptional, however; and at its opening reception on Thursday, January 29, the spacious venue is thronging with visitors eager to view this exciting next step in Aballe’s ambitious and highly successful enterprise. Over the course of the evening, numerous guests stop to congratulate him on his new space, and for good reason too: until now, WAAPART was usually curated and exhibited out of Aballe’s small studio apartment. As such, it goes without saying that the larger gallery space he has since acquired presents promises and possibilities for WAAPART that were previously unthinkable.
Aballe’s projects were seldom limited by his previous exhibition space; if a show wasn’t likely to fit in his apartment, he would simply hold a pop-up show at another gallery. But now it seems that everything he needs is at his fingertips. “If Jeff Koons wanted to send me one of his gigantic sculptures, it would be no problem,” jokes Aballe, whose gallery now has all the facilities and equipment necessary for transporting and supporting artworks on a grander scale. He can hardly contain his contagious enthusiasm as he imagines WAAPART’s capacity for site-specific artworks and elaborate installations.
Of course, setting up such a space is an ongoing process, and in this first year of shows, WAAPART will certainly continue to innovate and transform. “It’s only been one month, with just me and my contractor. So there’s still lots to do,” says Aballe. Indeed, some rugged, industrial traces can be seen throughout the gallery, but they strike a remarkably compelling and harmonious balance with the impressive sophistication of the “white cube” it has become. “We throw out too much stuff as it is,” Aballe observes. “My mentality here was, ‘If it works with the art, I’ll keep it.'”
And the art on display, which places a strong emphasis on process and materiality, does enter into an engaging dialogue with the gallery. “Gentle Groove” is a suite of woven paintings by Angela Teng: the works are made from thick strips of solidified paint that have been meticulously crocheted on panels to form abstract images, focusing the audience’s attention not only on the seamless compositions of layered colours and patterns, but also the labour-intensive practice which informs the individual pieces. On the central wall of the gallery, Mystic Healer grabs the viewer with its hypnotic gradient; Tit for Tat, on the other hand, works with a geometry of jarringly sharp contrasts, though the two works are ostensibly made with the same technique.
Teng pays homage to a vibrant feminist history in the visual arts, following a half-century’s lineage of creatively challenging the classic separation of “art” and “craft”. At the same time, Teng’s seemingly textile, tactile art speaks to the exhibition space itself, which is likewise an exercise in patience, perseverance, inventiveness, and a lot of hard work.
Jade Yumang’s sculptural works jive well with this aesthetic, and are being featured in “Because Unfathomable”, a four-artist showcase in WAAPART’s front alcove – yet another advantage of having a bigger gallery. His mixed media pieces are made from a variety of materials, such as plastic, wire, found objects, and paper, and serve as powerful tributes to the queer characters of film noir cinema in the 1940s and 1950s, who were typically villainised and pathologised as stock antagonists. By creating their likenesses in careful cut-outs, and alluding to their defining attributes – Waldo Lydecker is decorated with pinstriped cloth, while Mrs. Danvers is embellished with chiffon lace – Yumang exposes another side of these “deviant” characters. Far from being evil eccentrics, they are scapegoats whose subtle struggles foreshadowed the sexual liberation of the 1960s; and Yumang’s sculptures are effigies – or elegies – crafted in their honour.
Regarding what he looks for in a work of art, Aballe references the quote by Henry David Thoreau where “Because Unfathomable” is derived from – and the quotation is stencilled in the gallery’s entrance: “At the same time we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.” To Aballe, the interpretation and appreciation of a work of art is inextricable from its inherent sense of indefiniteness and ambiguity. Artists and artworks ought to be open to different approaches – a philosophy which aptly describes the aspirations of WAAPART.
“The artists I show are always evolving, and trying out new things,” explains Aballe. “And so I look for work that’s in an interesting stage of that evolution.” This spirit of dynamism, challenge and change thrives in WAAPART’s new exhibition space; and now that it has been established, it will be exciting to watch how it develops, experiments, and explores uncharted territory in 2015.