Phase Two: Vancouver
Extending the End of the Line:
Correspondence and Exchange in Vancouver Art Since the 1960s
Up to [the 1960s,] Vancouver had suffered from an apologetic end-of-the-line feeling. Now we about faced: we were not at the end of the line but poised on the Pacific Rim, attuned to our own vibrations.
— Joan Lowdes
Vancouver is often characterized by its residents as an isolated frontier city on the edge of Canada’s expansive wilderness and consequently, an unlikely center for avant-garde art production. However, instead of its position at the periphery limiting creative production, Vancouver’s psychogeography has inspired the innovative use of new mediums and funding to generate structures for artistic exchange. Inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s conception of the “global village,” artists such as Iain and Ingrid Baxter (N.E. Thing Co.) began making use of new telecommunication technology simultaneous to the establishment of Canada’s first artist-run centres. Fueled by this newly available funding and a desire to engage with artists outside Vancouver, artist-initiated projects in the late 1960s such as Intermedia and Image Bank began producing and internationally distributing diverse materials internationally including mail art, catalogues and publications. Following the dissolution of Intermedia in 1971, the establishment of Video In and the Western Front defined new engagements with the presentation and distribution of video and performance. During the 1980s, a second-generation of artist-run centres including UNIT/PITT, Or Gallery, Grunt Gallery and Artspeak emerged, each with their own publishing projects. Through to the present, these organizations have produced diverse materials ranging from ephemera, magazines, videos, television programming and books.
Not only did this output allow for artistic exchange, but it also provided fresh encounters with Vancouver’s art production despite temporal and geographic distance. Present-day artists and curators continue to revisit the 1960s legacies of exchange and innovation. What follows is a timeline tracing a history of engagement in artist-initiated correspondence and exchange by Vancouver artists and organizations. Highlighted are contextual materials and publications produced by select Vancouver and B.C. spaces now available at the CCS Bard Library as a result of the second-year of the West Coast Initiative.
1961 — First of ten annual Festival of Contemporary Art shows held in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia with the intent to catalyze local artists, poets and performers and connect them with cultural producers such as those in New York and California.
1965 — Simon Fraser University Gallery established with a focus on artwork from Vancouver area.
1967 — Intermedia established following dialogue between artists and theorists initiated with the intent to explore the theories of Marshall McLuhan.
1969 — Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov begin working under the name Image Bank following contact with Ray Johnson’s New York Correspondence School. Image Bank was intended as a structure for the exchange of visual material between artists outside of the gallery and museum system.
1970 — Lucy Lippard’s traveling “numbers show” opens in Vancouver as 955,000 featuring contributions from many significant Conceptual artists. Canada Council travel grant activates the networks providing Canadian artists means to travel. Intermedia initiates Pacific Rim Consciousness, an exhibition-in-a-box distributed to 200 art galleries, art institutions and artists along the Pacific Rim.
1971 — Contemporary Art Gallery, first known as Artist’s Gallery, began as a city cultural program. Intermedia dissolves but a flurry of new artist-run centres are established out of its network.
1972 — Open Space established as non-profit artist-run centre located in Victoria, British Columbia. Eleven Vancouver artists visit the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) for the Halifax/Vancouver Exchange project organized by Roy Kiyooka.
1973 — The Satellite Video Exchange Society (now VIVO) established following Matrix, an international video conference. The Western Front, Vancouver’s oldest operating artist-run centre established by eight artists. Robert Filliou and other Fluxus artists exhibit at the Western Front, exposing artists to Filliou’s notion of the “Eternal Network”, a concept which continues to surface in the emphasis of correspondence by Vancouver artists.
1974 — Women in Focus established with the intent to distribute materials on feminist art and media practices.
1975 — Helen Pitt Gallery (now UNIT/PITT) established as an artist-run centre with an interest in social consciousness and multi-disciplinary programing.
1976 — Presentation House Gallery established; it is now the largest independent, non-profit photography gallery in Canada. First meeting of CANPAC (later ANNPAC) takes place in Vancouver with the intent to develop a communication network of artist-run centres across Canada. Around this time, CANPAC began publishing and distributing the contemporary art magazine Parallelogramme.
1978 — Image Bank unofficially concludes with the final Image Bank Postcard Show.
1979 — Traveling exhibition Art and Correspondence from the Western Front, organized by Glenn Lewis, begins its tour to Montreal, Charlottetown, Halifax, Toronto, Hamilton, Calgary and Victoria.
1980 — Emily Carr University of Art + Design establishes Charles H. Scott Gallery during its move to Granville Island.
1983 — Or Gallery established as non-profit artist-run centre. The Vancouver Art Gallery organizes Vancouver: Art and Artists, 1931-1983, a comprehensive survey exhibition and accompanying catalogue documenting almost 50 years of art production in Vancouver.
1984 — Grunt Gallery established as non-profit artist-run centre. The Warehouse Show takes place with the aim of providing a comprehensive view of artistic activity in Vancouver.
1986 — Artspeak established as non-profit artist-run centre. Luminous Sites: 10 Video Performances opens simultaneously at ten artist-run centres highlighting video used in sculptural installation and performance.
1987 — AA Bronson curates From Sea to Shining Sea: Artist-Initiated Activity in Canada, 1939-1987 at Power Plant in Toronto focusing on the involvement of artists in generating the structures of arts organizations in Canada.
1990 — Lecture series Vancouver Anthology takes place with the aim to initiate dialogue around recent histories of Vancouver art.
1992 — Hand of the Spirit: Documents of the Seventies from the Morris/Trasov Archive takes place at UBC Fine Arts Gallery and results in a publication.
1995 — UBC Fine Arts Gallery (founded 1948) rededicated as Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery.
1999 — Centre A established dedicated to providing a platform for contemporary Asian art.
2002 — Luis Jacob curates Golden Streams: Artists’ Collaboration and Exchange in the 1970s at Blackwood Gallery focusing on four Canadian artist groups from Vancouver and Toronto including Image Bank.
2006 — Projectile Publishing Society publishes first issue of Fillip magazine.
2009 — Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery and grunt gallery create Vancouver Art in the 60s website.
2010 — Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980 begins a two-year tour in art institutions from Vancouver to Halifax and considers the importance of artist-driven exchange in Canadian Conceptual art.
2011 — Felicity Tayler organizes Constellation & Correspondence: Networking Between Artists, 1970–1980 at Artexte in Montreal.
Special thanks to CCS Bard students Clara Halpern, Robin Selk and Amy Zion as well as this year’s West Coast Initiative Advisory committee: Glenn Alteen, Patrik Andersson, AA Bronson, Michael de Courcy, Sara Diamond, Caitlin Jones, Denis Lessard, Melanie O’Brian, Kathy Slade and Felicity Tayler.
A full list of the titles acquired to date as part of this project can be found in our online catalog, Felix, by using “West Coast Initiative” as a keyword search.