TRU art gallery experiments with community building

Students gather in the TRU Art Gallery last week. PHOTO BY LARKIN SCHMIEDL

Larkin Schmiedl: Omega Contributor  Ω

If you visited the TRU art gallery in Old Main last week, you likely noticed a very unique exhibition.

Openwork, curated by third-year visual arts student Emily Hope, transformed the gallery into a workspace in the midst of an art installation. It ran from Jan. 26 to Feb. 4.

Students from many different disciplines gathered on the comfortable couch, chair and benches in a corner of the gallery.

Knitting, embroidery, sewing and other fibre arts made by current and recent grads of the visual arts program, and their mothers and grandmothers, were displayed alongside found objects.

Hope explained that traditionally, fibre crafting has a strong history of community-building, and her aim was, “that the same kind of thing would happen [here]—and it did.”

“Knitting’s probably the thing that most people decided they wanted to learn,” she said.

The gallery contained a sewing machine, bins of fabric, a knitting machine and a bookshelf full of instructional manuals, all of which visitors were welcome to use.

Sculptures and displays sat on the floor, atop shelves and pinned to the wall.

Visual arts student Hugo Yuen sat in the gallery and knitted a wool tie, which was then displayed as part of the exhibition. It was his first knitting project.

CBC radio played quietly beside visitors while they drank tea and coffee and shared in the many snacks in the gallery each day. Visitors chatted and shared skills with one another.

“It’s first impressions—often it’s the first minute in a gallery that determines your level of comfort,” said visual arts instructor Marnie Blair.

“If you can become comfortable in one gallery space,” Hope said, “then you can become comfortable in other gallery spaces.”

One of Hope’s other aims was to break down people’s hesitation and the feeling that they don’t belong or don’t have the education to be in an art gallery. Visitors remarked on how comfortable and relaxing the space was.

Hope estimated that an average of 40 people came through the gallery each day, and that about 10 people spent time regularly in Openwork.