An Apartment In Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

By hannah_g

With thanks to Derek Dunlop and Bossy & Jayme Spinks and Helah.


Last month I found myself in a dim café off Platform 1 of Stroud railway station. After getting my coffee, I stood by a window that repelled light, and idly listened to the chatter of the other passengers waiting for the 9.04 to London, Paddington. I soon realised that the woman who ran the place had quite a few regulars: “Going to the dentist again, John?”, “… you’ll enjoy looking out the window, Barb.” It’s a cosy though chilly nook, with old railway memorabilia on the walls, and newspapers presented on a table. The woman (flyaway hair escaping from a grey-white topknot) dispensed coffee, tea, and bacon sandwiches. Framed cartoons depicting rail service scenes from the 1930s lined one wall, romances and mysteries lined the shelf beneath them. The stuff in this place looked like it had been accrued over time, its purpose only becoming apparent when this café was acquired by the current owner. Or perhaps not its purpose; simply an opportunity.

A partial meaning

Being near strangers and also apart meant that we imagined each other’s company. A new space was formed by the act of communicating. Exchanging thoughts, memories, opinions, snippets of ourselves we furnished this apart space and dwelled in/used it for moments of consecutive days. Like any private place, you have to be there to know, but your there and my there will remain separate. If we should share a space it will simply be another space, related to, perhaps informed by, that which we previously created in our respective minds.

An apartment- a place to shelter from the weather and other people. A place to share an incomplete praecie of who you are, what you know and value, and sometimes who you love and have loved. A home. Above, below, or beside other apartments containing other people using the space in ways most likely similar to you. A place to fulfil the private necessities and luxuries of life in comfort.

Exhibition / exposition / exposure

The original properties of the word ‘curate’ such as caring for, stewarding, sharing thoughtfully and knowledgeably I hold in regard. And I love looking at art objects and object objects and visiting places in which they have been collected and presented with intention. It will not be surprising that, for the most part, I rather like contemporary art galleries and believe in their purpose as places to encounter objects, experiences, texts, bodies, and ideas. They are places to think intimately and usually solitarily, despite the presence of other visitors. Seeing art and objects in a person’s home is a kindred experience though different in important ways. Depending on one’s relationship with the home one is in, one might cast surreptitious glances at things or confidently ask after them. One is exposing one’s level of interest.

A few days ago I asked an artist, “Where would you like people to see your work?” And via the tumble of conversation, I wondered about the setting up of circumstances for people to see art in a home without them realising that that was what was happening. Using cruising apps was my initial thought because of the nature of the artist’s work. The moments of being in unfamiliar domestic settings that precede sex, what would one see in that heightened state? What would one remember? And what about the act of cruising the art itself? The artist described doing this when he visits a gallery. Looking within the mists of intention when anything is possible.

Abigail’s Agenda

Strangers, acquaintances, neighbours, pals, friends are the components of a certain kind of community, usually one defined by geography. How do we get to know one another and when do we want to do this? How can we see what each other does? What if it isn’t on neutral ground? What if we become a guest as well as an acquaintance? What if we become a guest as well as an old friend? What if we become a host as well as an artist?

Let’s find out.

Typesetting and design by Jayme Spinks.

Interview published for Derek Dunlop’s exhibition End Forms at Lisa Kehler Art + Projects 2015

Published by Lisa Kehler Art + Projects.

The following interview took place between Derek Dunlop and Winnipeg-based writer, artist, and dj, Hannah Godfrey.

hannah_g: Let’s start with the basics: paint. The paint that you are using for these works is important and particular. Could you talk about the manufacturer of this paint and what makes it unique?

Derek Dunlop: For the most part, these paintings were made using Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours. I started using them in the summer of 2014 when I was artist in residence with the Golden Foundation for the Arts in upstate New York. During the residency, I was able to experiment with all the material that GOLDEN makes. Williamsburg Oils are all handmade in small batches. They were developed by the artist Carl Plansky in the 1980’s and GOLDEN took over producing them in 2010 after Plansky passed away. The paint is produced in a very traditional way. The grind of the pigments in each colour reflects how best that colour will appear when mixed with the binder. As a result, each colour has a unique texture, mass, sheen, density, brightness, and depth. The paint is close to what early paint manufacturers would have produced before the over-commodification and industrialization of artist supplies in the 20th century. In my experience, only oil can achieve the subtle effects of colour that I seek.

hg: These particular paints with their individual textures and properties are fundamentally anti-generic, and this seems in line with a queer practice. Taking and then queering colours is subversive and expansive: what does it mean to queer colour? 

DD: I’m not entirely sure what it means to queer colour. And I’m not entirely sure that I am queering colour. I started producing work for this show by researching colour. I’ve produced about a dozen different colour charts. Some of the paintings have up to seventy-two colours on one canvas. I do think a lot about the historical value of colour and its materiality. I think about how our feelings towards colours have histories, how they are subjective and yet still specific. Many of the paintings in this exhibition explore ambiguous colours with a paired-down palette. These colours are created by mixing complementary colours in order to create shades of grey, and then altering the tone.

hg: These works have more overt emotion in them, there’s a different kind of search happening. What has influenced your trajectory to this point? 

DD: My process is becoming less systematic and slightly more poetic. I give myself more room to move. Many of the paintings in the show deal with a very basic compositional strategy of creating a square out of a rectangle, and then improvising with materials in order to express a thought or feeling. It isn’t predetermined. In terms of abstraction, I am interested in process and form equally. How can a way of working complicate and expand our ideas about subjectivity?

hg: The emotion in the work is rooted, of course, in your body which also contains your deep engagement with art history and the history of painting in particular, queer theory, social politics. Your gestures with paint and your choices of colour are intuitive here but that intuition is grounded in rigour. Was it difficult to adopt this process? What were the stakes?

DD: I am constantly responding to my materials, and often there is a compromise between how I want my materials to perform and how they are performing. My most successful paintings go through moments of creation and destruction. I acknowledge the double bind that exists within contemporary painting practice: the desire to paint mixed with the recognition of the limitations of the material. My desire to paint is guided by how it relates to my drawings, and where drawing and painting overlap. Both practices represent a kind of longing and a desire for transformation: a longing for visibility and a longing for invisibility.

hg: What role did your body play in these paintings?

DD: Touch is important to my process. I often think about embodied knowledge. How do we find value in other forms of knowledge? What does this knowledge look like? How are social forces embedded in the body, and how do they find material form?

hg: The space which the paintings create within themselves and within the viewer demands conscious involvement in both spheres. It is a complex experience that involves a degree of surrender and of trust. Does this mirror your state when you produced them?

DD: Trust is very important when considering a work of art. There are so few common registers these days for determining value in art. That’s probably a good thing.  I put a lot of trust in my process.  I trust my instincts. My process has developed over time. Each series relates to the one before.

hg: Are you asserting a radical approach to the tangled act of looking?

DD: I value difficulty. Which is probably more closely linked to a modernist project than what is happening in contemporary art. Cultural information, including art, is communicated in simple ways. The concept of difficulty has an important role to play in the creation and reception of artworks. Not difficulty for the sake of isolating the viewer, but as a technique for interrogating how objects generate meaning.