Recently, artists Eleanor King and Stefan Hancherow turned a room in the Anna Leonowens Gallery into a working bar for their exhibition “The King and I.” Besides libation-inspiring work by David Askevold, Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby, Kelly Mark and others, the daily happy hours filled an empty (watering) hole in the city. Since NSCAD divided into two campuses and the city closed down the Khyber Club, there hasn’t been a central place for artists to meet for drinks and gossip. But as Baby New Year approaches, things are looking up for the battered Khyber building, which for years was the social heart of the Halifax art community. After extensive negotiation, August saw Halifax’s city council officially approve turning the heritage building into an arts centre which would include participation from the Khyber Arts Society. But beyond its future renovation plans, there’s a renewed energy at the site with Carbon Arc, a folding-chair rep cinema, moving into the top floor and packed, sweaty weekend gigs for local indie bands like Cousins and Duzheknew in the Ballroom Gallery. For the first time in several years, the old main-floor Khyber Club space was open for Nocturne, a nighttime flea market and the annual Holiday Toast party. Rumour has it that a local coffee shop will be moving back into that space early in the new year. Although these were mostly one-night events, symbolically it was meaningful to see all three floors of the building open and filled with people again.
For this year’s Nocturne: Art at Night festival, curator Scott Saunders and Halifax Regional Municipality public art facilitator Jamie MacLellan convinced notoriously protective city staff to allow a nine-project installation into a small section of the Halifax Public Gardens—the first-ever art exhibition in the park. The restrictions, I think, worked in their favour: the menagerie of audio, sculptural and performance-based works were appropriately restrained in the darkness; bizarre and mysterious enough, and yet comfortingly familiar. In June, playwright Dustin Harvey’s magical site-specific iPod play, The Common: For As Long As You Have So Far, took individuals on an audio journey from the Halifax Common through the Public Gardens and beyond. Feeling like I was enacting a solo performance piece while armed with a guidebook and a soothing voice on an iPod (and a button to flash at people in case they wanted to talk), I dutifully followed instructions and listened to mythical tales of my surroundings while touring through the city. Both of these projects made me hopeful for future site-specific installations in the gardens. Hopefully 2010 won’t be the last time we see art inside the park’s gates.
3. Kim Morgan
Kim Morgan had her hands on two of my favourite installations this year. Waterfall, originally commissioned for the Olympics by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and developed by Morgan along with David Clark, Rachelle Viader Knowles and David Ogborn, is a video vending machine filled with water conservation and consumption reminders instead of sugary sodas. Select an image—like a washing machine or a shower—punch in the number and a video sequence plays out, eventually dropping to the bottom in a crashing waterfall. Tucked into other vending machines in the Dartmouth ferry terminal during Nocturne, this was an effective but beautifully poetic call for conservation. Yet there was nothing quiet or tucked away about Morgan’s Range Light, Borden-Carleton, PEI, latex casts of the interior and exterior of a lighthouse at MSVU Art Gallery. Lit from the interior in a way that accentuated the structure’s history of scars, graffiti and natural wear, the 60-foot-long lighthouse glowed like an extra-terrestrial landmark dropped from the skies. Like Waterfall, it was a memorable beacon for the cause of preservation.
Sue Carter Flinn is arts and deputy editor for The Coast, Halifax’s alt-weekly, and editor of Visual Arts News.