Gallery Gachet exhibit illustrates themes of the "Other"
Since Gallery Gachet was founded in 1992, the Downtown Eastside gallery has been providing a platform for artists and subjects that often don't have a voice. The current exhibit at the East Cordova Street gallery from Vancouver artists Quin Martins and Frederick Cummings deals with themes that both say are stigmatized within the mainstream culture.
Martins’ exhibit, The Mentally Ill as Simulacra, deals with what he describes as society’s perception of the mentally ill as inferior. Cummings’ work in Margins deals with being gay, HIV positive, and part First Nations.
Both see their work as “outsider art” or as dealing with themes of the “Other” as the subject.
For Cummings, themes of being HIV positive, such as a painting portraying AIDS cancer sores, are intended to convey the realization that the illness still affects people. “Some people are still dying from it,” he said. “It’s still sad to see people wither away.”
Cummings’ work was completed during the last nine years. He explains that he doesn’t self-edit in producing the paintings, which include homoerotic and sexually charged imagery to depict sexuality and gay lifestyle. He hopes to push boundaries by “putting sexuality in people’s faces”.
“I don’t censor myself,” he said. “If an idea pops into my head, or a dream or a vision or something like that, then I automatically put it to paper and start working on it.”
He also explained that some of his paintings are reflective of native spirituality, shamanism and two-spirited people, who have both feminine and male qualities. All of Cummings’ paintings are oil-based. The exhibit also includes several of his videos. The artist has studied at the University of Calgary and the Gulf Islands Film and Television School on Galiano Island.
Martins’ work, which was completed with acrylic and spray paint, includes video clips and a series of images representing the term simulacra to illustrate the concept of the mentally ill as the “Other”. Martins has studied at Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
“What I’m saying is how we understand what it means to be a healthy person is by comparing ourselves to the mentally ill,” he said. “A simulacra is like a copy or an imitation…in our society we have this view of the mentally ill as being inferior.”
Martins said he and Cummings create similar work in that they both silence their “inner critic”. “It sort of gives you more freedom in your expression,” he said.
Martins said places like Gallery Gachet, a cooperatively run gallery, have provided a platform for some of the artistic talent concentrated in the Downtown Eastside. “I think there’s not enough of forums for work like this,” he said. “I think that’s what’s good about Gallery Gachet.”
But he noted there’s many artists in the neighborhood that don’t have an opportunity to show their work. “There’s a vast amount of outsider artists right in the neighbourhood that aren’t recognized—it’s really unfortunate,” he said. “There’s way more, and their work will never get recognized.”
Martins noted the artist-run gallery has a particularly valuable role in the Downtown Eastside as the community rapidly changes around it. “I think it’s a transforming community, with the gentrification that’s happening,” he said. “The community’s in a really uneasy state.”
Martins wants to see more freedom given to those that identify as conceptual artists within the Vancouver arts community. “There’s a lot of focus right now on the responsibility of the artist in the work, and I think there needs to be a bit more freedom given to artists, especially in Vancouver where there’s such a focus on academic work,” he said. “I think Vancouver needs to loosen up a little bit.”
Margins and The Mentally Ill as Simulacra run until Sunday, June 26. Gallery Gachet is open from 12 to 6 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday.