December 8th, 2010 Walking Home Projects presents Lois Klassen artist talk at Interurban Gallery

December 8th, 2010 Review

Written by Sam Knopp

It was a cold, rainy evening when I arrived at the Interurban Gallery for an artist talk with Lois Klassen.  Thankful to be somewhere warm and dry, I still couldn’t help but feel a little sad for so many others in the DTES who go without that rather simple human need on a regular basis.  Lois’s talk seemed to be a perfect segue from these feelings, as the focus of that night’s talk dealt the artist’s role as it pertains to the issues of community gentrification.

Lois is currently a Masters student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and as a multi-disciplinary artist, she’s particularly interested in community practices.  After introducing herself, she began to show us some of her past work.  One of the topics that continued to resurface was that art has the potential to shape and effect change.  This was evident in a project of Lois’s called, Covering Up, a performance piece leading up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  For that work, Lois gathered various members of the public to join her series of outdoor performances; the participants would come together with their household linens to “cover up” the supposedly less desirable areas of the city. This piece is both humorous – it gently pokes fun at the Olympics and their attempts to ignore Vancouver’s problems – and serious.  By covering up these areas, Lois is actually drawing attention to them, and to the very real issue of Vancouver’s segregated and ghettoized neighbourhoods.

Lois Klassen leading an intimate discussion around the role of gentrification and art (Photo Credit: Catherine Pulkinghorn)

We were lucky that night to be a small group comprised mostly of artists, so we were able to have a lively and in-depth discussion about our city.  However, the conversation quickly took a global turn when we looked at some of the urban issues in Salford, a county of Manchester, England.  This community is undergoing perhaps its first experience of gentrification, comparable to the common (yet no less painful) phenomena here in North America.  The concern in Salford is over a disadvantaged neighbourhood where a large majority of the residents had been living in subsidized housing.  As people move in and property becomes more valuable, these one-time residents are, in effect, slowly being evicted.  These individuals are being forced out of both their homes and their community.  When Lois visited the area this past summer for a residency at Hub M3, she decided to do a collaborative project with Mary Oliver to bring attention to this issue.  The exhibition, “Offit”, combined performance art, video installation, and interactivity in an effort to explore the potential imbalance caused by the presence of cultural production in urban spaces.  The exhibition asked, “Does art produce a condition of offit[1]?” and is this a useful condition from which to view the process of urban regeneration?  For the rest of the night we spent our time trying to answer these questions and while no consensus “right” answer emerged to this specific issue, we all could agree that art is often about challenging people, and that by constantly reimagining the world we live in, artists and viewers alike are forced to look at these and other issues again and again in new and varying ways.

-Sam Knopp

[1] English vernacular for “not on it” or “out of sorts.