On The EDGE

Joan Sullivan
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Eastern Edge Gallery is gearing up to celebrate its 25th birthday, and along with the commemorative exhibition (opening Oct. 31) and the gala evening (Nov. 7) there is also a serious evaluation of the gallery's archives. And as Eastern Edge never allowed such minor issues as physical relocation, temporary (or not so temporary) under-funding or personnel shifts to interfere with its programming, those archives are fairly substantial.

Hefty, even, what with a spreadsheet of directors, exhibitions and events running nearly 200 pages, and more than two dozen binders full of reviews, clippings, posters and newsletters.

Eastern Edge Gallery is gearing up to celebrate its 25th birthday, and along with the commemorative exhibition (opening Oct. 31) and the gala evening (Nov. 7) there is also a serious evaluation of the gallery's archives. And as Eastern Edge never allowed such minor issues as physical relocation, temporary (or not so temporary) under-funding or personnel shifts to interfere with its programming, those archives are fairly substantial.

Hefty, even, what with a spreadsheet of directors, exhibitions and events running nearly 200 pages, and more than two dozen binders full of reviews, clippings, posters and newsletters.

Here are 10 information nuggets sifted from the data:

No.1: Eastern Edge's name is a play on Western Front. Western Front is one of the first artist-run centres in Canada, established in Vancouver about 30 years ago. And Eastern Edge is definitely on the eastern edge - a few steps from its harbourside front door and you're in the North Atlantic; from there on its pretty much Ireland or bust.

No.2: The gallery takes its artist-run status seriously. It describes itself as co-operative, alternative, non-profit and non-commercial. "Membership is open to anyone who makes art or has an interest in art." Membership is $25, but students pay $15 - or cover the cost with 12 hours of volunteer work. The gallery consistently leans towards the experimental show, the fledgling or offbeat artist - or the established artist trying something risky or risqué.

No.3: Further to this, Eastern Edge even has its own sub-gallery, called The Rogue. This was inaugurated in 1995 by Peter Drysdale, with his exhibition "Bandits." (It was first dubbed The Renegade). Its mandate is clear and simple: "this small space is open to any artist interested in exhibiting new work and or installations and or performances and or anything that pushes the boundaries of anything you want. This is a no jury, no arm's length, no selection committee, no red tape, no rigmarole, no waiting for months on end after spending hours and hours preparing a proposal. ... We give you the space. You show your stuff. You return the space as you got it. That's it."

No.4: Eastern Edge began as the gallery at Resource Centre for the Arts, but its success as an exhibition space brought it into conflict with the needs and functions of the theatre (a hit play would see the gallery used as a kind of entrance foyer, and audience members might lean against/topple over the artwork). At the same time the gallery had the energy and potential to emerge from this site and stand on its own. (This is the same path the new AIC Gallery has followed.) In 1985 the gallery moved from RCA to Flavin Street.

The founding committee included Gerald Squires, Rae Perlin, the late Colin McNee, Di Dabinett and Steve Payne, among others.

No.5: This new gallery missed its opening date - it didn't meet city standards. But though knocked down, they got up again. By May 22, Chris Pickard was writing for the (then) Evening Telegram: "The Eastern Edge Gallery will open after all. The new gallery at 22 Flavin St. was closed by a city building inspector April 5 on the eve of its well-publicized art show scheduled for April 6. The Eastern Edge executive, showing patience in the face of what must have been extreme frustration, set about putting things right.

"And according to gallery chairperson Susan Wood, building codes have been met, the executive and members have regrouped, and their show, titled Leading Edge, will open Sunday, June 7 in the renovated gallery."

No.6: Genres were unrestricted, and from the start included visual, spatial, aural, music, movement, film and video, and performances, readings, launches and screenings. The scope is international, feminist, often political. They've shown Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused," had T-shirt-painting fundraisers, and hosted slide shows (Bonnie and Elliott Leyton: Rwanda - Genocide, Refugees & Doctors Without Borders), Sunday Evening Music Series (Gordon Quinton), and Postmodern Salons (Manufacturing a Newfoundland Culture: Arts Policy and the Tourism Agenda).

No.7: A concentration on the experimental means it pushes boundaries. This is art outside the frame. Bizarre installations, erotic art, non-juried shows, artists attending an opening enclosed in a full-sized puppet replica of themselves - you name it, it happens.

No.8: Eastern Edge has had some tough financial times. Its September 1987 newsletter reads, in part: "We are in desparate (sic) need of funds - we do not have enough for next month's rent ..." But today the gallery seems on sound footing, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, the City of St. John's, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Cultural Economic Development Program, and private donors.

No.9: Eastern Edge settled in its current home in 1988. As Anne Lamar wrote in The Sunday Express: "This time, it seems finally to have found an appropriate home. The early days at the LSPU Hall were marred by the gallery's close proximity to the theatre, making it a gallery cum bar cum board room. When the gallery moved to its temporary home on Flavin Street, art enthusiasts had to suffer freezing temperatures, unidentifiable noises from adjoining spaces, and a warehouse atmosphere. ... Anyone who frequented the gallery at its former locations will breathe a sigh of relief on entering the new Eastern Edge. The gallery's one large room is warm, the art is well lit, there are comfortable chairs ... "

No.10: The current shows reaffirm Eastern Edge's ability to be many things to many artists and audiences. There are three exhibitions in the two spaces, some of it way out there, and some of it simply from here. Stephen Kelly's "Open Tuning (Wave Up)" is a pair of clacking industrial mobiles, in perpetual, askew motion; Will Gill's "Cape Spear" includes airbourne trajectories and aquatic chains of floating globes is a series of photographs and a short film; and the Open Windows Studio, formerly the Waterford Art Program, presents work from several artists.

Organizations: On The EDGE, Eastern Edge Gallery, The Rogue The Renegade Resource Centre AIC Gallery Leading Edge

Geographic location: Canada, Vancouver, North Atlantic Ireland Flavin Street Rwanda

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