Wreck City artists run amok in Sunnyside


Artist Jack Bride in his Wreck City room. Photo by Drew Anderson

Wherever there is cheap space, you’ll find artists. Detroit is a great example. As the city empties and houses are abandoned, property is bottom-barrel cheap and artists move in. There are blocks of decorated houses because, well, what else is anybody going to do with them. Calgary? Not so cheap.

Yet, if you wander along an isolated little stretch of Fifth Avenue in Sunnyside, you’ll discover a bustle of activity. Here a man digs up the roots of a small tree, spraying black paint on the bark. There another artist is attaching an old plastic Burger King slide to the outside of a grand old house. Wander into any of eight houses on this block and you’ll see people covered in paint, wrestling with crochet work, cutting cloud shapes into drywall and on and on.

This is Wreck City, a temporary exhibition involving a horde of artists, musicians, performers, cake decorators and more taking over the inside of eight houses and the outside of one, and transforming one eclectic old greenhouse. From April 19 to 27, these old houses will become impromptu galleries, with performances and events scheduled throughout the week, including bands on the first night and the last Friday.

The project is a tribute of sorts to 809, a garage gallery space behind one of the old houses. Brandon Dalmer and Shawn Mankowske, the two men behind 809, wanted to celebrate the demolition of the underground creative space. They soon teamed up with Caitlind Brown, the artist behind the House Project and Cloud (with partner in crime Wayne Garrett), and John Frosst of Frosst Books and the Arbour Lake Sghool artist collective.

There are eight curators on the project: Matthew Bourree from Haight Gallery, Jennifer Crighton, Andrew Frosst, Ryan Scott and the four previously mentioned. Each was selected because of their involvement in the arts community and each is taking over a house and transforming it before the wrecking ball arrives to clear room for a new condo development.

“We tried to make something that would surprise us too,” says Brown. “And if it can delight us also, that would be an excellent bonus.”

Wandering through the houses a week before it opens finds them in varying states of creation. Jack Bride has finished his house of painted madness — a swirling blend of sex and violence complete with a bloody tribute to The Shining in the bathroom. Lane Shordee’s “forest” in the abandoned greenhouse is coming along, and Hye-Seung Jung is busy cluttering up a dining room with an elaborate wooden lattice installation. In some of the other houses it’s still difficult to imagine what the finished product will look like.

“Every kind of art you can even qualify as art is around,” says Brown. She says the intent was to create a showpiece for the possibilities of art in alternative spaces in Calgary, and to appeal to this city’s particular audience.

“We’re just learning how to walk and play, so our citizens are so — I don’t know, there’s something about Calgarians that, once you convince them to come out, if they’re stoked about what you’re doing…. People are less apprehensive here because they don’t know the rules yet. That’s a magical thing.”

The whole thing is loosely curated. There’s no overarching theme between the houses, though there are themes within. The goal is simply a creative chaos along a street about to be destroyed and re-created — a rare opportunity in a city where the focus is on tearing ’em down, building ’em up and reaping the profit as quickly as possible.

It’s a celebration of the past, a prelude to the future and one giant, fun experiment the likes of which we need a hell of a lot more of.

For details, go to wreckcityproject.wordpress.com.

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