Finding inspiration in their mutual pursuit of art, Andrea Pinheiro, Monica Pitre, and Gillian Willans found success through each other. Building off their inhabited camaraderie, the three artists and friends behind the “11404” exhibition lived off (as well as living amongst, beside, and against) each others’ feedback, support, and critiques for well over a year. The era of 11404 and its namely exhibition sums up what can only be described as an intensely concentrated period of hectic exhilaration. Serving as a crash pad for other artists from across North America, much time and breath had been shared over the elusive topic of “art.” Now, with each moving past the completion of their respective MFA degrees--a terminal degree in itself--each artist looks back at this time shared and how one idea can never be just yours or mine.
Exhibiting appropriately in the hallway gallery of ArtsHab over December of 2007 to January of 2008, the exhibit comes as the tenants of 11404 have already diverged. Pitre has already moved onto the professional world; Pinheiro is caught in transition as she moves west to Vancouver; and Willans readies herself as she bunkers down for her March graduate defense and exhibition. In scope and in direct correlation, Pitre creates a personal space within the larger exhibition, revealing a need for privacy and boundaries; Pinheiro documents her bedroom walls as viewed from the difficulty of leaving her room and her bed, narrowing her focus onto the soon-to-be forgotten private spaces near her; and Willans, the last one of the three to remain at 11404 during the time of the exhibition, peers back into her vault of notes written, moments sustained, and spaces shared as she re-creates a loose walk through of the space itself. Permeating each others lives, a life already dedicated to the arts, the year and half of their cohabitation comes to a quiet and bittersweet end that bids farewell to three individuals already heading off in different directions.
At the initial prospect of discussing “11404” in terms of intellectual property, the artists (and renters) of 11404 politely balked at the idea of imposing any sense of ownership over ideas and space once shared and incubated. The three women, ranging from their twenties to thirties, openly discussed and shared concepts, process, and aesthetics with each other with no sense of attachment or entitlement over the flow of ideas. In giving a little, each received a lot more than they anticipated. Partners in crime throughout their cohabitation via school, their involvement with SNAP Gallery, and various artist projects, all three artists retrospectively acknowledge the importance of having shared resources as they each moved closer to completing their degrees--and the impact they had on each other affecting who they are today as artists and as individuals.
Shortly after the exhibition ended Pitre shared some of her thoughts on her overall experience. “I was fortunate to be the first to complete my MFA, and to be the only one to do so while we three were still living together. I was able to indulge in all of that caring in friendship and artist comradeship,” Pitre said. “I am grateful to have many good friends; however, my relationship with Andrea and Gillian is special, because on top of each of us sharing a close friendship, we also share a deep love of art and a serious commitment to our own art practices.”
Aesthetically, all three of these artists do not share any strong formal or contextual similarities. What ties them together are their serious commitment to the arts and their openness to learning as much as they can about their medium. Willans, the sole MFA painter, is also the only Edmonton native. Her relationship with the city, the school, and all its peculiarities contains a much deeper inquiry than her roommates--both who came from Ontario to attend the U of A. Although Pitre and Pinheiro are both working in prestigious printmaking program--with Pitre and Pinheiro meeting when the former was the latter’s Teaching Assistant Instructor--their works are as different as the individuals behind them. And looking at “11404,” what is revealed through this exhibition are their individual personalities shining through the guise of cohabitants.
Each artist remains an individual quite formally from each other, but it is interesting to see how each artist’s sense of self comes through in context of their cohabitation. Willans’ neon-realist paintings walk you through a replica of their living space, from the clutter of shoes in the front foyer to a portrait of keys and mail lain as an installation painting in the hallway of ArtsHab. There is an identification of self through other(s), a fascination with the absent presence within domestic quarters, and the relics of relationships that haunts her pieces. Of her time at “11404” with Pitre and Pinheiro, of which she is still resides as she nears the completion of her thesis exhibition, Willans exasperates inbetween sleep and studio time, “ We all were night owls, and just because we had left the studio, it did not mean your brain would shut off. The reasoning around deciding to the leave the studio at the end of the day usually falls into three categories: you fulfilled your goals and you have to wait until your paint/ paper dries, you’re completely exhausted and physically can't do more and your going to mess things up, or you have messed things up and you don't know how to fix it. Debriefing is the best solution, and the best way to calm your mind down. To discuss immediately what your studio day was like and try to talk things out without having the work around you. ”
Fittingly, Willans’ work deals most directly with 11404, and rightly so as the sole remaining tenant from the original three. New roommates have moved in, but gone is a specific era and chemistry that could never be recreated.
Pitre, the first to complete her degree and the first to exit 11404, created her own space within the exhibition space, bordering a section off with billowing ceiling trim. As much an installation as it is a meditation on the sanctity of intangible boundaries, Pitre’s pieces are the least obvious in her personal relation to 11404, but the works cannot help but contain traces of the relationships formed during that era. Pinheiro and Willans enters the body of work quite enigmatically, shrouded in privacy and sanctity of what matters most to the artist.
Coming from the White Mountain Academy of the Arts, Pinheiro’s works have already been known to be sweeping in isolation and melancholy. Within this private context they appear hushed amongst friends as she quietly makes her exit of 11404 and of Edmonton. Perhaps still processing her time spent living here, the works are the equivalent of one last look around before moving on for good, murmuring certain lines of nostalgia and closure in the final show as an Edmonton resident. Together with Willans and scraps saved from Pitre, the two constructed the wall of old notes and polaroids that capture the every day communication and memories. Recalling visiting friends and couch surfers and personal idiosyncrasies, the wall paradoxically breaks down any barriers dividing personal and private, art and life, and self and other. Erected as a transient monument of transient messages, it becomes clear that the time shared at 11404 was filled with love and mutual respect, and that this exhibition is an unconsciously raw revelation of that era.
Benefiting from an environment to discuss your work immediately after you make it, without having the work around you, requires sharing and engaging with something bigger than yourself. Within artistic creativity, especially during process, it is only after breaking down the arbitrary lines of ownership to ideas and concepts does real growth and exploration begin. Summed up simply, Pinheiro states from her new home near Stanley Park, “It would be hard to imagine having lived any other way during my masters now. The sense of empathy, understanding, emotional relation was crucial. The sense of camaraderie also helped to make things seem not so epic, not alone, and also humbling in helping to remove some of the idea of the grandeur of the Artist.”
Echoing one another still, Willans concludes, “Art is not created in a vacuum, it is unique in it's very nature and having advice and feedback does not hinder the experience, it enhances it. Plus it can speed up the process . . . or maybe that's what the process is about.”
*Originally published in fifty 3: About visual culture. 2008. Vol. 8. Issue 4.