Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interview with Suzanne Piechotta, Throw Away Gallery, BY LAUREL SMITH

Calgary’s unusual and neglected spaces are infiltrated by the Throw Away Gallery. Laurel Smith interviews Suzanne Piechotta, Director of T.A.G. (Throw Away Gallery)

What was the impetus for Throw Away Gallery?

The Throw Away Gallery was created out of my interest in alternative spaces. A need developed in my own practice to explore the relationships of contemporary art that is exhibited in unconventional spaces. While exploring unusual spaces, I became
increasingly aware of the lack of administrative help to produce and display work that doesn't call a gallery "home". There is something beautiful about a ‘happening’ that just appears at your local coffee shop, in your community. It is exciting to have contemporary art and artists find you instead of you having to seek out the art.

Your perspective on artists finding their viewers is interesting. How do you select which viewers to target?

TAG’s audience may be dictated by the project that we assist in. For example, Kaitlyn Brennan’s audience was coffee and tea lovers / general audience.

Who are the founders, brain-children, organizers of TAG?

TAG initially was formed as I was graduating from Alberta College of Art + Design. I realized that I could not embark on this project on my own so I asked Sheena Schmidt, a life-long friend and like-minded spirit to help me out....

Image credit: Kaitlyn Brennan, The great mugging, 2009

What is the goal of TAG?
The goal of TAG is to exist in public areas with a long-term vision for funding and full-time staff to sustain its success. I would say that TAG follows a similar model as the Mountain Standard Time Performative Arts Festival where the events happen in public situations.

What was the inspiration for the name Throw Away Gallery?

I called it the Throw Away Gallery for a few reasons. Throw Away Gallery reflects the refuse and recycled materials used by some of the artists who exhibit with us. Other artists ‘throw’ their work in non-spaces to create spaces. In other words, they erect shows that would not be housed in a conventional gallery by finding and responding to neglected spaces. The work occurs often in out of the way, or peripheral spaces, like graffiti, The acronym for Throw Away Gallery is fitting as a graffiti mark is also called TAG.

Why Calgary?

Right now TAG exists in Calgary as a starting place. When I move I would like to create a sister site for the city I am in and I hope that Sheena would continue here in Calgary.

What is lacking in the current Calgary art scene that you feel TAG fulfills?

TAG is meant for emerging artists who create work that relies heavily on public interaction and is therefore made visible outside of "the white cube" . The work occurs in situ however some audiences are unaware that they are participating in a TAG exhibit until they see it documented on the web. I created TAG as a response to the notion that some perceive that there is no "art community" here in Calgary. We have a community; a strong community that works together and supports its artists. I’m advocating that it is up to us, the artists and administrators of the community, to make the visual arts more visible to the general public. More and more it seems that local artist run centres have started to program offsite, public and even guerrilla events that highlight the visual arts. TAG fills the gaps by providing spaces for emerging artists or established artists who have not been able to situate within our local artist run centers.

Are you aware of other similar venues in other cities?

There is a long history of alternative venues. Valerie LeBlanc conducted a project called Trunk that she operated out of the back of her car which she drove to other gallery's openings to show their spectators. Other artists have created alternative spaces such as 809 here in Calgary. There is a professor in Chicago who operates the Suburban Gallery in her Garage as well.

What are the responses that you have received from spectators?

It has been a bit of a slow go, TAG has had trouble gaining notoriety among viewers, but we are gaining momentum. I have had a few inquiries about the project from interested spectators.

You’ve been spreading the word at a couple recent presentations to audiences from the Calgary Board of Education. It seems TAG is a great concept to captivate and inspire a younger, curious audience and also a way to educate their teachers about alternative art. How are artists responding to your invitations to participate?

Artists have been fascinated and eager to apply. The interest in this sort of public engagement from artists here in Calgary seems to be a reflection of the artistic climate of our city. There seems to be a need to react and express different contemporary practices. And most people I’ve been in contact with are eager for our next "happening" to take place.

Does TAG fuel your own art practice?

TAG is an extension of a stream of art that has always held my attention. My art practice expresses my interest in the accessibility issues that contemporary art practices offer. There is no reason to tell someone you can’t... only why they should. Currently my work consists of documenting my personal history through collections as well as documenting my paintings through the refuse that is accumulated through the act of creating. My creative approach with TAG is not focused on subverting existing artist-run models, rather I want to co-exist with them. My goal is to expose creative practices that find it difficult to operate in commercial white cubes.

What’s next?

TAGs next project will be presented in conjunction with TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary where we will be doing a mail-art show. Check out what’s happening at www.throwawaygallery.com

- L.S. Calgary

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