Lisa Theriault is an artist originally from Charlottetown, PE and currently living and working in Montreal, QC. She received a BFA from Mount Allison University (Sackville, NB) in 2014. She co-founded the online project space Closet Gallery in 2017 with Philip Mercier. She has exhibited and curated works for galleries across Canada, including AKA Artist-Run Centre (Saskatoon, SK), Galerie Sans Nom (Moncton, NB), Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, NB), Saint John Arts Centre (Saint John, NB), and the Confederation Centre Art Gallery (Charlottetown, PE). She recently completed the Ease on Down the Road Artist Residency at Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre (Sackville, NB) and is currently curating the exhibition “Fast Forward” for the Young People’s Gallery in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.
How did the idea for Closet Gallery come about? What has been your experience so far? Has Closet Gallery provided any insight into people’s consumption of, and relationship to, art online?
Closet Gallery was a project I started with my partner Philip Mercier in 2017. We moved to Montreal a couple years ago and, to be honest, had been receiving a lot of rejection letters in terms of exhibiting artwork and were having trouble finding opportunities as artists still early in our careers. We were talking about ways would could make our own exhibition space and we came up with the idea of a project space in our closet that would be live streamed. It really combines our interests well, since Phil also has a fascination with live streams, the awkwardness in what happens before and after, and the variety of live streams that you can find, and I have some experience working at art galleries. We started inviting artist friends to install projects in the closet that we would live stream. The projects generally have to be considerate of the tiny space, the time-based quality of a live stream, and the low-resolution of the webcam. We’ve had some really interesting projects including a floral arrangement that slowly rotted over a week, a series of ice sculptures with an ASMR audio track, and a live performance using collected prints of self portraits.
The most recent performance by James Player was the first time we live streamed something NOT in the closet. It was a 24 hour live stream from his bedroom, where he improvised music and had invited “guests” throughout that would jam with him. I think he really had a headache at the end of the 24 hours, once the music stopped! I really loved that this project was outside of the closet and it allowed the community aspect to grow. That’s the fun part about Closet Gallery, is you get to work on something weird with your friends in your (or their) home and test things out. You never know what it will look like through the webcam. A lot of people stopped by during James’ performance and it really felt like a community supported marathon.
What can you say about the state of spaces available to emerging artists in Montreal? Are there too few, do they lack in certain qualities? Do emerging artists have to be more ‘creative’ in making space for art?
I think there is actually a very confused idea about what an “emerging artist” even is, and that’s where the difficulty begins. It is often defined as a professional artist in their first five years of practice, but I think this lacks some nuance. In my opinion—and this is still vague unfortunately—an emerging artist is an artist who is early in their career and is still in a stage where they lack access to opportunities and resources to develop further. I think this is where “exclusivity” in the visual arts is perpetuated because some have more access to those initial experiences as well as work-space, materials, and resources to be able to produce strong work in those “five years”. I’m interested in finding ways that visual arts venues can embrace developing artists and what the terms could be for finding people who have the ambition and the potential, but can’t get off the ground.
Are there other examples of unconventional artist spaces that you can recommend, or that you’re inspired by?
Absolutely! There is a gallery in an old carriage house in Saint-Henri called Calaboose that was founded by Garrett Lockhart and Danica Pinteric. They are very thoughtful in how they present everything, through their website and the way they include personal touches in the unique architecture of the space. In terms of online galleries, there is Galerie Galerie (also based in Montreal) that has a nostalgia to their online presence that is reminiscent of early internet days, and they share a variety of interesting projects. There is also localhost gallery, a gallery you can visit in the game Minecraft (you can also find video documentation online). They rebuild the gallery within the game for each exhibition and get artists to make works for the virtual space; I think it’s brilliant.
How did you get into the different media you work with, like seriography, digital art and animation, and sculpture?
I’m very indecisive and I like trying everything I can! My interest in visual art started with drawing, and while I might do initial experiments or tests, I generally have a very meticulous approach to art-making and I plan things out. When I was in school for my BFA it exposed me to new mediums, and silkscreen printmaking, animation, and video seemed to have similar characteristics of planning that I’ve enjoyed working with. It’s been interesting for me to find ways to combine these techniques and it’s still something I’m working on.
One of the themes you work with is industrial development, and the human imprint on ‘nature’. How do you engage with “regional histories”?
I’ve lived the majority of my life in the Maritimes—in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. My family has especially long ties to Nova Scotia as Acadians. I think the things that have interested me there visually come from their major industries: farming, fishing, tourism, forestry. They have such an impact, sometimes with only one or two industries being the main economic drivers in a community, that it is certainly a big part of the identity of these places. I think this is the case for a lot of smaller towns too. I’m always learning more and I’m interested in ways places can thrive without relying on one industry, especially if it’s an industry that’s harmful to the environment. The climate crisis is a big concern and I think artists have a real role in offering perspective as a positive force. Society needs to do more with less and in a sustainable and creative way, and that’s exactly what artists are best at!
Can you talk about some of your current or upcoming curating projects? You’ve previously worked with some galleries across Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick: can you talk about some of the shows you’ve previously curated or exhibited in?
Who’s Your Mother? is an exhibition I was invited to co-curate at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery (Charlottetown, PE) with the gallery’s curator Pan Wendt in the summer of 2018. It is an exhibition of works by women artists from Prince Edward Island from the gallery’s collection, with works by nearly 40 artists on display. The title of the exhibition Who’s Your Mother? is a play on a well-known greeting used by Islanders, “who’s your father?”, as a way to find out if you have mutual relatives or acquaintances. This was such a meaningful exhibition for me to be a part of because there is not a lot of information readily available about these artists. It was eye opening to see the work that was being made in the place where I grew up, that I had no idea was there, and learn more about the history. We spent time in the gallery’s archive, other local archives, and doing nearly two dozen studio visits to purchase new works. After working on that project, I proposed to curate another exhibition in the Young People’s Gallery at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery. It’s a small and narrow space near a staircase and I thought it would be a great place to show video works. The exhibition is called Fast Forward and it’s a series of short videos about the future by artists from Eastern Canada. It will be open this Summer.
In terms of works I’ve exhibited, I most recently completed a two-week residency at Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre (Sackville, NB). It was in the same community where I did my BFA and I’m already familiar with the Centre, so I really was able to get to work right away and I had things prepared ahead of time. I had been working on larger drawings that are detailed landscapes, that use an isometric perspective similar to what you see in architectural drawings or video games. They are meticulous but also loosely bring together a variety of strange structures, piles, and materials that come to my mind. I’ve experimented with making elements from these drawings into animations and I wanted to try and push that further. During this residency, I learned to use a video mapping software (video mapping is a process that uses software to shape video projections into unusual shapes and/or around objects) so I could project animations onto plinths from the gallery. They have a more physical presence and form a narrative through the moving animations. There is documentation of the project online. I’m really interested in continuing with this technique and working on improving my animations, trying different objects, and including miniatures that could be illuminated to bring these different imagined places to life.
Related to the previous question: as an emerging curator, what has been your experience in soliciting galleries, connecting artists and ideas, and proposing shows?
I’m still relatively new to curating and my first experience curating was during a yearlong internship at Mount Allison University, just after I graduated. It was perfect because I had nearly eight months to work on the exhibition (while doing other tasks for the internship) and the former Director/Curator, Gemey Kelly (who created the internship program) was excellent at giving support while giving me the responsibility to do it all myself. I learned about the timeline in planning an exhibition and communicating with everyone along the way. That initial curating experience really gave me the confidence to curate something again in the future. I’m still figuring out how to best approach galleries as an independent curator, because it’s still intimidating to me. I’m lucky that I’ve had opportunities so far that have come from applying to calls or from people that have supported me over the years.
Being an artist myself, I think it gives me an understanding of how precarious it is for artists and how important it is to put the artist first: respect their point of view, respect their time, be upfront about what’s being provided so they’re not left with the awkwardness of asking, and of course pay them. I find artists from a combination of what I see in exhibitions, through online research, and by asking other artists or curators for recommendations. It can be challenging to curate a thematic show, because you don’t want to oversimplify works or direct them to much, but I think it has a strength as an opportunity to connect artists with common interests while offering multiple viewpoints.
What else are you working on now / what’s next for you?
I’m going to be focusing more on my art practice and I’m starting a new body of work about utopian islands that will be a series of drawings and a video/sculptural installation. I just got the very exciting news that I received a Research, Creation, and Exploration grant from the Conseil des arts et des lettres de Québec (CALQ) to support the project. It’s the first grant I’ve ever received to support my work and it will make such a difference!
Lisa Theriault website: lisatheriault.art
Closet Gallery website: closetgallery.ca
Follow ELAN on our Instagram:@elanqc
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