Being a successful artist-run art gallery is reason for celebration, but being a successful artist-run art gallery for 30 years is really reason to party. Likewise, The Neutral Ground Art Gallery is putting on a retrospective exhibition, titled NG30, in celebration of the gallery’s thirtieth birthday.
“It’s our thirtieth anniversary, and we’re putting together an archival show, so it’ll be all of our documentation and kind of ephemeral stuff that we’ve collected from 30 years of operating. There’ll be a bunch of slides, other still image documentation from digital cameras, and we have a bunch of videos of performances that’ll be on display in the gallery, and then a timeline of everything that’s happened,” said Joel Kovach, Program Assistant at the Neutral Ground.
The vast amount of documentation Kovach and the other gallery members have had to go through has led them on a treasure hunt through the gallery’s chronology.
“They had a tenth anniversary show, and one of the board members had catalogued everything and did the first ten years, and then we have 2000 – 2012 on our website,” Kovach said, pointing to a large stack of boxes in the corner of the room. “We’ve been really good at keeping our records up to date because it’s all digital, and it’s so easy. But, the 90s are all in those boxes.
“When people are documenting work or when they’re running an artist-run centre, it’s usually a really small staff, and … the focus is bringing in new work and having shows and keep moving forward, so things just get put places.”
However, with three decades worth of material, choosing what to display has become problematic for the staff at Neutral Ground. The staff has had to find a solution to selecting what they think is the best or most important to the gallery, and showing everything that the walls of the gallery have witnessed.
“We were talking about it and we were torn between picking highlights, which kind of rewrites the history a little bit; or showing everything, which is literally over 200 hours of video,” Kovach said. “It’s been a process of walking that middle ground between only showing the really good stuff and trying to show absolutely everything that we can, because we just don’t have space.”
In going through the Neutral Ground’s chronology, Kovach has not only seen vast changes in art and works that come through the gallery, but different ways of recording them with the staggering changes to video technology in the past 30 years.
“I’m interested to see how it’s going to look because we’ve had so many format changes for documenting things. It goes from VHS to mini DV tapes to our HD camera that can shoot in the dark now,” Kovach said.
Furthermore, Kovach has run into problems with some of the technology used to document the happenings of the gallery in previous years.
“When you have a VHS cam, it doesn’t really shoot in the dark very well,” Kovach said. “You get all the sound and can hear what’s going on, and you can see lights, but it’s just this black room that’s really boring to watch. It’s a matter of trying to pick things that would be interesting for people to see, but making sure we’re not sweeping things aside that maybe should be there too, especially since some of the artists will be in attendance.”
Needless to say, an art gallery that has been around for three decades is bound to have expansive history — a history Kovach feels is often overlooked by the city’s residents.
“There’s been a really rich history here that a lot of people don’t know about.”
Moreover, 30 years worth of art exhibitions also say something about the culture of this city; a city where people often think that “nothing ever happens,” but which Kovach believes is “entirely not the case.”
“There’s this idea that there’s no culture in Saskatchewan whatsoever, particularly in Regina,” Kovach said. “Everybody thinks of Saskatoon, but we do have a lot of stuff here.”
While the Neutral Ground has never attracted as large an audience as an art gallery such as the Mackenzie, it has been a space for more controversial, provocative, or experimental works to be shown.
“There’s been a really rich history here that a lot of people don’t know about.” – Joel Kovach
“It’s definitely been a space for artists to do work that’s maybe more experimental,” Kovach said. “We have a really strong commitment to art and technology and new media, but also performance works that are something that the Mackenzie Art Gallery perhaps wouldn’t be able to show or program because of the nature of the work, or just things that are maybe more shocking and confrontational — works that fall outside the norm. That’s kind of why artist-run centres started; groups of artists would get together because they couldn’t show at these other places, so it’s like, ‘What do we do?’”
Additionally, the Neutral Ground staff has been contemplating the role of the gallery. Being as artist-friendly as possible is generally the primary goal of an artist-run gallery, but being more accessible attracts a larger audience.
“We’ve been questioning the what our role is. Whether our role is to bring in a ton of people and be super accessible to the public, whether we’re here to serve the public, or whether we’re here to serve artists and give them a space to show their work when their work is controversial and when it needs different kinds of technical requirements and stuff like that,” said Kovach.
Regardless of the more experimental nature surrounding the works being shown at the gallery and the smaller crowds these types of exhibitions are likely to attract, Kovach said the Neutral Ground has established a strong following, but attracting new people to the gallery proves difficult.
“We do have quite a strong following of people who will come all the time, but to get new people to come in is more difficult — partially because of the nature of the work, partially because of our location,” said Kovach.
“We’re definitely stable as an artist-run centre, which is something that’s a lot to be proud of because these galleries can start up and then fall back in on themselves. And because we’ve been around for 30 years, we definitely have precedence for a lot of funding, which is really helpful.”
Additionally, Kovach credits “a really strong community around the art in the city” as to the Neutral Ground’s success over the past 30 years, and expects Regina’s art community to continue the gallery’s success for another 30.
The exhibition runs from September 18 to October 19, and the reception is on September 22 at 8 p.m. at the Neutral Ground Art Gallery. Admission is free, and will feature emcee duties performed by Istvan Kantor, and performances by Homo Monstrous and DJ Guidewire.