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Michael Davidge
Art in Odd Spaces: A RIA House Tour in Ottawa
May 20, 2014

The tulips are slowly blooming in Ottawa and the city is beginning to thrum with more cultural activity. Blockbuster exhibitions and big festival crowds are on the horizon. While attendance records in large numbers often indicate the success of an artistic venture, what if a project is aiming for something a little more intimate, a little more attuned to the delicacy of the season? Art in Odd Spaces, A RIA House Tour was open to registered visitors over the course of two Saturday afternoons this month, and I would guess that less than one hundred people came out in total. However, that amount suited the event perfectly. Viewers toured six different houses with installations by six different artists who were invited to respond to a distinctively odd feature of each house. One installation was in a crawl space you entered through a closet in a room on the second floor. Others were in hidden or blocked off and unused stairwells. Many could be accessed by only one viewer at a time, allowing for a very private, rather than public, encounter with a work of art.

Deborah Margo, The Traffic of Matter, 2014, installation view RIA House Tour

Organized by Petra Halkes as part of her ongoing Research in Art project (RIA), the tour was inspired by a Deborah Margo installation that came out of a RIA residency that saw Margo place salt licks in unexpected places throughout Halke's home. That installation has triggered a series of responses that Halkes' has called tangents, of which Art in Odd Spaces is the sixth. Proving to be remarkably fecund, Margo's salt licks, entitled The Traffic of Matter, remained in Halkes' attic as part of the tour.

Five homeowners responded to a call to make their odd spaces available for an installation like Margo's, and five additional artists were selected for the task. Each responded to their assigned space with her own artistic stratagem. Svetlana Swinimer simply projected a video into her odd, hidden space: entitled Twittering then and now, it made futurist poetry out of today's tweets, and its sound enabled viewers to locate it. Another artist, Gail Bourgeois, created an installation entitled The Summer Kitchen as if the space were hers, converting it into a kind of studio and display space for anxious object making. Stephanie Nadeau created an elaborately simple installation that managed to conscript viewers as protagonists in a fiction that anticipated their introduction and denouement in an act of prestidigitation that made it all too real. Yet another, Vera Greenwood transformed her allotted space into a dream space that conjured up a fully inhabited apartment that wasn't actually there. When the dream was over, it did not leave the space unchanged.

Dipna Horra, Jack's Room, 2014, installation view RIA House Tour

Of all the artists participating in the project, Dipna Horra did the least with her space, entitled Jack's Room, which was odd enough already. Her strategy was simply to frame the space with an audio recording of a documentary-style interview with the homeowner about a note left by the previous resident on the closet door. A decade after the new owners moved in, the note is still there. Horra used the acoustic properties of the closet door to turn it into a speaker that made the recorded interview audible, literally making the space speak for itself. Horra's installation underscores once again that reality is as wondrous as fiction, and is perhaps even more unknowable.

With the possibility of very private interactions with the art installations made for it, the intimacy of the RIA House Tour allowed viewers to access each home as a portal to a poetics of space. Houses are ideal if not archetypal spaces for reflection and reverie, and homes are haunted by our memories and interactions with them. These are now among the houses that will linger in my mind long after I've ceased to visit them.

RIA (Research in Art):
Art in Odd Spaces – A RIA House Tour took place on May 3 and 10.

Michael Davidge is an artist, writer, and independent curator who lives in Ottawa, Ontario. His writing on art and culture has appeared in Border Crossings, BlackFlash, and C Magazine, among other publications. He is Akimblog's Ottawa correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @MichaelDavidge.



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