September 24, 2012

Centre A Celebrates Contemporary Art and a Historic Building

If you’ve been on the block that marks the beginning of the west part of Hastings Street you may have noticed that while the ‘hood still has its downtown eastside edge it has undergone some renewal.

There’s a flourishing community garden, new restaurants, hip boutiques and home stores mixed in with the threadbare beer parlours and SRO housing.

Anchoring one of those downtown eastside blocks is the historic B.C. Electric Railway Building which was built in 1912 for a whopping $400,000.

Flash forward to today and the glass-fronted building with its towering brick archways (which used to be outside) and massive steel and fir beams now houses Centre A: Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art instead of the streetcars and electric trains that used to make their way across the citry and out as far as Chilliwack.

“I was kind of shocked when I first got here in 2007,” said curator Makiko Hara as we walked through the beautiful building. “It is of course challenging, but artists love it. They can do things that they can’t do in other galleries, museums or a small place.”
The stunning Centre A art gallery calls the historic BC Electric Building at 2 W. Hastings home.

To celebrate the historic building’s centenary the gallery just opened the new multi-artist show To/From BC Electric Railway: 100 Years.

Artists included in the show are Raymond Boisjoly, Ali Kazimi, Vanessa Kwan, Evan Lee and Cindy Mochizuki. As well as DTES champion and resident Stan Douglas is on hand.

Douglas will for the first time show in Vancouver photographs from The Malabar People series. The photos are from a series that depicts fictional characters who worked the DTES bars and strip clubs in the 1950s

Kwan’s Vancouver Family contribution is centred around the artist sending out letters to 300 Kwan households in Vancouver and asking them if “Is there a place you’d like to go.” She got back 51 responses.

In a true celebration of the building and its heritage Mochizuki has re-created one of the Japanese confectionaries that used to exist in the Powell St. area before the Japanese were sent off to internment camps during World War II. The The Open Doors Project is combination of hand-made confections from original recipes an interior of a candy shop and audio interviews with people who lived in the area before the internment.
Artist Cindy Mochizuki has re-created a Powell St confectionary from the 1940s for the Centre A show To/From BC Electric Railway 100 Years

Boisjoly has developed a text-based work using one of the old interurban railway maps as his focus

Kazimi’s and Lee’s contributions use two infamous immigration events as backdrops. Kazimi’s focus in pictures and film ( Oct. 20) is the story of Komagata Maru a Japanese ship chartered by a Sikh entrepeneur to bring mostly Indian males to Canada. The boat was turned back. For Lee the immigration story he tells is about and Lee’s Ocean Lady Migrant Ship Re-Creation Project focuses on the the 2009 Ocean Lady incident when authorities seized a ship full of Sri Lankan asylum seekers off the waters of Victoria.

“This space was a kind of culture hub,” said Hara about the BC ELectric building. “A lot of different immigrants arrived and came through here. We wanted to address all that movement. So we invited six different artsits from all different backgrounds for this show.

According to the gallery information Centre A is the only non-profit public gallery in Canada which trades in contemporary Asian Art.

And by public they mean it as Hara points out their doors are always open and they are open to everyone. It’s inclusivity that she says has helped the space to become a true member of the neighbourhood.

“We just didn’t move here and set up we are part of the neighbourhood. people come in. They are happy to have us here,” said Hara who added that after an initial few break-ins and broken windows the residents in the challenged area soon welcomed the gallery. “People like us to be here, we open the door for everyone, they respect us and they protect us,”

As part of the upcoming B.C. Culture Days celebration there will be walking tours of the building and the show with gallery curators Hara and Annabel Vaughan Sept. 28-29 2-3 p.m. It’s free but there are only so many spots email carmen.lam