Thru The Trapdoor
17 minutes, sound

On Main Gallery presents
Thru The Trapdoor April 22 – 27, 2014

Thru The Trapdoor was an interdisciplinary art exhibition and event that took place from April 22 to 26, 2014. It was produced to mark the end of an era for the building located at 1965 Main Street that had housed Vancouver artists and arts organizations for over 20 years.

Main Street businessman, Rick Erickson purchased the 13,000 sq. ft., two-story structure near East 3rd Avenue in 1993. With it came the Alderbridge Mini-Storage business on the lower level. The building was originally acquired to house VIVO Media Arts Centre, a non-profit artist run organization, but the Mini-Storage business proved to be a key component in the future of the space. Income from the storage lockers below made it possible for the studios on the main floor to be rented for less than market value. This meant the 1965 Main Street studios were affordable and could be leased to organizations and individuals involved in experimental art practices.

The building soon became known as a hub of innovation and creativity in East Vancouver. In addition to housing VIVO’s production studios, classrooms, exhibition, distribution and archives, it provided space for artists, collectives and arts organizations. Among those who occupied its studios were New Forms, Front Media, Indigenous Media Art, Viva Mantra, Attila Richard Lukacs and On Main Gallery. Thousands of established and emerging artists works have been presented in this building.

In 2011, the storefront was renovated into a multi-purpose room called Gallery 1965 and a secret trap door was built leading to the storage lockers below; a 6500 sq. ft. labyrinth of hallways and padlocked doors. The roughly assembled and inexpensive storage units were unmonitored, self-serve and accessible 24/7.

They were used by many colourful characters including a recording studio, artists and art collectors, hoarders, small business, divorcées, people living out of their vehicles and even rumored sex-trade workers.

In May 2013 the building was sold and its scheduled demolition offered an opportunity to use the space as never before. Looking back at the building’s history and down to its storage lockers below, the concept for a major celebration and exhibition developed. In homage to the large underground warehouse shows of the 1970’s and 1980’s it was decided to transform 1965 Main Street into a D.I.Y. exhibition where anything could happen.

By February 2014 a handful of artists and curators with a connection to the building had made site visits. They were asked to propose projects that addressed the site-specific potential, content and context of the event. The parameters were loose, inclusive and quickly snowballed – artists invited other artists, artists became curators and curators worked as artists. This resulted in 77 participants who created 48 projects and
performances in an event called Thru the Trapdoor.

The transformation of the building in several short weeks was a monumental task. Wearing overalls and dust masks, unclaimed storage lockers were sorted and cleared out. All the while, artists were allowed and encouraged to reuse anything left behind by previous tenants. Spaces were altered. Walls were demolished. Hallways were torn out or diverted. Vast amounts of materials and equipment were moved in and out of the building. Endless truckloads of discarded belongings were hauled to the dump. And this was somehow accomplished while working around and assisting a few stragglers (tenant-hoarders) who, for psychological or economic reasons, were unable to move their own belongings. In the spirit of the building and of the project, everyone pitched in to help in whatever way they could.

Thru The Trapdoor facilitated new imaginings that allowed both artists and the public to believe that anything was possible (if only for a brief moment). Together the participants created interdisciplinary, multi-sensory artworks that engaged viewers in both familiar and unexpected ways. Around every corner and down each hallway, re-configured rooms were filled with obvious and not so obvious interventions…

Thru the Trapdoor included peepholes, a camera obscura and an Ames room with forced perspectives. There were sound pieces, interactive sculptures and video projections. Installations used the aromas of beeswax, earth, joss sticks and tea. Viewers were confronted with intimate narratives of shared secrets, and memories of love and loss. They heard music from a grand piano, original songs recorded on a cassette recorder, murmuring voices and low-pitched electronic frequencies. Dioramas, drawings, paintings, photography, assemblages of garbage, new and vintage technologies, staged and roaming performances were around each corner. Going Thru The Trapdoor required you to enter an unfamiliar space with an open heart and mind.

Any many did. Over 1500 visitors saw the exhibition, including 500 guests on opening night and 800 who attended the epic closing party on April 27, 2014. This website partially documents an extraordinary moment in Vancouver’s contemporary art history and serves to capture a place and time. Visit each artists’ page for more detailed documentation, and to view the video produced by VANDOCUMENT.