Gallery Stratford’s new community studio mixes real and virtual interactive experiences to better connect community with art

Gallery Stratford’s new Side By Side virtual exhibition demonstrates how the Stratford Public Art Gallery has been transformed over the past year and a half to better connect the community with artists and art.

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The Stratford Gallery will reopen to the public this weekend after being closed for more than a year and a half during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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During this time, the gallery as residents of the area knows that it has been transformed into much more than a space to display works of art combining opportunities for virtual and real interactive experiences to help the gallery transcend the boundaries of the physical space and geographical location.

Built in the back of the gallery building over the past eight months with financial support from The Co-operators – Peter Maranger & Associates Inc., the Ontario Trillium Foundation and the Stratford Tourism Transformation Project , the new $ 400,000 Cooperating Studio community is a key piece of how the gallery will connect artists and art with the community.

“They provided us with funding to make this happen, but also to provide us with ways to use this space in a functional way, so that we can use it as a mixed space for exhibition and education,” Angela, director and curator of the gallery Said Brayham. “Dealing with the realities of COVID and all of our feelings of needing more space and needing more connection to the outdoors and having room for social distancing, and with all the support … we were able to turn it into a much larger project than originally planned “.

With lots of natural light from a window sill overlooking the back of the gallery, the ability to organize events both indoors and outdoors (or a combination of the two) and plenty of space for exhibitions interiors and educational classes, community study is pregnant with possibilities.

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While Stratford Summer Music has already used the space to present live music, a new exhibition created and displayed entirely in virtual reality shows how the studio can offer even more potential than it first sees.

“None of these artists knew virtual reality beforehand, but we wanted to create an experimental platform that would promote creativity and highlight the idiosyncrasies of each artist within their practices,” said gallery assistant curator and artist Evelyn Sorochan-Ruland , curated by Gallery The new Side By Side exhibition in Stratford.

The exhibition, which requires the use of one of the gallery’s virtual reality headsets to view and explore, includes works created by London artists Wyn Geleynse and David Merritt and Toronto artist Michelle Gay, each of whom used your own virtual reality team to experiment and create a unique work of art from home during the pandemic.

“We couldn’t really visit the studio, but since each artist had their own virtual reality headphones, we were able to collaborate by hanging their work on the platform, which I could see with the headphones in the gallery, see ‘n progress and help them make tweaks to their piece to optimize their artwork to make sure there are no technical issues and that everything works well,” Sorochand-Ruland said.

While it doesn’t do full justice to the exhibition, this is a vision of Gallery Stratford’s Side By Side exhibition, which was created and shown entirely in virtual reality.  Image submitted
While it doesn’t do full justice to the exhibition, this is a vision of Gallery Stratford’s Side By Side exhibition, which was created and shown entirely in virtual reality. Image submitted

For his outstanding piece, Cross, Geleynse refers to identity, politics, and memory through text floating in space framed by four drawn portraits, which Sorochand-Ruland says emphasizes the weight, value, and longevity of words despite their apparent immateriality. This immateriality is represented in the piece as an ephemeral and weightless text that those who experience it can go through and look at from different perspectives.

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While Merritt’s piece, A line that washes the skin, may seem from an angle like free floating lines in space, it seems to magically join a drawing of the American contralto of Marian Anderson’s face as the viewer moves. As he explores virtual space, the lines in Merritt’s work also point the viewer toward another less abstract portrait of Anderson, looking out of a virtual window.

In the last highlight, Gay’s Now, the eye is immediately drawn to reflect sketches of a city horizon in two yellow circles linked together, with what appear to be scraps of paper of talking people and other more abstract objects hanging from it. As an urban activist, Gay’s doctorate focuses on artists as urban theorists, a topic that links directly to the topic of Now, the ancient Greek word used to describe a central public space that allows community members to interact and collaborate with each other.

This idea of ​​agora is exactly what the gallery’s new community studio is all about.

“Galleries have to be much more than a kind of whiteboard that only serves one function,” Brayham said. “I think we need to be more multifunctional these days, and that has allowed us to do that. … We now have a space where we can invite the community to be creative and express their creative ideas in a way we hadn’t been able to do before. ”

The transformation of the gallery, added supporter Peter Maranger, supports his “long-standing mission statement” of “art is for everyone.”

“I think that’s reflected in this space,” Maranger said. “It’s for everyone.”

Once the Stratford Gallery reopens this weekend, guests will be able to explore the exhibits, both virtual and real, between 12 noon and 8 p.m. Those interested in experiencing Side By Side should set aside time to use the gallery’s virtual reality headphones so a staff member can help.

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