Two weeks ago the artist collective Instant Coffee opened Feeling So Much Yet Doing So Little at the Western Front’s Front Gallery. So far (besides its opening) the show consists of two bleachers facing each other joined by a walkway above its lone (western) entrance. The spaces beneath the bleachers house a colourful text-bespeckled sitting room to the south and, to the north, a darkened room for viewing. Between the bleachers is an 8x8’ section of floor space, above which hangs an abstracted chandelier. Filling out the room are wall texts, buckets, painted (pink) forms, an LED sign and, where an EXIT sign would hang, an EVICT sign. Over the next six weeks IC will host its “exhibition, residency, publication, and series of talks and events,” while their material infrastructure will be available to the public during regular gallery hours.
Formed in Toronto twelve years ago, Instant Coffee describes itself as a “service-oriented artist collective,” one that, like the beverage itself, “mimics the real thing without the pretense of being better,” a clever tag that recognizes the ascendance of the simulacra in the popular culture while at the same time alludes to the critical artist’s interrogation of authority in an era where the “copy” is more resonant, or at least more fun to argue for, than the “original.” Put another way, the IC tag reminds us that time – or the lack of it -- is its own material, and as such should be considered when speaking of those who have more of it to make their coffee, their face, their love or their art. At least that is how I have come think of IC, particularly where, prior to their arrival in Vancouver eight years ago, the affordability of space has become this city's central preoccupation.
The Front Gallery has, at various times, been the Western Front’s central preoccupation as well. When the WF opened, in March 1973, the founder-artists expressed themselves not through object production but through performance and correspondence art, aligning themselves not with minimal or even conceptual practices but with the art-as-life manifestations of Fluxus, which were played out upstairs in the building’s largest space, the Luxe. What is now the Front Gallery was originally the dining room, just as it was for its former owners, the Knights of Pythias. After that, it became Robert Cumming’s Lure of the Sea Bar, until finally, in the late-1970s, and at the insistence of co-founders Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov, a space for the exhibition of objects. What I find most intriguing about IC’s Feeling So Much Yet Doing So Little is that it has, in effect, made its own Luxe (in the exhibition space, no less), a gesture that speaks to the persistence of “relational” practices but also an echo (and an inversion) of WF history.
Something else that comes to mind when considering Instant Coffee’s inhabitation is the era in which the Western Front founder-artists emerged. This was a time when Vancouver’s first artist-run centre, Intermedia (1967-1972), was seeded with a $40,000 Canada Council grant (contingent on the formalization of what was then a loose pattern of collective and collaborative artistic activity), and when eight Vancouver artists could afford to buy a building big enough to house them (the Western Front). However, while Intermedia dissolved after five years, the WF evolved into a model for artist-run centres, a situation that required the founder-artists to withdraw from the board and become less an artist collective than joint tenancy landlords. In any case, while Intermedia began with money and the WF began with property, IC provides a service (what we called “labour” thirty years ago, when resources drove the provincial economy). As for what that service includes, here is a list of IC's upcoming WF events:
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS
Feeling So Much International Prospective Lecture Series
For this series Instant Coffee has invited a number of international curators representing key moments in the collective’s 12 year history, as well as moments to come. Moderated by Caitlin Jones.
This International Prospective Lecture Series is presented with the generous support of Jane Irwin and Ross Hill
Thursday, March 8, 7pm
Bernd Milla, Director of the Kunststiftung Baden-Wuerttemberg will reflect on exhibition praxis and possibilities for artists’ work and presentation.
Thursday, March 22nd, 7pm
Lise Nellemann of Sparwasser HQ, a not-for-profit project and exhibition space in Berlin, will speak about Instant Coffee and collaborative curatorial practices.
Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy
Friday, April 6th, 7pm
Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy, curator of contemporary art at Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in New York, and agent for Documenta 13 will speak about her curatorial practice.
Every Saturday Instant Coffee will be selling necessary accessories and other special items from their new “West Coast Modern” furniture collection, and will on occasion be joined by other designers and artists, including Robert Kleyn and Samuel Roy Bois.
As part of STORE FRONT each Saturday Instant Coffee has invited artists, critics and curators to host a series of low key events.
Making Sense of Things Together
Saturday, February 25th, 12-5pm
As a response to IC’s motto “Get Social or Get Lost,” join artist and critic Amy Fung for an endurance performance/lecture for which she will assembling a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of a Jackson Pollock painting she inherited at an Edmonton garage sale.
Paper Folding Doodle
Saturday, March 10th, 2-5pm
Kim Kennedy Austin and Graham Kaye will distractedly origami.
General Joke Store
Saturday, March 10, 2-5pm
Artists Aaron Carpenter and Jonathan Middleton have been honing their joke-writing skills over the past year or two. The General Joke Store provides the opportunity to purchase some their recently crafted jokes. An assortment of jokes will be on offer in the “knock-knock”, “lightbulb”, and “chicken crossed the road” genres, as well as a selection of rude and off-color jokes, sure to alienate you from your friends and co-workers.
Paint it Pink
Saturday, March 17th, 12-5pm
Bring it in, Instant Coffee will paint it pink
Pyrography (woodburning) Workshop
Saturday, March 24th, 2-5pm
Come, burn a design on a piece of wood and make a button!
Saturday, March 31st, 5-9pm
A slot-car race tournament hosted by Matt Smith.
Bild N Sound
Goethe Satellite @ Instant Coffee
Saturday, March 10, 8pm
A project by the Goethe-Institut in cooperation with Instant Coffee and Revised Projects
Instant Coffee together with Bernd Milla brings together German artist videos with Vancouver musicians. Milla has programmed a selection of silent videos by German artists, including Hans-Christian Dany, Mirko Martin and Sebastian Stumpf, and in response, Instant Coffee will program Canadian musicians to play a live score.
Issue 05 Launch
Saturday, April 7st, 2pm
Instant Coffee will publish the next in their series of “one question” handmade journals. GOOD NEWS Issue 05 will address the question “ What constitutes a successful failure?”
Wood Whittling Club
Feb 29th, March 14th, March 18th, 7pm
Every second Wednesday Instant Coffee will host an informal gathering of artists and anyone who wants to whittle and socialize. Wood will be provided, but bring your own carving tools.
Classical Reading Group
March 6, 13, 20, 27, 7pm
Every Tuesday in March Instant Coffee will host a reading group for TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens, a relevant classic for discussing present economic issues. By the way it is the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens.