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Christoph Runné’s Portraits in Far, Up Close Show at Interurban Gallery in Vancouver Feb 12 – Mar 21, 2010

March 12, 2010

A Flickering light in the heart of darkness

Multimedia art show opens in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Vancouver, BC—In the heart of Vancouver’s infamous Downtown Eastside, the InterUrban Gallery opens Far, Up Close on February 12 for the duration of the Winter Games. The show is made up of a number of multi-media works, providing a flickering counterpoint to the darkness, real and over-hyped, surrounding it.

Where: 1 East Hastings St. (Google map)

  • When: February 12 to March 21, Gallery Hours: Wed to Sun, 12 to 5pm; Window Projections: dusk to dawn

“The media makes the Downtown Eastside out to be such a dark place,” says artist Christoph Runné. “In some ways, that is true. But this is also a place of community and people with stories to tell. We wanted to show that.”

Below is a photo of one of Christoph Runné’s portraits

Christoph Runné’s Portraits combines classical portraiture with overt allusions to Dutch masters, turn-of –the-century anthropological photography and police mug shots. Projected on the gallery’s windows, Portraits creates a spectral permanence for the residents of Vancouver’s most disputed neighbourhood.

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Portraits

Portraits is a video installation and a public artwork, the mounting of which is intended to coincide with the opening week of the much-anticipated 2010 Olympics hosted by British Columbia.

Reminiscent of the purge carried out in the downtown eastside prior to Expo 86, a large amount of government funding has been allocated to the “beautification” of Vancouver in light of the upcoming winter games. Portraits aims to address such attempts by spotlighting the same “undesirables” that mainstream society is trying to sweep away and camouflage.

Consisting of a series of diptychs of male and female Vancouver Downtown Eastside residents, whose civic marginalization is underscored by their silent and ghostly presence, and whose erstwhile invisibility seems to vanish when they are painted by the broad brush strokes of the media, this video installation will continue nightly for 4 months – spanning the onset of the Olympics and its immediate aftermath.  It will remain highly visible from the street, as well as from a car or bus during the peak of commuter traffic.

Portraits will generate from within the InterUrban Art Gallery, located prominently on the corner of Hastings and Carrall, in the heart of Vancouver’s controversial Downtown Eastside (DTES).  The elements of the installation will be simultaneously projected onto 12 windows of the gallery (six facing Hastings, six facing Pigeon Park) from 4pm-9am daily, when exterior natural light is dim enough to allow for viewing of the images.

During the Italian Renaissance, and other early western incarnations of the portrait, artworks depicting contemporary individuals were a commissioned object that served to represent only those with wealth and power. This installation, in its depiction of an under-represented part of contemporary urban society, aims to contribute to the reversal of this centuries-old western tradition, while simultaneously adding to the discourse around the ways in which representation forms our understanding of an “other.”  This is not to suggest that an us/them binary is a legitimate interpretation of social relationships, but it would be misleading to imagine that binaries such as these do not exist in some form.

By combining the style of classical portraiture – with overt allusions to the Dutch masters, and the dual “head shot” most commonly associated with police mug shots (another form of formal portrait taking) – Portraits attempts to “put faces to” some of the individuals who reside in Vancouver’s poorest, most disputed neighborhood.  At the same time, through repeated viewing of the footage, Portraits presents the once-unknown, anonymous person – who may otherwise be passed off as mere “addict,” “criminal,” or “prostitute” – and makes them familiar to us, while quietly enticing the viewer to form his or her own queries about who is “worthy” of portraiture.

Because of the alluring nature of moving video images in this unexpected context (across from Pigeon Park, a local landmark of the community), Portraits hopes to draw-in passers-by and confront them with a juxtaposition of classical portraiture and preconceptions of class within our society. When it comes to choosing who is represented in tourist literature, brochures, and, in this case, Olympic advertisement, we select the “faces of a city,” and through this process of selection and exclusion, we have come to violate the rights of those within our community whose faces are absent from such promotional material.

The gallery format has long been debated as a forum of social change.  In this case, Portraits neither faces the gallery nor turns its back to it, but, instead, creates a shimmering two-way “transparency” that intrinsically links the art world to its surroundings.  By using the windows as scrims, the projected images are visible from both sides, and this simple foil brings the residents, who are living on the street, into the gallery, and the gallery out into the street, where the work converges with, and mirrors back to, the community immediately confronted by it.  More than being a commentary about the state of residents of the Downtown Eastside, Portraits is intended to interact with them, as well as with the larger society of visitors to, and residents of, greater Vancouver.

As our societies mandate to discourage “vagrancy” and “loitering” escalates during the high-profile Olympic games, as the government attempts to hide the faces of Vancouver’s “great unwashed,” Portraits will utilize the palate of advertising (billboards, LED, video projection, etc.), as well as one of the most widely accepted form of classical portraiture (the Dutch masters), in its aim to not only legitimize the residents’ presence in the public eye, but, more importantly, in their own eyes.

One of the first “sketches” of this project was in 2007, when, for several days, a single projection (rather than the twelve used for this current version of Portraits) looped throughout the night, portraying eight DTES residents. (Three of these original eight people have since died.) Portraits was well received by the local community, and several residents came forward requesting to participate in further filming.  In order to allow these portraits to “breathe” – to act as vital, “living portraits” – the project utilizes video-based imagery (as opposed to still photographs), and it is through their representation in these continually moving images that the residents’ dignity, identity, and presence within the urban sphere is underscored.

I believe that it is important to dignify the living (and honor the dead) as individuals, not simply as the troubled demographic referred to constantly in the media, with terms such as “homeless,” “disenfranchised,” “street youth,” “sex worker,” or “drug-user.” The record-keeping aspect of Portraits is a small measure towards ensuring that the “unseen” individuals who are massed by society’s sweeping monikers remain visible, and that they retain a identity that is theirs alone, even if history does not carry their names.

Christoph Runné

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