Artist-run gallery returns to roots

The upcoming exhibition opens Thursday (Amanda Jess/AQ)
The upcoming exhibition opens Thursday (Amanda Jess/AQ)

After a turbulent four years since its original home was flooded, Gallery Connexion is celebrating its origins with show by two artists who were there at the beginning.

“This exhibition seemed like the beginning of looking back into our history. It’s a new work by Suzanne Hill, but the tie-in for Gallery Connexion is that these [artists] were a founding member and an original member,” said assistant director Sophia Bartholomew.

Suzanne Hill: conversations with Rick Burns opens Thursday. The exhibition features work by Hill, a member at the artist-run gallery since its early years and Rick Burns, the gallery’s founding member who died in 2004.

The show glances back to an earlier time in the gallery’s history.

The gallery has been under constant alterations since a flood four years ago kicked it out of the building it occupied for 20 years.

The artist centre spent a year homeless and used other venues while looking for a new space. Gallery Connexion was finally given the chance to take over the current location on York Street, which used to be a “scuzzy bar.”

“The board realized they needed to go back to the core idea and re-examine what Gallery Connexion’s about and make some changes,” said executive director John Cushnie.

The gallery used to rent studios, run a café, have a members’ gallery, a main exhibition area and a music performance room.

“Fundamentally, it was too difficult to manage how much space we had. Just relying on our members, it was just a huge amount of work,” said Cushnie.

The gallery now sticks to their main exhibition area and continues to operate a café as well. It’s running on less than half the space it once did.

The upcoming exhibiton is one of four the gallery will present this year.

Hill, a Rothesay-based artist, has been exhibiting since the 1970s. Her work has been shown extensively across the Maritimes and is represented permanently in the collections of the Canada Council Art Bank and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

Hill and Burns maintained a friendship for 25 years.

Burns was heavily involved in the Fredericton community both as an artist, a teacher and a writer. He is also represented in the Canada Council Art Bank and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

“The exhibition is a material manifestation of a conversation of mutual respect, between these artists, over many years: one of a plethora of conversations that have formed, and continue to form, the fabric of Gallery Connexion as an artist-run organization,” read the gallery’s press release, promoting the showing.

The exhibition was curated by Peter Buckland. It was first shown in November at his Saint John gallery, the Peter Buckland Gallery.

The showing is meant to act as a conversation between two friends.

Rick Burns’ sculptures are part of a previous work called Body Absent. Suzanne Hill describes them as rigid with raw surfaces.

“I feel anyway that they’re very bleak. They’re very evocative of who Rick was, like he was in a [wheel]chair. He was restricted. He was held back by that, as anyone would be.”

One piece is a set of chairs lying on their side chained together. Hill’s response to the dark work was a hanging of pillows with a broken chain across the series.

“I was in a flippant frame of mind and said, ‘What you need are cushions.’”

The way in which the pieces are shown together seem to represent an action, sitting just out of reach.

“The way they’ve shown is the chairs are on the floor, lying on their side, as Rick designed them. And the cushions are on the wall, so you can’t really sit on the cushions, just the way you can’t sit on the chairs. But they are evocative of something. Something a little more positive maybe, just a little bit more possibility in them.”

Hill has her idea of what the pieces mean, but likes to give people the opportunity to gather what they will. She
doesn’t want to direct people to what they can interpret from the pieces.

“You can come up with your own idea and it’s just as valid.”