Walking down Agricola on a cold January night, you might think the crowd of people and clouds of smoke behind the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty's office is just those HCAP kids up to something again. But this crowd has come for the bachelor apartment above the office---home of the Upstairs Apartment Gallery, a monthly one-night event that's been gathering momentum since starting in November. They've gathered outside to watch a performance by artist Jesse Walker. Walker is setting gas and candles aflame in vessels of ice he made using garbage cans as molds. Even in -10 weather, it's a relief from the crowds inside the small bachelor apartment.
The brainchild of chef Stoo Metz and artist Chris Lockerbie (Lucky Comics), the Upstairs Apartment Gallery opened inconspicuously last October in Metz's apartment. Hanging out with some cats on a couch in the apartment, restored to a home the rest of the month, Lockerbie relates the story of how his brother was taking business courses in his hometown of Pictou, and, for a school project, rented an abandoned office space that he turned into a "kind of artist co-op." The gallery brought in youth, artists, parents and art enthusiasts from all over town. "It was hardly advertised, but tons of people came," Lockerbie says. "The idea of turning spaces into art galleries really struck a chord with me."
Back in Halifax from an apple-picking job last fall, Lockerbie approached Metz---"the only person I know with no roommates"---with the idea, and Metz was sold. The pragmatic business partner to Lockerbie's exuberance, the initial idea was to have more of a party where they put up friends' art, one night a month, but their success has led Metz to focus more on the gallery than the party aspect. "There are so many people in the show now who aren't in our group of friends---we have to be respectable now." He expects people to take a look at the show and stick around for a couple pieces of homemade sushi before heading off.
Lockerbie isn't entirely in agreement. "If someone sees a piece they really want, then maybe after like 10 Dry Ice, they'll be more likely to buy it." Metz shakes his head. Business has been good, though: The gallery takes no commission and at prices starting at $2, set by the artists, "people have been selling work like crazy," says Lockerbie.
The gallery's initial artist roster consisted mainly of Metz and Lockerbie's friends, coming from comic, graffiti and skateboard art backgrounds. Amateur artists feature prominently, but lots of participants (Lockerbie included) are NSCAD students or grads whose work doesn't fit so easily into either the commercial or public galleries in town. "I talked to lots of friends who were wishing they had publicity, and a place to show...just because art is graffiti or eccentric doesn't mean it's not really art. They should have as much of a right to show," says Metz, who was once an enthusiastic photographer when he was younger, but quit after losing his camera.
Other local home galleries like Gallery Deluxe Gallery and 161 Gallon Gallery have played with the idea of the white cube gallery, curating and exhibiting art in ways similar to art world standards, in non-standard (and small) formats. The Upstairs Apartment Gallery has grown out of less of an art-school mentality, with exhibitions looking more like the packed walls of the old European salon displays, without the old European art.
"Here the whole house is the gallery," Metz says (and then some, with art expanding to the backyard now). He plans to incorporate the bathroom this month, with wall space given on a first-come, first-serve basis.
At just a few months old, the gallery already risks becoming a victim of its own success. The previous three events have grown progressively more crowded just through word of mouth. Being a bachelor apartment (and with floors of dubious strength), capacity is limited. The outdoor performance helped even out the crowds last month, and a dance performance is planned for this month, but Halifax's weather isn't always amenable to outdoor events. They plan to keep at it, adding in some weekend opening hours this time, and hope for the best.
Next art event happens Friday, February 20 at 7pm, and continues February 21 and 22, noon-5pm at Upstairs Apartment Gallery, 2420 Agricola, apt. 1.