Gallery Stratford’s new Side By Side virtual exhibit shows how the Stratford Public Art Gallery has 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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Meanwhile, the gallery, as the residents of the area know it, has evolved into more than a space to display works of art by combining opportunities for virtual and real-life interactive experiences to help the gallery. to transcend the limits of physical space and geographic location.

Built at 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 Alteration Transformation Project, the new The Co-operators $ 400,000 Studio community is a key part of how the gallery will connect artists and art to the community.

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

With plenty of natural light coming from a bank of windows facing the rear of the gallery property, the ability to host indoor and outdoor events – or a mix of the two – and plenty of space for indoor exhibits and educational classes, the community studio is pregnant with possibilities.

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

“None of these artists were familiar with VR before, but we wanted to create an experimental platform that would kind of foster creativity and highlight the peculiarities of each artist in their practices,” said Evelyn Sorochan- Ruland, assistant gallery curator and artist, who organized the gallery. Stratford’s new Side By Side exhibit.

The exhibition, which requires the use of one of the gallery’s virtual reality headsets to view and explore, features works created by London artists Wyn Geleynse and David Merritt, and Toronto artist Michelle Gay, who have each used their own VR gear to experience and create a unique piece of art from home during the pandemic.

“We couldn’t really do studio tours but, since each artist had their own VR headset, we could kind of collaborate by uploading their work to the platform, which I could see with the gallery headset,” see their progress and help them make changes to their part to optimize their artwork to make sure there are no issues and everything is working properly, ”said Sorochand-Ruland.

While this doesn't do the entire exhibit justice, this is a preview of Gallery Stratford's Side By Side exhibit, which was created and is displayed entirely in virtual reality.  Submitted Image
While this doesn’t do the entire exhibit justice, this is a preview of Gallery Stratford’s Side By Side exhibit, which was created and is displayed entirely in virtual reality. Submitted Image

For his star piece, Believes, Geleynse refers to identity, politics and memory through a text floating in space framed by four drawn portraits, which, according to Sorochand-Ruland, underline the weight, value and longevity of words despite their apparent immateriality. This immateriality is represented in the play as a fleeting and weightless text that those who experience it can browse and view from different angles.

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While Merritt’s play, A line brushing the skin, may look from a certain angle like lines floating in space, it seems to come together as if by magic in a design of the face of the American contralto Marian Anderson as the viewer moves. While exploring virtual space, the lines in Merritt’s work also direct the viewer to another, less abstract portrait of Anderson, one looking out of a virtual window.

In the last featured piece, Gay’s Agora, the eye is immediately drawn to mirrored sketches of a city on two yellow circles tied together, with what appear to be paper cutouts of people talking and other more abstract objects hanging from them. As an urban activist, Gay’s doctorate focuses on artists as urban theorists, a subject that relates directly to the theme of Agora, 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 ​​an agora is exactly the raison d’être of the gallery’s new community studio.

“Galleries have to be more than a sort of white box that only does one function,” Brayham said. “I think we need to be more multifunctional these days, and that’s allowed us to do that. … Now we have a space where we can invite the community to get creative and express their creative ideas in ways we haven’t been able to do before.

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

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

Once the Stratford Gallery reopens this weekend, patrons will be able to explore the exhibits, both virtual and real, between noon and 8 p.m. daily. Those who wish to experience Side By Side will need to set aside a time to use the gallery’s virtual reality headset so that a member of staff can be on hand to assist them.

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