Artspeak was founded in 1986 when Jeff Derksen, a writer and instructor at the Kootenay School of Writing, approached Cate Rimmer and Keith Higgins with a proposition to turn a portion of the space occupied by the Kootenay School of Writing into a part-time gallery. At the time, Rimmer was a student at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design. As an emerging curator she paired up with Higgins, who is an artist, and the two ran the small gallery as volunteers. It was at this time part of the larger workings of the Kootenay School of Writing, which opened in 1984 with the closing of David Thompson University in Nelson, BC.
The name Artspeak grew out of the gallery’s place amidst the writing community and has connotations that refer to the gallery’s mandate: to explore visual art at the intersection of text and language. The term consciously appropriates the pejorative term ‘artspeak,’ which refers to insular forms of language, and offers instead a space that welcomes critical experimentation and understanding. In its earliest days, Artspeak exhibitions were tied into KSW’s activities, held in an 8’x 12’ room on the second floor of a small wood-frame building that the two organizations shared at the base of Oak Street on Broadway. KSW used the space in the evenings to host classes, and the two communities mingled through openings, workshops, and talks that are remembered for generating intense debates.
Artists/Writers/Talks was the title of one of the first series of events to come out of the collaborations between the gallery and the school. Early exhibitions dealt with artists books as objects, such the Vancouver Artists’ Bookworks Exhibition, for which courses were held that pertained to the creation of artists book projects, including papermaking by hand, hand bookbinding, and one course that focused on the making of bookworks by artists.
Financial support for the gallery was derived from course tuition, cocktail sales, donations, and an occasional project grant from the Canada Council. Artspeak was a spare operation at this time, unable to pay curatorial or artist fees, but KSW paid the rent, and the gallery was sustained through volunteer efforts.
In 1987, the gallery moved to 311 West Hastings and the intimate relationship between Artspeak and the Kootenay School of Writing ended. The two organizations remained affiliated through their affiliated networks, and at their new location the gallery found new connections with Spartacus Books and a community of artists whose studios were located in this building.
In 1988, an important exhibition for Artspeak occurred with a project called Behind the Sign in which writers and visual artists were asked to collaborate in order to create new works. Behind the Sign played off semiotics and addressed a strong local interest in language and conceptual practice in the visual arts. Through an ambitious catalogue, the exhibition worked to investigate underlying structures and modes of expression common to writers and artists.
The intersection of written text and language is a focus that has stayed with Artspeak from these early years. The gallery, which eventually purchased its gallery site, maintains a publication as well as an exhibition program and has continue to be a gathering place for readings and talks that explore this area of practice.
First Board of Directors
105-1045 West Broadway, Vancouver BC
To exhibit contemporary art and to encourage a dialogue between visual art and writing. Of particular interest is work that crosses the boundaries between the two disciplines, exploring their common areas of praxis.
Artspeak houses a set of binders related to exhibition and organizational history that can be viewed at the gallery by appointment. The gallery maintains an archive of publications available for purchase, and there is an extensive history of exhibitions online at http://artspeak.ca/exhibitions/history.html
Artspeak also has a tumblr of archival ephemera, with items being released throughout their 25th anniversary year