Grunt was founded in 1984 by a group of artists that included Glenn Alteen, Kempton Dexter, Danielle Peacock, Susan MacKinley, Garry Ross, Dawn Richards, Billy Gene Wallace, Hillary Wood, Daniel Olson and a few others. The group functioned as a collective that gathered together regularly to discuss art and an interest in finding a place to show their work. The grunt gallery grew out of this loose entity, which for quite a few years remained collectively managed and self-funded.
In September 1984 after several months of meetings, the front room in Glenn Alteen’s loft living space was opened as the grunt gallery. Alteen had arrived in Vancouver in 1980 from the East Coast and started out by working in construction. His small loft (now the location of the Whip restaurant) was relatively spare, with a bathroom and kitchen in the back and a storefront space in the front. The space, which had served as a place for the group to gather, extended this function to the community by hosting exhibitions. To begin with, the space mainly showed solo and group shows of work by friends and artists who were already associated with Alteen and with grunt collective.
The impetus among this group for starting a new space, apart from the desire to put up their own work, involved the idea that there was work being made in Vancouver that was not shown in existing artist-run centres. This included art that was not as readily considered to be academic, such as folk or performance art; work by that was by non-white artists; and art that was feminist in nature. The grunt’s unofficial mandate was to show work that other galleries would not.
This grunt space generated a lot of its energy by continuing to be a place where a small community could localize and grow their efforts, rather than building the gallery around a discursive focus. The space tended to bring people together for arts-related activities, such as jazz workshops run by the acclaimed jazz vocalist (and friend of Alteen’s) Kate Hammett Vaughn. From 1987 to 1994 Hammett Vaughn co-produced Jazz at the Gallery, an improvised music series.
As the centre established itself in the community the collective developed friendships with the artists who ran the Helen Pitt Gallery, which had been founded about a decade earlier. Reportedly, the collective at the Pitt was always ‘at war with itself’, but held a similar spirit of showing work by an underdog or activist community. The friendly spirit between the two centres resulted in regular social events, such as a competitive bowling night.
The grunt has been a place where various programming series have taken root. The first meetings for the Vancouver Fringe Festival happened at grunt in 1985 and grunt was a venue for the Fringe Festival until 1989. After 1990 the grunt developed a number of performance series that ran at the same time as the Fringe Festival including the Vancouver Performance Art Series (1990); The Chicago Series, Performance Poets Series and Masque of the Red Death (all in 1991); the First Nations Performance Series (1992) and the Queer City Festival / Two Spirit Performance Series (1993). In 1997 the centre produced the project Positive+, a program that looked at issues of HIV and AIDS ‘after the cocktail,’ with the Roundhouse Community Centre. In 1999 grunt produced LIVE: At the End of the Century, a six week performance festival celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Living Art Performance Festival, which took place in 1979. LIVE: At the End of the Century resulted in the publication of a book of essays regarding Vancouver performance with a chronology of events dating back 35 years. LIVE later spun off into an independent biennial of performance art that continues today.
Over time, while the activities of the space expanded, the groundwork was established for the gallery to take a place that was friendly to First Nations art practices that not been fully embraced by other art spaces. Continuing to focus on underexposed work, at times the grunt rejected artists that were acknowledged as very worthy in an attempt to consciously set up programming that would fill in gaps in the community. Unlike many other centres in Vancouver who employ a single Curator or Director, programming at the grunt has been developed through a curatorial committee consisting of a loose group of about 4 or 5 individuals, typically made up of board members, artists, curators and writers.
The organization continued as a collective until about 1987 when they wrote their first project grant. In 1989, they formed a not-for-profit called Visible Art Society. People continued to live in the grunt until about 1991, a practical matter than helped the gallery to cover the rent. The space remained as informal as it could for as long as was possible, making use of the Unit 306 Society Charitable Tax number until about 1993 when at the behest of funders it became necessary for them to become an independently established organizational entity. This need was heightened when the board decided to purchase a space to house their gallery and other operations. In 1995 the now board-run grunt underwent a capital campaign and purchased their own facility, one of the first artist-run centres to do so in Vancouver (after the Western Front).
The grunt remains dedicated to its mandate of focusing on underexposed or less represented work, continuing to ask the question: Would this get seen in Vancouver if we didn’t show it? Most recently, they have focused on developing community access to their extensive archives of performance and media work.
The names of the founding artists.
Billy Gene Wallace
First Board of Directors
The grunt was incorporated as the Visible Art Society
on August 14, 1990 and its first board was officially listed as:
Throughout its life, the organization has seen the input of many individuals, collectively contributing to the overall vision and direction of the grunt.
The First Location of grunt.
209 East 6 Avenue (now the location of The Whip Restaurant)
It is presently located at 350 E 2nd – Unit 116
The Original Mission / Mandate of grunt.
At the outset, the grunt did not have an official mandate. When a formal expression of an organizational purpose has been requested over the years, it has typically been stated as an unofficial mandate: To exhibit work that other galleries would not.
It has otherwise been stated that:
Grunt is committed to presenting creative work that is cutting-edge, challenging and often controversial, work that would not be championed or exposed otherwise.
The stated purposes of the Visible Art Society – the legal entity behind grunt’s activities – are as follows:
a) To promote and encourage discussion around art activities and their relevance in a social context.
b) To present to the public, art exhibitions, performances, presentations and displays in a variety of art forms.
c) To provide a forum for artists to produce and present artworks to the public.
d) To publish and distribute documents relating to these activities.
e) To support the work of artists through all aforesaid activities as well as research, artistic development and national and international exchange.
f) Acquire by purchase, lease, license, association or other means, suitable accommodations and facilities for the furtherance of the aforesaid functions.
g) To solicit or raise money to receive, acquire and hold gifts, donations, bequests and grants to be used solely in the furtherance of the aforesaid functions, and to undertake and execute any trusts which may be conducive to the aforesaid functions.
Brunt magazine premiered in October 2005. The periodical was intended as an annual complement to grunt’s programming. It contained commissioned essays about each of the previous year’s exhibitions. Brunt also exists online with enhanced content at http://www.bruntmag.com/. Since 2009, cutbacks to the BC gaming grants forced a suspension of the print version of brunt. The last issue was published in December 2009, and no new content has been generated since that time.
LIVE: At the End of the Century
published in 2000, this book contains a collection of essays on performance as well as a chronology of events related to Vancouver’s performance history.
5 Brice Canyon, Introduction
8 Glenn Lewis, Mondo Artie
36 Judy Radul, Stage Fright: The Theatricality of Performance
56 Margaret Dragu, Eye Yam, Eye Yam Not
70 Paul Wong, Various Definitions of Performance Art, Oct. 13, 1999
78 Karen Henry, Premeditated: Out of Body Experience
88 Todd Davis, Performance in Vancouver 1980-1990: Frenzy from a Narcissistic Point-of-V=iew
98 Aiyyana Maracle, Performance Art & The Native Artist: an rEvolutionary Mix?
108 Kiss & Tell, Kiss & Tell: Performance Fragments
124 Glenn Alteen, Beyond Haute Camp: the interplay of drag and performance in Vancouver
136 Archer Pechawis, New Traditions: Post-Oka Aboriginal Performance Art in Vancouver
142 Ivan Coyote, Maybe She Did, Maybe She Did
148 Warren Arcan, “Working Title”
160 Tanya Mars, Archeology of Performance – Performance Art Starter Kit – Instructions Manual
172 Writers’ Bibliographies
176 Photo Credits
At the core of grunt’s work over the past 26 years has been the creation of an extensive archive of materials reflecting the depth of the centre’s programming and the important Canadian artists they have supported and showcased. Since 1984 grunt has amassed a collection of materials that includes: over 87 binders of printed material and slides containing over 200,000 slides and digital images; over 400 tapes (226 VHS, 120 Mini DV, 6¾, 1 Beta SP, 60 Hi8) as well as extensive audio files approximately 2000 hours worth of videotape and audio. The grunt archive contains documentation of over 300 exhibitions; 200 performances; 100 conferences, festivals and other special events; over 100 publications; as well as thousands of pages of printed materials.
The archive contains extensive exhibitions and performances by Canadian artists and in particular national aboriginal artists – significant material not available in any other archive or collection.
Public Access to the archives can be arranged by appointment by contacting grunt gallery. Grunt’s newly renovated media lab is the space provided for accessing both the physical archives and the upcoming websites and database, which are being produced as part of the Activating the Archive project.
The grunt collective preparing for a downtown march protesting arts cuts. From left to right:
Joe Haag, Hillary Wood, Aiyyana Maracle, Edmund Melynchuk, Kempton Dexter, Barbara Seamon. Polly Bak, Phillip Beeman. Glenn Alteen. photo by Merle Addison 1991.