Or Gallery is an artist-run centre that was founded as a personal project by the artist Laiwan in April 1983. The gallery was first located at 1729 Franklin Street, in an apartment building called the Hillington that was populated mainly by artists and musicians, many of whom were friends that supported Laiwan and the gallery. Laiwan lived in the back of a former deli on the ground floor, and opened the storefront as an exhibition and performance space. The artist used the project to help fund her rent––artists were invited to exhibit and perform in the space for a small fee––and in the process the Or Gallery became one among only a few independent art spaces in the city. The name of the gallery came from an awning above the window that initially read, “Food For Thought” which the artist altered by whiting out most of the letters, leaving only “or.”
Laiwan operated the Or until October 1983, after which time it was taken on by the artist Ken Lum, who moved into the room in the back and took over programming. Lum ran an ambitious series of exhibitions during this year, financed mostly out of pocket and with funds from beer sales at openings. He choose not to accept external funding offered by the Canada Council, instead remaining independent and running the gallery as a personal curatorial project.
Or Gallery continued to change hands after Lum in a fashion by which the current Director/Curator, a practicing artist, would pass the role on to a new artist at intervals of approximately one year. This practice was later adapted as the structure of the gallery changed and the tenure was lengthened to more indefinite terms.
In the early years, the gallery hosted many short exhibitions by emerging artists, as well as programming related to collections and more established artists. One important figure in this regard was Ian Wallace. Wallace was an important early supporter of the Or who encouraged both Laiwan and Lum, helping to establish a link between them that ensured that the gallery continued. Wallace’s involvement with gallery very early on included providing Laiwan with a sturdy door for the space, an addition that made it much safer for a Laiwan, as young single woman, to live there.
Wallace’s exhibition, “At Work” was one of the first to take place at the Or. In it, he used the gallery as a site for his studio practice, setting up a table in the gallery that could be viewed from the street. He conducted various types of artistic production (conceptual as well as material) for two weeks in the space at night. The public was invited to view Wallace working for one hour each between 12 – 1 a.m. for the duration of the project. Sited in this unconventional live-work studio-gallery in a working class part of town, the project made a public scenario out of conceptual artistic practice, and foregrounded the gallery as a possible site of experimental production. Wallace was also involved curatorially at the Or, including Works of Conceptual Art from the Collection of David Bellman, and collaborations with Lum on exhibitions when artists came to visit Emily Carr University, where Wallace was teaching.
A critical, intellectual and socially responsive focus came to be associated with the Or’s programming over the years, though the approach has varied widely from curator to curator. Over time the gallery also changed from a self-funded project (until 1986), to a more formalized structure in order to allow for the payment of artist’s and curatorial fees. In 1987, a serious fire occurred at the Franklin space that fully destroyed the gallery and its records. The Or was subsequently moved to 505 Hamilton in the studio of the then-director Phil McCrum, and then 112 West Hastings, where it was located for many years. It is presently housed at 555 Hamilton, in a building that has housed Bau Xi Gallery, Contemporary Art Gallery and Belkin Satellite space, before becoming the present site for the Or in 2008.
The Or Gallery was founded by Laiwan.
Arni Haraldsson Petra Watson, Lori Hinton, Michelle Normoyle, and Ken Lum were the founders of the Or Gallery Society, established under the Society Act in 1984.
First Board of Directors
1729 Franklin Street, Vancouver BC
The original constitutional purposes of the Or Gallery Society were set as of December 7th, 1984:
(a) To establish and maintain a non-profit art gallery for the benefit of the community as a whole.
(b) To hold exhibitions of paintings, etchings, statues, photographs, sculptures and other works of art.
(c) To do everything incidental to the above.
Food For Thought
Edited by Sarah Edmonds, published in 2004
Contributors: Glenn Alteen, Janis Bowley, Christine Corlett, Stan Douglas, Maura Doyle, Renée Gouin, James Graham, Arni Haraldson, Brian Jungen, Myfawnwy MacLeod and Kyla Mallett, Trevor Mahovsky, Phillip McCrum, Lisa Prentice, Ellen Ramsey, Mina Totino, Keith Wallace.
Food for Thought is an anecdotal history of the Or Gallery that includes interviews and writings by local artists and curators who have been involved with the gallery since its inception in 1983.
The Vancouver Anthology
Edited by Stan Douglas, published in 1991, with Talon Books.
Table of Contents
A Particular History: Artist-run Centres in Vancouver
Daring Documents: The Practical Aesthetics of Early Vancouver Video
Expanded Consciousness and Company Types: Collaboration Since Intermedia and the N.E.Thing Co.
Independent Film After Structuralism: Hybrid Experimental Narrative and Documentary
Some Are Weather-Wise; Some Otherwise: Criticism and Vancouver
A Working Chronology of Feminist Cultural Activities and Events in Vancouver: 1970–1990
Sculpture and the Sculptural in Halifax and Vancouver
Painting and the Social History of British Columbia
Discovering the Defeatured Landscape
Construction of the Imaginary Indian
The archives of Or Gallery exhibitions and events are available on the website http://www.orgallery.org/archive/ This online archive contains details about the gallery’s complete exhibition history, many press releases and information about further reading (reviews and essays. Intrepid researchers can contact the gallery for further research related to specific exhibitions.