Finding a place for art in the Port City

Acre Architects’ pop-up urban park was a highlight of Third Shift. Photo Credit: Mark Hemmings/Third Space Gallery

This is a Saint John I’ve never seen before. As I stroll down the street in heels, dark lipstick on and ready for the night, I come upon what seems at first to be an impromptu block party. There are lights strung up along Grannan Street, and where there is normally a brick road, there is instead a long narrow slice of grass, a pop-up park complete with picnic blankets and groups of young people enjoying the evening. A bubble machine is tossing out bubbles at a furious rate, and the half-finished building below has been converted from construction site to warehouse-chic hangout, displaying contemporary art pieces on projectors and brick walls. I wish I could stay, but I have a play to go see, so I tear myself away hesitantly, leaving behind a piece of the city I’d always hoped to see.

The event centred around the intersection between Canterbury and Grannan Streets. Photo Credit: Mark Hemmings/Third Space Gallery

The event, far from an impromptu block party, was actually a thoroughly planned art after dark event called Third Shift, presented by Third Space Gallery. Inspired by similar events in larger cities, including Nocturne in Halifax and Nuit Blanche in Toronto and Montreal, Third Shift aimed to bring contemporary art in Saint John into public awareness by making it visible and accessible.

“The first thing we did was put in a call for submissions,” says Emily Saab, President of the Board of Directors for Third Space Gallery. “We asked artists to keep in mind Saint John as their site and to propose a project that was specific to the area and that fit within their practice.”

One project, Christina Battle’s “Notes to Self”, was a series of videos of Battle setting fire to notes she’d written herself. Photo Credit: Mark Hemmings/Third Space Gallery

Third Shift was the result of a long planning process and financial grants from the provincial government, as well as donations from individual community sponsors. Saab says, “That really helped us be able to solidify everything and make sure that we had the money to do what was our biggest vision.”

This vision started to come to fruition on the afternoon of Aug 21st, 2015. The artists and volunteers showed up and started setting up the space, drawing questions and interest from passers-by on their lunch breaks.

“By 7 p.m., the fog was rolling in and it was kind of starting to get dark and lights were turning on,” Saab says. Our projections were starting to be visible because it was getting darker, and it had really begun.”

Sam Blue and Jeff McLellan’s “Holocene” used projection, music, and sound to represent the current geological state of the earth. Photo Credit: Mark Hemmings/Third Space Gallery

In total, 29 artists were chosen to display 17 projects. The exhibits ranged from multimedia projections and physical works, to interactive performances that encouraged participants to rethink the space they were occupying. Ana Fernandes’ “Paint Tube” was one such interactive installation. Fernandes, a native of France, sat inside the clear plastic tube, painting a design inspired by Saint John. Participants were invited to pick up brushes and collaborate on the outside of the tube, forming a piece that brought artist and observer together.

Fernandes’ “Paint Tube” engaged eventgoers by inviting them to add to her own artistic vision of the city. Photo Credit: Mark Hemmings/Third Space Gallery

Another piece was the location itself, designed by local firm Acre Architects and dubbed “The Park”. By turning Grannan Lane into an urban park for an evening, Acre Architects hopes to help people envision a new future for an often-underused piece of Saint John’s uptown core.

Acre Architects set up “The Park”, a pop-up urban park on Grannan Street. Photo Credit: Mark Hemmings/Third Space Gallery

The event surpassed Saab’s hopes for an audience, with a large number of people walking through the event on their way to something else, and many more staying for the entire thing. There were unplanned pop-up artists displaying their own work, and Historica Developments’ unfinished construction turned hangout spot was also unexpected for the organizers. Saab believes that this kind of unprecedented collaboration will set the stage for the future of the event, as well as the future of contemporary art.

Historica Developments’ construction site-turned lounge allowed exhibits more space to be seen throughout the night. Photo Credit: Mark Hemmings/Third Space Gallery

“The event itself and everybody’s engagement with it kind of helped to exhibit the relevance of contemporary art in our community and what role it can play,” she says, “And more than anything that feels like success.”

Next year’s event is already in the planning stages, and Third Space Gallery holds regular programming in public spaces throughout the year as well. For more information, check out their website at www.thirdspacegallery.ca. For a full list of artists and their work, head to www.thirdshift.ca