ConVersations and DePartures. History Au Naturel; Traveller's Tails.
Neil Berecry - Synapse Art Initiatives at the Or Gallery.
Vancouver, Canada.
February 10 to March 9, 1996.


ConVersations and DePartures...

Reflections on an event orchestrated by Neil Berecry
for Synapse Art Initiatives.

                                                                                                          David Barton, 1996.

In February 1996, SynapseArt Initiatives, through its agent Neil Berecry, colonised its host the OR Gallery. It began by setting up a temporary office/"nerve centre" alongside the gallery office, and from there orchestrated a process of collaboration with local artists in an engagement with issues pertinent to contemporary art practice. He described as "a generative enterprise of creative collusion and cultural collaboration; a socio-dynamic orchestration in the cultural zone."

The following proclamation was nailed to the wall:

"In this occupation of the gallery, the space will be a place for research, and for exploring possibilities. A doing place, open to change and mutation. Work by various artists will be arriving by mail, fax and foot during the event.
There will be occasions for coffee, conversation, and the telling of tales around the table.  All manner of voyages, discoveries, recollections, signs, and every-day exotica, may appear and disappear.
Perhaps 'Art' will be here too - who knows?
It is an open brief for individuals inhabiting various domains of speculation, to partake of refreshments and conversational peregrinations around salient societal change and other emergent realities.
Out of this process it is hoped new possibilities will be suggested and projects develop.
While being an artist with an independant practice, I choose to present my work within the ambit of the activities of the artists' organisation, Synapse."

He then began with bucket and squeegee to wash the windows. A ritual/performance he repeated throughout the occupancy, describing it as "only behaviour - just washing the windows." 

In Berecry's practice the boundaries between process, object, identity, behaviour, performance and role are blurred. Art and artist are understood as synonymous terms and inseperable experiences. Art is a philosophical attitude; a way of being; of becoming, founded in a condition of sophisticated ignorance. He describes it as "moving towards the provisional truth of transformative self-knowledge, trusting in creative processes that operate with fuzzy  logic, beyond  linearity, with the wisdom of uncertainty, in a system premised on change." Artists soon began arriving at the gallery bringing their art and ideas. As these were arranged, re-arranged, and sometimes discarded, a redolent incoherence began to emerge.

Diana Burgoyne's table arrangement, Electronic Still Life, composed of decomposing fruit and vegetables, wired for sound, clicked and buzzed in a corner.

From the top of one wall, a taught wire strained towards a magnet on the central table, responding to vibrations and touch through a guitar pick-up and amplfier. This tantalising piece by Gwen Boyle later became the instrument for an improvised sound performance.

Ariving by mail, from Swedish artist Lief E Boman, of Earth-Art, was "a parcel with 127 countries in small pieces in a box", representing his project Origin of Life-Living Origin.. In a spirit of "respect and peace", Lief's work brings all the nations of the world together in one room, both symbolically and in substance, and reflects upon the common origins of people and their relation to the Earth. 
Synapse decided that at the conclusion of ConVersations and DePartures... it would take the box to Australia where, tied to a tree, the "clay" of many nations would be disolved by rain  and returned to the earth.

Painter Susan Hillman brought in pieces from her Women who Murder, Women in Comics and Women in Music series. The presence of Susan the musician, AKA Ruby Red (of the Rednecks), reinforced the spirit of life-art fusion, freedom to cross boundaries, and to create art in the flux of all experience, which permeated proceedings.

Ian Cochrane posted in a photographic collage of a culturally modified tree from Haida Gwaii. This image was combined with Berecry's photographs of Australian and Irish trees marked by other forms of human inscription, fire and faeries, in an ad hoc collaboration.

From Belfast, Terry Loane faxed in Stereotypes Exist , extending his investigations at the cross roads of imagery, identity, nature and science.

Eilis O'Baoill faxed in instructions for colonising the coloniser, a simple but conceptually elegant and witty project that invited others to collude in a process of cultural appropriation.

Through the agency of Vancouver artist Michael Lawler, print-outs were made of transformed, beautifully textured photographic images, sent via the Internet by Martin Yelverston from Dublin. Michael also downloaded images and text from Horst Keichle's web site in Australia. These described his project Constructing the Amorphous, "a new understanding of art, design and architecture based on dynamic, interdisciplinary and integrative models", as well as his walk-through videos of sculptural shapes evolved through growth algorithms.

Meanwhile Neil Berecry continued to wash the windows, and the gallery space continued to change. Coffee tastings, conversations, and dinners around the table punctuated proceedings and grounded activities in a social mileu of exchange and discussion.

Janis Bowley provided the table setting of paper plates with socio-political text apropo the food we consum while Mai Swan's Evolving Section provided commentary on the issues with a palette of food chemicals and bodily secretions.

A 'man overboard' bouy "floated" around the gallery and messages faxed-in were displayed on the wall in code flags of the International Code of Signals. eg (MCX) The patient is delirious, (EY 1) Are you confident as to your position, (S) I'm operating astern propulsion, (MFT) Wound is due to explosion, (BB) You may alight on my deck, (BV) I cannot send a helicopter, (FD 5) My position is indicated by smoke signals, (ZD2) Please report me to Lloyds.

Manuscript in a Bottle arrived by post from Martin Sims in Australia. It was a package containing black and white balloons, a copy of the beaufort scale of wind forces, a hydrographic map and a drawing on absorbent paper, launched into the unknown to be deciphered and extemporised upon by whomever "found" it in Vancouver.
Like many other aspects of ConVersation and DePartures... it was premised on creating from the unknown within a dynamic of openess and trust, and of contributing value altruistically.

It also shared a common interest in change and unpredictability, and of working with natural forces and processes both physically and poeticaly. Air pressure and gravity directed helium filled balloons as they rose and fell; the metaphoric richness of the work increasing as it collapsed materially. Capilliary action forced water up through a hanging sheet of absorbent paper, disolving words and seperating pigments. Eventually when a stasis was reached, evaporation left a palimsest of new symbolic and perceptual resonance.

Reinforcing an awareness of the constancy of change, recordings of earthquake activity were faxed in each day from the Geophysics and Astronomy Department at the University of British Columbia and posted on the wall, like electrocardiographs or ecectroencephelographs monitoring the earths vitality.  The reality of the earth as a living process conflated with ones experiencing of this event as a complex organic process; a web of interdependance. This awareness was expressed directly when the seismographs were interpreted as musical scores by Sylvia Oats in an improvised performance with violin bow on Gwen Boyle's sound sculpture, Magnetic Field.

An essential quality that emerged as the event continued, was of its being located in the domain of the social. It depended on a sense of community; for those involved to be interacting with a sense of trust, reciprocity, mutuality and exchange - symbolised by the round table and the sharing of food.

Within the parameters of the event there were a number of discrete pieces by Neil Berecry, one in particular is indicative of principles that underlie his practice. Like other aspects of Conversations and is the story of a journey. In this case the "voyage" of a boat. It began when the "vessel", litterally the skeleton of a wooden row boat, was left  as part of an installation Bon Voyage on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on March 16, 1982, accompanied by an anonymous letter of donation.

Adrift or aground or abandoned, it became something of a "Trojan horse" when it was taken into the Gallery and stored. It was next sighted in Amnesia, an installation at the VAG (May 7-July 4 '82) by Roland Brenner who had salvaged it, along with other flotsam and jetsom in the gallery, for his work. Then the boat de-materialised. Its existance denied by Luke Rombout, then Dirctor of VAG, (in a latter dated July 22 '82), when it was nominated as suporting material in a Canada Council grant application.

It became a phantom and mystery surrounds what happened next.

When Berecry wished to include the boat in ConVersations and DePartures... and approached thd VAG concerning access, he recieved the following fax from Grant Arnold saying "Unfortunately the work no longer exists, at least physically...I have learned that the gallery stored the objects for some time after it moved into its present location in 1983. However, they had deteriorated to the point they were falling apart, and so were disposed of. I havn't been able to determine exactly when this occurred."

In 1996 the boat appeared at the OR Gallery, in the form of a cibachrome print showing it as it appeared on the evening TV news in March '82. Alongside it was the flag signal DN1 (Have you seen the boat?). Meanwhile back on the steps of the VAG, Berecry, with the help of Grant Arnold, raised the flags FA (Will you give me my position?).

Now  the boat embarks on another 'voyage', in this telling of the tale, as it has been told to me .

Perhaps more and more it resembles "that which outlives forms and produces their continuation ....that fragile centre which forms never reach" that is "life". A quote from Antoine Artaud which Berecry enjoys, with irony, as it appears in the Mise en scene catalogue essay by Scott Watson about Roland Brenner's Amnesia.

ConVersations and DePartures... was a "living process" which operated with open time-frames, constant mutation and change, multiple frames of reference, and a subtle integrating of activities into the politics of contemporary cultural practice. It reflected the artist's shift of interest from making art from life, through making life from art, to experiencing both in a state of being; of becoming; of un-knowing......    clearly.


ConVersations and DePartures...  ; an open ended speculative process. What it became was due to the generous and enthusiastic nature of those involved.

Thanks are extended to :

artists Janis Bowley, Gwen Boyle, Diana Burgoyne, Ian Cochrane, Francis Grafton, Susan Hillman, Michael Lawler, Sylvia Oats and Mai Swan from Canada, Terry Loane, Eilis O'Baoill and Martin Yelverston from Ireland, Lief e. Boman from Sweden, and Horst Kiechle, Judy Silver and Martin Sims from Australia.
Grant Arnold, Associate Curator, Vancouver Art Gallery, Michael Bovis, Professor of Geography, University of British Columbia, Andrew Fredericksen and Denise Long from the Geophysics and Astronomy Department, University of British Columbia, and Bob Mac Intyre.
Ailbhe Murphy and Ciaran Smyth in Dublin and Eilis O'Baoill, Damian Coyle and the artists of Catalyst Arts in Belfast for their hospitality and help.
The Or Gallery,  including Janis Bowley, who as Director/curator at the time invited this event to be part of the program, and  Reid Shier the incoming director.  Also Cyrus Farivar, Guy Rodrigue, Jim Pope, Nancy Hornell, Arlene Byrne and many others