Features

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Duplex is a bit elusive to an outsider. Located on Fraser Street in an area known as Little Manila to some, it would be impossible to locate without direction unless you knew what their tiny duplex sign meant. Luckily, I was met with smiles from a group of studio artists huddled beneath a grocery store awning. Discorder met with Gabi Dao, Kara Hansen, Liam Johnstone, Scott Kemp and Jordan Milner to discuss Duplex, their collective and the ecology of DIY art spaces.

The main gallery space had already been installed for Clues, a show in collaboration with artists from Winnipeg that runs until June 7. It smelled of paint and the space was surprisingly small. I was struck by the blue glass installation in the centre of the white floor. It called me to crouch down and touch it.

In contrast to the gallery, the studio catacombs are large and modular, each room easily housing multiple artists individually while still allowing for easy access and collaboration. The only interruption is noise from above, footsteps and dragging sounds. On this Sunday, it was possible to hear hymns, high heels and what sounded like marbles falling.

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Photography by Duncan Cairns-Brenner for Discorder Magazine

Water and electrical are the main issues of building maintenance. Slowly, the Duplex collective has been making repairs, but there are still problems with water leaks. “We have leaks on the backside of the wall, so whenever it rains heavily or someone pees on the side of the building, it goes right into our studios. […] It’s stuff like that we talk to [the landlords about], and they say it’s the City’s job [to fix],” explained Milner. Although in this circumstance it would be a landlord’s responsibility to repair leaks, in general, the City of Vancouver has little interest in supporting small studio spaces like Duplex. Lacking mass public interest, the City’s cultural plan from 2008 to present day has consistently failed independent artists working outside of the commercial or mainstream sectors, for whom funding can be life- and career-changing, whose work benefits Vancouver’s creative and cultural industries.

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Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine

The fate of Vancouver’s studio spaces are cyclical, with affordable spaces purchased by wealthy business owners and redeveloped. As land value increases and landlords sell or set sights on condo redevelopment, places like Duplex are unprotected. Recently, Duplex’s landowners have been appraising the property and soil sampling. Johnstone explained, “We are on marsh land, effectively, [and] they have to test how deep they would have to dig if they wanted to get to solid foundation, especially if they want 6 storeys.” But this foreshadowing is good, said Johnstone. “The fact that they are doing it now is a red flag for us [for] a few years from now.” When the collective renew their lease, they will be looking for demolition clauses and any other signs that the owners were gearing up to redevelop the land.

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Gabi Dao (top) and Scott Kemp (bottom) || Photography by Duncan Cairns-Brenner for Discorder Magazine

Though Duplex is aware of its own mortality, immediate development does not scare the collective. They all believe that they have had a good stretch in the studio. They moved into the space during the summer of 2015, after having to leave their former studio, Avenue, due to health concerns — the artists no longer felt physically safe at Avenue after a few dangerous incidents regarding roof leaks and building neglect. Duplex, having previously been vacant for six years, is 3000+ square feet and has served the needs of its artists well over the last few years. The collective hopes that they can keep it going for at least a couple more.

Operating through collaboration and consensus, sometimes programming can be off-the-cuff or inconsistent. Although Dao, Hansen, Johnstone, Kemp and Milner currently share programming and logistical duties, a complete list of the current and former founders, studiomates and programmers includes Susanna Browne, Patrick Campbell, Julia Feyrer, Maddison Killough, Brodie Kitchen, Monique Levesque, Jonathan Middleton, Katrina Niebergal, Alex Pichler, Tom Richardson, Kathleen Taylor, Michelle Weinstein, Stephan Wright and Setarah Yasan. This group represents about half of the artists at Duplex. Before the space was known as Duplex, there were artists running a portion of the building exclusively as artist studios, founded by Steve Hubert and Scott Lewis.

This collective effort is why on their website or in show programs, Duplex never posts individual names, instead attributing activities as “from the collective.”

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Jordan Milner || Photography by Duncan Cairns-Brenner for Discorder Magazine

“Applying [ourselves] takes a lot of time, and we are all [working on] our individual practices,” Milner continued, “[Managing Duplex means] constantly splitting yourself. I think you can only do so much of what you are good at, which makes it a little more chaotic and unbalanced, but for some reason we are able to work that way instead of a hierarchical structure.”

The Duplex collective admitted that they are still learning how to operate and keep their space running. They can only compensate artists with what they earn through bar sales and tips, and through the gift of their own labour as organizers. Professionalizing has never felt right to them, however, and Duplex has remained a non-profit. Kemp expressed that they are generally comfortable with inconsistency and although they are “not ideologically opposed” to institutional funding, they don’t want to have to rely on it.

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Kara Hansen || Photography by Duncan Cairns-Brenner for Discorder Magazine

The strength of Duplex is that it has found a way of functioning as a DIY, artist-run space, and that its operations are not dictated by strict administration. If Duplex’s operations were funded by larger institutions or government grants, it could radically affect their work flow because labour would be focused elsewhere, in grant-writing and managing grant requirements. This administrative structure is not attractive to all artist-run spaces, and it can be argued that an artist-run facility should not have to conform to a certain model to acquire funding.

Building accessibility is still an issue for Duplex, as it is for many DIY spaces around Vancouver. People in wheelchairs would have a hard time accessing the gallery and studios. Because Duplex is not clearly identified from the street, a lot of shows do not reach the usual art patron.

This being said, Duplex has been successful at attracting different groups of people because the artists’ individual practices are so diverse and multi-media. An example of a dynamic ongoing series is Leftovers, which Hansen explained, “doesn’t focus on the exhibition of art, but rather proposes environments where artists and non-artists can produce or bring snacks, décor, music, lighting, etc.” Last summer, Duplex hosted a party with a bouncy castle as a fundraiser for a vacuum.duplex_duncanCairnsBrenner_forDiscorder_June2018_21

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Liam Johnstone (bottom) || Photography by Duncan Cairns-Brenner for Discorder Magazine

The goal behind adopting an unconventional gallery format and wanting more interactive art exhibitions is to attract more people to art. “The [social] architecture of gallery and physical spaces are not meant for human bodies, and not always inclusive of different kinds of bodies,” explained Dao, pointing out that galleries in general can seem quite exclusive. Milner agreed, “It’s a magnifying glass.” Duplex encourages people to get in contact and request viewings, not just of the gallery but of the studios as well.

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Illustration by Maxwell Babiuk for Discorder Magazine

The challenges that Duplex face reflect the nature of many DIY art spaces; coordinating studios requires the commitment of many people, all with different strengths and lengths of time they can put in, questioning how to sustain the space and themselves and not burn out. Duplex’s rhetoric is easy to understand. They believe that as artists, it is important for people who do not have the vernacular, confidence and connections to ask for visibility and access. People should be able to find ways of becoming part of art communities outside of commercial galleries, more established artist-run galleries, independent or civic institutions. As artists and organizers, they hope to facilitate dialogue, and insert themselves in the diverse ecology of Vancouver’s art scene.

In order to sustain an independant art scene in Vancouver, artists should feel empowered to demand space and make connections. Art patrons are encouraged to attend small openings, and support their neighbourhood studio spaces. You never know what you could find on the other side of that hole in the wall.

 

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Duplex is located at 4257 + 4277 Fraser Street. Their next show is The Influencers with Shizen Jambor and Olga Abeleva, and will run June 14 to July 12. Viewing hours by appointment by emailing hello@projectduplex.com. You can follow Duplex on Facebook, on Instagram @duplexduplex_, or visit duplexduplex.ca for news and updates.

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TAKE WHAT YOU WANT

RUDE NALA

 

In person, Nala’s smile is natural but cautious, making Rude Nala the perfect stage name because it’s exactly what her performance persona is: the rude version of herself. Nala is a local R&B hip hop artist dropping her first mixtape on June 13. Even though she’s fresh, Nala has a strong sense of her brand, and her social media and performance presence is cooly curated to match it a very Aquarius approach. “Do you know a lot about Aquariuses?” she asks, “We’re not inconsiderate, but sometimes I just don’t think about other people.” Nala follows this up with an easy laugh, leaning back in her chair. “I’m just focused on my work, I don’t go out of my way.”

Nala has been performing and releasing music in and around Vancouver since 2015. What started out as a little kid routine running around Metrotown Mall singing into a toy microphone has grown into a practice of absolute care and focus. “I realized music was a form of expression when something really messed up happened to me and at that point I was like, ‘Okay, I need to take this music thing seriously because people need to hear what I’m going through.’ Sometimes the only way to get through it is to listen to music,” Nala explains.

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Rude Nala || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

This tape is the first milestone of Nala’s career, and something she is eager to eclipse: “I feel like I’m at a breaking point. For me, this tape is the beginning. I’m branding myself with this tape. It’s an official start to everything for me.” Nala is totally committed to music and equally ambitious. “No matter what struggles or conflicts I might run into in the industry, nothing’s gonna get in the way of me getting far with this music […] This is what I’m gonna do and I’m gonna keep doing it forever.” As her first major release, Nala’s not taking any chances with this tape and is taking notes from other artists to roll the project out, she explains: “I’m not sharing the cover or the name. I’m Nala3_TifanieLamiel_forDiscorder_May2018Nala1_TifanieLamiel_forDiscorder_May2018putting little hints here and there so a lot of people are like, ‘Nala’s cooking something up,’ but they don’t know what.”

“The industry” came up a lot in conversation with Nala. As an artist learning about herself and her sound, she is strikingly conscious of the various hurdles for creators, and what needs to be done in order to “make it.” The mixtape is the culmination of “every experience women have in this industry,” from having just one song on Soundcloud to where she is now. It is a celebration of femininity in a masculine-dominated space, something that empowers Nala: “It’s really uplifting to see other women coming up in the industry and doing what they love. It’s hard to be in an industry run by men. People try to take advantage of us all the time.” But it’s a structure that Nala works within to make opportunities for herself. “I’m just trying to hustle, hustle, hustle right now, just trying to grind, grind, grind because I want it to be perfect.”

Everything leading up to this tape release has been a process of learning for Nala, and she’s still figuring out how her music plays into her personality. “The closer I get to my sound, the closer I get to realizing myself, and little pieces pull everything together to complement the music overall. It has actually made me mature a lot. I’m blossoming.” Nala continues, “I feel like the music has helped me tune in to people.”

Nala is coming up alongside local femme, R&B and hip hop artists like Prado and softieshan, but also international performers like SZA, Cardi B and Janelle Monae. “So many women are getting hyped and clout from these cool projects, and it’s setting the bar higher and higher for me, but I love that. I love a challenge. I love having something to work towards. I like knowing and seeing where I can improve because I’m only trying to get better,” she explains.

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Rude Nala || Photography by Emmanuel Etti for Discorder Magazine

Finally, it seems that Vancouver is becoming a place where R&B and hip hop artists can launch and maintain mainstream music careers. It’s definitely been a long time coming with East Coast artists dominating international limelight, but local artists have been carving this space piece by piece for years; each gig and release making a foothold for emerging artists to build themselves up.

It is in this context that Nala is making opportunities for herself and strategically building an audience. She is completely fearless in her career. Nala knows what she’s doing, it’s just a matter of doing it. In a fairly vicious industry, she recognizes her softness: “I think it’s a good thing for people to boss up. That’s something that I need to work on because people like seeing where you’re coming from.” While Nala’s manners are polite for now, she’s getting ruder every day.

 

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Rude Nala is self-releasing her tape (still untitled) on June 13. Check out soundcloud.com/rudenanaa for the release. Follow Rude Nala on Instagram @rudenala.