I used to take a lot of strolls down Granville. This was when Dougie Dog, the hot dog cart franchise, had a brick & mortar store; I always relished their chicago dog facsimiles. Outside, there was the reliable parting glance from an anthropomorphic hot dog statue, set to his cosmetic task, tongue squished out in concentration, squeezing out ketchup to create a hairline above his pert sausage body. For an instant it all goes away — the throngs of tourist and suburbanite, the neon district tinge of human waste and cologne — I am implicated in the perverse, yet populist realm of anthropomorphic (auto)cannibal death drive. This hot dog wants you to eat him.
We have entered a peculiar universe. Later this year, Seth Rogen’s parody of CGI fare, Sausage Party, will depict anthropomorphic foodstuffs who gush with desire over being “chosen,” until they learn what being chosen entails. It’s an acerbic take on the genre of visual design where anthropomorphic creatures are happy to offer themselves for our consumption; or cooking up their kin; or, most disturbingly, rapt in gluttonous pleasure as they slice off pieces of themselves for our delectation. You’ve seen it on BBQs, butchers, storefronts, advertisement: we’re culturally indicted.
Chris Bentzen knows. In June, his Hot Art Wet City gallery on Main Street will present Eat Yo Self, a show about anthropomorphic animals and foodstuffs devouring themselves and their compatriots. It was in the interest of exploring this sick, yet compelling phenomenon, that I initially sat down with Bentzen. While Eat Yo Self is perhaps one of Bentzen’s more disturbing ideas, the Main Street space has been striking psychic nerves for three years through open calls-for-submission: with subjects like David Suzuki, John Hughes, cartoon nudity, pizza, internet memes, and more. Additionally serving as a yoga space and comedy venue, Hot Art Wet City has made a name on its accessible and unpretentious experience.
After graduating from Emily Carr in graphic design, Bentzen found himself more interested in organizing than heavily practicing his own art. He tells me, “I had come out of punk rock culture. A lot of other galleries feel ivory tower. You’re not sure if you can walk in. The audience I’m looking for are not necessarily interested in going to galleries, or buying art. Often a lot of people feel like they need to be initiated. Here, what you see is what you get: fun stuff, weird stuff.”
Besides welcoming newcomers to the art world, Hot Art Wet City has helped open up the field in a repressed artistic culture. Born and raised in the Lower Mainland, Bentzen notes that “there’s a lot of illustrators, animators, comic artists [here]. I think those artists often don’t recognize themselves as people who could be in a gallery. Commercial versus fine art — those lines are blurring in the U.S., especially in the pop surrealist galleries. There’s a lot of artists doing that here, but it’s not getting recognition … If you go to a Granville Street gallery you’ll see paintings of flowers, abstract landscapes. It’s just a function of buyers. Maybe Vancouver’s more conservative that way.”
Pop surrealism, a.k.a. lowbrow, with roots in L.A. comic and hotrod culture, seems appropriate in this city given Vancouver’s ‘80s hardcore heritage. Bentzen has featured artists such as Andrea Hooge, Ali Bruce, Scott Sueme, and even occasional higher art incursions from artists like Caroline Weaver, Jeremiah Birnbaum, and the Phantoms in the Front Yard group. Altogether, the gallery’s offerings channel an alternative Vancouver art. In a return to Bentzen’s punk origins, the gallery has also been able to feature Jim Cummins, a.k.a. I, Braineater, whose pop surrealism has coloured Vancouver since the ‘70s.
Bentzen wonders about taking this Vancouver art to other cities; making connections beyond the Lower Mainland. To digress, if Vancouver eats itself, it’s through the a program of gentrification, recolonization, and the dislocation of its people and history. “I wanted to provide a gallery where artists I like could show, where I would want to go to myself. The closest in Vancouver was Ayden Gallery, now they’re closed.”
As it maintains, Hot Art Wet City is a refuge on Main Street; a space besides. More events may be on the way, perhaps “performative dance, because the space is so compact, there’s intimacy between performers and the audience.” Bentzen is thinking about using the back room as a studio. Still, as valuable as it is, Bentzen is modest about HAWC when it comes to getting artists exposure. “I think it’s up to the artist. I’m able to show the art, expose it, but the artists have to push themselves. And because there’s not many opportunities to show, just being available is helpful. But it’s always up to the artist.”
So there will be art that touches common nerves. And there will be people who want to see it. The alternative is more frightening that a pig eating its own rump.
Actually never mind. That’s way more twisted.
Hot Art Wet City is located at 2206 Main Street, and is open Wednesday-Saturday 12-5pm. Eat Yo Self runs from June 225, with an opening reception June 3 at 7pm. For upcoming events and full submission guidelines, visit hotartwetcity.com.