Transient art inspired by condos and group home

It was an unusual housewarming. The building didn’t have a roof. The furniture was outside. And there weren’t any doors.

It was an unusual housewarming.

The building didn’t have a roof.

The furniture was outside.

And there weren’t any doors.

But Friday evening, there was a good crowd drinking red wine and enjoying the art.

Dwarfed by Kobayashi and Zedda’s New Cambodia condos on one side and the Yukon Children’s Receiving Home on the other, the haphazard art structure sat on the empty lot between Lambert and Hanson streets.

It straddled the path commuters take to cut-off the corner.

With two open doorways, the artists were hoping people using the lot would walk through the artwork.

But many times, they just got dirty looks.

Bylaw paid the fledgling architects a visit shortly after the structure was erected.

But it turned out the artists didn’t need a permit.

The structure was temporary, under three metres-by-three metres and was on private property.

“It’s built from architectural excrement,” said interdisciplinary artist Valerie Salez.

Salez and her cohorts pulled the lumber, plywood and hardware from building-site dumpsters in Copper Ridge and behind Bling.

They were originally going to build a wall.

“About a year ago, we started having conversations about doing something together,” said Salez, sitting on the ground working on a corner of the building.

Beside her, animator Jay White painted small figures with a thin black brush.

Two artists who live on the lot, as well as Salez’s partner Jesse Mitchell,  were also working on the structure.

“It’s not so much about drawing and painting — it’s more site specific,” said Salez.

“It’s our reaction to this crazy space.”

The lot, with its tiny bungalow is boxed in by new condo developments, she said.

“There’s all this gentrification, then you have the receiving home with its black mould issues and all these screwed up souls.

“The kids at the home were our biggest audience,” added Salez.

The youth wandered over to watch the artists working, but wouldn’t pick up a brush and join in.

However, after a few days, the kids came over with one of their care workers.

“They wanted us to help them facilitate a project over there, to paint their garage or fence,” said Salez.

The request made the whole project worthwhile, she said.

Afraid it would be tagged with graffiti or vandalized, Salez and Mitchell slept in a tent by the structure each night.

Sitting in their maroon dome, they heard people run into the obstruction in the path and refer to its creators as “art fags.”

They also overheard a conversation Salez wouldn’t forget.

“If it was a bunch of natives doing this stuff, they’d call it graffiti and tear it down,” she heard a man say.

 Some older guys would stumble across it and have ‘60s flashbacks, she added with a laugh.

Tacked together at odd angles, the walls held layers and layers of paint, some paper collages and stencils.

Small figures trudged under grinning Cheshire-cat monsters while flowered wallpaper graced a corner.

Salez pointed out one section of wall washed in red and black paint.

“Jay did these beautiful animations there,” she said.

“And now they’re gone.”

Putting so much work into a piece that could be erased by someone else was all part of the project.

There must be 10 layers of paint and artwork under every wall, said Salez.

When work is erased, it hurts, she said.

“But you get used to it — it’s a way of growing as an artist.”

“It was a serious learning experience,” said White.

“It’s freeing to let go of something you spent so much time on.

“It’s refreshing to have someone editing.”

Although everyone came to the project with their own ideas, the work was derivative, said Mitchell, wiping off a paintbrush.

“We ended up feeding off each other, filling in shapes, or drawing new ones,” he said.

“It makes you think about how your surroundings influence you.”

That’s what’s great about this lot, he added.

“We wanted to create the structure in a tentative space and time, like this lot is.”

Discussions about the lot, the gentrification of the neighbourhood and the receiving home led to the project’s title: Somewhere Between New Cambodia and Bling.

“What a weird contradiction of worlds,” said Mitchell.

The five artists decided to do the work without applying for government grants or funding.

“We just wanted to do it for the sake of doing it,” said Salez.

White, who has applied for plenty of grants, finds the process makes work “structured and non-spontaneous.”

“Grants are a double-edged sword,” he said.

“Art is not about getting grants; it’s about what has to be done right then.

“Art isn’t supposed to have rules.”

And it’s fleeting, he said.

As quickly as it went up, Somewhere Between New Cambodia and Bling disappeared.

Saturday morning, all that was left was a wooden cable spool and several paint-covered sticks.

“The art was the work in progress,” said White.

The artists hope to reconstruct the project inside Studio 204 in February.

But the walls would be attached differently, said Salez.

White is also hoping for more art happenings around Whitehorse.

“There may be some nameless things popping up around town,” he said.