On Saturday May 26th, Eugene Contemporary Art hosted “Trophallacy” – a performance by Vicki Amorose – and “Tailgate for Art” put on by Gray Space. Vicki is a member of Gray Space, along with artists Kate Ali, Lee Imonen, Michael Boonstra, Kathleen Caprario, Sandee McGee, Andrew Myers, Leah Wilson, Renee Couture. We wanted to find out more about Gray Space and what to expect at their opening reception and performance May 26th. We conducted this interview with Kate Ali and Vicki Amorose via email.

Can you tell me a bit about Gray Space? How did the idea come about?

Kate Ali: Gray Space is the result of eight artists, Michael Boonstra, Kathleen Caprario, Renee Couture, Lee Imonen, Sandee McGee, Andrew Myers, Leah Wilson and myself, coming together in 2016 for a series of discussions on how to engage in a contemporary dialogue that relates to the notion of place in Oregon. During this discussion we realized that we also wanted to create exhibition opportunities and engage in dialogues that were rooted in the places we were speaking to in our work.

In response to these conversations we created the physical module that is Gray Space. It is an artist’s tool that consists of 6’x6’x6’ steel frame on wheels. It is heavy duty enough to be suspended by a crane and light enough to roll to most locations. It has removable plexi-panels and walls that allow an artist’s work to engage the frame work of Gray Space while simultaneously responding to its larger environment.

As we identified our mission Leah Wilson created our website. Then we brought on Rachell Jarvis, our photographer to maintain a continuity to the visual language of Gray Space. After that we brought on Vicki Amorose to help articulate and unify the language we use while discussing the project. Then recently we worked with Marlitt Dellabough, a phenomenal graphic designer to create our logo. This wealth of talent, passion and generosity is a large part of why we are still coming together to discuss art and create works related to Gray Space.

What is it about Eugene right now that makes a project like yours interesting to make happen?

KA: While our artists are based in Corvallis, Eugene and Roseburg, we do engage Eugene because of the support we receive here. Eugene feels a little like the wild west of contemporary art right now. We all know there are talented artists out there in the everyday, hungry for opportunities, some who have been successfully making their work for years by exhibiting elsewhere. Yet still we are all blowing around like tumble weeds trying to find our people. While that can feel frustrating, it’s also an incredible opportunity to make things happen.

There is still room to be innovative, there is still enough calm between art events to be heard. We can make our own opportunities, we as creatives just have to take some public risks. Gray Space is doing that, though we are set up to exhibit across the State. There are some exciting groups emerging and taking hold in the Eugene area. ECA has really become an anchor for a lot of local contemporary artists and the important dialogues that surrounds their work.

Vicki Amorose: Kate and I were on a road trip when I first described my idea for a performance about the Win/Lose paradigm. She said she’d been holding on to a parallel idea for a long time – she wanted to have an art tailgate party.  I thought the idea was jaw-droppingly brill, so good it makes you wonder: Why hasn’t this been done before? Here in Track Town, Go Ducks Eugene? You mean there’s never been a tailgate for art? We have to do that!  In Eugene right now, I feel momentum from artists who’re thinking, “We have to do that!” Whatever it is, whatever ideas you’ve been holding on to, it’s time to take your turn and make it real.

What is a Tailgate?

KA: A social gathering where an informal meal is served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically adjacent to a sports stadium where people come together to build on the excitement of an existing event. Art openings can be so rigid and awkward, the Art Tailgate is a reason to come together casually and celebrate the work that has been done. One of the primary missions of Gray Space is to explore how art influences place and place influences art. Sports culture permeates Eugene, so it felt natural to play off of this for Vicki’s performance at the edge of U of O’s campus.  One of the things that is amazing about sports culture is the way fans swarm upon a sporting event with tailgates and flags flying. I love the idea of one day having an art tailgate at a larger venue where artists and arts organizations across the region show up to represent. We have invited a handful of artists to do car art installations for the event. The Art tailgate is an experiment and really everything that Gray Space is doing right now is an experiment at this point.

VKA: Thank you for this excellent question, respected ambassador from another culture. A tailgate is a social gathering that takes place around parked vehicles, typically adjacent to a sporting event. Sports fans share food, drink, and a phenomenon known as “team spirit.” Tailgating extends the time for revelry in pre-game anticipation.

Apply this concept to an art opening, and it sure beats the hell out of the usual awkward-for-most-everyone-especially-the-artist gallery reception.

Does your Tailgate for Art relate to the “win/lose” paradigm that Vicki Amorose is engaging in her performance piece “Trophallacy”?

KA: The Gray Space Tailgate is there to support Vicki in her own creative pursuits just as Vicki has supported ours. The way we see it, the more we can exchange that energy the stronger and more fun the Willamette Valley’s creative community will be. In that way, Gray Space has side stepped the win/lose paradigm. We’ve chosen to stop waiting for approval and just make our own opportunities, supporting our artists and encourage others to do the same.

VKA: People are in a great mood at a tailgate because nobody has been declared a winner or loser yet.  It’s all about conviviality, commonality and enjoying the moment in time. Gray Space will park it in the moment, no winner or loser required.

My performance is not saying that all competition is wrong. I’m asking us (especially artists) to examine Win/Lose in our lives and recognize the way we simply nod okay and accept its dominance. Just like avoiding a bully, we get out of its way. We dodge competition and contests if we don’t like them, and so avoid the work of making a change.

Do we have to paint our faces team colors?

KA: I love the idea of everyone coming to represent their own creative teams in one way or another. However, no painted faces or vein popping screams of support are required.

VKA: That’s the burning question: What does an art fan look like? Gray Space artists will be wearing gray, of course.

If you could wave a wand, and see our civic and business leaders engage with artists in Eugene, what would that look like?

KA: Small artist grants, artist sponsorships, artist fellowships, affordable studio spaces, ANY studio spaces, vineyards and breweries starting solid art collections, architects providing installation space in their offices or projects, whew, don’t get me started.

VKA: Stirring the cauldron is my preferred metaphor. We can keep mixing people and ideas together and adding more fire until the blend is right for action. Artists don’t need just any old business person or civic leader. We need businesses and leaders who have a love for the arts and want to include creativity and community in the vision they hold for themselves.

Similarly, we can’t lump all artists together. We need doers and experimenters who hold community as part of their vision and art practice. When we engage in building culture, we have to expand on older definitions of both “artist” and “business.” My experience tells me that ideas, opportunities and enthusiasms come from meeting each other and finding the people you want to hang out with. I’d like to see Eugene open a gathering spot for artists, art enthusiasts and community influencers – a dedicated space where we can hear each other and get together regularly.