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Celebrating the big X

Published: 
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Alice Yard founders, from left, Sean Leonard, Nicholas Laughlin and Chris Cozier. Photo courtesy Lola Flash/ Alice Yard

As creative space Alice Yard enters its tenth year of existence—Year X, as they have branded it—its co-founders, architect Sean Leonard, artist Christopher Cozier and writer Nicholas Laughlin, say the secret to their success is spontaneity and responsiveness.
 
They said they’ve never had a plan for what they’ve wanted the space to become, and this has helped them remain alive over the years.

“This was once the house of Sean Leonard’s great-grandmother. Four generations of children played and imagined in this yard, and now we continue this tradition.” That’s the description of the space on the group’s website. It’s now the main physical site of the work of the arts support not-for-profit they’ve established by the same name.

When they began, their main question was, if we make the space available for people to do certain kinds of creative or intellectual work, who will come and what will they want to do?

In the beginning, the space was primarily used by musicians, including 12 the Band, founded by Sheldon Holder. In addition to practicing there, Holder would host a Friday night event called Conversations at the Yard. 

However, these events got “a little too loud and a little bit unmanageable for us and was affecting our relationship to the neighbourhood, so we decided we didn't set up this space to be a place for people to lime,” said Laughlin. The space was also being used by artists Marlon Griffith, Jaime Lee Loy, and Nikolai Noel, who had formed the group The Collaborative Frog. 

In 2008, the space saw the addition of the Alice Yard Box, a tiny glass-fronted gallery, and in late 2009, the Habitat living space—a studio apartment largely used by visiting artists. The Yard has hosted a range of people and events, from contemporary artists to musicians to literary events to visiting experts. 

The different types of events draw different types of audiences, some of which may overlap, and others of which may not know of each others’ existence.

A main aim of the curators is to give people a space who would not necessarily have one, not only to start out in their artistic and music careers, but also to meet, rehearse, practice. Laughlin said, “It’s for people who are looking for a space that doesn’t otherwise exist for them to do, hear or see what they want.” 

“All sorts of people ask to do all kinds of things, so it would appear that many kinds of projects or people who are managing projects seem to think that maybe this space is able, for different reasons, to accommodate them in some way,” Leonard said.

Over the years the yard has hosted art installations, dance recitals, cabarets, fund-raising used book sales, readings of fiction, poetry and nonfiction—and many other kinds of events. 

Their other space, Granderson Lab on Erthig Road in Belmont, has also been instrumental in achieving this aim. Downstairs is the Propaganda Space and Robert Young’s The Cloth, while the top floor has shared artist space for various creative people. Both spaces have also served as initial meeting places for advocacy and lobbying groups.

An important and often overlooked aspect of the Yard is the soundproof band room, which the trio said has run on a parallel thread as the Yard, and has had the widest participation in terms of groups and age ranges. 

“I have seen everybody from (panman Ken) Prof Philmore to (soca singer) Alison Hinds to (T&T roots rock band) Orange Sky. 

“Artists and bands like Ronnie McIntosh, David Rudder, Yung Rudd, Ella Andall, 3Canal, Shurwayne Winchester, Orange Sky, Gyazette have all used that space,” Cozier said.

Leonard said the relationships which have been formed over the ten-year period have been as important to them as the development of the physical space, not only the relationship between the trio, but also those formed with the network of artists and others who have used and interacted with the space. 

The yard enables people to make connections. Cozier said, “If one artist, curator or thinker comes from another part of the world, and there are 20 people in the room, you don’t know which of those two people you may have reached out to, and then you’re going to see that coming back in ten years. 

“We don't know what would happen in subsequent years by the kinds of interactions that would have taken place in the yard.” 

Laughlin said this has already begun to happen—for example, “when you hear a young artist who started at Alice Yard is now being curated at an international show or has been invited on a residency.” Leonard said it’s wonderful that the students are now starting to reach out and recommend others to come to the yard. 

Reaching out to young people is something that the trio has done consistently since the beginning of the yard. 

“Over the years, we've had generations of young ex-UWI people coming to us who had nowhere to go, saying, ‘Where do we go to show our work? Because there's no space or context for us; a commercial gallery is not going to take us on.’ And it's been really gratifying to see how they came to us when they were 19 or 20 or 21, and now they're building careers and moving around. 

“We can see the process of exchange, see how they've enriched the process of what we're doing, as well what they're able to give back to us,” Laughlin said.

Cozier said it has gotten to the point where having a relationship with or a presence at Alice Yard “is something you can put on your CV, so as they travel, being able to say, ‘I've done something at Alice Yard’ or ‘I'm part of a network or conversation with Alice Yard’, has been useful to them in opening doors or getting interactions that they may not have necessarily have been able to secure before.”

The trio said they would continue to run the yard as long as it remains fun. They say two main reasons it continues to engage them is that they run the space without funding, and they don’t irritate each other. There are many events planned for the tenth anniversary celebrations. 

The first, starting today, will be an exhibition by Bahamian artist Blue Curry, the current artist-in-residence. Along with this, there will be an archival exhibition documenting the moment when the Yard began, along with the announcement of a curatorial project involving a number of artists who have been involved with the yard.

Over the course of the year, there will be the release of an anthology of writing that is connected with the yard, along with the handover of material to begin an Alice Yard anthology to be hosted at the UWI Library. Many more activities are in the works as well. 

Laughlin said the yard is, and remains, a Woodbrook backyard, but what is fascinating is how “the space is physically the same space, but you have all these exchanges, conversations, actions and it changes because you've had all these experiences in it, and there are all these layers, like archaeological layers of experience.”

Today’s launch event for Year X begins at 7 pm, at Alice Yard, 80 Roberts Street, Woodbrook. Admission is free and the event is open to all.

More info: Visit: aliceyard.blogspot.com

A year in the life of Alice Yard
Richard Williams: New Objects and Wall Collages – August 11, 2016 – T&T/Germany - Williams is influenced by contemporary wall graphics, graffiti, and the public performances of the Fluxus Movement.

Asha Ganpat – New works – August 4, 2016 – T&T/New Jersey - Save Me Hanuman!, made using found printed materials (an illustrated children’s book of Hindu stories and a book on local insects), and Hard Alchemy, using coins and gold leaf.

Antawan I. Byrd - Captured in the Grip of Listening? - Photographs of People with Radios in (Post-) Colonial Bamako: A talk and research exhibition – July 27, 2016 – US – talk on how artists in Bamako, Port-of-Spain, and New York use sound technologies to engage profound moments of political change.

I Am One T&T’s The King Show – June 17, 2016 – T&T – part of the Pride Arts Festival 2016.

Alexandra Majerus – Down the Islands – June 6, 2016 – Canada/Barbados; a video work in response to conversations and text messages along with an informal talk.

A conversation with curator Kristen Gaylord – May 19, 2016 – US – informal talk about the New York Museum of Modern Art’s global research programme

Joshua Lue Chee Kong - Flag of My Mother’s Land – April 20, 2016 – T&T - Exhibition of flag made of found materials in Beijing, in tribute to Trinidadian artist Carlisle Chang.

Douen Islands: Kiskadee – April 9, 2016 – T&T- a performance event including words, images, movement, and music, as part of the Douen Islands collaborative project

Versia Abeda Harris - Merely a Chimera: Selected images in the Box and in the Yard – March 27, 2016 – Barbados – art exhibition.

Dangerous curves: a conversation about performance and politics, with Rosamond S King, Gabrielle Civil, and Attillah Springer – March 22, 2016 – US/T&T/London - informal discussion on performance and politics.

Pablo Delano: The Museum of the Old Colony – February 19, 2016 – Puerto Rico – artist’s talk and exhibition of still photographs and moving images of Puerto Rico, along with their original captions or descriptive language, created mostly by US photographers, mostly for the consumption of a US general public.

Sharelly Emanuelson— Doh mix meh up– February 15, 2016 – Curacao – video presentation and artist’s talk on the video, which uses calypso and Roadmarch songs together with the discussions surrounding Carnival as a metaphor for negotiations on Aruban identity and nationalism, which keeps reinventing itself.

Hurricanes and Wakes: An evening of poetry with Loretta Collins Klobah, Andre Bagoo, and Shivanee Ramlochan – January 11, 2016 – reading and panel discussion on the work of the authors. Part of the NGC Bocas Literary Festival

Three Months in Trinidad: New Work by Tessa Mars – December 17, 2015 – Haiti - a series of drawings, paintings, zines, and prints.

Lara Dahlmann: Currents – November 9, 2015 – Germany – series of drawings and a mural 

Alex Kelly – October 12, 2015 – T&T - a mural drawing, part of an ongoing exploration of the concept of “force ripe”

A conversation with Ivan Sigal – October 9, 2015 – informal talk on Sigal’s work as photographer, writer, media producer, and executive director of Global Voices, the compulsion to document, and how photographs can find truths behind the grand narratives of nations and official histories.

Proximities 2: Destinos Posibles - Curated by Meykén Barreto – September 21, 2015 – selection of video works from various artists, in partnership with the T&T Film Festival 2015 New Media programme

Richard Rawlins: The General Public – September 1, 2015 – exhibition seeking to close a loop of political exploration which began in the lead-up to Trinidad and Tobago’s 2010 general elections.
 

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