Winnipeg’s Plug In: Contemporary art on the prairie

Winnipeg’s contemporary art scene has developed an undeniable and persistent buzz, thanks in no small part to the city’s own Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art. Founded in 1972, Plug In has been central to Winnipeg’s evolution as an important center of contemporary art. Those with their fingers on the pulse of contemporary art and film will already know that the Royal Art Lodge‘s members hail from Winnipeg, as do Dominique Rey, Guy Maddin, and Noam Gonick, to name but a handful.

In addition to providing a space for exciting and boundary-pushing art, Plug In also has the distinction of having produced the only piece of art (Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller‘s Paradise Institute) to earn Canada an award at the Venice Biennale.

Plug In’s 2010/11 programming highlights include an exhibit by Eleanor Bond, a film installation shot in Winnipeg by Shezad Dawood, and work by AA Bronson, Adrian Stimpson, and Lori Blondeau.

The most exciting new development in Plug In’s world is its new gallery space, which is currently under construction and slated for a November 2010 opening. Filmmaker Noam Gonick, one of Winnipeg’s most important contemporary artists and currently President of the Board of Directors of Plug In, told me that the new building will “truly engage the public with radical contemporary art programming from Manitoba and around the world.”

I had the good fortune to tour the Plug In building site with Neil Minuk, a member of the architectural team behind Plug In. The new space is located at a busy intersection in downtown Winnipeg adjacent to the magnificent Winnipeg Art Gallery. It is shared by Plug In and the University of Winnipeg.

Architecturally, the building manages to feel austere yet resemble a confection. The outside as well as the inside of the building is covered in freezer panels, an inexpensive and funny material for a building in a city with such a cold climate. The other immediately interesting architectural feature is the building’s external tabs. These tabs cast shadows and assume different colors at different times, the latter feature due to the reflective film that covers them. A passageway through the building will permit pedestrians to pass through in warmer weather; during the winter, this area will morph into the building’s vestibule.

Once completed, Plug In’s portion of the building will include gallery space, a bookstore, and two cafes, one with an organic food focus and the other cast in a bistro-esque mold.

Upcoming in 2011 is Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, which will be the world’s first International Aboriginal Biennale. Indigenous artists from Canada, the United States, Europe, and Oceania will show work that imagines the forms culture will take in the future. Celebrated Canadian artists Rebecca Belmore and Kent Monkman are confirmed participants.

Check out my entire road trip to Winnipeg here.

Some media support for my stay in Winnipeg was provided by Tourism Winnipeg and Travel Manitoba. All opinions expressed are my own.