Places + Spaces: Between Pheasants Contemporary, Kerns Township

The Canadian art landscape is ever-changing. Akimbo keeps you apprised of the standard-bearers as well as the upstarts in our monthly feature on exhibition spaces from across the country. This month, we speak with Alexander Rondeau of Between Pheasants Contemporary in Kerns Township, ON.

What‘s the history of your gallery?

Installation view of the BPC group exhibition tethers from 2021

Between Pheasants Contemporary (BPC) first launched in March 2021 inside a chicken/pheasant “duplex” coop on a farm in Kerns Township, in what is now known as “Northeastern Ontario”. It was established by me on a total whim when I realized that, although the chicken side is occupied year round, the pheasant side was empty for the winter and spring months between flocks. I first thought that it could be an interesting site for an exhibition, but very quickly realized that it could be a long-term experimental presentation space. The priority of the space is its primary function of housing livestock, and the capacity to present exhibitions is secondary. The original programming vision was (and mostly still is) twofold: to engage with under-programmed artists in the rural North and to connect them with wider audiences; and to provide local audiences with access to presentations by artists and curators from elsewhere that would not otherwise be presented locally (the nearest artist-run centre is over 200 kilometers away!).

Much of the programming prioritizes queer, trans, and/or two spirit artists (which is the central part of my doctoral research outside of my work with BPC), so the coop as a presentation site actually plays an unexpected, but very important role in reaching audiences. Many viewers who come to check out the space are curious and interested in the novelty of an art gallery in a coop, and are largely folks who would not otherwise be interested in engaging with contemporary art. Viewers consistently share that the coop – and the mud, hay, livestock, fields, and forest around it – are familiar, thus creating an inroad for engagement with queer and anti-colonial works that often present unfamiliar concepts to viewers (who are unlike a typical gallery’s audience). By ditching the white cube format in favour of plywood clad walls, the coop truly helps to facilitate generative and dynamic readings of the works by local audiences precisely because they are rooted in a familiar context. Many have even shared that visiting BPC is their first time seeing an art exhibition.

What’s a highlight of the neighbourhood where the gallery is located?

Installation view of Justine Woods’ BPC exhibition Across time, across the table, across the bay from 2022

My personal favourite part of the location is that there is no neighbourhood! There are no human neighbours in sight. According to the 2021 census, Kerns Township has a population of 330.

What’s your favourite part of running an art gallery?

Installation view of Kim Kitchen’s BPC exhibition Her voice, the waves, like silk from 2022

Meeting new folks and collaborating with artists and curators to help them achieve their exhibition goals! BPC is a passion project and done entirely on a volunteer basis when I have time to do so outside of work and my studies, so its operations are very flexible and inconsistent. Some exhibitions have been planned up to a year in advance, and others within a week. When I do have the capacity to keep programming going, I feel energized and inspired to continue my research. Inversely, when I’m overstretched, I’m very grateful to take pause for as long as I need.

How do you find out about new artists?

Installation view of Emilio Portal’s BPC exhibition walking on a well-worn path can be done repeatedly but never repeated from 2023

Instagram is probably the biggest one! Second largest being word of mouth or through mutual friends and colleagues.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Alexander Rondeau

This question is almost too timely! I’m currently thinking about where I see BPC in 5 weeks! My partner and I recently moved to Humboldt County in Northern California for his work, so I’ve been brainstorming on what to do next. The coop will always be there when we eventually return to Northern Ontario, but for the foreseeable future (two to three years?) I’m very interested in “bringing” BPC here to Humboldt County if I can find something that could be activated as a presentation space. Inversely, I’m equally interested in a network model whereby, as long as artists and curators have the capacity to install and professionally document exhibitions themselves, BPC could be siteless and responsive and a collaborative undertaking that creates rhizomatic enclaves of programming. Maybe a hybrid option with a physical space in Northern California, and exhibitions presented wherever folks are able to mount their work could be a fun approach? If you’re reading this and are interested in turning an unusual site (maybe an unused garage? another chicken coop? a barn? a shed? a hiking trail?) into a temporary gallery to be presented under the framework of BPC, please feel free to reach out and we can brainstorm! The gallery’s email can be found on the BPC website.

What excites you about your upcoming exhibition?

Installation view of Katya Serré’s BPC exhibition Wiijiiwdiwag from 2024

I’m so excited about not knowing what’s next! Katya Serré (from Nipissing First Nation, about a two-hour drive away from the coop) currently has a solo show in the coop, but afterwards, who knows!