Places + Spaces: the plumb, Toronto

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 week, we speak with the collective of artists who run the plumb in Toronto.

Front door of the plumb with Nestor Krüger, Mirrored cracks, Fall 2022 to Spring 2023 (photo: Alison Postma)

What’s the history of your gallery?

the plumb is an artist-run project dedicated to offering a surplus of space in a city where space is at a premium – particularly for artists, community organizers, and marginalized groups. We’ve always been interested in providing exhibition space to emerging artists, fostering dialogues with established voices, and providing a platform for culturally diverse artists and curators. We are also interested in hosting community-based projects and programs such as workshops, performances, public talks, and discussion groups.

The plumb was established by fifteen founding members – Amanda Boulos, Laura Carusi, Anthony Cooper, Laura Demers, Emma Green, Daniel Griffin Hunt, Nadine Maher, Dainesha Nugent-Palache, John Nyman, Alison Postma, Claudia Rick, Miles Rufelds, Callum Schuster, Blair Swann, and Emma Welch – in the summer of 2020. plumb member Daniel Griffin Hunt found the 2400 square-foot space and negotiated our lease, then began reaching out to folks to see who would be interested in joining the collective. Our eclectic group of artists, independent curators, art handlers, cultural workers, writers, etc. secured the space during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic when commercial rental spaces in Toronto became cheaper. This large basement space became a DIY gallery where we collectively program exhibitions, creating opportunities for emerging and early-career artists.

In a city where rent prices are exorbitant and galleries that encourage experimentation are rare, the plumb has been a much needed addition to Toronto’s artistic ecosystem.

What are the highlights of your neighbourhood?

Earlscourt Park

The cuisine in the neighborhood is amazing – from empanadas at La Morena to fresh juices from the fruit markets. Earlscourt Park also can’t be overlooked in the summer season. The St. Clair and Dufferin area is also becoming more popular for art galleries. Hunt Gallery opened there recently, and Hearth, another artist-run project space, is set to open in the neighborhood soon. We are happy to be surrounded by friends and colleagues.

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

Installation view of the plumb’s inaugural group exhibition Pits, Seeds from September 2020

It’s exciting to spontaneously produce exhibitions that excite us and that we feel are missing from the larger Toronto art ecosystem. We are especially proud to provide a platform for emerging artists and curate them into shows with more established voices, facilitating intergenerational connections. Sometimes, we feel like we can fill a pressing gap.

lt’s also exciting to see who shows up to our exhibitions. Since our informal collective has so many members, multiple artistic communities intersect at the plumb. lt’s wonderful to sit the gallery and meet so-and-so from this other art world or other discipline.

Since we’re located in a basement off an alleyway, it’s also always surprising when neighbours stumble upon our gallery and are delighted by what’s behind the purple door. We are always excited about reaching audiences beyond the visual arts community.

How do you find out about new artists?

Installation view of the recent group exhibition Vision321 from January 20 to February 18, 2024

It would be hard to keep track. the plumb is like an amoeba, a collective brain of 15+ people. It probably happens by word of mouth, research, social media, and reaching out to each of our own networks. Most members of the plumb are artists themselves, so we are personally committed to staying connected with our peers and keeping up with what’s going on now. We also have a call for portfolios on our website: artists can submit to us directly, or curators can pitch exhibitions.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Installation view of the group exhibition Indexing Resistance from June 18 to July 24, 2022

Our space will be turning four this year, and we are always reflecting on what we’ve accomplished and what we still set out to do. We hope for continued unpredictability and to enjoy the unexpected developments. We also hope the project will continue to evolve as new members join and leave their mark on the space. In fact, we recently brought on several new plumb members, so you can look forward to a number of new voices contributing to upcoming exhibitions and programs.

What excites you about your upcoming exhibitions?

Andrew James Paterson, Symptoms of Whatever, 1998, photo documentation for a performance at Zsa Zsa Gallery

Andrew James Paterson’s Never Enough Night is the most extensive survey exhibition of the seminal Canadian artist’s work to date. Opening April 26th, the exhibition will include a wide selection of Paterson’s video work, spanning from the early 1980s through to the present, as well as writing, archival material, painting, music, and a live performance series. We aim to trace the evolution and impact of Paterson’s involvement with Toronto’s Queen West art scene, from his early days as a member of the band The Government through to his recent performances and digital video works, as well as his published novels and monographs.

Paterson’s work engages in a playful questioning of language, philosophy, community, and capitalism. The exhibition, while not thematic per se, will touch on several recurring focuses across Paterson’s decades-long practice. Some of these include the theme of “community” and “the scene,” the figure of the detective and the genre of film noir, and the culture of bureaucracy and administration within the Canadian arts sector. Paterson will also debut his live solo performance Pate’s Salt Carp during the run of the exhibition.

the plumb’s current exhibitions – Four watches of the night; Between 12 and 24 – BedTime and Jacob Wiebe: but through your empty skin I’ve seen – are on display until April 7.