Mainstreeters: Taking Advantage, 1972-1982 explores important chapter in Vancouver’s art history

by Yasmine Shemesh

Mainstreeters: Taking Advantage, 1972-1982 is an exhibition co-produced by Satellite Gallery, grunt gallery and Presentation House that looks into the self-identified world of a gang of artistically motivated men and women who lived and worked together in drama and camaraderie along Vancouver’s Main Street during the 1970s and 1980s. A documentary was released in December in anticipation of the gallery exhibition, sister to counterparts that include a website, photo book (to be published this summer) and video installations displayed in storefronts down the Eastside strip. In addition to examining the city’s progressing social terrain, the exhibition tells a powerful story of friendship through the intertwined lives of these young creatives.

The Mainstreeters—Kenneth Fletcher, Deborah Fong, Carol Hackett, Marlene MacGregor, Annastacia McDonald, Charles Rea, Jeanette Reinhardt and Paul Wong—were inspired by video, a new medium to the art realm at the time. “It’s the moment where you can take information into your [own] hands,” co-curator Allison Collins says. Cameras quickly grew to be appendages that captured the group’s joys, griefs and everything in between.

As young, experimental individuals, the Mainstreeters maintained liberal attitudes in their lifestyles. They were open about sexuality and held drag parties. They indulged in drugs. The group’s experiences led to media collaborations including 60 Unit; Bruise (1976) where Wong withdraws his own blood and injects it into Fletcher’s shoulder in a homoerotic “blood-brothers” ritual; in ten sity (1978), a reaction to Fletcher’s later suicide showing Wong thrashing against walls to lyrics by Patti Smith and the Sex Pistols; and Prime Cuts (1981), a saturation of sensuality.

From the punk aesthetic of in ten sity to the pastels of Prime Cuts, the videos also reflect Vancouver’s developing social topography. “You start with the end of the hippie era, where technology is changing,” Collins explains. “It goes into punk, characterized by a different style of music, different style of dress, even different kinds of drugs. Suddenly we’re moving from mushrooms and marijuana to cocaine. And a different kind of [perspective]—a little more pessimistic. Following that, you’re getting into consumer culture, just before Expo, where Vancouver wants to turn cosmopolitan.”

While their creative energy was extraordinary, the Mainstreeters operated without a mandate—the glue that held everything together was their bond, one so strong it fostered a surrogate family that simply supported one another in the pursuit of hopes and dreams. “It went beyond any other loyalty,” says Collins. “They weren’t afraid of anything. They weren’t afraid of being too crass or not impressing the right people because they already had each other. You couldn’t really mess with that.”

Mainstreeters: Taking Advantage, 1972-1982 opens at Satellite Gallery on January 8, 2015 and runs until March 14. 

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