Editor’s note: GLUT at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery celebrates an overflowing archive of art and activism from the ’70s in Vancouver. One part of its four-component exhibit is the Rereading Room – one of the most provocative exhibits in the history of the Belkin Gallery. Experience GLUT at UBC’s Belkin Art Gallery from January 11 to April 8.
By Alexandra Bischoff
Rereading Room: The Vancouver Women’s Bookstore (1973-1996) (2016-2018) is an installation by Alexandra Bischoff that looks at the feminist bookstore movement of the 1960s-70s. The Vancouver Women’s Bookstore opened on Richards Street in 1973, and was the first feminist bookstore in Western Canada. Rereading Room looks towards the organization’s inaugural catalog; about a quarter of the store’s original inventory is included in the installation for the public to browse.
The first iteration of Rereading Room was at Vancouver artist run centre 221A (November 2016 – January 2017). It was the result of a residency called Notes on Political Ecologies (N.O.P.E.), of which Bischoff was a participant. During 221A’s installation of Rereading Room, the artist and 221A Librarian Vincent Tao hosted six public programs to activate the collection of books, including a discussion with bookstore founding member Jeannine Mitchell, an education seminar on sex worker politics with Vancouver’s PACE Society, and a film screening of Andrea Fatona and Cornelia Wyngaarden’s Hogan’s Alley (1993).
Public programming continues to be an integral aspect of Rereading Room at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. Feminist bookstores were much more than just a retail space, they were also utilized as a place for activists to organize, gather, and meet. The books are referents or flags to mark the space, while the exhibition’s programs pay homage to the determination and energy of the feminist bookstore phenomenon.
The Readers (2018) is a performance by Alexandra Bischoff that makes marginalized labours in art and academia visible. It is also an occupation of the gallery space; cis and trans women and non-binary individuals sit and read as a form of symbolic protest. All texts come from the 1973 catalog of the Vancouver Women’s Bookstore.
Thirteen artists, authors, and activists have been invited to occupy Rereading Room for two weeks at a time, reading and annotating the texts. Inserting notes into the books brings the available texts into a contemporary dialogue, making sure that the artwork remains critical as opposed to merely nostalgic.