Revamped SAW Gallery to maintain edgy artistic spirit

Ottawa's SAW Gallery will reopen Friday following a major renovation project. Its curator says the gallery's mission — to showcase diverse, local artwork with a social or political message — remains unchanged.

Homoerotic drawings, womb with a view mark artist-run gallery's reopening

SAW Gallery will reopen Friday. The revamped space includes an outdoor courtyard. (CBC)

Ottawa's SAW Gallery will reopen Friday following a two-year renovation project to quintuple the size of the basement space on Nicholas Street.

The artist-run gallery has been enlarged from 3,000 to 15,000 square feet, but its curator, Jason St-Laurent, said its mission — to showcase diverse, local artwork with a social or political message — remains unchanged.

SAW Gallery curator Jason St-Laurent promises the artist-run space's mission won't change. (CBC)

According to St-Laurent, the reopening exhibitions, Sex Life: Homoeroticism in Drawing, and Virtual Womb, a multimedia performance by Maylee Todd, prove that.

"Everyone expects us to change and become more institutional because of this expansion projects," St-Laurent said.

"We wanted to let the community know that we haven't changed, that we're still the sort of risk-taking institution that celebrates diversity."

The renovated bar at SAW Gallery. (CBC)

A gallery that takes risks

The revamped building features more exhibition space, a live performance venue, an outdoor courtyard and a new circumpolar artistic research space. It can accommodate more than 300 people.

The space, with its exposed ceiling, white oak from the Ottawa River and Russian birch, is unique in Ottawa, St-Laurent said. 

"Artists are at the centre of every decision," he said. "We do things differently when our artists are at the core of those decisions."

One of the permanent pieces on display at the newly renovated SAW Gallery. (CBC)

The gallery has never been afraid to take risks, St-Laurent said, including art exhibitions dealing with the Middle East conflict or exploring themes of homosexuality. 

"We're always thinking about how how can we create debate in our city by presenting ... exhibitions that don't shy away from political controversies," he said. "We're very committed to anti-censorship."

The opening exhibition features nine artists from Canada and around the world.

The major renovation quintupled the size of the gallery, giving it more exhibition space. (CBC)

Inside the virtual womb

Inside Todd's one-hour Virtual Womb installation, audience members will walk through a giant vulva and into a womb where they lie on the ground and stare at projections. 

"The idea of the show is that people are returning back to the womb so before any sort of identification whether that is status or gender any of those categories," Todd said. "You are at your natural state."

Todd said Virtual Womb fits right into the gallery's mission

"It's always a pleasure to be in those spaces. They're very freeing," she said.

Club SAW, a multidisciplinary performance venue and event space. (CBC)