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I learned about the Hamilton Audio Visual Node (HAVN) a few years ago by doing the rounds during Art Crawl. Since then it’s become obvious they’re hosting some of the most innovative music and visual art in Hamilton. I sat down with Connor Bennett and Chris Ferguson at the beginning of July to learn more about the collective and discover yet another reason to move to Hamilton. Connor and Chris made it pretty clear you don’t need an invitation to join the party. Featured Title Image, The HAVN Storefront on Barton Street Credit: Ariel Bader-Shamai
Timothy: How did HAVN get started?
Connor: Um, a few of us started a band, and we were practising in the basement of a student house and when it came time to leave that house, we wanted a space where we could continue to play, and show art, and we just lucked out, our collaborator and co-founder Amy McIntosh was living above a storefront and…
Chris: …had a good relationship with the landlord and managed to get the downstairs space at a price we could afford.
Connor: That was May, 2012, we opened up just as most of us were graduating from McMaster University.
Timothy: What does it mean to be a node for the arts? Is the storefront a critical component?
Connor: It’s probably not critical, although it’s nice, it’s really nice. I wouldn’t say it’s critical because we don’t do regular gallery hours, where people can just pop in. It is nice to have the storefront space for things like art crawl. We’re off of James Street but it’s still easier to get people out as compared to a studio space.
Chris: Back to your question, as to what it means to be a node. Nodes are intersection points, which denotes the collaborative nature, the interdisciplinary nature of what we’re trying to do. And it was chosen for the sake of the acronym [Laughter].
Timothy: So what are your activities?
Chris: You could put it into four categories. We do art shows every art crawl, and occasionally outside of art crawl. We do music shows two to five times a month. And then there’s HAVN Records, our cassette tape little label. There’s also some miscellaneous things that are harder to categorize. We’ve done craft nights where people come out. Or if people in the collective supply an idea and make it happen. For a little while we had a darkroom in the backroom where people could develop photos.
Timothy: What are some of the highlights from the past couple of years?
Chris: It wasn’t something that I was involved with personally but I thought the darkroom was a really cool idea. It’s not something that’s widely available and it was a DIY thing where they obtained all the equipment and brought it all together. Some of it was donated by a like-minded friend from Guelph.
Connor: One of the best concerts I’ve seen recently was hosted by Cem Zafir and his partner Donna Akrey at HAVN, and they had a percussionist by the name of Tatsuya Nakatani come in and everyone in the room was transported to a different world, it was a magical moment. Those happen a lot. We’ve been really lucky with a lot of good music.
Chris: What was the name of the show, I think Ariel and Petra did it, with the yarn, it was kind of, performance stuff; would you consider it a successor to the Quanta_1 show, where you and Kearon…
Connor: Yeah, yeah, it’s kind of like that…
Chris: An extension of that idea. Petra and Ariel did it, how would you describe it?
Connor: It was kind of a poetic yarn installation, with figures…
Chris: …and quotations.
Connor: It was great.
Chris: Really well executed. Not something you see a lot of.
Connor: Yeah, there’s lots of highlights.
Chris: We could keep going.
Connor: Once you start thinking about it.
Chris: I really liked our show for Supercrawl last year, which ended up being themed around Cootes Paradise, the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System, which is a conservation effort beginning with Cootes Paradise all the way into Burlington to connect some critical natural lands. The show really nailed the peaceful nature of it. Supercrawl is very busy, there’s tonnes of people and then you come to HAVN and it’s peaceful, relaxed.
Chris: Yeah, Judy Major-Girardin, a professor at McMaster that taught a lot of the HAVN crew, was very generous with her time and she’s a big supporter of that initiative, so she put up a gorgeous installation with sound recordings from Georgian Bay. Frogs. Printed cheesecloth. It was stunning.
Timothy: What are your objectives? What is the need or desire that you are addressing?
Connor: I’d say from the music side of things, it’s a space for outsider music, for music that doesn’t really fit in a club or a bar. It’s a small space, really intimate, so even if ten people come out it feels like a nice crowd.
Chris: Yeah, It could just be a touring band who might have trouble booking a show at a bigger venue, because they wouldn’t attract a bigger crowd.
Connor: We know a lot of people who are booking shows in Hamilton and we’re filling a bit of a void since they’re not booking these types of shows. Like free jazz, for example, there’s no venues that are booking free jazz but we will gladly and enthusiastically book a free-jazz show.
Timothy: How did you determine the scope of your practice?
Connor: Time determined that. When I started out with HAVN I was working a lot more with Kearon on the visual arts and installation projects and with time my interests and time investments moved more towards the music. It’s a natural evolution within the group, that we’ve settled into our roles based on our interests.
Timothy: Were those interests present from the beginning, or have they been nurtured over time?
Connor: One of the reasons why this has worked out for so long is that everyone has been really passionate about creativity, and art in general, and open to all art forms. That’s been the crux of why we’ve been around for so long, and putting on shows that are successful.
Timothy: What is your current relationship with institutional structures like the university and the gallery?
Connor: Well, quite a few professors from McMaster have shown art in our space. Judy and Dr. McQueen had a show recently. Other galleries? We have good relationships with other galleries, in particular, the Factory Media Centre, because we’ve done a lot of media art, not only that, we’ve shown a lot of art there, and both Amy McIntosh and Aaron Hutchinson have been on the board there. Amy’s been involved since the beginning.
Timothy: You position yourself as an alternative, though.
Chris: It’s not an adversarial relationship, like ‘that stuff is no good.’
Connor: We just don’t want to replicate things that are being done elsewhere. I’m sure we do it all the time. But the intention is to fill a void, take a risk.
Timothy: What are the benefits and limitations associated with your present configuration?
Connor: We’ve had trouble finding grants that apply to us. That’s one challenge because we operate with no inflow of money, so it’s just tough to make it work sometimes. That’s one of the limitations.
Chris: Sometimes I wonder if we put more time into the grants whether we would begin to take a different path. Like, having gallery hours wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it would be different than what we do now, and it would mean that we would be travelling down a more traditional path.
Timothy: Can you speak of the benefits and effects of HAVN, for yourselves and the broader community?
Connor: It’s such a useful space for us as artists and musicians, that’s kind of priceless.
Chris: It’s great to have a spot that you’re part of.
Connor: Ideally we’re providing a space that’s inclusive, and open, where people feel comfortable. But if I was new to Hamilton and I went to HAVN I could understand feeling intimidated because there’s all these people who know each other already.
Chris: I think it’s always hard, because you establish your audience, and your friends, and you want people to have a stake in the space, that they’re part of it, that they’re not just attending shows, but that they’re part of the community too. But you have to balance that with being open and having new people feel that they can be part of it.
Timothy: So do you have any words of advice to people who might want to start a collective?
Chris: If I had any advice it would be pretty cheesy.
Connor: I don’t know. [Laughter]
Chris: The real trick is having the right group of people.
Connor: Get lucky.
Chris: Yeah, we couldn’t have made this happen in a bigger city where the rents are more expensive.
For the Silo, Timothy deVries. More from Timothy- http://www.timothydevries.ca/
Supplemental- Video Credit: Mubarik Gyenne-Bayere
Video Credit: Footage by Ariel Bader-Shamai, live visuals by Andrew O’Connor
Video Credit: Footage by Ariel Bader-Shamai, live visuals by Andrew O’Connor
Video Credit: Olga K.