Everyone has a legend, or so claims the monochromatic type that dominates the back wall of the Ministry of Casual Living’s Satellite Gallery at 1060 North Park St. Since May, artist-in-residence Aubrey Burke has transformed this cozy space into a hub for sharing personal narratives, oral histories, and contemporary mythologies from the Greater Victoria community.
“The idea is to engage the public and people that are not necessarily considered or considering themselves artists to come and share their stories,” Burke said. “It was a necessity for my own practice and art to be creating space for art to communicate with a broader community, and issues that are happening outside of the gallery contacts.”
The Story Booth Project was originally blueprinted in January as a proposal for the City of Victoria Artist-in-Residency Grant, which it did not receive. As the Ministry of Casual Living does much of its projects without funding, this was by no means an insurmountable hurdle.
“When the funding fell through, [the project] essentially took on a lot more of an organic role. We tossed out some of the very rigid structure that we originally wrote about and we just flung the gates open and said ‘Hell, we’re going to do this project anyways, funding or no funding.’”
Burke has been deeply inspired by social practice art, particularly projects that deal with community-based work, and is delighted about not knowing what the final outcome of this project will be. “Part of the thrill of not receiving our grant funding was not having to have a specific outcome.” Though the Story Booth Project orients itself around themes of non-dominant local history and contemporary folklore, Burke admitted that, “because this is a community project, it’s completely open ended so even though we are interested in those things, when the microphone goes on and we start recording people’s stories, it’s important that they know that they can share anything they want.”
So far, Burke has recorded a vastly diverse collection of local stories which he has accompanied with shadow-puppetry and other visuals. “It’s quite the gamut that we’re collecting at this point,” Burke commented. “We’ve had everything from stories about climbing the Blue Bridge to kid’s stories to stories about someone’s experience and trials through bouts of attempted suicide.” Burke explains that due to the range of topics, many of which are very emotionally charged, one of the greatest challenges of this project has been playing the line of non-editing and making things accessible without completely alienating or overwhelming the audience.
“In a way, [these stories] can be so potent. Because of our approach of non-editing, people are swearing and talking about content that’s pretty intense at times,” Burke said. This presents new challenges as the project works to find a public venue in which to present these stories; however, The Royal B.C. Museum, which has been “interested in collaborating with oral history and art,” plans to work alongside the Story Booth Project in October and November.
“With these kind of projects, if you just keep it tame and there’s no risk, there’s no reward and I think that going towards those challenges is way more important than to keep art safe,” Burke said. “If it’s safe, chances are it’s not fully fulfilling the role I see in art, as being an impetus for change and a destructing force in the status quo.”
To learn more, or to record a story of your own, visit storyboothproject.info or stop by the Ministry of Casual Living’s Satellite Gallery Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4–6 p.m.