RIA (Research in Art) provides a home-based visual arts program in Ottawa, Canada. Initiated in 2006 by Petra Halkes, artist, writer and curator and her artist-husband Rene Price, RIA focuses on the local as a real-life node in a web of virtual global connections. RIA has no institutions, no money, and no jury system behind it. RIA welcomes anyone who enjoys looking at and discussing art with other people in relaxed surroundings. In addition to the Salons, Study Groups, and Art Mags Mornings, the living area in Petra and René’s home has been an Artist Project Room since 2011.
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Ria was my sister, who died in 2006. I like to hear her name. – Petra Halkes
We love, cherish and frequently visit Ottawa’s institutional art museums and galleries. Yet, RIA was born from a certain frustration: there is so much creativity and art out there in our city that goes unnoticed and remains un-shared! We decided to try and channel some of it in a volunteer-based “mock-institution” (Gregory Sholette) where we could be a bit more laid-back about professionalism and its (often unspoken) rules and regulations, where planning could be impromptu, where one thing could lead to another. We wanted to be more inclusive, break barriers between the niches in Ottawa’s art world: niches for professional contemporary artists and its subdivisions, niches for community artists, public artists, amateurs, illustrators and designers, and all their respective niche audiences. Yes, we have had the support of well-established local artists who have exhibited at RIA as well as emerging professional artists. But we have also curated exhibitions for artists who would have a difficult time (or don’t care to) find formal exhibition spaces in the city for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent and passion; some are too busy with other professions, others may suffer from a lack of language skills, are new to the country, or deal with other real-life obstacles. On RIA’s small scale, as it turned out, plans can come to fruition with relative ease and minimal means, thanks to the enthusiastic support by the participating artists and appreciative viewers.
We look at curating for the RIA Artist’s Project Room as a long-term collaborative thought process with artists and viewers. Ideas evolve from artworks, and new artworks are inspired by curatorial ideas. RIA provides a space for artists to think collectively and experiment without institutional pressures. Neither we nor the artists generate an income from this project, but we feel that the absence of artist’s fees is compensated for by the interpretative writing posted on the RIA website, and the intense peer review of the work shown.
RIA has, particularly in the last six years, taken up much if not most of my working time and a great deal of Rene’s time as well. We would not do this if it wasn’t for the appreciation of our combined efforts and of my writing, that we continue to receive from the community. We feel that RIA fulfills a much-needed function in the art-ecology of our city, by calling attention to what tends to be forgotten in the official art world of applications and rejections, of hierarchies and requirements, professional education and demands, buying and selling, galas and auctions: artists just want to make art and share it. Simply: art comes from a basic human urge to make things, graspable or ephemeral, that do not necessarily serve a practical purpose, and to show these things to others. This impulse is what we treasure at RIA, while at the same time we agonize over, think about and discuss art in the larger world. RIA brings the abstractions of the mysterious machinations of the art-world down into a domestic sphere. Far from abstract, home is a deeply personal place where most artists made their first work of art. RIA is a good place to come home to.
Petra and Rene, January 2018
RIA Artist Project Room From January 1 2015 till March 2017 we grappled with the concept of “Human”. What does it mean to be human in an era when our place in the world has shifted away from the centre? How can we re-imagine our place in an interconnected life-world?How will technology change our ideas of being human? The project Growing up Human, came to an end with an exhibition by Svetlana Swinimer, Space Scape, in which she imagines what it would be like to leave earth and find another planet to live on.
Keywords for Change is the new theme for 2018. Beginning with BYOA (Bring Your Own Art) an exhibition that was installed on January 1 2018, we are collecting and working with words that we have come across in our recent readings on capitalism, colonialism, climate change and news articles and commentary on wars and famines, mass displacements, tyranny and neo-fascism. We live in bizarre and horrendous times, but we must rally around. Amidst the horror and sadness, we’ve have found and collected positive words, keywords for change.
Perhaps together, looking at all those words in our own particular ways, we can come a bit closer to an answer to the question of what role art can play in these unstable times, when so much is to be done.
RIA Salons have taken place at Petra and René’s house since 2006. Every now and then, an art professional or amateur is invited to give a slide presentation about a project he/she has been involved in, outside the Ottawa area. It could be about an exhibition, a presentation, a residency or a research trip. Artists who are new in town are also invited to give presentations about their work. More recently, we have included new graduates from Ottawa University, who decided to stay in our city, to give a presentation about their work. The get-togethers are super casual, and the talks are short so there is time for shoptalk.
RIA Study Groups did spring up occasionally around a specific topic. In 2018, we began the CCCC (Capitalism, Colonialism, Climate Change) which will be central to our programming in the near future.
RIA Talks in Circles There are no presentations at a “Talking in Circles” night, we simply suggest one short text to read beforehand, and invite people who have strong opinions on specific topics. The sessions take place in our home. We set the chairs in a circle.
RIA Reads Out Loud Based on Toronto’s No Reading After the Internet, RIA initiated Reading Out Loud events, where participants bring their laptop or a printout from an article on contemporary or modern art, to read together and discuss. This is for people who like to stay informed, but can’t find the time to read, in other words, just about everyone. No familiarity with the text or the author is required. For some time, RIA concentrated on local writers, who have been present at the readings.The Ottawa Art Gallery has collaborated with RIA on several occassions.
RIA Artmags Morning. Held from 9:00AM to noon on the occasional Saturday morning, this is not RIA’s most popular event, but it does generate the most intense discussions, around articles from print editions of art magazines.
RIA is open to other people’s ideas and suggestions, and above all, it invites new initiatives for other events. RIA only grows sideways.
For Research in Art archives from 2006 to July 2013 click HERE