Rethink and the CAG: Is it art or advertising

As its name would imply, Vancouver's Rethink agency doesn't tend to follow rules. Its collaboration with the city's Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) even redraws the boundaries of what an agency can do for a client. Rethink has created work that is as much art as it is advertising, and succeeds on both levels.

As its name would imply, Vancouver’s Rethink agency doesn’t tend to follow rules. Its collaboration with the city’s Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) even redraws the boundaries of what an agency can do for a client. Rethink has created work that is as much art as it is advertising, and succeeds on both levels.

‘The gallery had very little money, and they had a particular challenge in that their location is in an apartment building, which is odd,’ says Rethink’s co-CD/founder, Ian Grais. ‘It’s adjacent to the Yaletown commercial district but not really in it, so you don’t expect to find it there. All these challenges were folded into the brief, and we came up with the button wall.’

To attract attention to the gallery, as well as demystify contemporary art, Rethink created a wall containing 50,000 removable buttons – each printed with a single word describing a possible reaction to contemporary art – and displaying the line: ‘This is contemporary art.’

‘That got a lot of press,’ says Grais. ‘You still see people wearing the buttons, and attendance spiked when the installation was up. The buttons were gone in 36 hours, but the hoarding was up for three weeks, and they signed up a bunch of new members. So it was a big success, and they only spent I think $15,000, which is peanuts.’

Next came a drive-thru all-night video installation at the gallery.

‘That was another way to be creative with the resources they had,’ says Grais. ‘They had a loading bay in the alley where we were able to put a flat-panel television, an interactive touch-panel kiosk and a speaker setup so you could tune into it on your car radio. You could choose between six different videos. They logged hundreds, if not thousands, of visits, and it was something we developed at reasonably low cost that they could continue to use – and they’re using it again this summer.’

A third project is in the works for early November, but Grais says only that it will involve taking over the exterior and interior of the gallery and be geared toward public participation.

Grais, who contributed a piece to another gallery show, a 14-hour video feed that included all the raw footage for a 30-second commercial – ‘I don’t think anyone watched the whole thing except the ad people,’ he laughs – is aware that he’s breaking new ground in his work for CAG.

‘It’s funny, because Christina Ritchie would call it outreach, and I call it interactive promotional installations,’ he says.

‘I was taught that there’s no difference between design and art and advertising, it’s all visual communication,’ he adds. ‘We practised that in the way we structured Rethink. More and more, we’re bringing together multidisciplinary teams of people to solve problems.’

Currently Grais is working with a game designer, an interactive programmer, the interactive team, graphic designers and an educator from UBC to build the gallery’s new website and an online extension. Grais says Second Life is being considered, adding that: ‘We’re taking our collaboration to greater levels.

‘The gallery still wants to turn more people on to art, open itself up to new audiences, be less intimidating and help people access art and learn more. So the brief hasn’t really changed, it’s just the way we look at the problem and who we want to work with. It’s really just about being co-operative, and not being stuck in your traditional role.’