Olympic money is responsible for bringing the Candahar Bar to Vancouver, but it is nonetheless a refreshing antidote to Olympic hype—even if you don’t drink.
Intrigued? Better get down to Granville Island’s PTC Studio between Friday (February 12) and February 28, especially if you’re looking for an intimate and open-ended alternative to the micromanaged spectacle that has taken over the rest of the city.
The brainchild of British artist Theo Sims, who’s now based in Winnipeg, the Candahar is a near-perfect re-creation of a Belfast bar, complete with brothers Chris and Conor Roddy working the taps. But it’s more than that: it’s a sculptural installation, a temporary performance venue, and a work of relational art that requires your presence to be complete. And, remarkably, it all started with what very nearly could have been a brawl.
As Sims tells it, he was living in a rental house on Belfast’s Candahar Street when an artists’ party got a little bit out of hand. “This guy said, ”˜What’s an English bastard like you doing in my country?’ ” Sims says in a phone call from the pub. “And I turned and without missing a beat just looked him in the eye and said, ”˜What’s a Fenian bastard like you doing in my kitchen?’
“What happened after that,” he continues, “was that we got into a really great discussion about local politics there, and the history of the English in Ireland and the stereotypes that the Irish have of the English.”
Sims started thinking about doing an art project that could serve to spark similar discussions about identity, politics, and culture, and he eventually settled on building a tourable version of the Blackthorn Bar, a beloved Belfast watering hole for art students and media types. It’s also a way, he says, of undermining popular stereotypes about Irish culture: the only shamrock on view is part of an unobtrusive candle holder, and there’s one inky tipple that’s most definitely not on the menu.
“People always say, ”˜Well, it’s not an Irish bar if it doesn’t sell Guinness,’ ” Sims notes. “But we always try to support a local brewery—family-owned, or a small venture—and resist all that corporate thing. And it’s interesting hearing people getting quite defensive about what an Irish pub is. I always thought an Irish pub was about the people, basically. I don’t think it’s any more than that.”
To bring people to the Candahar, Sims has enlisted the help of Presentation House Gallery, which in turn has hired local novelist and agent provocateur Michael Turner to program an impressive array of diversions during the art bar’s 17-day run. Planned events include musical performances, readings, film screenings, and a variety of performance-art-style interventions—both inside and outside the venue. (For a schedule, see www.presentationhousegall.com/.) Also noteworthy is that the Candahar’s admission fee—$5 from noon to 4 p.m., $10 after 7 p.m.—includes a complementary beverage.
“The idea is that you can leave where you are,” says Turner in a separate telephone interview, adding that he hopes the Candahar will offer “a nice soft place to go and hide out” during the Olympic festivities. “You can literally walk inside of Belfast when you walk into that bar. Everything in that bar is of that place, and I think in some ways that’s what art tries to do: it can transform your experience and take you somewhere else.”