Saturday, December 9, 2023

Building community through Art

Caitlin Brubacher in Elephant in the Attic’s workshop.

Under the vivid blue sky that cascades over the horizon, you knock on the door of the large stone house that sits by the river at 17 rue Mill, Portage-du-Fort, and admire the impressive structure that stands before you. Meandering stone pathways lead past gardens that hug a picturesque veranda. Large Cedar trees grow adjacent to the structure, casting shadows on the lawn as bumblebees hum to and fro.
You are quickly brought back into the present as you hear footsteps approach. With the turn of the knob, the door swings open and you are met with the smiling faces of Caitlin Brubacher and Rodrigo Morante. Filling the air with their welcoming spirit, the two waste no time whisking you indoors and making you feel right at home.
Brubacher and Morante run Elephant in the Attic, and the building you’ve just entered is an art gallery that defies tradition. Acting as their residence, creative workspace, community gathering point and art exhibition venue, the colonial-era dwelling that houses Elephant in the Attic is a living and breathing manifestation of a holistic approach to artistic and self-expression.
Brubacher and Morante are certainly not one trick ponies. Their industriousness is conveyed in the wide variety of services they currently offer in conjunction with the humble yet ambitious plans they have for the future. As of right now, Elephant in the Attic’s bread and butter is their custom framing service. Meticulously curating individualized gallery walls for businesses and private residences, Brubacher and Morante work with clients to help coordinate the aesthetic of a space.
Using their wide selection of antique frames, custom prints and understanding of design principles, the pair work with clients to tailor a room to better represent an individual’s tastes. In a process that can be done in-person or virtually, Brubacher and Morante engage on a personal level with their clients and get to know the space they are working with. This is a process that manifests itself in many ways, shapes and forms.
“There is the original artist making that piece, and then there’s me deciding it goes in this frame and gets cropped in that way, and then there’s the art making of putting it in curation with something else, and then there’s the meaning of what story that tells for each person,” Brubacher said. “Art’s not just the final object, it’s all these layers of meaning that get piled on top of each other.”
Curation and custom framing is but a part of what Brubacher and Morante do. Their picturesque abode, standing along the shores of the Ottawa River, doubles as a print gallery and tangible rendering of how their services can transform a space. A large house with six bedrooms, Brubacher and Morante have fastidiously arranged each to present a distinctive decorative flavour and tone. Each print and its corresponding frame that adorns the wall are available for viewing or purchase, and locals are encouraged to enjoy the space by setting up an appointment for a viewing of the gallery or for a co-curation session with Brubacher.
“This is a very grand version of what we do, but it does show a scope of how we are able to work with themes and colours,” said Morante, when showing a large gallery wall in the “blue room” made up of images around the theme of intensity and power.
“Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has an aesthetic,” added Brubacher. “When you wake up in the morning and you see things with meaning, they are reminders of the things that matter to you.”
In step with their vision of a space for integrated artistic and self-expression, the two have plans to use their home and unconventional gallery as a space to foster community building and personal introspection, through their new venture The Bend [Centre] Le Virage. Wanting to invite writers, filmmakers, artists, social advocates and the public to collaborate, they hope to build a forum for knowledge sharing and for members of the artistic and local community to learn and grow together.
“This is why we’re here – for community,” Brubacher said. “The idea is that we all have something valuable, interesting and important to share. Collaboration, and learning how to collaborate, is the key to what we want to offer.”
Contained within the Elephant in the Attic’s thick stone walls resides an artistic endeavour that seeks to transcend convention and act as a nexus for community knowledge sharing and artistic reflection. Embodying the Pontiac’s characteristic industriousness, Brubacher and Morante are trailblazing their own path and redefining what art can, and should, be.