An ‘Inquiry’ into the haunting of Gallery 101

By Martha Lai

Gallery 101 may have a ghost on its hands.

Since January, staff have been recording strange phenomena at the 236 Nepean St. building. They’ve heard breathing when nobody’s there. Boxes have moved places during the night. Bathroom taps mysteriously turn themselves on.

“There was a particular story about a box being pushed off a shelf,” says Centretown artist Penny McCann.

“There was no physical explanation for that. It was a sturdy box, a sturdy shelf and the box had been right up against the wall.”

McCann has created an exhibit called Inquiry about the supposed haunting. It will be on display at Gallery 101 until April 20.

“The idea for Inquiry came out of a party. I was talking to the staff at Gallery 101, and they were noticing more and more incidents of unexplained phenomena,” says McCann.

“There was a camp of people who thought there was a logical explanation, and there was a camp of people who thought that it was supernatural—the rational versus the irrational, so to speak. And it was the discussion of the two that piqued my interest.”

She recorded six hours of videotape—two hours each in three different locations in the building—as part of her observation of the supposed ghost.

The looped tape is played on a television screen as part of the exhibit.

“I would set up the camera and leave,” she says. “So, unlike The Blair Witch Project, where the camera was moving and it was very creepy—(my tape) is the opposite, in fact. It’s like watching paint dry. It becomes all about the viewers’ expectations and waiting for something to happen.”

McCann also dug through old city directories dating back to 1878, tracing the building’s history of residents. The log she kept of all the residents’ names is on display as well.

“It’s also a narrative, about different stories,” she says of the log. “By writing down someone’s name, there’s another story waiting to be revealed. All I’ve revealed is the mundanity of the building. I haven’t found the tragedy that could explain the haunting. Forty-three people lived there, but I found nothing about them, so they’re all clues to a possible event.”

The third element of Inquiry is a diary that Gallery 101 staff kept before the exhibit opened, in which they described all the mysterious happenings they’ve experienced. Visitors to the exhibit can add their own observations as well.

“It’s a fun way to play with all the rumours,” says Tara Kirkpatrick, who has visited the exhibit.

“It’s innovative and it’s quirkier than the usual contemporary art. I think [McCann] has done a great job in turning the building itself into an exhibit.”

Gallery 101 co-director Stefan St-Laurent says that public response has been enthusiastic.

“It’s been really good with the community. The interactive nature of the work has been very successful,” he says.

McCann encourages visitors to play around with the exhibit, and come up with their own conclusions about the haunting.

She’s currently building a Web site for the exhibit, which she’s hoping will be finished by fall.

“People really engage with the work,” she says. “I’ve left it open so people can explore their own imagination. Hopefully, I’ve left enough trails so people can go in the direction they want to go.”