There was a time, Christina Zeidler and Pamila Matharu recalled, when there was no place for the designer in the context of art. No model for a show that balanced creativity and practice with business and community.
“Unless you were making cabinets there was no place for a designer to show,” Zeidler said.
That was until Zeidler, an artist, filmmaker and President of the Gladstone Hotel and Matharu, an interdisciplinary artist and educator, dreamed up an event that married art and design. They called it Come Up To My Room.
“That hadn’t happened in the design world so much, so it was like taking the strategies from the art world and bringing them to the design world,” Zeidler said. “And it caught on fire.” The show sees more than 5,000 visitors.
Come Up To My Room (CUTMR) is the Gladstone Hotel’s annual alternative design event, which provides a venue for designers of all types, including furniture, lighting, cabinet and interior, to show off their artistic side.
Now in its 10th year, CUTMR is a small but unique show made powerful by its focus and cohesion.
“It is magic, it is alchemy and it is predicated on trust and risk taking and you have to be open to the idea of failure every year,” Zeidler said.
CUTMR runs from Jan. 24 to 27 and coincides with the Toronto Design Offsite Festival (TODO) and the Interior Design Show.
The four-day event features nine room installations and 19 public space projects with nearly 50 artists involved.
The pillars of the show have remained the same over its 10 year history, the women said: it is hosted by the Gladstone; it is site specific; it pulls as many artists or designers from different vantages; and the artists are chosen by their body of work or their intention, and it has to be new work.
“It forces (the curators) to trust the artist or the designer to do their best work,” Zeidler said. “As curators, we abdicate all control. Literally, the day we open the door is when we see the manifestation of the idea.”
Before starting CUTMR, Zeidler and Matharu said they were separately fascinated by design culture and seeing the work as art rather than traditional design. It was Zeidler’s sister, Margie Zeidler, the president and creator of 401 Richmond Limited, who connected the two women.
“We had been educated in the arts community and the strategies of the arts community. It felt very natural for us to think of things as site specific,” Zeidler said. “So it was totally natural for Pamila and I, the way we think as visual artists, to say ‘let’s do a site specific show in the hotel.’”
The first show was held pre-renovation so calling it ‘come up to my room’ was somewhat cheeky because most had never been up into the rooms at the Gladstone. It was an open invitation for people to come into the Gladstone and experience the creativity of the designers.
“In those early days of the hotel, I was trying to create events and do things where it opened public access to the building, and ‘come up to my room’ was a huge part of the strategy and really the first thing that we did,” Zeidler said. “It has become what we were trying to do with it.”
The hotel and the show evolved together. They come out of the same philosophies of trust, opening up, creating a space that people can access and a cultural hub, the women said.
“The parallel history of the hotel and Come Up To My Room are hard to separate,” Zeidler said. “A lot of the ideas we were talking about with Come Up to My Room was also driving the development of the hotel as well.”
After curating the show for five years, the women passed the task on to The Curatorial Collective, which was formed specifically to work on Come Up to My Room. For CUTMR’s 10th anniversary, Zeidler and Matharu have returned to join the collective along with Noa Bronstein and David Dick-Agnew.
In the early years designers were not accustom to doing site specific work so the show really was a risk, the women said.
Matharu said the first five years of CUTMR were experimental and collaborative and showed that people take artistic risks with CUTMR they wouldn’t necessarily take with design, Matharu said. It was even a tremendous support to her own growth as an artist.
“The model of Come Up To My Room has helped the community understand the possibilities of how a venue can support community,” Matharu said.
CUTMR has also acted as an incubator and a safe space for designers and artists to take risks and grow.
Dennis Lin was their ace in the hole their first year, the women said, and he has since grown to be a household name. MADE (Shaun Moore, Julie Nicholson and Andresa Sisson) was launched at CUTMR and the TODO festival also grew out of it.
“The Dressler Brothers, we wouldn’t take credit for their career, but they certainly launched here in many ways,” Zeidler said. “It wasn’t until 2008 that they showed with us, but it was really a signature show for them.”
Castor (Brian Richer, Ryan Taylor and Kei Ng), Orest Tataryn, Rob Southcott all had pivotal pieces at CUTMR, the women said, and Allyson Mitchell had a breakout show that helped to make her an international name.
“I have heard from a lot of artists that this show gave them the confidence to make it a career,” Zeidler said.
The hotel is noted for its artist-designed rooms, which have, in part, been influenced by the Come Up To My Room Show.
“The talent in this city is just busting at the seams and I knew if I gave an opportunity to artists to do hotel rooms they would blow it out of the park,” Zeidler said. “And they did and that is a testament to the talent of this city. The hotel continues to be a leader in art hotels and it is world renowned.”
Visit http://comeuptomyroom.com for more on what is planned for the 2013 edition of CUTMR.