Cenote auctions art to resist Enbridge

Art Against Enbridge 2
Cenote Restaurant and Lounge,
768 Yates Street

Reviewed by Julian Gunn

Last Friday night, my friend Beet and I attended Art Against Enbridge 2, a benefit art auction for the Unis’tot’en Action Camp and the Forest Action Network, hosted by Cenote Restaurant and Lounge.

Our first problem of the evening was finding Cenote. Google Maps put it at the site of the former Office lounge in the Dalton hotel, but Google Maps lied. Finally, we ventured into the hotel lobby, where we found a grizzled concierge who had never heard of the place but obligingly looked it up on his computer.

Cenote is a below-decks lounge with a relaxed DIY feel. (It’s the former Whitebird Lounge, if that helps. And the polenta fries are supposed to be great.) Three hosts greeted us warmly at the door and took our suggested donations. Beet and I captured a table in the back.

Presently, the other two members of our party arrived—Beet’s boyfriend S. and his friend X. They had just come from an intervention and were feeling a little shaky. Cenote didn’t have a fixed drinks menu. Instead, X. described the uplifted mood she wanted her drink to embody, and our server brought her a mojito. Then we approached the art.

Artists at all levels of experience—from student to autodidact to professional—had donated pieces. Most of the works either celebrated the natural world or measured the depredations of industry, and were realistic in approach. This wasn’t a show of academic defiance, technical play or formal rupture, but of passion and craft—sometimes mastered, sometimes still in progress.

I liked Eli McGinty’s “The Scourge Heads Westwards,” with its Cthulhu-Illuminati vibe. Alongside were traditionally rendered West Coast works by Wes Walkus and Blake Norman Lepine; a graceful drip watercolour by Judy Kozler; and a scattering of other media, including my favourite thing ever: purple fairy wings by Amira Abdel-Malek. Abdel-Malek has been organizing an art group at Camosun College using reclaimed materials. Beet bid on a forest print and Amira’s wings. I bid on a small print, Neurozyme, by Mokii Glyphix, with a soft bronze sheen and a pattern both organic and geometrical.

Every so often the organizers stepped up, cheerfully exhorted us to get our bids in, and gave away more door prizes. Over the evening, they closed the auction one wall at a time, like the Sybil burning her scrolls.

By ten-thirty, the event was winding down. I wandered up to check our bids. Beet did not win the print, but she won the wings. Someone named Martin, my new arch-nemesis, outbid me on everything. When I turned to see if Beet was ready to go, she was carefully affixing the wings to her head.

“Do I look like some kind of demented rabbit?” she asked eagerly.

“No-o…” said her boyfriend. “Just a rabbit.”

It seemed fitting. The grassroots improvisations of artists and activists, both foolish and sublime, have sustained us for a long time. This is the second Art Against Enbridge that Cenote has hosted, and we’re looking forward to the third. Especially now that we know how to find it.

Julian Gunn is a Victoria writer completing his master’s degree in English