Photo by Guy Heureux
Theo Sims, "The Candahar," 2010
Theo Sims, "The Candahar," 2010, installation (Vancouver), interior view
When Anthony Kiendl came to the MacKenzie Art Gallery as director in 2013, one of his goals was to open a café for gallery patrons. While this has taken longer than expected, a trial run of sorts, Theo Sims’ well-known installation, The Candahar, offers visitors a chance to visit a traditional Irish pub. Sims’ meticulously crafted facsimile in a plywood box the size of a shipping container was first shown in Calgary at ACAD’s Illingworth Kerr Gallery and then at the 2007 Biennale de Montréal, both curated by Wayne Baerwaldt.
Since then it has welcomed thirsty patrons, who were served local microbrew by imported Belfast publicans Chris and Conor Roddy, in Winnipeg and St. John’s, N.L. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Sims collaborated with interdisciplinary Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore, and The Candahar controversially enforced an “Indians only” policy. (Non-aboriginal patrons were served water with lemon wedges outside.) Sims’ pub has joined Vera Frenkel’s Transit Bar and General Idea’s legendary Colour Bar Lounge in the interface between bar culture and high culture.
Photo by Theo Sims
"The Candahar," 2007, installation (Calgary)
"The Candahar," 2007, installation (Calgary), interior view, with Chris and Conor Roddy
Conceived independently of Nicolas Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics, The Candahar nonetheless exemplifies this burgeoning genre. According to Sims, The Candahar is “a muddy fusion of life, politics and experience.” His collaboration with Belmore was hardly surprising. Sims has sought to locate his creative practice in the crosshairs of political tension. Born in Brighton on Britain’s southern coast, Sims relocated to Belfast during “the Troubles” and completed an MFA at Ulster University in 1994, before moving to Canada.
The facsimile pub offers beer taps, a brass rail, a bench balanced on beer kegs, racehorse prints, and a TV with looped sports videos. It is modeled on the Blackthorn, a defunct Belfast pub that used to be a hangout for artists and journalists. Sims’ pub is named for a Belfast street that served him and his artist friends as a neutral safety zone during the city’s years of conflict. But the pub’s name evokes another city as redolent as Belfast with a long history of conflict. The Afghan capital has been routinely occupied by foreign armies over the centuries – the Persian Safavids and the Moghuls, the British and, more recently, Russians and Americans, with their Canadian allies. Sims’ pub, like its eponymous Belfast street, evokes Ulster veterans of the Raj.