One Hot Inch Goes a Long Way

My brief forays into Vancouver’s local art communities have yielded talented artists making incredible art, though I’ve noticed that the Vancouver art scene often feels like just that: a hipster-centric scene. Even with the rise of public art and a growing sensibility encouraging widespread creativity, attending events at galleries can be an intimidating and often alienating experience. People line up in front of pieces, exchange considered opinions with their immediate circle, and move along the line.

Which is why it was refreshing to find myself at Gallery Gatchet on Saturday night, sipping beer, admiring art, and bartering for buttons.

Hot one-inches

Hot One Inch Action, the annual button swap created by local artists Jim Hoehnle and Chris Bentzen, saw its 7th iteration come to life last weekend.

The show’s concept is deceptively simple: the public is encouraged to submit original designs measuring one inch in diameter via email. No credentials or CVs are necessary, and only one submission per person is allowed. It’s also totally free.

Hoehnle and Bentzen select their top 50 designs and transform them into buttons. Hundreds upon hundreds of buttons.

The night of the show, one of each button is displayed on the gallery walls with a brief didactic. Attendees can pay $5 for random grab bags of 5 buttons, or can roam the gallery free of charge. The action gets hot – super hot – when people start swapping buttons and hunting down choice pieces.

Bentzen and Hoehnle: artists, button-lovers, and creators of Hot One Inch Action

The work is fresh and funny (think a “Hello My Name is” sticker with a picture of a salmon and the word “Rushdie” underneath, titled “The Sea-Tanic Verses”, making my lit-nerd heart smile); striking (a sketch of twin skeletons); and slightly off-centre (a pair of panties around a pair of ankles, emblazoned with the word “Underpants”).

The artists are also in attendance, partly to promote their work and partly just because it’s a really, really good time. In fact, the majority of artists I chatted with confessed that business connections and sales hardly ever come out of these shows. For them, it’s about connecting with their peers and the public, and going home with a crap-load of cool button. They get 20 of their own design for free, and are among the most ruthless negotiators.

What’s almost more impressive than the art itself is that many of the artists are first-time exhibitors. “I love hearing from someone we’ve chosen to be in the show that they’ve never really considered themselves an artist and this is the first time they’ve ever submitted something to a show,” explains Bentzen.

Hoehnle elaborates, “We want to provide a place for people to interact, as both artists and art lovers. A place where people can come together directly with art as the catalyst.”

Good looking people swapping good looking buttons.

At Hot One Inch Action, art physically forces interaction. People wander around the gallery with their palms up and their goods displayed, prompting an unexpected level of openness.

As the night progresses, barriers are easily broken and insular Vancouverites dissolve into tittering, tipsy school children, performing all manner of negotiation to secure the highly-coveted “Underpants”.

Picking up where more traditional art shows leave off, Hot One Inch Action provides an opportunity to expand one’s aesthetic sense, meet interesting new people, and push some serious buttons.

Hot One Inch Action will return in 2011, but if you want to get in on the action before then, Bentzen & Hoehnle will be hosting a sister event in Portland on Thursday, November 11. A Seattle show also took place on October 9, 2010.