Published on Brock University (http://www.brocku.ca)
Said the Attic
Brock University Department of Visual Arts Honours Exhibition
April 17 to May 2, 2010.
Rodman Hall Arts Centre
109 St. Paul Crescent
St. Catharines, ON L2S 1M3
Opening Reception April 16th from 7pm to 9pm
Artists' talk: Friday, April 23, 1pm
The Department of Visual Arts, part of Brock University’s School of Fine and Performing Arts, has a long tradition of presenting the work of graduating students mentored in its Honours studio program. The Department’s partnership with Rodman Hall has made the Honours Studio an especially fruitful undertaking. Students accepted into this course, develop a cohesive body of work that that will support their entry into graduate school MFA programs and professional practice as artists. The exhibition at Rodman Hall is the capstone of their visual arts education at Brock and an opportunity to publicly present the results of their exploration and hard work. Such exhibits from the Department of Visual Arts are a key part of the School of Fine and Performing Arts' mandate to connect the community with the breadth of talent and creativity at Brock University.
Willing to listen
by Lisa Borin
An attic is a structure normally found in homes, just under the roof. Generally inaccessible and awkwardly structured, attic spaces function as archives where objects are kept but seldom handled. The title of this exhibition Said the Attic is telling. Firstly, it speaks of the literal workspace for the artists in this exhibition who have studios in the ‘attic’ at Rodman Hall. From this space come the voices of ten strong emerging artists. Secondly, the title suggests that from the ‘attic,’ which is also a symbolic storage space for all that is tucked away and denied, emerge powerful stories that can shift our perceptions if we are willing to listen. Navigating an attic can be tedious. Yet what might be a frustrating search for an unmarked box for some, can be a treasure hunt for others, in which every piece of clothing, old box of dishes or family letters, tell intriguing stories rather than pose an obstacle or simply take up space. Such is the case for the exceptional artists exhibiting in the Honours Exhibition at Brock University.
Through her process-based work, Kaitlin Robertson demonstrates that crucial statements about nature and technology are made through manufactured objects. Robertson methodically and repetitively manipulates both ‘natural’ and ‘manufactured’ objects; processed paper that references tree bark is drawn on with ink and wooden floorboards are chemically stained. In Robertson’s work, consumer objects, such as an artificial tree bark candle, are telling statements about human control and systemization of ‘natural’ elements. Yet it is Robertson’s own intimate and repetitive physical gestures, such as staining and drawing that demonstrate the human paradox of living as ‘organic’ beings while simultaneously manipulating it for our own devices. For Robertson, creation and destruction are simultaneous and unavoidable counterparts.
Natalie Hunter’s installation work also relies on repetitive action to address the process of natural growth. Hunter has attached many tongue depressors to build what appears to be a large waveform. The depressors are made from unfinished wood and are evidently manufactured goods with their nearly identical size and shape. The artist has joined these generic objects in a tedious process that speaks of the endless cycle of creation. In her work, objects are stripped of their identity to take on a new and identical function. Tongue depressors are used primarily for their sameness and organic origin; their function now irrelevant and insignificant, they reference the ever-present role of growth that occurs in nature and is imitated through constant human production.
The repetitive natural functioning of the organs are of primary interest to Alicia Kuntze who playfully and poignantly addresses the ever present role of the body as vessel. For example, Kuntze has a large hole in the wall where a heart seems to have leapt out from beating too fervently. In another piece, viewers are presented with the gurgling sounds of a stomach when they are close to a drawing of a brain, which also notably resembles intestines. Finally, liver-shaped pins made of beer caps are dispersed to viewers at a reception and draw attention to the unspoken damage to the liver being incurred through alcohol. By establishing physical proximity between viewers and her work, Kuntze draws attention to the processes constantly at work in every body, but seldom acknowledged. Through Kuntze’s work the body is released from its imposed silence.
A collaborative piece between Kuntze and Michael DiRisio further addresses the strict regulation of the body. The artists have created a large freight-like structure in which paintings can be felt but not seen, a direct opposition to normal gallery operations. Sight as the primary means of understanding is denied and ‘viewers’ must rely on what they can access through touch for understanding. Only visible is a structure, a container seemingly used for shipping, storage, and disposal. Kuntze and DiRisio question the value placed on functional consumer goods that are not reusable within the institutional space and why sight is the primary means of assessing value. Similary, DiRisio has created paper from collected children’s books and written a subversive narrative of his own over the remnants of the stories. Through reclaiming and representing objects DiRisio challenges the accepted use-value of goods in order to assess their cultural connotations and implicated societal values.
Realizing that the fast pace of contemporary society requires bombarding the eyes with information, Tracy Van Oosten cleverly installs her animations and projections to engage the viewer physically. Individuals engage with her work either by spinning a praxinoscope or craning their neck over a fish tank that functions as a screen. The gallery becomes a space where objects are transformed through movement, such as the viewer’s body while navigating the pieces, and the moving figure in the water. Similarly, Van Oosten’s work reveals the cyclical process of life and death through a figure that drowns and swims repeatedly, and a woman ages as the praxinoscope spins. These installations present objects not as archival matter to be visually studied from a distance; rather they become a point of literal physical and intellectual exchange, indicating that viewers too participate in this process of creation and destruction.
While Van Oosten’s pieces use tangible objects to hold our gaze on her projections, Elyse Pelletier uses them to recontextualise objects. Her large mixed-media work juxtaposes doily patterns and industrial materials to address tension between ‘feminine’ imagery and ‘masculine’ construction. The plywood boards are adorned with spray painted replicas of doilies and burners, while nails and stitched wire pierce the boards. Similarly, her large cage-like structure is at once aesthetically engaging and psychologically unsettling. While the lace cutouts are pleasing to the eye, the structure’s size suggests that it is for human containment. The piece functions as a metaphor for the restrictive presence of cultural tropes pertaining to gender. Through her demanding physical and creative process, Pelletier undermines these restrictive gender stereotypes.
Pelletier’s process is one of resistance, yet Maeve McCambridge’s practice acknowledges intimate relationship dynamics and nurtures them. By collecting garments from significant individuals in her life, and writing accompanying text for each, McCambridge illustrates the role that memory plays in constructing personal narratives. Each individual has shared moments with the artist and in these instances their memories have been metaphorically stitched together. Each donated garment is a representation of the relationship and is spun into a large braided textile. The structure is much like the artist’s memory, composed of several diverse instances that create a whole. A similar process is depicted in McCambridge’s video diptych where the artist is shown sleeping next to a video of the traffic outside a window at night. While the artist is asleep, the world outside collaborates in her piece and each car is a performer. For McCambridge the human experience is ultimately a communal one, and correspondingly so is her creative experience.
The shared experience is also of interest to Leanne Unruh who resists the urge to create a sense of permanence with her work. Instead, Unruh embraces the deterioration and recreation of objects and memory over time by undermining the notion of a completed art object. Viewers are invited to take cards from a rack and to mail their own back to the artist. Here meaning is imbued in the piece while it is physically deconstructed in the gallery. The piece marks an invitation to connect with the artist by mailing the cards to her. By inviting participation from others, Unruh welcomes the element of chance into her practice, and accepts her role within a community of creative forces.
Holly Gabel relies on the element of chance in her work through a continual creative process of play. Her colourful and quirky fabric tree structure features caricatures of her ancestors and is the result of an investigation into her genealogy. It is unclear as to what the artist has discovered on her quest for information and what has been contributed through her imagination. Combinations of Gabel’s illustrations, collected imagery, and text form the figures and create narratives about their identity. The piece makes a strong statement about the extent to which history is maintained and passed down, and the extent to which it is recreated due to gaps in memory, lost records, and the natural passing of time. Gabel’s witty captions also toy with the idea that history is far more colourful than record books often indicate.
While accepted ‘facts’ of history are often structured around specific accepted details and individuals, Gabrielle Tremblay hopes to challenge this notion. Tremblay seeks out individuals whose voices are often silenced in society and asks them to share moments with her in which she attempts to make them feel heard. Tremblay collects these exchanges through drawings and recordings that form the basis of her body of work. Fleeting experiences are extended and archived through careful rendering with her hands. Left behind are charcoal traces that form portraits the artist has composed largely from memory. Tremblay has created an animation from this series of drawings and paired it with a recorded narrative of her collaborator. In this case, drawing is an extension of conversation and touch is intended to be an intimate and healing gesture.
The attic space at Rodman Hall has been reclaimed by these artists who take nothing at face-value. For example, discarded stoves and sewing patterns become installations that undermine traditional stories of women’s work; collected beer caps warn of liver damage; and a fish tank is a theatre in which the struggle for life unfolds again and again. While all ten of these artists have strong individual voices, they are united by their attention to castaways and collections, and all of them have succeeded in creating a new context for which we can understand them. As this years graduating class cleverly reminds us, there is magic in the attic, we just have to be willing to listen. Lisa Borin is an alumnus of Brock University, where she participated in the Honours Studio Exhibition in 2007. Borin has since completed her Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Calgary specializing in mixed-media. Her practice investigates the visceral realm of communication and language through works that engages the senses. Borin currently lives and works in Calgary.
Rodman Hall Arts Centre Gallery hours are Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday, 12:00 noon to 9:00 p.m., Friday, Saturday & Sunday,12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m. Closed Mondays and statutory holidays.