As another academic year winds down, there's plenty to celebrate at U of M's School of Art. This year marks the school's centennial and the first full year spent in its landmark new ARTlab building. Two faculty members were just shortlisted for the prestigious Sobey Art Award. Its fledgling graduate program is Manitoba's first, and the new School of Art Gallery has brought one quality exhibition after another to the Fort Garry campus.
As significant as those accomplishments are, they wouldn't count for much if it weren't for the creative achievements of the school's students, which Winnipeggers have had two opportunities to experience in recent weeks. On April 26 and 27 Platform centre hosted a brief off-site exhibition of works by photo and video students, and in the preceding week the BFA Graduating Exhibition saw the class of 2013 take over ARTlab's top two floors. (The show was accompanied by the launch of a 115-page, full-colour catalogue -- something my extortionately expensive art school alma mater in the States certainly never produced for my graduating class.)
With 76 artists contributing to the BFA show alone, it would be misguided to overgeneralize, but while the work was distinguished by its consistent quality more than anything else, certain trends did emerge.
There were large-scale, painstakingly crafted, surrealist-oriented sculptural works like Helga Jakobson's uncanny Isafjordur, a lifelike and life-size figure with her head engulfed in a tumour-like billow of foam, wax and polyester stuffing, and Erika Dueck's Ephemeral Mind, an imposing cloud of crumpled paper lit from within and embedded with impossibly detailed dollhouse miniature scenes of cluttered and collapsing art studios.
In Phrenological Petrifications, Hillary Smith arranged delicate but vaguely unsettling abstract porcelain forms in eerie tableaus. Part biotech lab and part Victorian curiosity cabinet, they could have been set-pieces for a Matthew Barney film or Bjrk video.
Elsewhere, a kind of splashy, of-the-moment formalism was in full effect, exemplified by Natasha Gusta's dreamy, sunset-hued abstract canvases and Chelsey Frank's Radioactive, an array of what could be toxic, Day-Glo corals spread across an triangular table skirted in green faux fur. Marijana Mandusic presented a novel reimagining of abstract painting, working with tangled ribbons of dried paint to create free-hanging sculptures, arranging them on scanner beds to create and capture remixed compositions. Chris Smith went to far as to program a playable video game, albeit a frustratingly cryptic one made trickier still with the addition of plinth-like wooden "Obstruction Pillars" that partially blocked the projected image. Rowan Gray's captivating 46h was a particular highlight: tucked away in a room at the end of a hallway lit with pink-gelled fluorescent tubes, the entrance blocked by a floor-to-ceiling wooden blind, viewers had to peer between the slats to make out a haunted, tropical arrangement of coloured plastic sheets, ghostly video projections, palm fronds, and trickling water.
If you weren't fortunate enough to make either exhibition before it closed, you have one more chance to take in the work of some of the school's current best and brightest when a third and final show of student work opens at Aceartinc. May 10. Open to students of all years and programmed by gallery co-directors Hannah_g and Jamie Wright, the nine artists selected include the aforementioned Gusta and Mandusic, as well as Sean McLachlan, whose photographs appeared in the Platform show.
We'll be seeing plenty more from all of these promising new artists, I'm sure, but this might be your last chance this year -- the curated show at Aceart runs through May 25.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is an Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.