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Uniting the mundane, sacred worlds through the creative act

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WHAT IT IS: A view of Seth Woodyard's incredible architectural installation Good Work, which uses ordinary building materials -- two-by-fours, plastic sheeting, hooks and tarp -- to transform aceart's 3,000-square-foot main gallery into a sacred space.

WHAT IT MEANS: After graduating from the University of Manitoba's School of Art in 2009, Woodyard took a job with a local plastering firm. The 30-year-old artist is also a regular attendant at St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Wolseley.

Woodyard's three different worlds come together -- beautifully -- in this multimedia project, which manages to be both hugely ambitious and humble. Woodyard doesn't just play around with ideas about masculinity, work and purpose. He has completely committed himself: With some help from friends and fellow plasterers, Woodyard has created an elaborate, elegant (and really, really big) hybrid structure that is half cathedral and half building site.

Woodyard wanted to work with materials from his day job but to use them with a different intent. Bare wood, pleated polyurethane, nuts and bolts are used to form a facade, a nave, an altar. A chapel's "tile" floor is crafted from white dust-cloths and blue nylon tarp. The Gothic-style ceiling is formed by rough canvas suspended from hooks. The font is a cross between a modern bathroom renovation and a medieval vessel.

Rather than viewing the mundane world and the sacred world as separate, Woodyard unites them through the creative act. Seeing parallels in the repetition of manual work and the repetition of religious liturgy, he views his art as a feeling response "to a culture steeped in irony, laziness, and meaningless work." For Woodyard, the process of transforming the gallery space offers "a return to sincerity and the discipline of ritualized labour."

Woodyard has also been influenced by the classical myth of Sisyphus, the king condemned to roll a stone up a hill, again and again, for all eternity. The name of Sisyphus is often used as a synonym for work that is seen as dull, weary and pointless.

But as Woodyard points out, there are other, more hopeful possibilities. The existentialist Albert Camus, in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, recasts Sisyphus as the modern absurdist hero. While his labour holds no transcendent final purpose, "his rock is his thing," Camus writes. Rolling his rock up his hill, Sisyphus can find meaning in the process itself.

WHY IT MATTERS: Most of us face some kind of endless everyday task. It might not be as tough as construction work, but it could involve washing dishes, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, punching in data, shuffling paper. By concentrating on the process of work, and building a structure that reveals that work as ordered and beautiful, Woodyard gives us a way to see this work differently.

As Camus says in the last line of his essay: "One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Seth Woodyard: Good Work runs at aceart, 2-290 McDermot Ave., until July 13.

Art historian Alison Gillmor looks beneath the surface of newsworthy art.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2012 G6

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