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Lost in the Forest: Quiet, obscure Sylvia Matas art gets One Night Stand exhibition

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Winnipeg has more artists than it knows what to do with -- certainly more than our established venues could possibly exhibit in a given year -- and a lot of compelling, locally produced work tends to go unseen because of that.

Fortunately, alternative spaces continue to emerge to help pick up the slack. These fly-by-night operations crop up in odd places and keep unpredictable hours, but their flexibility and informality allow them to take chances on unproven and emerging artists whose work you might not see elsewhere.

One Night Stand, the pet project of acting Platform Centre co-director Collin Zipp, is the newest of these spaces, and it's as "fly-by-night" as they come. Shows are open for one night only, from 7 p.m. to midnight, and then the work comes down. Without a fixed address, it's more of an improvised exhibition series than a "gallery" in the normal sense. The first few events are taking place at photographer Cory Aronec's spacious Exchange District studio, but there are plans for eventual One Night Stands in Lethbridge and Montreal, as well as other locations around the city.

The first show, November's The Full Complement, featured work by six artists working as art-handlers and technicians at Plug In ICA. By 10 p.m. it had the air of a crowded house party, and Zipp credibly estimates that as many as 400 people may have cycled through over the course of five hours.

The second exhibition, which takes place Feb. 2, should be a bit less raucous. A Forest collects new work by Sylvia Matas, whose recent drawing- and text-based work is a subtle, cerebral, poetic and highly personal exploration of natural phenomena and individual experience.

The exhibition centres around a suite of 24 drawings, sharply outlined masses of crowded linework on otherwise empty pages. The shapes appear to come from or mimic map imagery, but if they do, we aren't told what kind. Textual elements that might offer explanation only deepen the mystery. Lists of dates extending centuries backwards and forward in time, precise down to the minute, are written directly on the wall. Elsewhere, a handful of plaques are engraved with words ("reniform," "obcordate") that most of us will find unfamiliar.

Though undeniably obscure, every element in A Forest has a source in the natural sciences (geography, botany, astronomy, etc.). It's not necessary to pin each reference down conclusively, however, and you aren't expected to. Arriving at different possible interpretations -- more- and less-educated guesses -- is part of the experience of the work. So is feeling a bit lost.

Matas is concerned with the ways we try to orient ourselves, to make sense of complex situations with only limited knowledge and understanding. Science is one of them. The technical language and imagery that she adopts can tell us a lot about "a forest at night," for instance: it can tell us the names and characteristics of tree species and the precise goings-on in the sky overhead. It tells us much less about the experience of actually being there. This seeming deficiency hints at an emotional tension central to Matas's work.

It's work so "quiet" that it occasionally threatens to disappear completely, so it will be interesting to see how it holds up against the chaotic backdrop of a one-night event.

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 c6

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About Steven Leyden Cochrane

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.

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