Emerging artists make their first contact with a wider audience in graduation exhibition
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/04/2016 (2528 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The 38 artists in this year’s Bachelor of Fine Arts show have worked side by side at the University of Manitoba’s School of Art for years, but they came together by chance and they’re all moving in different directions. What they share, though, is a clear desire to connect with themselves and with their audience, to understand and be understood.
The exhibition, which highlights all the diversity, creativity, and talent you’d expect, has a particular openness and warmth this year — but my feelings might be getting the better of me. These are my former students, by and large, and I’m so proud of everyone in this show it’s embarrassing. Here’s a hopelessly partial, incomplete overview of what they’ve done.
Many in the show consider identity in critical and poetic terms. Zahra Baseri repurposes Islamic patterns and architecture to start a conversation around religion, gender and individual rights. Laser-cut screens obscure women’s portraits in one series; we step inside a bullet-shaped cage like a truncated minaret and shut the doors. Evoking twinned sensations of exposure and confinement, the open-ended works speak to both the subjugation of women under theocratic regimes and the lived effects of Islamophobia in the West.
Pablo Castillo Huerta presents two similarly-scaled shelters, but his materials — blue vinyl tarp, corrugated plastic and rickety one-by-twos — bring to mind a refugee camp or shanty town. Quoting minimal sculpture and vernacular architecture, the entrance to each Choza or “hut” is guarded by a cinder block slab capped with broken blue glass. Titled Stela 1 and 2, the sculptures refer to Castillo’s Maya heritage using the language of western archaeology, while their utilitarian brutality invokes ongoing postcolonial strife in his parents’ native Guatemala.
In weightless arrangements of silk-screened paper, acetate, crumpled newsprint and a flickering text, Mariana Muñoz Gomez examines how identity is shaped by language through processes of translation and negation. In a haunting nighttime video, Julia Leach trains searchlights on feral dogs, trash fires and animal bones on the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation west of Brandon. In a voice-over, fragments of traditional knowledge and an imperfectly remembered fable come loose and blend into a shuffling, skittering tone poem.
Many elide confessional and conceptual registers, exploiting material and metaphor to give inner experiences outward form. Brooke Lychuk’s digitally fragmented self-portraits and broken-mirror sculptures reflect anxiety’s effects on the body. Breanne Westra collapses time and emotional distance in durational performances and video, forging uneasy but powerful intimacies through gestures of vulnerability, generosity and self-reflection.
Two of Westra’s performances utilize crochet, and the tactile, methodical qualities of craft media clearly have widespread appeal. Cailyn Harrison weaves tattered shrouds from paper pulp and fabric, binding old diaries in string and embedding them in concrete. Hannah Grabowecky’s embroidered fabric and sewn-paper slippers tap out the tentative rhythms of human interaction. Techniques of mending and embellishment go metastatic in an imposing, free-hanging fibre sculpture by Ashley Bielus. Tangles of nylon, lace and knotted cord create a sheltering blind for viewing works by Erin Kuhtey and Madison Gibbons, who both use ceramics to upend conventional representations of women’s bodies.
Others grapple with global concerns. Qidong Bai’s impressionistic Sky Calendar tracks industrial pollution in her Chinese hometown, while Kristian Gallinger’s spacey, spotlit installation of hulking black sine curves and dripping water supports a tiny “habitable zone” of living plants. Anwen Liu’s (Free) Stars incorporates an ominous black platform, a smashed coffin, a soundtrack of splintering wood, and thousands of candy-coloured origami stars, raising an urgent, unhinged, generous, and loving cry against death itself.
If all that’s a bit too heavy, Jane Yagi’s Food Coma Crisis Centre, a pitch-perfect send up of the “self-care” industry and lifestyle, is there to help you unload, offering free bottled water, a relaxation pod, vomiting station, and a sheepskin-lined wheelchair with built-in selfie stick and laptop stand. On a similar satirical bent, Jeremiah Valle’s saucy pinup himbos playfully skewer the tattoo industry’s commodification of individuality and lousy gender politics.
All the while, Erin Jung has been trolling us all, playing the role of a besotted One Direction fan-artist in the gallery and on social media (for once you’ll want to read the comments). A fascinating investigation of what it means to be an artist in different contexts, in the end the only role she played was herself.
Congratulations everyone! The show closes Sunday, May 1.
Steven Leyden Cochrane didn’t even get to the bedazzled potato party or the musical jugs…
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Updated on Thursday, April 28, 2016 4:24 PM CDT: Spelling of name fixed.