In The Making
College Gallery, University of Saskatchewan
January 16 – March 1, 2015
In the Making, Diana Sherlock’s curatorial endeavour filling the College Gallery at the University of Saskatchewan this past winter, was often contradictory in a delicious way. An exhibition about ACAD alums, it focused on how methodology and “making” informs practice, but (with a few exceptions) this gambit doesn’t become a monstrosity consuming all else. Process, especially in new media work, can so often become a tyrant consuming any restraint or quality. These considerations – and even a healthy skepticism leading to a rigorous criticality – mark In the Making as one of the finer shows the College Gallery has presented.
One of the strongest works in the exhibition, Brendan McGillicuddy’s Overtone, exemplifies this, reinterpreting Sol LeWitt’s drawing Isometric Projection #13 into three dimensional space. LeWitt proclaimed that “the idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” But the fractures that must be filled between the idea and its realization are what make McGillicuddy’s work – and others, like Mackenzie Kelley-Frère or Hyang Cho – much more than simply their means of construction. Overtone is hand-made and delicately constructed out of solid cherry wood as machine fabrication would fall short, offering an interesting example of the conversation – or sometimes the argument – between “the conceptuality and materiality of sculpture.”
Hyang Cho’s Trial II rolls out from the wall like a tongue or a carpet. The artist’s unbelievably tiny, delicate script incorporates the abstracted, loose and free nature of mark making while still recognizably referencing the writings of Franz Kafka that were the genesis of the piece. Extended Long Play by Jolie Bird takes Cho’s mix of seductive formality and intensive execution even further: headphones, a turntable and an Eames chair have been arranged in a tableau on the floor, wrapped completely “in a single line of fine gold thread.” Both of these artists are referencing modes of “traditional labour” as defined in a fine craft or artisanal sense. Left of Cho is Pavitra Wickramasignhe’s Line Poem – Alchemy of Light #2, a more superficially “industrial” work, incorporating several steps in its execution: from line drawings to vectorizing to laser cutting to three dimensional printing. But the uneven carving and the burning that results in the stacked sheets of paper are just as lovely: Line Poem offers a solidity that grounds Kelley-Frère’s ethereal, nearly transparent Codex 1 and 2, spread out on tables allowing us to browse through them. These are like tablecloths or yards of material, laid out flat in a simple manner, where their dark texture suggests an organic or almost moss like nature (unsurprising, as their components include silk, linen, hemp, sumi and plant dyes). Does it qualify as “looking at the work” if the work is so ephemeral that it defies corporeality? That subversive take on “process” and “form” enriches the other works in the show.
Tyler Rock’s Still Water, an installation in a separate room, is also a performative object that responds more loudly and frothily to a group of viewers, while “acting” more quietly to a single visitor. The clear glass vessel that hangs from the ceiling, illuminated in a blue light offers an almost meditative darkened space when encountered alone, but with more people in the space, it generates more noise and bubbles, until the liquid foams and boils.
What could be perceived as a contradiction for an exhibition that privileges the art object and process is the presentation of conversations between artist and curator Nicole Burisch and the artists in the exhibition. These didactic panels don’t hobble or distract, but add dimension and nuance, helping us to see the consideration and analysis that many of these artists brought to media that can so often misplace any conceptual consideration. The words on the walls don’t negate the objects, but enhance our understanding of them.
In the Making has shown at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at ACAD, and now at the College Gallery. Both are part of larger educational spaces, which is appropriate not only because of how the Fine Arts and Humanities are often undervalued at contemporary universities, but also because In the Making offers some direction for the stuttering art school at USask itself. But on a larger scale, In the Making refutes the common, if often ignorant, dismissal of all art schools as irrelevant to the larger art world or the greater educational space. ACAD’s alumni and their ability to negotiate ably and artistically the ongoing dichotomy of process and concept demonstrates this clearly.
Bart Gazzola has published with Canadian Art, BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for three years), Magenta, PrairieSeen, Galleries West, FUSE, Hamilton Arts & Letters and was art critic at Planet S for over a decade. Also host & producer of The A Word, he currently lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, after nearly two decades on the Prairies.