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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Art School Art

Bart Gazzola
Published Thursday April 2, 05:56 pm
ACAD exhibition is evidence of a superb program


Runs to Saturday 11

College Art Gallery, U of S

Whether speaking of the recent Globe And Mail article on troubles at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) or the (hopefully stifled) threat of closure of the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (NSCAD), many art schools across the country find themselves in difficulty (sometimes of their own making, sometimes hobbled by neoliberal rhetoric).

There are, however, bright spots: Emily Carr is prospering in B.C., with significant provincial financial support, as is the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD). The current exhibition at the College Gallery on the U of S campus focuses on ACAD alumni. It’s also notable that a recent article in Canadian Art cited the College Gallery as a fine example of what university galleries can, and should, be. In the Making is the quality of show that we’ve come to expect to see there.

In curator Diana Sherlock’s words: “In the Making, a group exhibition of Alberta College of Art + Design alumni, investigates conceptual intersections between contemporary craft and emerging digital media. The works span a diverse range of disciplines — photography, performance, video and sound installation, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry and glass — and reflect the ongoing influence of technology on ways of making and ways of thinking about the contemporary context.”

Another compelling aspect of Making is the contribution of Nicole Burish. Her concise questions and the artists’ answers are on accompanying didactics, offering a further understanding of what the artists are doing (sometimes literally, sometimes more allegorically).

You can keep those thoughts of alumni and process in mind as you go through the upstairs and downstairs spaces, but it’s not really necessary — the quality of the work presented stands on its own, like Jolie Bird’s “Extended Long Play”, with objects wrapped in a single line of gold thread. The (replica) Eames chair, the turntable and records, all become new and different objects. The beauty of the objects is invariably linked to the almost insane, compulsive action of the wrapping.

The upstairs gallery space is in many ways the stronger one: Hyang Cho’s “Trial II” scrolls out from the wall, with a meticulous construction to equal Bird’s. It revisits ideas of drawing, mark-making and even how we as artists employ and depend on that which has come before. (Cho is “transcribing” Kafka’s The Trial.)

Mackenzie Kelly-Frère and Pavitra Wickramasinghe also occupy the upstairs space. Kelly-Frère’s “Codex 1” and “Codex 2” are ethereal, almost transparent in parts, and invite touch. Wickramasinghe’s “Line Poem, Alchemy of Light #2” (like many works in Making) is very much about its creation, but that doesn’t act as a barrier to its beauty. There are at least three specific steps in the making of these works, but their contradiction of roughness and delicacy are what strike you.

I’m not dismissing the lower level — Brendan McGillicuddy’s “Overtone” is a homage to seminal conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. (LeWitt’s assertion that “the idea becomes a machine that makes art” could also define Making.) But there’s also an element of humour in bringing a LeWitt to “life,” and the translation from theoretical to physical.

Humour also factors into Tyler Rock’s “Still Water”: like any interactive work within a dark, confined space, when experienced as part of a group it becomes raucous and bubbly. When experienced alone (at its best), it hangs silent, still and glowing blue, fizzing and frothing when you speak or yell at it. I’m reminded of Gordon Monahan’s wonderful interactive audio works, also from a fine touring show at the College.

Some pieces demand repeated visits. Wickramasinghe has another enjoyable installation upstairs (“Silence of Thought, Music of Sight”) that’s in its own room, mixing object and projection, shadow and water. With some of the artists (such as Jenna Stanton or Ward Bastian) I’d advise reading their conversations with Burish before perusing their art: that will change how you experience Making. I normally don’t like to privilege the statements over the objects, but there’s an impressive display of “form and function” in Making, melding process and idea in a critical and considered manner. The “chats” with Burish are more like an enhancement, than a justification.

Making speaks to the quality of ACAD, as this exhibition shames the poverty of other schools. (full disclosure: I’ve been lucky enough to work with several MFA students who graduated from there, and it was always a joy.) Art schools, unsurprisingly, are prosperous when they demonstrate — as with In The Making — their quality.

Others should follow suit, or be shuttered.

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