Danny Woodrow’s Carpet Tent Spider.
If you’d like to see what’s being produced within the studio walls of the Masters of Fine Art program at the University of Guelph, be sure to stop by Georgia Scherman Projects. The show, titled “1:15,” features the fifteen students of this program, and states that “constructed systems of reference such as cartography and transcription form a conceptual meeting place for the various works selected for the show.”
“Constructed systems of reference” is a complex way of describing art in general. What visual creation isn’t a constructed reference to something else? It’s not an easy task to get the works of the entire membership of an art program to hang together on a visual or thematic level. Everyone is doing their own thing and finding their own way through the program. Group shows mandate that a curatorial commonality suddenly needs to be found, and broad parameters using broad words seem to offer the best shot.
Kristoff Steinruck’s Sunset.
An exception to this effect was the META exhibition, by the graduating students of Ryerson University’s New Media program. The works in this show were so aesthetically and experientially linked that they seemed to have been created with each other in mind.
It’s fortunate, then, that the individual pursuits of the artists in “1:15” are rather thoughtful and quite delightful, and that everyone doing their own thing turns out to be a good thing.
Dawn Johnston’s HBC Blanket and Maggie Groat’s Soil Removed from The Six Nations of the Grand River No. 40 First Nations Reserve.
Dawn Johnston presents HBC Blanket, an iconic Hudson’s Bay point blanket with the majority of the coloured threads removed. The hues are still discernible, but those altered sections of the fabric are now weak and fragile. What remains is the pressing absence of what is no longer there. The point blanket also made appearances in Motherbrand’s 2005 collective exhibition “Cabin,” a show that investigated our national identity through a shared nostalgia for the great Canadian getaway.
In that show, Terence Cooke used the blanket as upholstery for his piece The Cancon Chair (Under Point), and Todd Lambeth took it as his subject for the painting Hot Legs (Hudson’s Bay Blanket). Lambeth’s statement explained: “firmly established as part of Canadian life, the Hudson’s Bay blanket’s warm shadows and bold, vibrant colours continue to represent our culture in an age of globalization and questionable allegiances.”
Considering the cultural heft that this object carries in this country, the extraction of the very colours that define its distinct design is an attempt to remove the embedded symbolic equity.
This piece is wisely juxtaposed with Maggie Groat’s Soil Removed from The Six Nations of the Grand River No. 40 First Nations Reserve, which is just that: a box of soil (complete with hopeful young trees) transplanted into the gallery setting. The point blanket’s loaded cultural history as a commodity of trade between the HBC and First Nations people rises to the surface in the context of this neighbouring installation.
Ryan Park’s Untitled.
Continuing the thread of extractions from nature are Ryan Park’s Untitled coloured stones. Appearing at first to be natural rocks painted in pastel candy colours, they’re entirely man made, many of them containing several layers of tinted hydrocal. While the gentle colours seem a natural fit for the soft contours of the stones, they also feel in great contradiction to anything that would be found naturally, giving the installation a duality of organic and unearthly.
Nadja Pelkey’s Elvis I (aspirations).
Working with similar materials but to vastly different effect is Nadja Pelkey. Her sculpture Elvis I (aspirations) is, at its core, one of the familiar busts of Elvis that are perpetually available at stores like Honest Ed’s. The surface, however, has been reworked by the sculptor’s hand. Georgia Scherman explained to Torontoist that “the busts, even though we associate them with the likeness, don’t actually look like Elvis. [Pelkey] reworks the surface to make the bone structure and the features more true to life.” In their original state, the visual cues and references of these busts to their subjects are more emblematic than accurate, causing them to become something else entirely, more self-referential kitsch icons than representations of a person.
In her description of the work, Pelkey states “I am currently interested in the artifacts of low culture, as objects that are mass produced yet meant to be singular and precious in the context of their display….I begin with a program of modifications to existing objects that I term ‘additive erasure,’ which is an attempt at isolating the multiple, and transforming the mass market object into a singular art object.” The result is something that hovers between uniqueness and ubiquity, being both special and disposable.
Detail from Shane Krepakevich’s Approximate Drawings.
Another compelling work is Shane Krepakevich’s Approximate Drawings. In this series of nine illustrations, the artist visualizes relationships between things that you would likely never think to compare. The topics lean towards introspective considerations of family, biology, personal history, and the passage of time, such as “approximate location of my first kiss relative to the geographic distribution of the North Saskatchewan River.” These tiny but laden interrelationships are diagramed in a clean, almost scientific way to make sense and bring order to the things in life that are otherwise hard to pin down.
This personalization of information graphics is reminiscent of New York designer Nicholas Felton’s annual reports. Each year, Felton publishes a stunning look back at his life over the past twelve months through the lens of statistics, maps, and graphs. Krepakevich’s work is distinct due to the elusive and intangible nature of the relationships he diagrams, and the almost ridiculous simplicity of the results in contrast to the implied complexity of their meaning. Visually, they look like answers, but the content asks more questions than it resolves.
Detail from Hyang Cho’s Three Variations of Two Part Inventions.
Hyang Cho also attempts to draw the intangible on paper. In Three Variations of Two Part Inventions, Cho has meticulously hand-rendered the sheet music for Bach’s “Moderato ma con Spirito”. Drawn three times, the artist has altered each version to change the way the piece is read. In the first, she eliminated the notes, but the pacing remains. In the second version, it’s the opposite, with only the sounds and no inclination of when they should all occur. In the third, she has reversed the left and right hands. Cho, a Korean artist, is looking at music as a second language, and is using sheet music to visualize the complexity of understanding a second way of communicating.
Doug Jarvis’ Pocket Content and Dimensional Illusion.
As a whole, the show is clean and confident, and attempts to impose commonalities between the various artists beyond that is simply unnecessary. Scherman intends this to be the inaugural annual exhibition of the work of an MFA program, so we can look forward to an yearly look at the work happening in the masters classrooms.
Georgia Scherman Projects is located at 133 Tecumseth Street, and “1:15” runs until August 15.
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.