At Emily Carr University of Art + Design until May 22
It’s that fertile season: flowering trees, trilling birds, new graduates budding in all directions. But how to do justice to them, especially to the 306 grads bursting forth this spring from Emily Carr University of Art + Design? The amount of work, range of media, and variety of expression on view in ECUAD’s 2011 Degree Exhibition are so overwhelming that it makes sense to consult an on-site expert to identify a thematic thread. Our go-to guy here is Greg Bellerby, director and curator of ECUAD’s Charles H. Scott Gallery. “Materiality,” he observes. And it’s true: there’s a fresh feeling for tactility, texture, and age-old media like fabric, wood, and clay. There’s also an intense physical engagement with a chosen medium, whether revealed through technical facility or its opposite—an intentionally crude disruption of the idea of craft.
Materiality isn’t evident in all things through all disciplines, of course. Emily Carr students are still plugged into their cameras and their computers. But even the tech-savvy industrial-design grads seem to be working with an enhanced sense of touch and material presence. Jeffrey Liu’s Sleep Therapy System, for instance, is a high-performance medical bed intended to prevent pressure ulcers in hospital patients. It is framed, however, by such warm-toned and curvaceous plywood that you want to run your hands over its sleek surface. Here, form more than follows function: it seduces it.
Amongst fine arts grads, and at the other end of the sleekness spectrum, look for Hee Su Kim Wolna’s wonderfully grungy and improvisational installation, Trees, made on the spot out of long strands and short curls of black masking tape. Mounted in a corner, this work reads like a black-on-white abstract painting that has somehow escaped from its frame and taken off across the floor. Who knew that unevenly cut, torn, and curled strips of masking tape could be so amusing and, at the same time, so evocative of the expressionist gestalt?
The precious materials Tamara Skubovius deftly employs in her sculpture, Untitled #4 (concerning land politics and cultural paradigms) speak to hierarchies of value. Consisting of four mountain-goat skulls elegantly cast in porcelain, individually coloured or glazed (red, white, gold, and black), and mounted in a Plexiglas case as if in a museum, this work provokes us to examine assumptions about “traditional forms” and “natural resources”. The mountain goat holds special meaning to the Tahltan people, and through it we’re asked to consider how different cultures differently assign and measure the worth of the land and the creatures it supports.
Equally adept in its physical presentation is Kevin Hubbard’s series of mixed-media works, collectively titled “Building Materials ®”. Large, shallow, rectangular boxes, they hang from the ceiling and make formal and material references to paintings and the walls upon which they’re traditionally hung. In the three sequential Wall Pieces on view, Hubbard exposes everything from gypsum, wood, and fiberglass insulation to mirrors, acrylic paint, and shredded pieces of text-covered paper. What we experience is a deconstruction of picture-making, a back-to-front journey through the wall, the painting, and the grand idea.
The three small sculptures in Victor Briestensky’s Untitled resemble scale models for monumental works—a public-art project, perhaps. An open-ended cube composed of smashed bits of concrete, glass, wood, and wire sits beside a couple of rocks. Covered with drips of white paint and miniature graffiti, these chunklets of granite lean against each other and support a little blank sign. The last work in this enigmatic trio is a boxlike form, covered with expressive slaps of cement and paint and topped with an upside-down Plexiglas lid. Again, there’s a delightfully cruddy approach to materials here, a kind of revisiting of modernism through a punk aesthetic.
Jo Peters’s 2 Piece Suit lies on a platform on the mezzanine floor of the library. It’s a performance costume, seemingly a series of long tubes stitched together from many pieces of sleazy fabric in nonmatching colours and patterns. A nearby photo documents it in performance mode, worn by three people, their bodies contorted, their faces unseen, and their sleeves and trouser legs conjoined, as if in a parody of clowning and the social strategies we use to clothe our naked souls.
In the concourse of the north building, look for Debbie Westergaard Tuepah’s Incessant Notions of Data, a big, mixed-media sculpture that hangs strands and tangles of paint-covered string from a geometric framework of metal tubing. The contrast between the chaotic string, executed in a wild rainbow of neon and Day-Glo colours, and the orderly lines of the aluminum frame is apparently meant to suggest a relationship between our daily experience of sensory and information bombardment and database marketing techniques. Like so much work in the grad show, Incessant may not completely achieve its theoretical aspirations, but it fully engages us in its confident use of materials.