Try to put a label on Vanessa Kwan's art. Art that includes a seven-foot-tall fibreglass peach; an eight-hour, open-air reenactment of a scene from the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon; a photograph of artist Rodney Graham signed by pop star Justin Timberlake; and a postcard book filled with clichéd views of the world's great cities, all the cards carefully perforated so that you can hold them up and frame vistas of Vancouver within images of Paris, New York, Tokyo... When pushed to characterize what she does, Kwan responds, "I've always said I'm an interdisciplinary artist."
Interdisciplinary artist is a neatly comprehensive phrase for Kwan's complex, idea-driven, and often humorous projects. Add photography plus video, installation, textile, and correspondence art to the mix, stir in a few years of arts administration and volunteer work, and top with a dollop of critical writing-Kwan has compressed a lot into a very young career. "I'm a big believer in other things outside of your perceived discipline influencing your image and your practice." Sitting now at her desk in the dim, narrow space that functions as her office at Access Artist Run Centre (where she is gallery coordinator), she flips through computer documentation of her various projects.
"None of the works resemble the other," she notes, "but the themes are similar." These themes, writes Centre A curator Alice Ming Wai Jim in a recent catalogue essay for Penticton's Art Gallery of the South Okanagan, include consumer culture and "culturized urbanism". Kwan's grad project consisted of two hand-stitched quilts, made up of many pieces of pseudo-aged clothing from American Eagle Outfitters. "The fabrics are distressed and they have a certain pallor to them," she notes. "I'm fascinated with”¦mass-produced nostalgia."
A kind of nostalgia also pervades Your Private Sky, that funny and smart postcard project. Recently produced for the Or Gallery, it spins an interest in geodesic domes and Buckminster Fuller's utopian ideas about architecture into an examination of the idea of "the world-class city" and the culture- and character-obliterating effects of globalization. (Your Private Sky is available through the Or and the Charles H. Scott Gallery.)
Kwan has worked at Access since November 2004, a few months after graduating from Emily Carr Institute with a degree in media arts. Before that, she completed an honours B.A. in English at UBC. What interested her most in her English program was critical theory, an obvious link to the postmodern art world. A significant development at art school, however, was working collaboratively with fellow students.
"At Emily Carr, I quickly realized that in order to get things done, you have to self-organize, because the art world is tremendously competitive and often not very friendly if you're a young, insecure artist. The best way to cope with that was to”¦work with your friends and be proud of that work and create your own culture."