Review: It’s Not You, It’s Me @ Concourse Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design (1399 Johnston Street, Vancouver, B.C.) March 27 – April 9, 2014
Review by Justin and Dillon Ramsey
Granville Island is a beautiful place; that’s hard to contest. But its beauty is an aesthetic of tensions: here, the natural and industrial converge upon one another in stark, yet strangely harmonious, juxtaposition. Walking from west to east en route to Emily Carr University of Art and Design, lush parks populated with waterfowl give way to steampunk sidestreets of repurposed workshops and warehouses. It is a strange ecology wherein whirring cement trucks seem as focused and driven — no pun intended — as birds busied by the onset of spring. Would this relationship between the natural and the industrial be better described as an awkward marriage, or a mutual separation?
The Emily Carr graduate exhibition, It’s Not You, It’s Me, is premised upon a likewise turbid relationship. Recently, the university’s graduate program was divided into the Masters of Applied Arts (MAA) and the Masters of Design (MDes) — a split which the students have likened to an amicable divorce. Even the gallery itself seems legally partitioned, with the Masters of Design students occupying the front entranceway and the Masters of Applied Arts students’ works mounted on the far side.
Nevertheless, there is still space for contention; some MAA artworks audaciously overstep into designer territory, the most prominent intrusion being a gigantic, white weather balloon that feels at odds with the colourful layouts of the MDes students’ displays. Indeed, on the first wall of the exhibition, an elaborate arrangement of bright sticky notes charts the trajectory of the MDes program; and a small tag situated less than one-quarter of the way along reads “April 2014,” punctuating the meticulous map with gritted-toothed humour. Granted that their projects are ongoing and in development, designers Andreas Eiken, Bree Galbraith, Michael Peterson, Caylee Raber, and Christina White have produced a series of posters discussing their innovative research.
So what’s with this weather balloon? It sits like a rock in the middle of the gallery, nearly obscuring the MDes’ work. Equally hidden to the left of the balloon are a series of monitors, showing footage of rural landscapes. At first, the images appear still, until the very same weather balloon emerges into frame, frolicking through the forest like a woodland creature in its element. As the films progress, it becomes evident that the balloon is buoyed into motion by artist prOphecy sun, whose dancelike performance treats the balloon less as a prop and more as a partner. Is this balloon an apparatus of the winds or an animal of the woods? The strained connection between the natural and the industrial resurfaces with a force in the MAA artworks, negotiating the dysfunctional dynamics implicit in the exhibition’s theme.
Close to Sun’s looped video, Echoes of balance and push (2014), is Amanda Arcuri’s Orb, Foil, Cuts (2014). In this triptych of prints, photography equipment attempts to mix with the outdoor environment — a studio light simulates the way a sunset glares through the trees, while reflective foil tries fruitlessly to camouflage against golden wetland grasses. By doing so, they only call attention to their instrumentality, dialoguing loudly with the camera before them.
Where Arcuri radically separates the natural and the industrial, Dallas V. Duobaitis integrates them inextricably. The Eye (2014) is a remarkable installation that employs infrared sensors, its circular frame twisting ominously to track the movements of gallery-goers. Whether it actually “sees” anything is up for interpretation, but the discomfort it causes is non-negotiable. Duobaitis’s intricate artworks imbue technology with bodily complexity; his painting Mechtech Composition #3 generates the illusion that the canvas is being peeled back like skin, revealing the motorised inner-workings underneath.
Assemblages of technology and biology are not so rare, however: people are prime examples of such interdependence. Perhaps this is alluded to in Monique Motut-Firth’s Winged Assembly (2014), elaborate collages evocative of butterflies pinned in a menagerie. Each collage is a symmetrical compilation of fashion photography, advertisements, and—most prominently—pictures of machines; and intriguingly, the collages are set upon colourful paper. Not only does this cast brilliantly bright shadows, but it also reverses the practice of pinning butterflies pretty-side-up, dull-side-down. The dull colouration on the backs of some butterflies’ wings are a functional defense mechanism; so perhaps Motut-Firth offers the critical revelation that our “functional” mechanisms run on media images and technological interdependence.
But even as the world is ever tangled in digital networks, Britta Fluevog enmeshes it in a network that is refreshingly analogue. Connections (2014) is a sculptural piece reminiscent of a dream catcher, composed of materials from all over the world; a list of materials and their countries of origin accompanies the work. Nevertheless, the driftwood that frames Connections is merely listed as coming from the beach—a profound reminder of the natural networks that crisscrossed the world long before today’s industrial modes.
Different modes of interconnecting the world: this is a compelling context in which to consider the natural and the industrial. At times they are mutually helpful; more often than not, one is a hindrance to the other. And then there are times when one pretends that the other doesn’t exist. What can be said? Like any relationship, it’s complicated.
Justin Ramsey holds a Masters in Comparative Media Arts from Simon Fraser University. He works as an arts administrator with various institutions including Presentation House Gallery, North Vancouver, and Republic Gallery, Vancouver. As a freelance writer, Justin has contributed to several publications and platforms, including MONTECRISTO Magazine and NUVO Magazine.