Over Under Over Under
A Repetitive Review of a Pattern Show
Words by Brit Bachmann + Photography by Jon Vincent Ragay
As the sun descended in the West, orange beams streamed through the security bars on the windows of Red Gate, casting a skewed checkerboard shadow on the gallery floor. While this was definitely happenstance, I considered it an unofficial curatorial statement for Over Under Over Under, a multi-discipline group show organized by Olga Abeleva and Nicole Dumas. The focus was pattern.
As O/U/O/U implies, the show was textile-dominant and textile-inspired. The diversity of the collection was much like a patchwork quilt; while the artworks were radically different from each other, there was a certain order and archetype unifying the exhibition. And like a quilt, it was both comforting and smothering.
The first works that drew my attention were small, colourful, ceramic sculptures and a painting by Echo Sun. The ceramics were carefully scattered near the entrance of Red Gate. In her statement, Sun refers to these pieces as her bonsai series, “celebrating ornamental pattern and domesticity” with the intention of creating pattern that has presence. Sun’s ceramic works carry a soulful energy, with evidence of having been worked by the artist’s hands.
In a darker corner was Jenn Pearson‘s woven landscape paintings on unstretched canvas and foam. The pieces were created intuitively during a painting class. In a praxis paper, Pearson describes her artistic process as being visually exemplified by a woven or waffle-like form, involving “these flux-like states of wavering or waffle-ing, while working through a non-hierarchical process involving no end goal.” Pearson’s paintings are as much a suggestion of landscape as a suggestion of pattern, with strips of canvas woven together to form texture.
Beside Pearson’s work was a vibrant painting and small sculpture series by Christina Kenton. Although her work seems strongly influenced by Keith Haring or David Hockney pool paintings, Kenton cites artistic influences within her family. Her grandfather, Ladislav Guderna and her uncle, Martin Guderna were both surrealist painters. Kenton is self-taught, using the rhythmic execution of small patterns to manage her real-life challenges with vertigo.
Over one door and covering another was work by Leah McInnis. Her pieces titled Egotrippin’ and Beyonce were both generated from found materials. They are created with the intention of exploring and exploiting notions of celebrity and mainstream culture.
Kai Choufour had one of the more visually stimulating works in O/U/O/U. It was a digital print and small installation created with spray paint, balloons, corks, fabric samples, sponges, elastic bands, a wine bottle, rope, wire, electrical tape and hardware store door letters. The artist lists his process as, “Set up, film, photograph, polish, manipulate, print, decide, install.” Although pattern and repetition is the theme of the show, Choufour’s art practice renounces repetition; he makes a point of never displaying the same installation twice.
Impossible to ignore was an ongoing performance by Alexandra Bischoff, beautifully haunting in its repetition. Bischoff took on the laborious task of ironing all evening. On one side of her ironing board was a pile of wrinkled clothing; on the other, a pile of recently ironed clothing. Bischoff ironed every article of clothing, then changed into them behind a screen in the corner of the gallery once she had ironed enough for a new outfit, all the while maintaining a charming disposition. In her statement, Bischoff refers to being shackled to her garments and the process of caring for them, “like a masochistic chore- for what they give to me means much more than style alone.” The performance was titled, I can’t iron well at all… What kind of woman am I?
Scattered throughout the show (even on the ceiling) are nostalgic paintings by Olga Abeleva. Her subjects are taken from old family photos. Abeleva’s work reflects a unique perspective on the use of pattern. She is mindful that in wearing or decorating with print, people are appropriating mystery and the exotic. Abeleva paints primarily realism, and incorporates textile whenever possible.
Unlit and cast in shadows was a sculptural piece by Stephan Wright. While his work is arguably minimal, it evoked a beautifully figurative portrayal of pattern as subtle vibration. Wright’s work was an undercurrent in O/U/O/U, the heavy breathing cousin in the corner. Wright displayed sheer fabric stretched between two boards, bending light and colour in a subtle optical illusion, impossible to capture in photo.
Jason Wright‘s Let stars dissolve on the constellation of your tongue was probably the tastiest artwork at O/U/O/U, adorned with Lifesavers and liquorice. From Wright’s statement, this piece “continues [his] examination of the pleasures and excesses of contemporary food culture in relation to one’s body.” While Wright’s piece is laden with meanings of excess, it is a surprisingly minimal and elegant work. To give you an idea of Wright’s humour, he states: “Food(ie) culture in all its sexy vigour may unite us in pleasure to be sure, but it is the slippery mush of our bodies that truly connects us.”
Last, but certainly not least, was work by Nicole Dumas, directly inspired by the pattern theme of the show. Dumas was researching the old Vancouver 86ers team while creating her pieces. Her work contains repetitions of chevrons, referencing the current 2014 referee uniforms. As a referee herself, Dumas explains that she is unable to afford the current uniforms and feels a sense of inferiority because of it. Dumas created drawings and washes against a textile backdrop as an exploration of material and the feeling of displacement.
The confined space of the front gallery of Red Gate gave O/U/O/U an additional level of intimacy. As the night wore on and people became more merry, jovial social patterns formed. Young people were laughing and flirting, and discussing art with conviction and wonder. The environment began to inform the works; the gallery-goers began to reflect the chaotic tone of the show.
There was something remarkable about the people who attended the opening of O/U/O/U: they were manifestly, demonstratively happy. There was an unusual feeling of playfulness and fun that permeated the gallery.
Perhaps this was no coincidence. Abeleva explained that the purpose of O/U/O/U was to break what she sees as a trend of sterility in art shows in Vancouver. Specifically, O/U/O/U was created in direct opposition to the proliferation of minimalist art shows. Abeleva explained, “I have the privilege of having gone to art school. Minimalism becomes so elitist that it alienates people. It is okay if you need an explanation, but you shouldn’t have had to have gone to art school to understand art… [O/U/O/U] is like a ‘fuck you’ to all of that.”
Dumas’ explanation of O/U/O/U elaborates on this idea, saying “[Abeleva and I] wanted to give visitors a lot to look at rather than a little.” She referred to O/U/O/U as a party, or at least an opportunity to meet new people/artists.
The reception was definitely like being at a party… a party thrown in your grandmother’s now-trendy living room decor.
Over Under Over Under: a show about pattern was a one-night art show July 24th at Red Gate, organized in two weeks by Olga Abeleva and Nicole Dumas. It featured artwork by Alexandra Bischoff, Kai Choufour, Christina Kenton, Leah McInnis, Jenn Pearson, Echo Sun, Jason Wright, Stephan Wright and the curators.
Brit is Editor-In-Chief at Discorder Magazine, Community Engagement Coordinator at VIVO Media Arts Centre, and frequent contributor to Vandocument. When she isn't writing or sneaking into studios, Brit draws.