Mixing media & experience

Fourth year students recall and recast past with humour and insight at Union Gallery

If I’d known You Were Coming is lucid and jarring as it deals with four artists’ musings on a range of experiences.
If I’d known You Were Coming is lucid and jarring as it deals with four artists’ musings on a range of experiences.
Amanda Damsma’s lushly coloured pieces echo and blend with her classmates’ works.
Amanda Damsma’s lushly coloured pieces echo and blend with her classmates’ works.

We each have a personal and collective history compiled in our memories made up of things like old novels, embarrassing baby clothing and dusty records playing songs of times past. Fourth-year fine arts classmates and comrades Amanda Damsma, Orli Kessel, Simone Collins and Tamara Sponder have compiled their internal consciousness into a lucid and at times jarring visual installation at the Union Gallery.

Both Collins and Kessel describe their collaboration as an organic meeting of the minds.

“We not only get along, but our art speaks to and off of each other. It made sense in a social and artistic way,” Collins said.

“When [we] started writing our artist’s statements, we realized that a lot of the things we were discussing in our work were linked; it was an interesting jumping off point,” Kessel added.

If I’d Known You Were Coming is a relatable, impassioned re-telling and fore-telling of the human experience. Touching on themes of sexuality, puberty, violence and cross-generational sentiments, Coming maintains the sensibilities and material choices of each artistic counterpart while appealing to the common human demographic; its strength in numbers is matched with strength in solace. “We all tend to touch on this theme of memory,” Kessel said. Kessel’s paint and print designs focus primarily on personal narratives and memory recall.

“Experiences that unify us don’t necessarily get talked about. Like when I look at [Simone’s work] it has a sort of dream-like quality that echoes the themes of memory and experience, and how people process. Amanda also has a surrealist, domestic yet threatening vibe. Mine kind of fits in with abstract, fragmented memory, a lot like how you perceive things,” she said.

This dichotomy between singular artistic license and group cohesiveness ironically enhances the power of the exhibit. Each artist has her own specialty that promotes this exploration of transient moments tackled by the amalgamation of pieces.

“It’s loose enough to be free, but tight enough to fit together thematically,” Collins said.

Collins, the apparent surrealist of the ensemble, places a more ethereal emphasis on her works than Kossel.

“I strive more to create an atmosphere that can elicit an emotion through layering; you aren’t aware that you’re experiencing disparate things, but things as a whole. It is smaller things juxtaposed together,” she said.

Often favouring a mixed-media approach, Collins creatively collages inexpensive materials, such as discontinued wallpaper books, traditional acrylic paint, mylar and even magazine art. It’s her work’s incongruity, as exemplified best by her “Urban Pond” and “Chandelier” landscapes, that show an insightful simplicity all the while using an atypical, yet spectacular, assortment of images and colours.

“You can really attach yourself to a swish of a brush or a picture from a magazine; the end product has captured time as opposed to the temporal nature of music and speech. Art can allow a much freer interpretation while still making sense to many people,” Collins said.

Balancing the weight of incongruity and elicited wondering of Kessel’s and Collins’ works, Sponder makes light of thematic sexuality, violence and the tribulations of early adolescence in a mature and endearing manner.

“I started feeling the weight of heavier issues I had done in the past and longed to do something playful and relatable. I wanted to get away from the baggage and to something more universal. After all, everyone had a childhood ,” she said.

“People can get scared off by shock value and misread the message in their fear. I wanted to discuss taboo issues, but reach everyone. So I tried to make them laugh.”

Sponder effortlessly blends fine art orthodoxy with a craft-inspired homage to grade-three graph paper, toy robots and Game Boys in “Nine Year Old Boys.”

“I can’t get into the new super-realistic video games for their intensity. I liked being a kid and playing things like Mario with simple, pixelated graphics and waddling mushrooms with demonic expressions,” she said. “That pattern translated well into needlepoint and old tapestry.” Damsma’s contribution strikes an impressive yet tenuous balance between the heartwarming and the eerie, with works such as “Dummy” evoking seminal ventriloquist imagery, and dolls and quilting with her paint and collage piece “A Stitch In Time.” Sure to be a favourite, it’s is a seamless combination of floral prints, dummies and suspended pocket watches that would have Lewis Carroll and Twilight Zone producers green with envy and admiration.

Kessel’s contribution spotlights the link between visual stimulus and visceral response, while employing a broad range of techniques and materials.

“My parents were in the foreign service so we moved around about every four years when I was a kid; I made a home wherever I went. As I got older, I realized that those moments, though concrete, were fleeting. In my work I was trying to explore that sensation,” she said.

Kessel’s “Untitled Colour Print,” a litho work resembling something akin to beautiful burnt orange and deep brown Rorschach test, is as gritty as its palette is deep, while “How to be Good,” an aged black and white collection of photos on waterless photo plate carries an anatomical, haunting majesty, in size and presentation.

“It’s hard to go into an assignment or a piece with the goal of creating emotion,” Kessel said.

“I start off trying to be in touch with what I want to get across and just try to experience the emotion myself; my choices are influenced artistically by those feelings.”

The combination of pieces pleasingly informs the senses and one’s implicit memory.

“When you look at a piece one day, it can mean one thing to you. Life can then change you,” Kessel said.

“You can re-visit that island in time and it will mean something totally different. Art has the capacity to grow with its viewer.”

If I’d Known You Were Coming runs until November 18 at Union Gallery.

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