BFA Exhibition lacks innovation

On View displays occasional talent

On View featured final projects of graduating BFA students.
On View featured final projects of graduating BFA students.
Photo: 

Art Review: BFA ’05, On View

When critics and viewers look at student shows and are disappointed, they often justify their reaction by a lack of intrigue. Phrases like ‘just a student’ and ‘still learning’ get bandied about with a shrug of the shoulder, as if to say the lacking elements are acceptable at this point in their careers.

But it’s not, and each person who utters comments like this are overlooking something very important: art students are already artists, and some students even feel affronted when they aren’t considered practicing artists.

So in my humble but honest opinion, I was largely disappointed with the lack of innovation expressed in the works chosen for the BFA ’05 On View. That is not to say that they’re bad—in fact they’re all very good in terms of concept and skill. But for a group representing the next generation of artists, their work as a whole lacks the innovation necessary for greatness.

That being said, the artists featured in the show are young artists with plenty of time to blaze trails. Famed artist Jackson Pollock didn’t develop the drip and splash technique that has made him and his work famous until he was 35, more than ten years after he had finished art school.

About one third of the works in the show stood out as intriguing and innovative.

66% Water, a video installation by Mary Rodger, was a spectacularly simple piece of art dealing with the relationship between water and life.

The piece incorporates a video stream displaying the movement of water, be it running and dripping from a tap, filling a jug, water draining from a sink, or raindrops dripping; audio of the water accompanies the film.

Along the floor and framing the space is a haphazard row of water bottles and jars, each filled with varying amounts of water. A string of white Christmas lights runs between the bottles, illuminating them and forming a path from outside the installation where plastic sheets create a translucent barrier between the viewer and the film.

66% Water questions the uses and misuses of water, while also focusing on the cyclical nature of water. The title refers to the percentage of the earth’s surface that is made up of water, as well as the percentage of water in the human body.

Aerial Design I is an interesting take on landscape portrayal. Artist Katrina Schaman worked with mixed media to create an aerial view of a landscape. The roads define sections of land, each of which is painted in different tones of browns, olives and mauves.

This take on landscape painting is not new, but perhaps it is the artist’s use of various papers and cut-outs for different sections of the landscape that makes it so appealing.

A painting I at first discarded was an oil by Aimee Ng. Then I read the title: Portrait of the Artist Selling Out to Art History. This grabbed my attention. No longer was this just a traditional image of a young woman in Victorian dress standing by a chair in a library; it was now a critique of the art world itself.

While many young artists have critiqued the role of art history in shaping the artist, this image is very personal in its presentation of the theme because it mocks the role of the artist’s self-portrait. The apron hanging next to the painting in the gallery further exemplifies this idea as it is mirrored in the apron that hangs over the chair in the painting, showing the viewer that the painting is only a facsimile of the reality.

The artist literally placed herself as the subject and then subverted the meaning with her clever title, making the image infinitely more appealing and intriguing.

Marisa Moreland’s Paradise didn’t strike me as interesting at first, but perhaps the problem was that I was too close. As I turned from another image across the gallery my eyes swept over Moreland’s painting once more and I realized the image was vastly appealing.

The painting is a cityscape with a very loose structure, which isn’t terribly interesting, but when overlaid with the sharply delineated silhouette of a flower called Birds of Paradise in a vibrant peacock blue, the image is transformed. The vivid blue is offset by the darker, more fluid blue and the soft yellows and burnt oranges of the city street at night, creating a striking contrast that becomes more appealing with every viewing.

The final delight of the show was Andrea Chin’s video installation titled Home, Oh Erotic! (do you like how I matched the wallpaper with the fabric?). The installation component consists of a living room scene. A rocking chair sits in front of a TV on what looks like a bedside table. The cushion on the rocking chair is made out of the same red and cream toile that covers the wall and was used to make a dress; the dress is hung from a nail in the wall, blending with the scene. On the TV a videotape plays showing two young women facing each other, one wearing the dress hung in the ‘room,’ the other bare from the waist up. The women face each other, caressing each other’s chest and arms.

What I found most compelling and interesting about this work is that it deals with a very real matter through a play on words. It also inevitably questions the line between art and pornography.

The eroticism evident in the subject and the interaction of the women in the video is about embracing, both literally and figuratively. Chin’s work extends an offer to the viewer to embrace all people, regardless of their sexual preference.

While these works are commended for their innovation, their insight, or their ability to move the viewer, many works in the exhibition fell flat. What the show articulates quite beautifully is the enormous range of technique, style and materials that are used by contemporary and emerging artists.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.