Student exhibit impresses

Heather Savage’s mixed media piece, The Scenic Route, is among the works on display at the Union Gallery in First Glance.
Heather Savage’s mixed media piece, The Scenic Route, is among the works on display at the Union Gallery in First Glance.
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Fine Art Review: First Glance @ Union Gallery

Attending an art exhibit can be a lot more than just looking at artwork and interpreting the artist’s intended meaning. It can be an entertaining, interactive experience, as a group of fourth-year fine art students demonstrated in their exhibit, First Glance.

Located in Union Gallery on the first floor of Stauffer Library, this exhibition of contemporary art is a collaborative effort by students Catherine Brandon, Allison Brown, Heather Savage, and Catherine Styles.

These four artists have filled the gallery walls with pieces that consider the role of the artist in contemporary society while establishing an intimate relationship with the viewer; they even require you to hum the classic children’s tune “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” The exhibition uses various forms to communicate meaning, ranging from mixed media to oil on wood to video art—all of which are appealing to both the eye and mind. Furthermore, their art relies heavily on information and interpretation from gallery attendees, which makes the exhibit a truly interactive experience.

A wall-sized blackboard with several Rorschach-like inkblots welcomes gallery visitors and seems to be strategically placed to lure people into the gallery. I may have got this all wrong, but ... , a piece by all four artists, displays a list of instructions encouraging viewers to interpret the inkblots and write down their answers with the chalk provided. The personal tones encourage viewers to come up with a creative response without having to be concerned if their answer is “right.” It is not only highly interactive, but it emphasizes the fact that the meaning of art, although specific for the artist, remains subjective to each viewer.

Styles also illustrates the subjectivity of meaning in her piece, A Viewer’s Guide to Interpreting Meaning, which focuses on a series of multiple choice questions in relation to a painting, allowing viewers to choose the response they feel is most fitting. The notion that art is about subjective perception is specifically evident in this piece and reinforces the title of the exhibit.

In her mixed media piece, The Scenic Route, Savage portrays the picturesque landscape of Canada in a unique manner. She uses glass plates to represent windows of a train, which are suspended from the ceiling and hang at eye level. The ten plates have various scenes ranging from the mountains of the west to the rural landscapes of the east. The art is constructed in a way that allows the viewer to actually walk through the two rows of windows, like a passenger on a train.

After viewing this exhibit, I walked away with my expectations exceeded. I was not perplexed about a particular meaning the artist was attempting to communicate—instead, I was confident with my own interpretation. First Glance is about being able to come up with different interpretations as a viewer, not being penalized for being “wrong.” These interpretations, in retrospect, become an integral part of the art—the significance revolves around the viewers’ thoughts and creates a whole new level of meaning for the actual artwork.

A new quality is achieved by bringing the viewer into a tightly knit realm with the art—something that is not always established with other contemporary artwork. Attending an art gallery normally involves looking at the art—not actually becoming a part of it.

The exhibit is also appealing to a wide audience because it allows ample room for participation and interpretation throughout the whole exhibit. It has not only proven the artists’ ability to step outside the box and stray from the path of more traditional artwork, but it constantly stimulates viewers and doesn’t shun personal interpretation. Instead, it openly embraces it and this is a larger message from the artists that personal interpretation in art, like anything else, should never be underestimated.

First Glance is for anyone who likes to explore meaning and especially for those who are gutsy enough to hum a children’s song or pick up a piece of chalk and interpret what is seen in an inkblot.

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