Something doesn’t fit

Union Gallery’s most memorable exhibit of the year is on now


Emily Zielke, BFA ’14, presents a view of the unsettled psyche in her exhibit, Wednesday of the Week.

“The Doctor is [Out],” reads the sign at the bottom of the cardboard-constructed booth that foregrounds Zielke’s installation.

The booth, located at the entrance of the exhibit, resembles the sort of lemonade stand many of us can recall from our youth. This one, however, is offering psychiatric help at five cents.

Its placement denies the viewer physical entrance into the space. You’re now in the position of customer and consumer. It immediately demands a connection between the viewer and the piece itself.

This is definitely not a work of art that one can dismiss easily.

My initial reaction to the exhibit is an overwhelming feeling of apprehension. Discernible voices and instrumental music overlap each other in a continuous, but sporadic track.

The visual elements of the piece seem just as unsettled. There is a pile of boxes in the back corner of the room that have faces painted on them. A rope is laid over them in a somewhat-threatening way.

The works’ facial expressions are relatively neutral outside of their eyes, which give an impression of uneasiness. Both anxious and dissatisfied in their attitudes, these imposing stares deny the viewer a comfortable, distanced experience of the exhibit.

Zielke uses a lot of neutral tones in her work, with complementary bright colours. Black, grey and white are used in her painting, and the structures are made of brown cardboard. Pieces of red and green tape are then used as details throughout.

A clothesline serves as a background to the exhibit, and various clothing items are strayed throughout the room. One shirt is tied with rope at its sleeves; another is suffocated in a plastic bag.

One puzzling element of the piece is found on the backrest of the large cardboard couch, where the artist has scrawled something. It seems to read “Thesis” — which would establish an interesting meta-element within the exhibit. However, an item of clothing is hanging over some of the lettering, leaving room for the viewer’s guesswork.

The detail of Zielke’s work is impressive. Tiny metal hooks pierce a corner of the couch, and dangling wiring from lamps are hung down from the ceiling. Both could easily go unnoticed by the inattentive viewer, but undoubtedly add to the piece’s overall effect.

My eye is drawn back to the exhibit’s entrance. On the stand there is a rusted drinking glass with in a single coin in it. The lid of a mason jar sits beside it. The irony of this is somehow both amusing and heart-wrenching.

Zielke achieves a strong visceral experience for the viewer through her work. It breaks you out of your comfort zone as a mere bystander, to create a powerful effect.

Wednesday of the Week will be on display in the Project Room at Union Gallery until April 16.

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