The making of a gallery

A behind the scenes look at Union Gallery

Hengeveld's multi media display, entitled Erratic Turns
Credit: 
Supplied by Union Gallery

Take a moment and try to calculate the number of hours you’ve spent in Stauffer during your time at Queen’s. Likely you’re in the triple digits. 

With all those hours tabulated, consider the fact that they were all spent a mere 30 seconds away from a vibrant public art gallery with free admission. Sort of makes you wonder why you spent your 15-minute study breaks trolling Instagram, right?

The Union Gallery, located near the west entrance of Stauffer, first opened in 1994 and since then has been dedicated to the exhibition of pre-professional student artists as well as professional artists. The two exhibitions currently housed in the Union Gallery, Erratic Turns by Robert Hengeveld and The Order of Things by Judy Ruzylo, offer a compelling incentive to visit Stauffer outside of the academic year.

Erratic Turns consists of a life-size felled tree, balancing atop of a large boulder. The tree, with mechanical birds resting — and chirping — on top of it, rotates a full 360 degrees around the gallery space. 

Hengeveld's sketch of Erratic Turns to be displayed in Union Gallery.             Supplied by Union Gallery 

Due to the nature of the project, Erratic Turns had to be constructed on site. Hengeveld and a team of volunteers “worked into the wee hours” said Gallery Director Jocelyn Purdie to complete the exhibit in time for the grand opening on June 3.

“There’s a certain element of spectacle in the work — a massive tree teetering upon a rock,” Hengeveld said over an email exchange with The Journal. The exhibit urges visitors to willingly suspend their belief regarding what is (or is not) “natural”. 

“Whether the project will lead the viewer to consider our understanding of nature and our contemporary relationship to it is rather uncertain. It’s not necessary that it does. It may in fact lead them to consider something much more interesting,” Hengeveld said.  

While Hengeveld’s work has taken up residence in the Union Gallery’s main space, Ruzylo’s multi-media documentary exhibit has made it’s home in the gallery’s project room. 

The Order of Things explores the process of constructing a social identity — what about your impression of a person changes once they turn and face you?

Ruzylo’s work focuses on the continuum of gender and the spaces that are created once we step outside the confines of gender binaries. 

During the presentation, transgender individuals of various ages, origins and circumstances relate their personal experience of living in a rigidly gendered society. The sum of the presentation is encapsulated in the question asked by one of Ruzylo’s subjects: “Do we need to communicate gender in social interactions? Does that matter?”

A motion detection system triggers the presentation when a viewer enters the room and the wall of the gallery transforms into a screen. Standing in the project room, facing the 

projection, is like having a virtual conversation with Ruzylo’s subjects, one that is unabashedly honest and forthright. 

Overcoming the stigma of what society often views as taboo, Ruzylo’s subjects elaborate on their coming out to family: “My family mourned when I transitioned. My daughters mourned the loss of their father, but they gained someone closer than an aunt, but farther than a mother,” said one interviewee. 

They discuss everyday judgement: “One of the main reasons I came out was because I had tenure and couldn’t be fired [for my sexuality].”

Ultimately, they appeal for a discarding of labels: “You are who you are whether you’re in pants or a skirt.”

Both exhibits will remain at the Union Gallery until August 11.

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