As I entered the Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary to view the 2008 masters of fine arts thesis exhibition, I was thinking about exhibition titles. The right title is important as it sets the tone for the viewer as they enter the exhibit, and I can only imagine the difficulty the graduate class faced when selecting a title for their show. The expansive range of ideas presented in this show is nearly impossible to boil down to one singular word or phrase, which is why the chosen title, “Culmination,” seems appropriate.
This exhibition is literally that — the culmination of two years’ worth of research by seven individuals showcased alongside one another. With each installation directed by the artists themselves as opposed to an outside curator, there can be no expectation for the works to meaningfully relate to each other. Interestingly enough, in this exhibition they often do —in part due to the relatively small size of the group. Luba Diduch, Julie Boyd, Andrew McLaren, D’Arcy Wilson, Shawna Reiter, Jennifer Rae Forsyth and Marnie Blair's work over the past two years has been created in close proximity to each other, allowing for multiple intersections between their disparate practices.
Diduch is interested in the relationship between humans and technology, and approaches this from a biological origin, exploring the hybridity of machine and organism in Corpus. Diduch's sculptural Cadavres Soniques (2007) particularly embodies these ideas with zoomed-in, backlit images of human flesh, connected with sinewy ties reminiscent of a laboratory experiment, with the glowing panels housing something alive and germinating.
Boyd also investigates the relationship between humans and technology, defining this relationship as a mutually advantageous one and exploring themes of adaptation through the physical spaces created and shared by the two. Boyd's installation, displaced perceptions, combines primitive and futuristic elements to create an unrecognizable “no-place” that the viewer enters and becomes part of through time-delay video.
McLaren's Register of the Returning Earth continues a tie, albeit tenuous, to the theme of “no-place.” The installation, created with 10,242 high-definition maps animated into a series of swirling images that project onto the viewer as they move through the space, questions the way we locate ourselves within multiple and constantly shifting circumstances. “Using digital cartography, what can be referred to as 'anti-location' maps are projected on to the museum walls, a plurality of colliding and emerging geographies which occur when the presence of place becomes its own doppelganger,” says McLaren.
The notions of need, desire and control are prevalent in Wilson's Infirmary. The complex relationship between humans and wild animals is rendered particularly well in Wilson's video piece Thief (2008). The viewer is confronted with the tightly cropped image of Wilson gingerly caressing a fox stole. This gentleness soon gives way to violence as Wilson desperately attempts to wrap the fox's forelegs around her body, forcing it until the legs snap with a sickening pop. The damaged stole is then tossed aside and replaced with another, conjuring ideas of longing mixed with the concurrent desire for control.
Reiter’s work deals with memory and nostalgia through the use of the house as a metaphor for the absent body. An ambitious piece, the installation In-Between consists of three structures representing liminal spaces in a house — an attic, a crawl space underneath stairs and a corridor. As the viewer moves through this interactive installation, an emotional charge is prevalent. This charge does not come from an actual figure, but rather from the absence of this figure that has left evidence of their presence within the spaces. This is beautifully captured in the crawl space structure, which houses an old television set and chair. Once the viewer sits down, the snowy screen of the TV clears to show an image of themselves, pictured as they entered the space, but played in reverse. Watching yourself get up and move backwards from your present position is eerie, creating the notion of a ghostly presence.
Forsyth also deals with ideas of duration. Forsyth is interested in why humans face the compulsion to collect and organize objects, exploring this relationship to material culture through the medium of paint. Particularly resonant is Forsyth's ongoing series Snapshot Collection of the Artist (begun 2007), a grid-based installation of images painted onto white floppy discs, mimicking a Polaroid esthetic. The relationship between the images, which are difficult to make out, and these two forms of obsolete technology is quite moving, speaking to the notion of time marching forward, with or without us.
Blair's work explores the built environment through print media, using rust to draw parallels with the human condition. “I find rust to be a good indication of the passage of time,” says Blair. “The rust in my work is fragile and peels away like the shedding of skin.” She uses a variety of print techniques to explore these notions, but the most arresting is her ongoing piece created directly on the gallery wall, and being added to daily for the duration of the exhibition. At the show's conclusion a completed image will be revealed, entirely constructed by the transcription of the phrase “I'm almost there” over and over on the wall. The beauty of this quietly poetic piece is the universality of that particular phrase — so simple, yet possessing so many possible meanings.