What: HOPE AND FEAR: Our Collective Response
When: April 8, 2017 – May 31, 2017
Where: Rutherford Atrium, Rutherford Library
“I beg you to understand that the world has turned. It hasn’t just changed; it’s turned. And your collective response — moral, principled, determined, tenacious, indefatigable — it can save this world.”
These words, spoken by Stephen Lewis during his honorary doctorate acceptance speech at the University of Alberta, lay the groundwork for an exhibit looking to do exactly as he prescribes: bring a group of people together in response to the ever-changing international landscape resulting from events such as Brexit and decisions made by the Trump administration.
Curated by U of A instructors Royden Mills and Marilene Oliver, Hope and Fear features the works of numerous students from the university’s and the Portage College’s art and design departments. Until May 31, the exhibit will mirror the ever-increasing anxieties of living in the current day while inspiring hope in everyone who passes through the Rutherford atrium.
Regardless of which of the three entrances one enters from, the sheer density of the artists displayed makes it difficult to enter Rutherford without stopping and exploring one of the artworks. While the exhibit does feature many exciting opportunities for the viewer to engage in discussion, Oliver highlighted the importance of the artists in the curation of the exhibit.
“It wasn’t so much about what the viewer thought, but more about getting students to stop and think about these issues (such as Brexit, refugee crises, the Trump administration, etc.) and reflect that in a piece of artwork,” Oliver says. “There have been a lot of big changes in the world and the students we’ve worked with are the next generation who are going to speak out against these issues, or if they prefer, be accepting of these changes.”
In addition to the density of this exhibit, another strong point is the diversity of mediums displayed. Beyond the traditional mediums of painting and sculpture, Hope and Fear features a plethora of interactive, performance, and mixed media installations. For instance, one of the works at the heart of the Rutherford galleria is Maya Candler’s Sanctuary, which invites viewers to climb inside and escape the anxieties of the outside world inside the textile shelter.
In addition to Sanctuary, numerous other works displayed look to implicate the spectator into the artwork. For instance, Zac Billard’s A Game of Life, a pinball style contraption that mimics the constant repetition and frustration of everyday life. And Ange Kindarchuk’s Existing Through Doing, a performance involving the destruction and reassembly of dishes as an investigation of function and purpose, is best interpreted both through observation and participation.
Other notable works include Carlene La Rue’s MAGA, which has been defaced numerous times since its installation in the galleria. The work features two deep red banners with the ever-infamous “Make America Great Again” pressed in the centre. Although frustrated by the defacements, La Rue is excited that her work is sparking such conversation among the student population.
“I think it’s a positive thing, that discussion and conversation are being generated around my work … I understand my work displays a strong message that can be quite polarizing for students,” La Rue says.
The exhibit makes brilliant use of the awkwardly-segregated atrium space. Student artworks are squeezed into every nook and cranny of the Rutherford Galleria, but each work is still given sufficient breathing room, and the peculiar, leveled separation of the gallery works well to provide intimate interactions between viewer and artwork.
Just up the stairs on the west end of the galleria lays Koei Kao’s perspective shifting video work Speciman 13658. 2017, which illustrates the process a small animal goes through when becoming a wet specimen (a jar used to preserve the remains of dead animals). While relatively distant from other works in the galleria, Kao talks about how this placement choice mimics what she hopes viewers understand from her work.
“This piece is kind of isolated from everyone else and (the viewer) sees the video at a low angle, just like you would if you were a small animal,” Kao says.
In this way, the curators have allowed viewers to experience a similar isolation to what Kao looks to portray in her work.
This exhibit establishes a framework for discussions around the issues of the modern day to unfold. One of the best things about this exhibit is its ability to highlight each artists’ perspective. Each artist has contributed a unique insight into the topic of Hopes and Fears both in their choice of medium and in theme. This exhibit is not only profound and engaging, but also a mark of the often-neglected mental and physical labour Art and Design students invest into their artworks. This is an important exhibit for all students, and passers-by would be doing themselves a disservice to ignore it on the way to Rutherford Library.