Last Thursday night I made the extremely wise choice to check out the Western University PhD Thesis Exhibitions currently taking place at the McIntosh Gallery. Though in separate galleries, Kevin Rodgers’ OUT OF ORDER and Matthew Ryan Smith’s curated exhibition Some Things Last a Long Time work together to create a show that asks the viewer to consider both the message behind the works, the materials used, as well as how the viewer’s personal history and experiences can inform their relationship to each piece.
Some Things Last a Long Time, Matthew Smith’s exhibition located in the west gallery of the McIntosh, deals with what Smith terms “relational viewing…a mode of seeing where [a] viewer’s lived experience affects their interpretation of artwork.” In order to do so Smith has curated an exhibition of autobiographical art, including pieces by Suzy Lake, Lisa Steele and Jaret Belliveau. The works within the exhibition consist of photographs and video works, and accomplish Smith’s goal of personal interaction by presenting the viewer with a variety of histories presented by the artists, in which the viewer can both question their own shared experiences as well as relate to each artist’s experience by drawing on their personal history. One section of the exhibition that does this in a striking way is the photo series by Jaret Belliveau.
Through his set of four photographic works Belliveau presents the viewer with images of his mother as she battles cancer, invoking memories and kindred feelings in those that have shared a similar experience. In the four photos from Belliveau’s series Dominion Street the artist not only documents his mother’s illness but also the life of a family struggling to come to terms with the finality of her disease and their sense of impending loss. While the works themselves portray the physical struggle and scars of cancer it is the emotion and story, both within and behind the images, that serves to form an emotional bond between the artist and the viewer.
Kevin Rodger’s exhibition, OUT OF ORDER, in the east gallery, presents the viewer with a mix of sculpture and framed works that sees the meeting of politics and abstraction. For Rodgers the works themselves start with the basic forms, geometric and reductive. By drawing on the material itself, more philosophical and political interests slowly emerge from the form. Layering is a central concern, both through the structures themselves, as well as through the artist’s reference to his interest in time, interruption and the repetition of political cycles that is presented to the viewer. While the forms and the concept work hand in hand for Rodgers the pairing isn’t necessarily what he demands be taken from the exhibition.
Instead Rodgers considers the fact that some viewers may relate to the works on a strictly material level while others may only draw on the concepts presented. It is this openness and variety of engagement that draws the viewer into Rodgers’ works and begs them to consider the political events, political ideological cycles, as well as philosophical ideals that Rodgers is presenting. As someone whose academic focus was centred around Canadian and European history with the occasional look into the art world I often find conceptual art intimidating, worrying that I won’t pick up on the artist’s intentions. However, with Rodgers’ works this fear is dismissed. Each piece presented contains a variety of layers allowing the viewer to take from it what they can. My personal favourite being The Lexicon, which is a product of Rodgers’ “first time working with a reductive metal form,” in which he utilizes pre-made barrier stands, layers of paint, and a square of red duct tape to reference the Montreal student protests.
Somewhat deviating from the other pieces in the exhibition, through the materials used as well as the seeming simplicity of the piece, The Lexicon stands out among Rodgers’ other pieces. The layers of paint applied to the metal structures of the barrier stands, changing their colour from stark yellow to white, renders the forms less imposing while still keeping them recognizable. The inversion of one half of the pairing and the placement of the stands against the wall further add to the layering of the piece, causing the viewer to question the unconventional and less imposing placement of the forms. Adding to the complexity of the piece is the placement of the red square on the left form. For Rodgers the piece references the recent Montreal student protests but the combination of the forms and the red patch, a colour often synonymous with protest or conflict, allows the piece to connect with the viewer on many different levels asking them to consider uprisings of the past.
It is through this idea of layers, meaning, and the ability of the viewer to draw on each work’s concept, by taking meaning from one’s personal history, that each respective exhibition acts to engage the viewer. However, it is these ideas combined with the tying together of personal and political histories that act to draw each exhibition into one another allowing, unintentionally, for the the viewer to transfer and carry through concepts and feelings from one exhibition to the other creating a show that goes beyond expectation.
Exhibition runs until August 11, 2012.
The Lexicon image courtesy of Kevin Rodgers