The exhibition Organic Minimalism: New Bodies of Knowledge brought together seven compelling artistic voices from across Canada in a show that challenged how we observe, think about and re-create the “natural.”
Watch the video of this exhibition.
How is the natural object perceived? What is the nature of the thing?
While the formal language of Minimalism originated through industrial processes, the world of machines and technology, Organic Minimalism: New Bodies of Knowledge presented a 21st-century minimalist aesthetic grounded in objects and phenomena that could be found or were produced in nature. In the exhibition, cycles, seriality and time were used as formal tropes in works ranging from sculpture, installation and drawing, to video and photography. The artists strategically re-focused our attention on the way humans construct versions of nature to perform culture upon it and in order to create narratives about transience, decay, becoming, violence, growth, loss, and the emergence of beauty.
Jan Troost, redacting Michael Fried’s famous 1967 essay on Minimalism, “Art and Objecthood,” writes, “Minimal Art necessarily includes the beholder. It is large, confronting and creates a distance and space that includes the beholder as a public… Its human size, inspiration in people and nature, betray it as anthropomorphic, biomorphic. Its nature is theatrical.”
The imperative of the show was inscribed by the drama of the natural in our historical moment.
For the exhibition Charles Stankievech installed Gravity’s Rainbow, a work created during a recent residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida, near Cape Canaveral. The work produced “slight chromatic shifts and interference patterns” by bouncing a thin slice of white light across a pair of turntables to create oscillating gradations of color and reflections that looked like luminescent rings taken out of Saturn’s gravitational field. Specific vinyl records were chosen in response to the city of Los Angeles where Thomas Pynchon wrote the novel - whose titular reference is used to collapse time and space around Stankievech’s work.
Charles Stankievech works at the intersection of art, architecture and theory. His work has been exhibited in the Biennale of Architecture (Venice), Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada), Subtle Technologies (Toronto), Eyebeam (New York), and the Atlantic Center for the Arts (Florida). Stankievech holds an MFA in Open Media and a BA (hon.) in Philosophy + Literature. His writings have been included in a variety of academic journals, such as Leonardo Music Journal (MIT Press), artists’ catalogues and translated into French, Italian and German. Currently developing the new KIAC School of Visual Art in the Canadian Arctic, Stankievech is also a researcher in the Digital Media network for the University of the Arctic.
Shima Iuchi iexhibited an original large-scale installation in the middle of the gallery, a pair of topographical hanging curtains that mimicked the coastlines of North American and her native Japan. Her interest in coastal landscapes and ecosystems extends from early memories of trips to ancient whaling villages through to recent research off the coast of British Columbia where she learned to identify Orca whale calls. Thus, exploring the relationship between the coasts has also led her to make parallels between human travel, mapping, memory, and a sense of place, with the experiences of the largest sea creatures. Critic Bettina Matzkuhnty has noted, “Iuchi’s ability to synthesize disparate influences is exhilarating, as we course down a valley’s physical and human history.”
Shima Iuchi was born in Kobe, Japan, grew up in Kyoto and has lived in Canada since 1998. She has a degree in Art Management from the Seian University of Art and Design in Japan and a BFA from Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia. She has exhibited her interdisciplinary works in solo and group exhibitions in Canada, US, and Japan, and has received several awards: in 2003, first-place in the international college art competition, Beyond Boarders, in Washington; in 2005, the Visual Arts Development Award, in Vancouver; and most recently, the Alberta Creative Development Initiative by Canada Council for the Arts in 2008. Currently, she is a faculty member in Visual Arts at Thompson Rivers University.
Jen Rae’s biomorphic drawings of tree burls, in white pencil crayon on tar paper, are at a scale that echoes the human body. Rae’s investigation of materials has taken her between the industrial and the domestic; around the time these works were made she was also exploring reversal, absence and erasure. The burl is a site of conflict and resolution for a tree, where some stress or impurity is integrated into the tree’s structure. “After spending three years working in a hospital directly with patients,” says Rae of a residency she did at The University of Alberta Hospital, “I observed various states of human vulnerability and resilience. This experience engaged me to investigate themes of fragility, intimacy, and ephemerality.”
Jen Rae is an interdisciplinary artist with Métis (Cree/French) heritage from Alberta. Her research-based and ritually driven work investigates correlations between human interaction and environment with an emphasis on sensorial experience, memory and narrative. Her current research and photographic work delves into tattooing as a means of human communication and sociogenesis. Rae has exhibited her work in Canada and Australia and is currently doing her PhD as an artist-researcher at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in the Art and Sustainability research cluster.
Ed Bamiling used the plasticity afforded by ceramics to link geologic time to human and artistic process. He was inspired by clay’s “ability to act as historical document,” to record marks and the passage of time, the way erosion and weathering act as drawings on earth. In two large wall-works, Cloud Tablets and Horizons, he explored “the natural rhythms of everyday life – the ephemeral movement of clouds, the inexorable power of water and waves, the daily arrival and departure of light – and their affects on us, whether or not we’re aware of them.” He is also keenly interested in the influence of the natural environment on human culture – and conversely, the impact of human activity on that environment.
Ed Bamiling has been a practicing artist for more than thirty years, and has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions, both nationally and internationally. His sculptural ceramic work is represented in public collections in Canada and abroad, as well as in private collections in Canada, the United States, Mexico, France, England, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. He has also lectured and conducted workshops in Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Korea. Currently, he is the Ceramics Facilitator with the Visual Arts Department at The Banff Centre for the Arts.
Matthew Walker explores issues in landscape, memory and narrative. He works in the tradition of making material metaphors. He premiered a new work in Los Angeles, a ceramic sculpture 3-foot in diameter with nautical and paleontological references modeled on a Pleistocene-era Glyptodon shell. Walker merged an archaeological search through the fossil record with storytelling, specifically the aboriginal creation myth of the world sitting on the back of a turtle. He presented an open question about how we ascertain truth when the search for it remains endless and elusive. The sculptural “buoy” marked not a location in the landscape where certainty may be found, but rather tethered this exhibition space to other sites where the piece will travel – all potential places in time where discourse about the nature of truth may take place.
Matthew Walker was born in Hamilton, Ontario. He attended McMaster University where he received his BA in Fine Arts. During his time in Hamilton, Matthew was active within the artist-run centers, which formed the core of his collaborative endeavors. In 2002, Matthew moved to Calgary, Alberta to complete his MFA at the University of Calgary. His work has been shown in artist-run centers and museums in Ontario and Alberta. He has also been exhibiting in formal and informal installations outside of institutional settings since 1997.
Ying-Yueh Chuang makes hybrid forms out of intensely colored and textured ceramic that are inspired by both organic and non-natural sources. Her work references symmetry and pattern-making that occur within nature. She makes close observation of plant life, but also the aesthetically pleasing arrangement of vegetables in the grocery store, where she says the environment best highlights their inherent structural patterns. Chuang combines individual pieces to make units, or building blocks, that can then multiply to form larger and more complex patterns, expanding exponentially. By the time they reach installation on the floor or wall, her work is not only a controlled explosion of color and texture like you might find in a sea anemone or an exotic flower, it also starts to look like a higher order of math.
Ying-Yueh Chuang was born in Taiwan and came to Canada in the early 90’s. She received a diploma of Fine Art from Langara College in 1997 and a BFA from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 1999, both in Vancouver. She received a Masters degree with a major in ceramics from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (now NSCAD University) in 2001. She is currently working as a studio ceramist in Toronto. She was the recipient of 2006 Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramists. Her work is found in a number of public collections such as the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Canada Council Art Bank, Burlington Art Centre Permanent Collection and the WOCEK Icheon World Ceramic Centre in Korea.
Paul Jackson responds specifically to the environment of the Southern California and Mexico with photographic works and video shot in the Imperial Dunes and a tourist resort in Oaxaca, both of which oscillate between document and fantasy. In the exhibited video, the cones of two headlights sweep across the barren sandscape (remember that not far away, searchlights comb the US-Mexico border). In the Mexican resort, the presence of the untamed landscape imprisons the manufactured-natural setting for tourists with huge foreboding cacti standing like sentries. Accompanying sculptural works play upon the same themes of latent or potential violence. Cast bronze 2 x 4’s monumentalize the way that tame construction materials, when broken across the grain, resemble the majesty and trauma of a tree in the forest snapped off by the only force capable of true devastation: nature.
Paul Jackson was born in Calgary, Alberta. He is a graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design (Calgary, AB) and recently completed his MA Fine Arts at Chelsea College of Art and Design (London, England) where he graduated with distinction. He was named one of London’s top 25 new artists by Art Review Magazine and was featured in The Independent’s Sunday Arts section with fellow accomplished London fine arts graduate students. Jackson has been a sessional instructor in the sculpture, photography and drawing departments at the Alberta College of Art + Design but just recently moved to Toronto.