Three artists raise questions on memory, perspective and family

By Nisha Gill, Contributor

With the beautiful and bittersweet arrival of autumn comes apple picking adventures, corn maze capers and pumpkin carving contests In preparation for the new year, the next few months are also a time for reflection and remembrance. Featuring the work of artists Alex Murphy, Derek Jenkins and Tyler Matheson, “Minding the Archive” (155 James St. North) captures and encourages these themes of reflection and remembrance.

Through a diverse collection of art forms, including analogue film, photos created through cyanotype processes, layered drawings and installation pieces, “Minding the Archive” offers a more personal touch to the traditional idea of an archive, which is often strictly a historical record-keeping system.

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“Archive seems to be a hot topic right now, but this is a sort of personal take on the archive, an accumulation that’s not really organized but I think that everyone can relate to . . . we all have an intimate, personal take on archive. It’s not something bigger or really, a huge organized collection, an archive of things. It’s really personal,” Matheson explained.

When viewers first enter the exhibition, they are able to view it as a whole, as the works of all three artists interact with each other. Viewers can then move deeper into the exhibition and examine each of the artists’ works more closely. Here, visitors can consider focused questions related to how each artist approached the core themes.

The works themselves draw heavily on the artists’ own lives. Murphy’s art is created through drawing repetitive lines and then erasing them to reveal the full picture. His methodical process and its final product are meant to highlight ideas of loss and presence by raising questions about who is represented in our archives and who is not. These drawings promote seeing things from different perspectives.

“Reconsideration is an important word for me - so just kind of reconsider their space, their perspective and how they look at art, but also how they look at people . . . There’s a lot of people that are represented in the show . . . It’s about showing the importance of people who are everyday people like you or me or families or — I guess just looking at people a little bit differently or revaluing people," said Murphy.

Jenkins’ pieces represent everyday people and brings their experiences to life. Centred around an abandoned wallet, his multimedia piece incorporates photography and film to highlight the importance of the past and its influence on the present and future. The use of film, in particular, gives life to the stories represented in his piece, while also raising questions about memory.

“I’ve been carrying around this wallet, abandoned intact at some point by my grandfather, for over a decade. It’s a confusing object, packed with materials from the late fifties and early sixties. I didn’t know my grandfather well, so I don’t have much to say about him, but these objects carried a charge of memory that I wanted to explore,” said Jenkins.

The artist’s work is reflective of how memories are formed and the way they weave into our perception of the world around us. This perception can be eroded by our memories, even though they can document experiences of not only our life, but those around us.

Matheson has taken a collection of family photographs and transformed them using the same cyanotype processes once used to create photographs for encyclopedias. These photos have become a form of self-portraiture, investigating his own identity and history, but also raising more general questions about family and heteronormativity. The combination of photography and printmaking showcases the multiple ways in which an image can be looked at.

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After taking a contemporary photography course, Matheson began to think about family and the various structures that it can take.

“I really started to think about queer kinship as an alternative to [the] normative family idea. And then I started to think about my own experience, growing up in Northern Ontario, and sort of, dealing with memory, place, geography and my relationships politically and my identity in relationship to growing up in that place and my relationship with my family as well. I started to think about what my family meant to me, considering queer kinship and how queer people create their own family,” said Matheson.

"I started to think about what my family meant to me, considering queer kinship and how queer people create their own family,” said Matheson.

Accompanying these works is a unique installation piece, consisting of an essay written on a large piece of cloth. The essay writing has been inverted so that it can only be read through the accompanying mirror. This piece complements the work of all the artists, furthering the themes of reflection and remembrance as well as the questions of memory, perspective, family and heteronormativity. This installation piece also speaks explicitly to the idea of otherness, that is covertly present in the rest of the gallery, and the struggle that accompanies it.

“Minding the Archive” will be on display at Hamilton Artists Inc. until Friday, Nov. 2.

Not only does the exhibition explore the overarching themes of reflection and remembrance, but it also raises important questions on memory, perspective, family, heteronormativity and otherness.

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