The Studio Arts class of 2020 presents their graduation arts show Unguarded 

The graduating classes of the Studio Arts Program at McMaster University have traditionally showcased their works in the annual SUMMA exhibition in April at the McMaster Museum of Art. However in March when McMaster cancelled programming due to COVID-19, the show had to be relocated to a virtual platform. Titled Unguarded, the exhibition went live on Sept. 10 and will remain permanently online on the McMaster Museum of Art website.

The virtual exhibition and associated print catalogue feature images and videos of the 16 graduates’ pieces. Plans to organize a virtual gallery came together a few months after the April exhibition was put on pause due to COVID-19. At the beginning of the summer, the studio arts graduates and Curator Stylo Starr connected online to discuss building a virtual gallery.

With a background in graphic design, Starr is a multimedia artist from Hamilton who predominantly makes collage art. Starr summarized Unguarded in five simple words: “being your true authentic creator.” 

Starr’s focus on not only gallery shows, but on community-based work made her interested in curating the virtual exhibition. For Starr, Unguarded means freedom of expression and the lack of censorship, barriers or restraints. This was reflected in her approach as a curator and visiting artist.

“It was really important to not censor anyone, . . . to allow space [and] give space and agency to each artist equally to express what’s on their heart, what’s on their mind, what’s on their psyche and what’s being lived out [through] their experience. I think too often, especially in an academic environment, it almost comes second nature to guard things on either side of the spectrum whether it be censoring someone’s expression or . . . being a gatekeeper to whatever subject matter or topic,” said Starr.

“It was really important to not censor anyone, . . . to allow space [and] give space and agency to each artist equally to express what’s on their heart, what’s on their mind, what’s on their psyche and what’s being lived out [through] their experience. I think too often, especially in an academic environment, it almost comes second nature to guard things on either side of the spectrum whether it be censoring someone’s expression or . . . being a gatekeeper to whatever subject matter or topic,” said Starr.

Starr placed great emphasis on providing space for the artists to express freely. She was eager to listen to the artists’ goals and incorporate their input.  

“It’s really exciting to finally see their work be shown, not necessarily in the way it was intended, but I’m really proud of how resilient all the artists were and [how they] have been able to roll with the obstacles that were clearly set,” said Starr.

Despite unforeseen circumstances, the studio arts class of 2020 has come together one last time to deliver the final products of their growth, character and experiences over the past four years. Starr hopes viewers will come away from the exhibit with an understanding of the power of art as a form of a language and an appreciation for the students’ fluency in the language of art. The Silhouette sat down with a few of the participating artists to discuss their time at McMaster and to gain insight into their pieces that are displayed in the virtual exhibition.

Kelsey Dykstra

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Dykstra is inspired by the idea of home, diversity and feminism, which she was able to explore through the Studio Arts Program. She contrasts growing up secluded on a farm in Huron County to moving to Hamilton where she was exposed to many diverse communities for the first time. 

“[The program] definitely made me grow as a person in general . . . I never was really raised with [diversity or feminism] and it just really opened my eyes to a whole other world,” said Dykstra. 

One of the challenges Dykstra experienced while transitioning her pieces online was finding ways to document her textile piece which featured embroidery of her series Bored Naked People on cotton. Ultimately, it was captured through her artist video. 

In the future, she hopes to pursue art therapy. But in the meantime, she has launched a small business called Althea where she sells cards and posters. 

Sarah Urban

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Urban didn’t always know she wanted to pursue art school. After finishing high school, she worked as a cake decorator and, four years later, was encouraged by her family to apply to university. Since entering the program, she has been able to step outside of her comfort zone and grow into an independent, mature artist. 

Urban described her class as one big family. 

Unguarded to me is about how vulnerable we are with each other. And even though our artwork is so different, we’re always so supportive of other people’s ideas and supportive of each other and really, really vulnerable with each other . . . which is why we chose [the name Unguarded].”

The theme of her pieces for Unguarded stems from her interest in the environment and climate change. As a child, she spent a lot of time outdoors camping and hiking. Her work “Reclamation Series” tells the story of society's ignorance of global warming and alludes to Sodom and Gomorrah, Biblical cities that were ultimately destroyed for their ignorance and sins. 

Urban currently works as a full-time art instructor in Oakville with plans to attend graduate school or to go into gallery shows. Whichever path she decides to go on, she will be able to take with her the lessons she learned from the Studio Arts Program on listening, helping and caring for others. 

Celine Jeong

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As a Korean-Canadian artist, Jeong’s practice is influenced by her Presbyterian and Korean upbringing as well as her death anxiety and interest in children's storybooks. 

Her Korean background is observed in Tigers which depicts this popular animal in Korean folklore. She also ties in narratives from Christianity in works such as Mother Sheep by examining the relationship between religious authority figures and death.

[A]s someone [who] struggles with a lot of death anxiety and who was very impacted by these teachings about death, I guess I just want to relate to others and their own childhood experiences with death and  . . . articulating that moment where you're grappling with your first awareness of death,” said Jeong. 

Reflecting back on her four years in the program, she was most impacted by the collaborative interactions with the other artists. The opportunities for feedback, critique and encouragement were critical pieces of her development. She is planning to open a business selling her art online and exploring webcomics and storytelling. 

Shveta Sharma

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Influenced by her artistic household and a creative writing course she took in high school, Sharma integrates her love for music and performance with her fascination for alternate realities in her practice. She creates immersive installations designed to activate the human psyche. This was also the foundation for her honours thesis, which was about using multisensory stimuli to evoke psychological and physiological responses and the impact of psychedelia on the brain. 

In Insert Molly, which was captured through a video for the online exhibition, she plunges the viewers into infinite kaleidoscopic projections of light and body movements complemented by heavy bass, reverberation and rendered vocals. 

“I aim to create my own world to fully submerge the viewer in . . . The conceptual idea of multiple existences and the creations or recreation of realities is further emphasized through the interaction and production of the piece,” Sharma explained. 

The cancellation of the original April exhibition was emotionally difficult for her and the rest of her classmates, however, she is excited to finally share the worlds she has created. 

Before entering the program, Sharma didn’t know performance could be considered art. The program changed her life by helping her discover her passion and define her path. Through her continuing studies in computer art, she will develop skills to build a fully immersive installation in the future.

Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Donna Nadeem, Contributor

If you walk  by Centre[3] for Print and Media Arts (173 James St. North), you will no longer be able to peek through the gallery’s front window at the usual art. Instead, you will see a black curtain and green leaves, setting the atmosphere for the forest that has grown inside. 

From Sept. 5 to Oct. 3, Andrew O’Connor, a Hamilton-based multi-disciplinary artist, is exhibiting his sculptural, audiovisual installation, “Lost Illusions” — transporting visitors to Hamilton’s surrounding forests.

O’Connor is a Hamilton-based artist, VJ and designer whose work explores and blends light, video, 2D mixed media, animation and interactive installations. O’Connor completed his undergrad at McMaster University in 2012 with a double major in multimedia and studio arts. O’Connor has exhibited in Europe, the United States and around Canada and is a confounding member of  HAVN (26 Barton St. East).

“Lost Illusions” is about the moments of tranquility and solitude that resonate when being truly present with the natural landscape. Blending layers of painted surfaces infused with projected light, shadow and movement, the scenery elicits an introspective, meditative quality influenced from experiences of walking through moonlit trees under the midnight sky,” said O’Connor.

 The exhibition was made possible with the support of the Ontario Arts Council’s Media Artist Creation Project grant. O’Connor’s core idea was to blend projection lighting with painting. Unsure of what the final form would take, but focusing on site specifics, he knew that he wanted his artwork to change the entire ambience of a room and influence how a person felt when they walked in.

“The whole idea was that I wanted to capture that peace and tranquility that you can feel when you’re immersed in nature. When you’re away from all the distractions of society, the technological distractions . . . all the fears and anxieties when they melt away, you’re at peace. That was something that I definitely wanted to convey above all. It doesn’t matter to me what people see specifically, it’s more about what emotions that people are feeling from it,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor experimented with a variety of different materials to be the foundation of his work. He tried acetate, but found that it ripped too easily when being transported. After much trial and error, the artist landed on dura-lar, a polyester film that is a mix between mylar and acetate. 

O’Connor started with six stencil drawings that he created while hiking around local Hamilton forests. The artist scanned them into his computer, digitally cleaned them up and applied them to create the basis of “Lost Illusions”. 

“One idea that stuck out for me was . . . I remember I would just film stuff as I was biking through woods. I started filming the treetops as I’m biking through woods and I would look at those video clips and that sort of imagery stuck with me . . . A lot of it are just closeups of trees with the sun shining through and gusts of wind blowing the leaves,” said O’Connor. 

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Although the video component was vital to O’Connor’s piece, something was missing. He realized that audio can immerse an audience and add depth to artwork.

“Given my background with VJing, I did a bunch of recording sessions of myself using a MIDI controller fading in and out, activating certain effects on the video clips as I’m listening to the composition, taking those recording and splicing together the best bits,” said O’Connor.

The still art and projections amalgamate to enchant the viewer, transporting them directly into the heart of Mother Nature without the pressures of the outside world.

“If students want an escape from whatever’s happening in their life, the exhibition has a very entrancing affect on you if you give it the chance. As students, we can be extremely stressed with our studies, but this piece is an entrancing piece, it’s a sense of escapism from the stresses and anxieties of your life,” said O’Connor.

“Lost Illusions” is on display at Centre[3] for Print and Media Arts at 173 James Street North until October 3, 2019.

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Photos By Kyle West

Since February of this year, local media artist, Vanessa Crosbie Ramsay, has devoted hours to hand-knitting and wrapping into a ball 9000 feet of Internet cable. This knitting and wrapping culminated when the 40 feet long by 12 feet wide structure was positioned outside last Thursday for Supercrawl, along with two giant, pink knitting needles.

The piece, entitled male-dominated, speaks to the underrepresentation of women in science,technology, engineering and math fields. The idea was sparked by friends of hers who had started a technology business and employed no women or people of colour. Aware that this problem is systemic, she wanted to create a piece that commented on it in an unexpected way.

“These types of companies hire less women and… when they have women that are hired, they're [in] pretty misogynist spaces a lot of the time. [M]y work in general grows out of feminist issues and this… is just a small way to contribute to bringing attention to an issue like that,” she explained.

In creating the piece, Ramsay considered what is historically ‘women’s work’. The cables wrapped together into a semblance of a yarn ball calls to mind a past where the majority of women did work as homemakers.

However, contrasted with the technological tint of the cables, she brings onlookers back to the present, reminding them that in 2018, a lot of women are getting degrees and holding jobs outside of the home. While women might still knit, as Ramsay did to create the piece, it isn’t necessarily all that women do.

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Ramsay herself is a good example of this. She attended York University, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a minor in English. She juggles multiple roles as an arts educator, a media artist, a visual artist, a filmmaker and more.

She works in a space where women historically have been shut out from. Earlier this year, when Ramsay won a City of Hamilton Media Arts Award, she felt it was important to use her speech to talk about the disappointing representation of women in art.

“[W]e need to give more opportunities for women. I know the art gallery is working on it. Hopefully the trickledown is that all…organizations are working on it, having more women, having more diverse representation of all different types of people, rather than just white dudes. There's some amazing women artists, even just in the city and we need to do more to celebrate that.”

Ramsay’s focus on intersectional feminism has defined the trajectory of her career. Following her graduation from York, she worked in television editing, but wasn’t happy with the portrayal of women in shows. Since 2010, she has been working in visual art, allowing her to express herself and her views. She currently has a feminist art collective named the DAV(e) Collective with two other professional artists.

I would like to see more friendly, inclusive, welcoming environments for women so [that] when they get jobs...they [would] want to stay in them. And the same in art. We just need more representation in all of these fields and safer [and] more inclusive spaces for women in general,” she explained.

There’s a definite need for more welcoming spaces in the art world where thoughtful artists like Ramsay can exist in. Unfortunately, her experiences as a woman in the art world run parallel to the experiences of women working in several different fields, including STEM.

Some days Ramsay is optimistic and some days she is not. She is encouraged by the progress that is being made towards creating better environments for women, but sees how slow this progress can be. There’s no doubt that her expansive piece and all the work that she has done is helping carve out the space she strives for.

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Third and fourth-year students from McMaster’s School of the Arts program have spent months putting together every detail of the Coalesce Art Exhibition.

From selecting pieces and designing promotional materials to envisioning the installation of the entire exhibit, students in the Community Exhibition course, under the guidance of professor Sally McKay, have been learning to put together an exhibit from start to finish.

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Students are not only involved in every aspect of the curation of Coalesce, but the exhibit also serves as an opportunity to showcase their own artwork and share their personal interests and areas of research with the community. For many students, Coalesce will be a chance to make a presence outside of campus.

The opening reception will take place March 23 at the Spice Factory and will feature live entertainment by Math Club, the Bandicoots and Jennifer Budd and the diverse work of 29 art students from the Studio Art and Art History programs.

Abby Nicholson

Nicholson will be graduating this year from the Studio Art program with a minor in Art History. Her work focuses on architecture, which she hopes to pursue after graduation. She grew up with a curiosity for the stories hidden in aging buildings and an appreciation for the historical value that can be found in Hamilton’s architecture.

Nicholson obscures her photographs by removing details and extracting more ornamentation in the architecture, sometimes even painting on top of prints, to create a more ominous atmosphere that is characteristic of historical photographs.

“I really like exaggerating the tonal values between black and white to contrast each other and just make it quite ominous. It’s a different perspective of the architecture that I see personally…. It’s finding beauty in the dark,” explained Nicholson.

Nicholson has created a diptych of the Spice Factory that will be displayed at Coalesce, the piece is an ode to the hosting venue, which has over a century’s worth of stories and artifacts. Before entering the Spice Factory, make sure to take in all the details, as Nicholson will have a unique perspective to show you.

Deeshani Fernando

While only in her third-year of studio art, Fernando already has her artistic vision defined. She creates landscape drawings inspired by her memories and experiences, while incorporating the vivid colours and motifs of her Sri Lankan culture.

Fernando creates organic ceramic sculptures that are used as a surface for her drawings, which are done in ink and acrylic paint. Recently, Canadian terrain and landscapes have etched their way through Fernando’s mark making in her drawings.

Hamilton’s eminent waterfalls and Fernando’s cultural background have inspired her artwork for Coalesce. The piece imagines a new landscape that merges and celebrates the beauty of two distant lands.

Fernando has built three plinths with carvings that mimic the flow of water. Each plinth will hold organic clay sculptures, which were fired in a kiln to create different surfaces and textures that inspired the overlaying drawings.

Audrey Pearson 

Pearson is a third-year studio art student who continuously pushes herself to explore new techniques, themes and research interests through art. Her recent work utilizes textiles and collage mediums as well as etching techniques to create dialogue around objects interrupting a space or landscape.

Pearson will be exhibiting UDWR, a soft sculpture installation of fabric goats hanging from the ceiling over a Utah landscape. The series was inspired by Pearson’s research into how the mountain goat population is maintained in Utah.

In order to control the population of goats, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources would bundle the goats in bags, tether them to a helicopter and fly them to sparsely populated ranges.

“Everything about this is fascinating to me, the way that they have to blindfold the goats to keep them calm, the way that this endeavour becomes a moment of transition from a familiar space to somewhere uncertain, and the way that humans create environmental problems that they must then intervene to solve,” explained Pearson.

Pearson’s artwork stirs a varied range of emotions. Some viewers will appreciate the piece at its surface value, acknowledging the skill of creating three-dimensional form from fabrics, and others will take a deeper look and resonate with the issues and concepts that the art conveys.

 

Emily Hamel

Hamel is a fourth-year student in the studio art program. Their practice centers around video art and they utilize techniques such as datamoshing, which is the manipulation of media files’ codes to create mesmerizing audio and visual effects.

Hamel has been exploring queer identity through video art and they’ve used their work as an attempt to show one’s multifaceted identity and breakdown the pressure imposed on genderqueer persons to perform gender in a certain way.

Freedom of self-expression is also a consistent theme throughout Hamel’s work and they’ve taken up an interest in ignorant style tattooing. They hope to take a stab at being a tattoo artist after graduation.

At Coalesce, Hamel will showcase their tattoo illustrations. One flat sheet is filled with illustrations of dogs, some panting, others wearing sunglasses, baseball caps and party hats. Another sheet is filled with illustrations of a baby cradling a strawberry, a kit-cat clock and a retro chatter phone.

Sheetal Prasad

Prasad is a multidisciplinary artist in her fourth year. Her practice explores cultural and religious identity while utilizing various mediums, such as paintings and book binding, depending on the direction her research takes her.

Since first year, Prasad’s artwork has been largely influenced by her Indo Fijian culture and the artwork she will be exhibiting at Coalesce is an exemplification of that. Her work focuses on celebrating customs and traditions through humorous anecdotes, while also taking a more historical approach towards shedding light on minority history and racism.

Prasad created a bronze installation titled Komagata Maru that symbolizes the often forgotten Komagata Maru incident. In 1914, due to anti-immigration sentiment and racism, hundreds of Indians onboard the SS Komagata Maru were denied entry into Canada.

In another series, Prasad uses humour to make learning about different cultural practices and memes more accessible and negate the fear of being offensive. Mission: Joota Chupai is one of three digital prints that shares a traditional Indian wedding custom where the sisters or female cousins of the groom steal the groom’s embroidered shoes and he must pay money to get them back.

Prasad hopes to continue exploring the history of minorities in Canada through her art practice after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts this year.

Coalesce is a free admission exhibition that will open from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. on March 23 and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 24 at the Spice Factory located at 121 Hughson Street North.

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