Faced with tight measurements, artists ponder what it means to be ‘Boxed In’
“The State of Canada’s Birds,” by Rosalind Ford, printed cotton and naturally dyed silk. — Submitted photo
“Until opened, a box protects the secrecy of its contents. It is imbued with mystery and the promise of surprise.” — “Boxed In” curator Denis Longchamps
We are constantly surrounded by boxes, whether we know it or not, says Denis Longchamps, The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery’s manager of exhibitions and publications. We live in a box, drive in a box, work and sleep in a box. When we die, our final resting place is inside a box.
Some boxes are literal, functional cardboard structures filled with books or mementoes; others exist only internally, within the mind or heart, or are felt rather than seen.
When Sheila Perry of The Rooms and Anne Manuel and Sharon LeRiche from the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador decided to collaborate on an exhibit, they agreed it should be national in scope. One problem with this, they realized, was the shipping costs for precious works of art and craft to this province, where we are challenged by our own box of isolation at times. The women decided to present artists with a specific size — the piece must fit in 16 x 12 x 12-inch closed box — to cut down on transportation costs. Along with curator Longchamps, that very challenge became the exhibit’s theme.
“The box is very present in our lives and we wanted people to deal with this idea; the idea of feeling claustrophobic as much as feeling secure,” Longchamps said. “Those are the metaphors that we wanted people to play with.”
The response to the call for submissions for the exhibition, called “Boxed In,” was made two years ago and response was great — out of close to 200 submissions, 67 works were chosen by a jury for inclusion in the exhibit, which opens this evening. The chosen artists span all the provinces of Canada as well as most territories. Fourteen artists from this province are participating: Kelly Jane Bruton, Kailey Bryan, Michelle Chaulk, Frances and Maxine Ennis, Rosalind Ford, Lisa Gosse, Nicole Hawkins, Philippa Jones, Urve Manuel, Jason Penney, S. Nicole Russell, Heather Reeves and Reid Weir.
All sculptures, the pieces are closely divided when it comes to categories of craft and visual art, with everything in between. Media used ranges from wood, plexiglass and ceramics to cat claws, dryer lint, broken bottles and cow bone. Some artists chose soft sculptures, with fabric, burlap and embroidery.
Each took the boxed-in theme to create a unique concept.
Some created literal boxes, like Ontario’s Mary McKenzie, who incorporated the actual box her pieces were shipped in into her sculpture, “Clever.” Jim Maunder, a former St. John’s resident, encased a bronze sculpture of two nude models inside an etched acrylic cube, based on a human experiment.
“(He) put two people, nude, in a 36-by-36-inch box for a certain period of time, and when they came out, he asked them, ‘How did you feel?’,” Longchamps explained. “Then he recreated the sculpture, and on the box he put the words that they were giving him.” The words include “awkward,” “shakes,” “uncertainty,” “intense” and “vulnerable.”
Jennifer Schuler of Quebec created “Our Home,” a mixed-media diorama of her own house and lawn in miniature, detailed down to the brickwork and landscaping. A light inside the home presents the home, her private box, as a warm, peaceful space.
Carmela Laganse of Saskatchewan has created a piece depicting the boundaries placed by society on the idea of achievement. Called “Bad Romance,” her mixed media sculpture features two icons for success: Queen Elizabeth, circa her coronation, and Lady Gaga.
Frances and Maxine Ennis, known locally for their hooked rugs, incorporated that technique to create “We Are Persons At Last!,” honouring the Famous Five of Alberta, women who, in 1929, were responsible for the Persons Case victory. Frances and Maxine based their piece on black and white photography of the women, adding their own colours.
“The actual work is based on photography of the five women when they came out of the court and they were given the right to vote,” Longchamps said. “It was a celebratory moment, and I thought it was an interesting concept.”
Urve Manuel’s piece, “Oblivion Bares Its Teeth,” is an emotional examination of the emotions of those affected by a loved one with alcoholism, and how feelings are often boxed in and hidden by smiles. Her work features broken wine bottles, paper cocktail umbrellas, silicone and pâte de verre.
“It’s appropriate to so many things,” Manuel, who is mostly self-taught, said of the boxed-in theme. “It’s the same for visual art, craft, writing — it only depends on where you are in that point in time.”
Textile artist Rosalind Ford’s piece, “The State of Canada’s Birds,” is created from printed cotton and naturally dyed silk, and was influenced by her work as a field biologist with endangered species of birds. The piece features birds — hand dyed as close to the real colours of the birds as possible — squeezed together in a cage, hanging four feet from the floor by a rope.
“I’ve done a lot of work in population monitoring and conservation, nest-searching for the hooded warbler, and over 12 years I’ve had the privilege to go where no one is allowed to go,” explained Ford. “I’m full of knowledge as to how healthy or unhealthy populations are because of the work we’ve done or because of things like loss of winter grounds or breeding grounds or pollution or hunting.”
Ford said by the year 2020, the world will see a 30 per cent decrease in the population of songbirds, which we often keep in cages.
“We love them, we think they’re beautiful, but we’re caging them in,” she said. “I have a mental image of a barron concrete jungle with tiny patches of trees, and all these little birds huddled together.”
Artists Lois Schklar and Noah Gano of Ontario were the only ones to argue their way into a sculpture that exceeds the dimension criteria. Together, they have created the mixed-media “Three Point Perspective Drawing/Sculpture.”
“These artists argued that what we see is the plan of the work,” explained Longchamps. “It’s the support of the artwork, which doesn’t exceed the dimensions of 12 by 12 by 16 inches. It’s really somebody who thought outside the box.”
“Boxed In” is opening with 43 pieces at The Rooms and 24 at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Gallery on Duckworth Street. After six weeks, the pieces will rotate between the two locations. The launch will take place in two parts: at The Rooms gallery tonight at 7:30, and at 2 p.m. Saturday at the craft council gallery. The show will run until April 14.
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