Thinking inside the box

Joan Sullivan
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Artists’ work packed with ‘metaphor and possibility,’ curator says

John Latour, Montreal, Que., The Missing Room, 2012; wooden box, toy cabinet, galena, wood, acrylic paint. —Submitted photos

“Boxed In: Small Sculptures” brings the work of 67 visual artists into two different St. John’s galleries, at The Rooms and the Craft Council. The requirements of the initial call for interest were simple: proposals must fit into a 12 x 12 x 16 Canada Post box, for shipping. Everything else, theme, content, material, was left wide open. The results, to say the least, vary.

This exhibition has works suspended on walls, arrayed on pedestals, and broadcast from a video screen.

There are terrariums, small cases, peopled dioramas; Lois Schklar and Noah Gano (Ontario) “drew” theirs in three point perspective in a gallery corner. (This piece, like all the other here, from 2012.) Each artist took the container space and,  packed it with “metaphor and possibility,” said curator Denis Longchamps. “Not single one took the same approach.”

Let us set the cliché of “thinking outside the box” aside at once. These artists were, of course, thinking inside the box, musing about what could be compressed into and expressed within those very specific dimensions.

Longchamps was continually surprised by what arrived in those boxes. He had seen the submitted designs, of course, but they were on paper, and these were their voluminous actualizations. As the deliveries began to arrive “it was like Christmas,” he said.

That also gave him a special challenge of envisioning an exhibition while its pieces where still largely sight unseen. The composition needed to be dynamic, and logical. As now arranged, the works are displayed in a rhythm of high and low placements, and often form pairs, or groups. There is flow, and there is what Longchamps describes as “dialogue,” with pieces talking to and playing off each other.

Some are concerned with paper, like Vanessa Hall-Patch’s “For Safekeeping,” where the BC-based artist pressed and quilted a decades worth of prints.

This is set next to the folded papers of Jerome Fortin (Que.), which accordion-archives past collage series as files.

Others are in textiles, like “A Common Man,” from Matt Gould (Alta.), a cloth self-portrait. In contrast, Susan Thorpe (Alta.) encloses environmental symbols in ceramic mountains, for “Within Range,” Samantha Mogelonsky (Ont.) twisted and spangled a quartet of orbs, and Kevin Hubbard (B.C.) made a cube and then took an axe to it, and has the film footage to prove it.

There is so much to look at, books and maps, a circus wagon, even stacks of bills. And still not everything is visible, as there are layers and visual puns and riddles, like N.S.-based Bryan Maycock’s “Mitochondrial Mapping Box,” with its maps and place names nested matryoshka-doll style. There are riffs on personal psychology, social ills, environmental ruptures, and political history. Newfoundland’s Frances Ennis and Maxine Ennis, for example, have rug-hooked representations of “The Famous Five” for “We Are Persons At Last!”

More than a dozen works come from Newfoundland and Labrador artists, in clay, glass, silk and multi-media. Lisa Gosse’s “My Heart” includes rabbit skin, dryer lint, and cat fur. Nicola Hawkins’s “Dead End” is an uneasy fusion of found objects turned invigorated trash, and natural fibre.

All the works can be viewed from all angles, and viewers can move through them how they please.

Some works will even evolve as the exhibition continues. Manitoba’s Elvira Finnigan and Paul Robles’s “Flood: Monkeys II” is an intricate paper cut-out immersed in salt brine within Plexiglas, which will gradually crystallize.

There are 43 works at The Rooms and 24 at the Craft Council, and on March 4 the spaces will exchange two dozen pieces. “Boxed In” continues at The Rooms and

the Craft Council Gallery until

April 14.



Organizations: The Rooms, Craft Council, Canada Post The Famous

Geographic location: Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba

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