Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spaghetti Junction offers food for thought

Last Friday, the DeLeon White Gallery opened its doors for Spaghetti Junction, an exhibit showcasing the thesis projects of thirteen art students studying at York University.

While the display at Spaghetti Junction offers visually craving epicures a luscious plethora of priceless ocular stimuli, let it be known that this is no bourgeois art buffet: there is not a red velvet rope barrier in sight at the DeLeon White Gallery, and—more affordably—no entry fee. Hosting fifteen sculpture and installation pieces made of everything from grass to jock cups, Spaghetti Junction is composed of pieces based on ideas as various as the intersection between natural and artificial environments, gender performance, the body and its relationship to personal and social spaces, artificial culture, consumption, stereotypes, as well as the nature of identity.

As mentioned, Spaghetti Junction does cater to the visually peckish, but Margaret Papadatos’ untitled contribution will only feed that hunger for so long—it’s got a different agenda. Papadatos’ piece has the outward appearance of a basic fort constructed by the industry and ken of a (perhaps rather tall) child—complete with all the essential blankets and clothespins that allow such a structure to qualify for that category—but pinned to the opening is a caution to the visually dependent: “Do not enter without first […] placing on the blindfold.”

On the outside deceptively simple and a product of nostalgia, Papadatos’ work is inspired by a parable that Longinus tells in his only attributed work, On the Sublime, wherein Herodotus (one of the first writers of history) says that Cleomenes (a Greek king) went mad, got captured, and then “in his madness cut his own flesh into little pieces with a knife ’til he had sliced himself to death.” Papadatos finds this interesting, saying it characterizes her work, engaged with “the isolation of the senses and playing with that idea and sort of ripping yourself into these tiny components.”

Although it is by no means the centerpiece of Spaghetti Junction’s spread (the show is void of such a focal point), Papadatos’ work is a narrative about the lengths one has to go to in order to escape the staleness of the way things are commonly perceived, and banality is under attack from so many angles at the gallery; Brittney Katula’s Fa’afafine—the moniker of which comes directly from a group of people considered to be third-gendered in Samoan culture—celebrates liberation from the male/female dichotomy with the interesting incorporation of a decorative chastity belt; Tasha Turner’s Emme presents anatomical forms that are often hidden from the public’s gaze frankly on a wall, aiming at evoking the feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment that people have been socially trained into harbouring in relation to the shapes; and by donning a packing tape suit, rolling down sidewalks and collecting whatever will connect to him—an undertaking presented at Spaghetti Junction via a film projection of the process and through mounting the packing tape suit itself to a wall—Simon Black aims to liberate things that are taken for granted from their overlooked condition by making their accumulation a sublime affair.

The show is not only concerned with how things are perceived, but also with what spaces and objects individuals encounter on a daily basis.

Kailey Bryan chews over the effects of the spread of brutalist architecture in Surroundings, a steel weaved seedpod/cocoon inspired sculpture proposing a return to incorporating organic shapes and forms into architecture. Bryan reflects on the history of architecture, saying, “when you walk into an old building and look at the degree of craftsmanship on a moulding or the carving on a door—even just things like a little misstep of the carpenter’s hand when carving a pew or something like that—you understand that you have a relationship on a human level with the person that crafted the thing, so it imbues all of these places with this warm humanness.”

Like Bryan’s Surroundings, Alexa MacKenzie’s A Culture for People Who Don’t Live There—a sculpture of Niagara Falls’ famous Horseshoe Falls fabricated out of tourist paraphernalia—pursues the nature of what’s often encountered. Having grown up in Niagara Falls, MacKenzie finds some disturbing irony in the fact that the quintessential piece of Canadiana that is often celebrated as a natural wonder has become something that is essentially constructed, “[where] all the businesses and all the culture there is aimed towards people who don’t actually live there, to draw people in for commerce and to make money.”

Her own construction of the Horseshoe Falls a piece that allows viewers a perspective from behind the cascade, MacKenzie’s piece is revealed to be supported by a typical wooden frame, hinting at a contrived nature underlying both the town and the Falls themselves. According to MacKenzie, “in the ’50s, they rock-blasted away some of the falls because [the redirection of the water flow] was considered more aesthetically pleasing.” MacKenzie continues, “Today they only have about 20% of the water going over the falls in peak tourist season.”

Appropriate among other pieces that challenge normalized perceptions Allen Matrosov’s contribution, Petrifying Education, is a piece that Matrosov hopes will make viewers reconsider their conceptions of the education system, which is ultimately an institution that has great control on the way people comprehend things in everyday life. For Matrosov, education becomes futile in the sense that “by the time a student graduates high school, in twelve years technology [changes] so much that everything they[…] have learned from […] their elementary years [will] be obsolete,” and he illustrates this by placing three school desks made of basic desk materials slowly breaking apart under the indifferent force of water dripping from pipes.

Also focusing on issues to do with education, Meghan Scott’s Making the Maker zeroes in on the physically moulding effects of the education system, where several identical 21st Century desk/chair hybrids are presented and deconstructed, forcing the viewer to consider how education shapes perceptions as well as bodies. The piece is particularly significant in that it not only urges viewers to consider what education produces, but also how education shapes what is produced to be perceived.

Other artists featured at the gallery are Robert Clements, Couzyn van Heuvelen, Jeannette Hicks, Phoebe Lo, and Joe Phillips.

Challenging the methods of perception and also things that are perceived, as a unified collection, Spaghetti Junction is a thirteen-course meal of brainfood.

Open this Sunday from 1 ’til 5, and Wednesday from noon ’til 8, Spaghetti Junction runs until April 14. The DeLeon White Gallery is located at 1139 College Street.

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