Work inspires viewers to ask questions
Art: Canadian artists expect unique exhibits will challenge audience
By: Tammy Rollie
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 18, 2013 08:38 am
Two artists may have viewers asking themselves some serious questions as they browse the Okotoks Art Gallery’s latest exhibits.
Artists Jose Luis Torres, of Quebec, and Jennifer Wanner, of Calgary, are challenging people to reflect on their priorities and their impact on nature while perusing their exhibits “Que nos rodea – Around Us” in the large gallery and “Immuno” in the small gallery.
Torres said his exhibit “Que nos rodea – Around Us” represents his belief the accumulation of possessions is often a way to avoid exposing emptiness and inadequacies people feel in their lives.
“The objects in the gallery, rich in memories, are a reference to human excessiveness, which often stops people from leaving or moving forward,” he said. “My piece is a critique on today’s consumer society where people hide behind private property.”
Torres, a native of Argentina, spent five days in the gallery last week transforming discarded and recycled furniture and knickknacks collected from local residents into works of art for his exhibit.
The transformation, which was video taped, was open for public viewing throughout the process.
“I take objects and give them a second life,” Torres said. “The dialogue between the location and the art directly influences the configuration of my pieces, the choice of materials and their proportion.”
Torres’ pieces are displayed in groups, sometimes linked by ropes, sometimes piled on top of one another and other times leaning against each another.
“I approached the theme by drawing from my personal experience of being uprooted, but with the hope of also touching upon a wider historical perspective,” he said. “My work invites visitors and passersby to experience and experiment with the space and the way it is filled in a completely new way.”
Wanner also has a message for viewers with her botanical watercolour collages of genetically modified tobacco, corn, soy, cotton, tomato and canola plants in her exhibit “Immuno,” which means to change and alter.
“I’ve taken the most popular genetically modified plants and instead of doing work in the open field I go on the Internet and take other people’s images, print them off, cut them out and reconfigure it,” she said. “They look quite innocuous at first, especially the watercolours. You could walk by it very easily seeing a simple botanical painting, but if you spend a couple of minutes looking at it you question and wonder, why is that growing out of that? Why does that sit together?”
Wanner’s exhibit critiques the human drive for dominance over nature in a 17th century-inspired medium mimicking the romantic botanist going to a new land and returning with drawings of strange plants, she said.
It challenges viewers to look closely at her images and ask themselves what the human race is doing to the world’s natural plant life, she added.
Although the modifications are often subtle, Wanner said the implications on nature are huge and she questions how these plants will interact with other species or how they will change and modify in the wild.
She said she hopes viewers will ask similar questions.
“That’s one of the arts’ important roles is to help our society ask important questions,” she said.
Town of Okotoks Cultural and Historical team leader Allan Boss said both exhibits are not only thought provoking, but fit into Okotoks’ mandate of sustainability.
“We are always trying to do things that fit with that theme,” he said. “In (Torres’) case this artist takes recycled materials that people donate and he comes in and does a residency.”
Boss said the Town of Okotoks obtained grant money from the Canada Council for the Arts to fly Torres to Alberta, pay for his accommodations and supplement his residency for the week — something they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford.
Closer to home, Wanner’s “Immuno” was a great compliment to Torres’ work as she questions today’s practices in science.
Boss said gallery visitors will appreciate her unique perspectives as revealed in her meticulous paintings.
“It’s that very pristine art you see in books with very detailed work but the thing is she’s creating genetically modified paintings,” he said. “They look like they’re real plants but they’re not, they’re a conglomeration of a whole bunch of different things. The whole notion of that is around the way we are moving in society with food and growing.”
Both exhibits will be on display at the Okotoks Art Gallery until Nov. 9.