Pumpkinseed fish and other curiosities

Gleaming white fish mounted on dark wood panels protrude from the wall. Scattered among them are other whimsical objects, such as a silver deer head and a chair-like sculpture. A white tag informs the viewer that pumpkinseed fish “have an excellent flavor and are low in fat and high in protein.

Gleaming white fish mounted on dark wood panels protrude from the wall. Scattered among them are other whimsical objects, such as a silver deer head and a chair-like sculpture. A white tag informs the viewer that pumpkinseed fish “have an excellent flavor and are low in fat and high in protein.” Fancifully titled “The follies of romantic memoires,” the collection of chic wall candy by Andrea F. Carvalho was but one of the oeuvres on display at STRATA, the annual student-run spring exhibition.
Bringing together 65 artists from Concordia’s masters of fine arts programs, the works featured in STRATA span the fields of fibre arts, open media, painting, photography, print media, film production, sculpture and ceramics.
A stroll through the venue reveals dozens of striking pieces. In the main room, two life-sized silicon dolls sit with eyes closed in a corner. Dressed in somber clothes, they look so real it’s disturbing. Collectively named ‘Clara’, they are the work of Yuula Benivolski.
Further along hangs a suspended mattress by Danielle Davies with the titular words “making love” sewn into the upper half. A glance under the bed exposes a mass of hair dangling from the embroidery, which brought back memories of Asian horror flicks.
Divided into three rooms, the trendy Espace Artefacto in Saint-Henri lends itself well to the art’s diversity. Past the gallery’s first part, a projection room screened short films from 11 students. When I walked in, it was Emma Waltraud Howes’ Subtle Architectures’ playing. Beyond the film room, there is a large split-level room in the back with a tiny chamber tucked into it.
Such a massive undertaking as STRATA was no easy task for the organizers. Film production students Malena Szlam and Daichi Saito started working on the project last September.
“Last semester, it was mostly fundraising,” said Szlam. “We fundraised at the MFA gallery, through the dean of fine arts, through the office of the president.”
“This semester, there was more actual work,” said Saito. “We were coordinating with artists, organizing space and setting up the venue.”
Finding a suitable space presented its own difficulties since a minimum of 5,000 square feet was needed to showcase 65 artists. The organizers were refused by several galleries due to lack of space. That’s when Saito thought of Espace Artefacto.

“I found this place through Mois de la Photo,” he said. “The owner is a professional artist . . . he was very open to hosting student work here.”
STRATA’s vernissage last Friday was well attended by a diverse mix of students, faculty, friends, family, and even a few kids. Several artists were there to talk about their work, including graduating fibre arts student Jerry Ropson.
His pieces have several titles. They all start with “piles of string,” but follow with varying phrases in parentheses. Ropson plays with the viewer’s perception by “faking” media – what looks like paint turns out to be vinyl stickers, what looks like string turns out to be paint, and so on. Behind his canvas is a hidden, quirky list of things that make life valuable: “finally it works,” “two hand touch,” etc.
“My work is based on geology,” he explained. “I’m interested in how minerals build up and ideas can do the same.”
Vency Yun, a graduating sculpture student, explores themes of femininity through food. She made a kitchen apron that looks like a wedding dress and embroidered recipes in pink thread onto the linen fabric. The zing from the title “Baking cakes that I can’t eat” comes from the fact that Yun is allergic to meat, sugar and dairy.
“The only relationship I can have with food is through words,” she said. “Whenever I go to a supermarket, I pick up boxes and find out what’s in them. Sometimes I’ll make lists of the things I can’t eat.”
Tara Nicholson is in her first year of photography. She is presenting four pictures from a series called “Further North,” all of which were taken in Quebec. One print shows a rock face in a forest defaced with graffiti.
“I have this fascination with the North,” she said. “Especially the interplay between the ‘myth of the north’ that we all have and the contemporary markings that I actually find there.”
I toured through Espace Artefacto more than once and discovered something new every time. Unlike most exhibitions, there is no curatorial presence here. The result is an open-concept feeling, accessible and thoroughly rewarding.

STRATA runs at Espace Artefacto (3520 St-Jacques Ouest, corner Rose-de-Lima) from April 4 to April 20. Free admission.

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