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Public places for private spaces

by The Concordian November 15, 2011
Public places for private spaces
The subject of home and household settings is not alien to the art world, yet artists keep finding new ways to present the concept that have viewers questioning whether the living room they are looking at is really all that familiar, or they are wandering into someone else’s consciousness.
This is what Jessica Campbell and Rachel Shaw are working with. Both Concordia graduates, the artists’ contrasting pieces work to portray scenes of quotidian settings (think various rooms in what could be someone’s home) in their upcoming show, titled Making Room.
“The theme of the show is, loosely, imagined space. Rachel’s more fantasy, mine more remembered, but both also using observation and both pretty rooted in some kind of mundane or absurd nexus,” said Campbell.
Campbell’s works have an undeniable sense of homeyness to them. Her paintings, depicting familiar settings and objects such as dinner tables and living rooms, evoke that well-known feeling of trying to recollect the facts from a dream one has just awoken from. She works from memory, in turn proving how fickle this mind tool can be.
“I’m interested in the mutability of memory. There’s this thing called involuntary memory or a Proustian rush where a censorial experience brings back a memory very suddenly, intensely and clearly,” she said. “However, as one revisits these memories, once crystalline, they become duller or just different somehow. I like to think of my paintings as representing the neural pathways between these points, the transitional space between the almost empirical and the totally subjective.”
Shaw’s works, in contrast, depict rooms that seem at once familiar yet surreal. While the portrayal of a living room, complete with the suburban home staple of a fern, seems all too well-known, details such as an unexpected square carved into the side wall or the floor compel the viewer to take a closer look. That is, while they may look familiar, these rooms are nowhere near anywhere you’ve ever been.
“I start more conventionally and the walls and floor in the room shift in response to whatever I put in it. I work toward an ideal and then undermine it, like with a bent to a straight line or a fake marble texture or a rug covering up a mistake or whatever,” said Shaw. “The hole in the floor can be serious or intellectual when compared to the window, or it can be funny, like one of those Looney Tunes holes that you can put down and get into and pick up and put somewhere else. Like, where does that go? It’s kind of like pulling the tablecloth out from under the dishes. The structure of the room is less a function of itself as the activity of the objects.”
Shaw explained that albeit both artists worked under similar themes, their works create a contrast.
“Jessica’s is ‘real’, or based on her memories of actual places. Mine is more of a hypothetical representation of space. But I guess I conform more to realistic expectations of the interior,” she said. “I’ll put an opening in the wall or floor, but it remains impenetrable. Jessica uses transparent screens and multiple perspectives and her paintings resist that kind of containment.”
The artists met during their time at Concordia and had been looking to collaborate on a show for a while. The opportunity came when suite 427 in the Belgo was taken over by former Concordia students.
“The gallery is smallish, so it’s a somewhat low-pressure space for us to work with, which is great for us,” explained Campbell. “We both graduated in the past few years and this is our first non-group show since finishing school, and something intimate and comfortable was what we were looking for.”
The exhibition will provide viewers a trip to places that will hopefully cause them to reassess the way they look at these types of spaces.
“I want people to think about authenticity or reproduction in an institutional setting and the potential or worth of objects as basic forms,” said Shaw. “How and why the space, or any space, is or could be furnished.”
“Art seems completely about communication, and I like to think of painting, of good painting, as providing some kind of alternate perspective, or some kind of lens on the world that one might not have considered before,” Campbell said. “If these works were able to make viewers rethink the mundane somewhat, even if only in the context of the paintings themselves, that would be great.”Making Room runs at Studio 427 (in the Belgo Building, 372 Ste-Catherine St. W.) Nov. 19 to 27. The vernissage is Nov. 19 at 6 p.m.

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