They say the first semester is the busiest. They say you have a lot of academic work that takes priority. They say studio time takes a bit of a hit. They were RIGHT!
The first semester of your MFA at NSCAD you are required to complete Pedagogy (a class based on teaching and learning practices), a seminar class, which I substituted so I could do a research/internship with the MSVU Art Gallery and Walking With Our Sisters (so I have to take that next year), and studio worth 6 credits. It doesn’t sound like much but trust me it wasn’t easy. Especially because in the middle of the semester you are encouraged to write a SSHRC grant application that takes far more time than you think it will.
So now that that is all over here is a synopsis of my studio practice…
In my studio I have been working on a variety of different approaches, alternative mediums, and attempting to expand my methods of practice. I have been experimenting with different mediums such as beading, gouache and books. Specifically I have been working on two very separate practices; continuing to explore plants and their symbolism, in regards to colonial histories, globalization, westernization and Indigenous knowledges, practices, and methods, and Elsie, a character that was created to speak to these same themes and concepts.
Elsie, the character.
Elsie is a character I created in order to talk about things I was having a difficult time saying in my previous work. Although conversations in my work have revolved around colonizing, aboriginal histories, westernization and globalization, I have never strayed from portraying subtle and gentle critiques using botanicals. Elsie was created with the intention of being loud and direct. She is an outlet, a statement, a friend, and a memory. Elsie is inquisitive, thoughtful, and outspoken (in her own way). Elsie is based on a historical photo of residential school students I found in the St. Bernard Indian Residential School (Grouard, AB) archive website. She represents every female student in the fact that her haircut is the same as all the other female students, her uniform mimics theirs and her quiet demeanor replicates each individual student. The name Elsie was my grandmothers who attended St. Bernard in the 40s, she passed from complications in 2008. Elsie represents every female residential school student but is individualized through her name.
Elsie, the painting.
Elsie is a 4 by 5 foot portrait painting of the character I created. She is painted in oil paint with little detail, simply a line drawing blown up. I was looking at artists such as: Clare Rojas, Yoshitomo Nara, and Barry McGee. Elsie is engaging with the viewer through direct eye contact and holding a sign that reads “Decolonize”. She is critiquing multiple institutions: the university, the gallery, the space, the city, the province, and finally the country/ies. By engaging with the viewer she seeks to have the viewer question the space and institution. By not detailing who Elsie is in the title or in other modes of communication, during the exhibition, my aim was to reference the fact that so many residential school students haven’t had their stories spoken about. So many of them were lost in the terrible histories of residential schools. Even today many residential school survivors don’t feel comfortable telling their stories. With Elsie’s quiet critique I aim to draw attention to these histories but also seek to promote change within institutions though this small act of resistance.
These paintings are an experiment that is in progress. My intentions were to form a conversation between the last series of paintings, titled It’s Bigger Than This…, that depict endangered plants across North America and the current series that are supposed to represent invasive species across the country. It’s Bigger Than This…is a series of paintings that portray different endangered plants in a realistic, naturalistic, and soft style. The paintings are perceived to be incomplete because certain parts of the plants anatomy are simply outlined instead of painted in; this is meant to symbolize the act of disappearance. The current series consists of sketches and paintings that portray the invasive plants are painted in bright, jarring, and noisy colors. My intension for this current series was to create a conversation between the two series. The current series is meant to be intrusive to the viewer, they were intended to ‘steal the show’ with color and vibrancy.
My intensions were met with disappointment; I do not think that the current series was successful. Alex and I have been talking and we think that the next step will be to revisit this intension but with an alternative method. I plan to make images (sketches, paintings, drawings, prints) that explore multiplicity. I will take an image of an invasive plant and multiply it several times on one plane. During the winter semester I will also be an exploring print media, I would like to experiment with both lithograph and screen printing in order to explore the theme of multiplicity in a new medium.