co-review by Sylvie Di Leonardo and Michael Piscitelli
Artscape Youngsplace, frequently a haven for multi-media mavens, is transformed into SUPERMARKET for the final-year studio artists from the University of Scarborough.
“If you think about the nature of a supermarket, it’s a place with an eclectic variety of items placed together, especially now that its all one-stop shopping,” says fourth-year contributor Kristina Zaja. “Then if you think about conceptual art and doing conceptual art at the senior level in a university, we’re all working on our own concepts…and since we’re all creating within the same social/cultural time; but are quite different because of where our inspirations take us, in a sense this is like a supermarket of an art exhibition.”
Creative student playbill for “SUPERMARKET”
As a collective, SUPERMARKET is about a lot of things— the nature of time and of being watched, cultural acceptance and appropriation, social capital and equity, cutting carbon while creating, revolutionary dialectics–the two-steps-forwardness and one-step-backedness of today’s metropolitan society. Each piece was created by a different conceptual artist in their final year at the University of Toronto, and in the Freirean tradition, some are co-created by you, the patron. Each work is rooted in the socio-political; grew through the personal, and is understood by the interpersonal experience. What does that mean?
It means that an understanding of this work is visceral. While stationary, like a painting, it is live and ephemeral, like a piece of theatre; in its need to be witnessed to be meaningful. Raw ideas mined from the bedrock of academia are marinating in many forms including text, photo, visual art, installation, textile, and need to enter the realm of tactile experience to make sense through your senses— common, Spidey, and otherwise. Meandering from piece to piece is also a type of sensory gymnastics: On the same floor as a mechanical bull in the shape of a vagina (that you had to ask for permission to ride) was print-and-sculpture work, found object installation, photography, and even an entire wall of chickens made of felt.
The inclusion of– or better yet, demand to engage– these non-physical senses in a multi-sensory exhibition is the living proof of what educational scholars have been saying for years: an investment in the education of young people is an investment in society, and to invest in them properly requires encounters with theory and practice in ways both experiential and experimental (For those not familiar with the scholarship, this is where engagement with the arts come in): In addition to punctuating the choice of title for the exhibition, the felt-chicken piece depicted the slaughter of live animals in China as routine, though far less visible in Western countries. Using craftwork from childhood, the artist can elicit compassion for the animals killed for our own purposes, and provoke a timely and intersectional discussion about globalization, ethics, culture, and notions of necessity, by simply beginning with the human, the childlike, and the simple.
The work housed in the upper storeys told very different stories. Fourth-year Roxanne Garcia recalls the work of cultural theorist Stuart Hall when discussing her work ‘My Home but Not My Native Land’. In a nutshell, Hall’s notion of cultural identity is that it is always happening and about to happen, all at once, or as Garcia puts it, “identity as a process being constructed and transformed constantly.” As a Filipino-Canadian citizen, Garcia offers more to the conversation about diasporic arts practice and the examination of cultural identities than is currently in popular discourse. “I encourage the viewers to activate critical thinking and to reconsider how migration and diaspora impact an individual’s cultural identity as much by societal conditions as it is by personal experiences. This is a constant reminder and awareness of the inescapable aspects that make us who we are.”
Some pieces were very personal, while others addressed issues at-large. Some, though, were both. Zaja’s piece, House Key, began with personal encounter with the theme, and grew into its presenting form as the idea was considered in a wider context: “Working in a classroom environment, all works and ‘ideas in progress’ are placed under the scrutiny of multiple sets of eyes. As a young artist this can be intimidating, but once you are able to separate your identity from the work, it becomes a playground for immense artistic growth. For me, this meant moving my concept from the passive to the active.” Zaja’s piece, a functional mechanical-style vending machine (which patrons can use to exchange a loonie for a capsule containing house keys), quickly evolved from the work of a performance-artist to that of a performance-artist-advocate upon partnering with Raising the Roof, a Canadian charitable organization working to eradicate homelessness. This transformation, while only one example out of an entire group of engaged artists, is the most important take-away from this exhibition. Of her growth, Zaja observes that “creating a fundraising work has made me look at my practice in a new light; I have always had a deep admiration for the artists that bridge the barriers between art and activism but I didn’t think this was something I could do myself.” It is the higher purpose that we, as educators, scholars, practitioners, and cultural writers, must consider if we are to continue creating meaningful work— especially in today’s socio-political climate.