Distance makes the heart grow weak

Every few years, the Artlab Gallery at Western University hosts a Faculty and Staff exhibition. These exhibitions are important opportunities for fostering a sense of community in the Visual Arts Department: students are able to see their instructors and mentors at work, and colleagues have a chance to share in each other's research. 2020 was a year like no other, and so the Artlab is leaning into the present with a collective address to this moment of separate togetherness. Distance makes the heart grow weak invites faculty, staff and graduate students to speak to how they've been experiencing the last year. It prompts participants to explore and express how isolation has shifted our focus, our research and art practices, as well as our forms of connecting with one another. The exhibition is also an opportunity for participating artists and researchers to show flexibility (and inherently, optimism) despite the high strangeness we're all currently experiencing. In this time of shared solitude - unable to walk down halls, knock on studio or office doors, and enjoy quick hellos and impromptu conversations - we'll quote Chris Kraus (quoting Søren Kierkegaard): "art involves reaching through some distance."

Cody Barteet | Sarah Bassnett | Dickson Bou w/ others
Matt W. Brown | Andreas Buchwaldt | Brianne Casey
Jérôme Conquy w/ Kevin Heslop and others | Ioana Dragomir
Soheila Esfahani | Sky Glabush | Anahí González
Philip Gurrey | John Hatch | Tricia Johnson
Iraboty Kazi | Shelley Kopp w/ others | Anna Madelska
Patrick Mahon | Jennifer Martin | David Merritt
Ana Moyer | Dong-Kyoon Nam | Kim Neudorf
Katie Oates | Sasha Opeiko w/ Martin Stevens | Michelle Paterok
Kirsty Robertson | Geordie Shepherd | Andrew Silk
Christine Sprengler | Michelle Wilson w/ others | Jessica Woodward

Exhibition documentation | Video Features, Press | Exhibition Map

Cody Barteet
Architectural Rhetoric and the Iconography of Authority in Colonial Yucat√°n: The Casa de Montejo
New York and Milton Park, Abingdon: Routledge, 2020

Among a listing of academic output produced during the last year, C. Cody Barteet published this investigation of the Casa de Montejo. He considers the role of the building's Plateresque façade as a form of visual rhetoric that conveyed ideas about the individual and communal cultural identities in sixteenth-century Yucatán. C. Cody Barteet analyzes the façade within the complex colonial world in which it belongs, including in multicultural Yucatán and the transatlantic world. This contextualization allows for an examination of the architectural rhetoric of the façade, the design of which visualizes the contestations of autonomy and authority occurring among the colonial peoples.

View the e-book.

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Sarah Bassnett
"Life Magazine in Africa and the Ideology of Modernization
photographies, 13:2 (2020), 273-293.

Image: Eliot Elisofon, "African big shot," Life Magazine, 31 March 1947, 129.

Life was a popular news magazine that used photography to influence the way millions of Americans perceived geopolitical events during the Cold War. Combining information and entertainment in new ways, it reassured its predominantly white, middle-class readership of their privileged place within a volatile world. This article considers how the ideology of modernization informed the magazine's coverage of Africa.

Read an excerpt of the article (image scan).

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Dickson Bou with Charlie Egleston & Peter Lebel
Rolling for Feedback, 2020
Video Installation

Rolling for Feedback is developed through adapting a previous live performance/sound collaboration called Eight. The original performance has been reworked, produced, and presented to follow pandemic protocols and social distancing, further exploring "feedback loops" and how this pandemic has affected our everyday lives and the loops we live in.

Using analog video feedback, we create an "infinity mirror" effect to establish our loop. Presented on a double-sided screen are two feedback looped cyclists on bike rollers riding on the spot, going nowhere. The video footages are looped, and the cyclists are continuously pedaling on their bike rollers sending and receiving feedback, back and forth, back and forth, forever.

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Matt W. Brown
Untitled, 2020
Acrylic gouache on paper

For several years I painted with brush on canvas. The hand, constantly humming just above the paintings surface, is directly involved in shaping the painting through varied, yet constant touch. With this painting, Untitled (2020), as with all my work lately, I have withdrawn, changing the space between myself and the work in progress. Now colour is poured into troughs of folded paper, and any paint handling is left to the natural laws of physics and chemistry.

The most visible evidence of my own hand is found in the folds I press into the paper to prepare it to receive colour. These gestures, while made in preparation, generate a network of creases that remain discernible throughout the life of the painting.

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Andreas Buchwaldt
Café Baisers,, 2021
Virtual tour, poster installation

Welcome to Café Baisers, a virtual hangout for all your pent-up desires to swap microbes with other human beings. Take a seat and marvel at the intimate interior, adorned with images of kisses from around the world. From iconic to candid to artificial, we've got something for everyone! Click the lips to see the lovers come to life. Visit Café Baisers

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Brianne Casey
1940s Wooden Duck, 2020
Painting on canvas

This series explores toys and their correlation to childhood development. How can a play object influence children in the future? A purple bear that was given to me as a young child by my Papa (grandfather) has continuously influenced my practice subconsciously. This realization has become known to me only within the last year. My Papa gifted me the bear when I was around the age of six, purple being my favourite colour. It was a royal, rich purple and that colour has been repeatedly used throughout my works. My goal is to understand and highlight the importance of toys, nostalgia, and longing for the past: whether through a toy and the memories that object holds, or a playful reminder of childhood. Viewers will see balloons carrying these play objects that were once popular away. Balloons are symbolic of letting go of the past and making room for the new, and are often used at birthday parties as a reminder to celebrate was has happened and the next chapter in life.

The wooden toy duck was a popular toy during the 1940s and this model was produced by Lego. It has since been discontinued, however newer versions of the toy have made re-appearances. Viewers of all ages will be able to recognize this classic toy, whether as the classic rubber duck or the wooden duck depicted here. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. As children, we often cannot wait to grow up; as adults, we often long to be children again. Distance makes us appreciate our childhoods and a time of not worrying about what is happening in the world. Distance teaches us the values of spending time with family, friends and loved ones - having unconditional fun without consequences and playing with our toys. Distance in time makes us inevitably want to go back and be closer to our past selves. This series explores that notion and will continue to expand upon it as it progresses.

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Jérôme Conquy with Kevin Heslop, Sachiko Murakami, Síle Englert & Ruth Douthwright
he who senses the world's shift, 2020
Short film, 1:30
Bone Music, 2020
Short film, 1:46

These short films document human calligraphy. Texts are written and read by contemporary poets working in English on Turtle Island and performed by movement artists from London Township Treaty territory as part of a diverse and lengthening sequence entitled Movements. Bone Music* was written and read by Síle Englert; performed by Dorit Osher; produced and directed by Kevin Heslop; and shot and edited by Jérôme Conquy. he who senses the world's shift was written and read by Sachiko Murakami; performed by Ruth Douthwright; produced, co-directed and co-edited by Kevin Heslop; and filmed, co-directed and co-edited by Jérôme Conquy.

*Bone music is a samizdat phonograph made from repurposed medical x-rays - often of tubercular lungs - circulated illegally in Soviet Russia in the 1960s and '70s.

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Ioana Dragomir
For Agnes, 2021
Found stereoscopic images, thread, matboard, wood

Viewing a stereoscopic image takes advantage of the properties inherent in binocular vision to compensate for the distance between two images.

By superimposing a uniform grid as a third space, the illusion is disrupted. The two images, representing two different spaces, are flattened into the same one by a perspectival system that does not account for the shift in perspective.

Thus, in glitchy stereoscopy, distance retains its tension.

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Soheila Esfahani
My Grandmother Had One, 2019
Mixed media on collected ceramic plates

Pattern (dis)Placement aims to destabilize the origin of culture and reconstruct Homi Bhabha's "the third space of in-betweeness": a site of cultural translation, where locations of cultures are negotiated and new narratives are adapted and hybridized. In this body of work, Esfahani focuses on the Willow Pattern as a constructed cultural fable and simultaneously emphasizes and disrupts familiar collected objects in order to dissolve traditional boundaries between cultures.

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Sky Glabush
A New Garden, 2018

What are the conditions for growth? In the studio it's about tapping into the something: the imagination, experience, memory, the body, the hands. Moving towards energy. The feeling of hitting a nerve, or some latent fear, or excitement, or curiosity. I imagine the studio as a greenhouse or a garden. What could be planted? What are the conditions that will sustain growth? What are the impediments, restrictions, the adverse conditions? I am also thinking about the role of art and community. What is its value? Why spend all this time on it? It makes me think of the difference between something grown in southern California, sprayed with pesticides and preserving agents and shipped thousands of kilometers to my local grocery store as opposed to the tomato grown in my yard. The time and energy spent nurturing a garden is not quantifiable.

I often trick myself by learning about new ways of working and in adopting a posture of learning I feel more receptive. Exploring new material approaches and histories provokes questions and challenges my assumptions about things. Often these alternative ways of working have a kind of narrative, a back-story which also guides development and change. But there are other types of growth that seem to inform my work as an artist. I think about my kids and creating an environment where they can mature and move out into the world. Watching a person develop and learn to express herself, watching the imagination bloom, dealing with fear, rejection, and the pain that inevitably accompanies growth, these are elements of raising children that I have been thinking about in relation to this question of sustaining growth. There are similarities between the work of an artist and that of a parent and I am interested in these parallels.

I think about the inordinate amount of time spent on an activity like weaving. It is repetitive, and expensive. It is so much easier to simply buy a piece of canvas and get to work. But for me, learning about this activity exposed me to questions about its real costs, made me value the implicit labour. It opened me to a history I was unaware of. This body of work explores the idea of growth, from these different perspectives and uses the studio and the gallery as a platform to stage questions about value and meaning.

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Anahí González
Is The Train Coming? Roll Down The Window!, 2020
Video, 3:16

Is The Train Coming? Roll Down The Window! is a single-channel video filmed on the train rails in the Northern Mexican city of Saltillo. The video engages with acts of remembrance, survival, and time to highlight the Mexican migration nostalgia. There are no stop lights to alert the car drivers the train will pass, so to prevent accidents, the train horn sounds continuously for minutes.

There are two audios in the piece: one, is Maria José Dávila singing acapella Chavela Varga's song "Simples Cosas." She recorded herself at her home, located next to the train rails, and sent the audio to González via Whatsapp. The second audio is the train passing through the rails. The train had cars from the Canadian Pacific Railways and Kansas City Southern

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Philip Gurrey
14.12.20, 2020
Acrylic on cotton duck canvas (diptych)

This painted diptych takes inspiration from improvised works prevalent in the 1960's of a visual, as well as a musical nature. Working away from what is familiar or reassuring I am at pains to push towards uncertainty, what could be tentatively described as the 'unknown.' There is no preplanning for the works; they simply come about through a series of subsequent gestures, each reliant on the previous mark for its form, in relation to the whole at all times. The result of this, in the making, is a sensation of putting distance between the painting and myself. The object is an 'other' it communicates back to me on its own terms. This freedom of expression dependent upon an autonomous relationship to the author, is at once ontogenetic and rhizomatic. This plateau, or site of intensity and uncertainty is, I hope, articulated further by the repetition, difference and renewal conjured up by the two separate sites of the one work (diptych).

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John Hatch
Kazuo Nakamura: Life & Work
Toronto, ON: Art Canada Institute, 2021

Image: Kazuo Nakamura, Blue Reflections, 1964

Expressed as the project that has occupied all of John Hatch's focus over the last few years: Kazuo Nakamura: Life & Work is the first biography to tell the story of Nakamura's intriguing life and storied career, from his childhood in Vancouver and his experiences as a wartime internee to his role in Painters Eleven and the culmination of his career in the number series paintings. An iconic Canadian painter who blended Western and Eastern influences, Nakamura was profoundly inspired by mathematics, science, and philosophy as well as art history. His achievements reflect the pivotal diversification of Canadian art in the twentieth century.

View more at ACI.

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Tricia Johnson
Fence, 2003-2020
Linocut handprinted on shoji paper

Fence started its existence as an exploration of carved line in a continuous, finite unit. Chain link fencing, as a subject, although being visually spare and tenuous in the print, defines and demarcates space, whether physical or metaphorical. There is a front and an imagined back, a sense of the "here" or "over there." I felt this was very suited to my understanding of the pandemic lockdown, where demarcations were emerging where they had never been before.

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Iraboty Kazi
"Queering the Notions of the Family in Photographic Representations of Hijras"

Image: photograph by Shahria Sharmin

A virtual presentation for The Université de Montréal Arts and Medias colloquium. This presentation examines the heterotopia and queering of space in relation to the hijra family. The term hijra is used in South Asia to define those biologically designated as male or intersex at birth but has a female gender identity. Call Me Heena (2012-) by Shahria Sharmin and the Hijra Fantasy Series (2006) by Tejal Shah challenge social stigmas towards the highly marginalized community by providing an intimate view of the hijra spaces and desires. Iraboty argues that the space presented in the photographs is heterotopic, existing outside of identifiable time or space, thus allowing self-expression when it is not otherwise possible. The hijras in the photographs seek traditional roles of mother, sister, and/or lover, which is considered taboo in South Asian society due to their gender identity. Thus, the heterotopic space allows enough distance from reality to explore fantasies while still being rooted in reality.

View an accompanying note from Iraboty.

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Shelley Kopp
Distance makes the heart grow weak, 2021
Digital catalogue

The theme for the Artlab's exhibition, Distance makes the heart grow weak, really speaks to the peculiar spirit of our time. As we approach nearly a year of life spent in a pandemic, we wonder what others are doing to survive and thrive when we no longer see each other. This collection of art, photos, poems, and reflections, sent in from staff, students, and faculty, resembles an old-fashioned yearbook: it contains moments and thoughts unique to a particular period. It has a trace of the serendipity of shared exchanges in a workday - something missing now, but profoundly welcomed in this catalogue.

Contributors: Cody Barteet, Sarah Bassnett, Meghan Edmiston, Anahí González, Philip Gurrey, John Hatch, Tricia Johnson, Ira Kazi, Anna Madelska, Patrick Mahon, Jennifer Martin, Linda Meloche, Ana Moyer, Dong-Kyoon Nam, Katie Oates, Sasha Opeiko, Michelle Paterok, Kirsty Robertson, Geordie Shepherd, Ashley Snook, Christine Sprengler, Michelle Wilson, Jessica Woodward

Access the catalogue

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Anna Madelska
Oxford Street, 2020
Video of found 16mm film, 5:34

This found film footage consists of 1970's London taken from a plane, and traces Oxford Street from one end of the city to the other. It seems evocative of the current moment - a spatial document of a population, measuring the breadth of a community at the isolated distance of several hundred meters.

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Patrick Mahon
Messagers' Landscapes #3 (door), 2019, presented with an artifact (a chair) from Xu Bing's Calligraphy Classroom installation, shown in "Gu Xiong & Xu Bing: Here is what I mean," 2004, Museum London, curated by Patrick Mahon
Digital print collage with painted veneer, and punched holes, framed, & wood chair

The framed collage here is part of a larger body of works that I presented in an exhibition, "Patrick Mahon: Messagers' Forum," at the Thames Art Gallery over the Fall of 2020. It happens that this particular work was left out of the exhibition due to space limitations. So, after the show's installation in August 2020, I brought it back to London. Later in the Fall, as I thought about contributing to this exhibition, the piece ostensibly asserted itself in my studio. And there, too, was the chair I have chosen to also include. In my own history, the chair has made its way from being part of an installation by XuBing that I curated at Museum London in 2004, to being my studio desk chair. The link between the collage and the chair is, for me, 'personal' in way that I don't typically consider my studio output to emphasize. Among numerous associations, the pairing reminds me of a photograph and chair juxtaposition by a Vancouver photographer that I encountered in my graduate school experience in the late 1980's, and could suggest various internalized confrontations that are not a usual subject in my artwork.

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Jennifer Martin
991 7721 8022, 2020
Video screen capture, 5:00 loop, silent

The assembled fragments of video that constitute 991 7721 8022 were screen-captured during a public event that was broadcast across zoom due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. As technology engulfs our interpersonal and public communication, seemingly overnight, I consider how we must orient ourselves within these new spatial and temporal realities. I question how body language still functions as a primary mode of human communication and whether Zoom and video conferencing technology has re-choreographed this trajectory of public communication.

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David Merritt
augr, 2020
Found and fabricated wood, stacking table

On some level, most artmaking could be seen as setting out to speak across distance, and through some force of imagination, overcoming it. A similar distance seems at play in our encounters with artworks, at least those we experience as profoundly personal (recalling the aura of artworks being described as a strange weave of proximity and distance). On a collective level, the weave of culture itself could be seen as a fabric of holes.

The work I have been doing over the last 25 years has attempted to render unreliable the defining distance between "makings" we deem proper to culture and the "givens" we deem proper to nature. And while in language nature and culture seem to grow increasingly inadequate as meaningful terms of reference, their interfolding in everyday life has never felt more pressing.

augr represents the third of three works taking up distinct approaches to literally putting their distances and proximities on, under, and through, the table.

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Ana Moyer
"Liminal Existence and Suffering: An Examination of Rites of Passage Related to Inuit Tattooing"
Academic paper, 2020

Image: Germaine Arnaktauyok, Tattoo Lady, 1999

View an excerpt of Ana Moyer's paper (image scan).

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Dong-Kyoon Nam
Recycling No.2, 2016
Sculptural Assemblage, RCA RCD 330-8 (TV+VCR) / Model Year: 2000

As part of the serial project of Recycled Sensations (2016-present), this work attempts to imagine and visualize the unsettled, precarious nature of ecological assemblage through the microcosmic perspective, using a utilitarian object/technology in the context of the nature-culture continuum. It is also partially inspired by the new media concepts such as the "ecological biogram" by Brian Massumi (2002/2015) and the "virtual diagram as abstract machine" by Deleuze and Guattari (1972/1980) through a sculptural mode of assemblage that emphasizes the quality of dynamic suspension, intensity, transformation and relationality.

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Kim Neudorf
a generally messy entity, 2021
Oil on canvas

This painting emerged without a plan over the past couple of weeks while trying to return to some kind of "routine." It also comes out of a return to recent dreams to gauge where I'm at these days; the seemingly nonsensical content and plot of these dreams allow a kind of distance from the overwhelming presence of this past year's backlog of emotional processing. The painting is maybe tuned in somehow to these dreams, which included fun things like groups of cartoonish hippies who helped me build a flying machine, David Lynch serving me beer in a boot-shaped glass, and various horses in bathtubs (to which I, unimpressed, responded to by saying: "those are generally very messy entities.")

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Katie Oates
Untitled instant photos, 2020
Fujifilm Instax

I'm sending along my instant photos for the exhibition. Use whichever ones you'd like, and however many you'd like! I realized after taking a few that my flashbulb is unfortunately out, so it was difficult getting the right light indoors. Most are either washed or blacked out, so sorry if they're not very useful! And if you can't use any, that's fine too.

I hope your work's going well for you, and that you take plenty of time to relax. I miss ya and I can't wait until the world calms down and we can see each other again.

p.s. Feel free to use this note in the exhibition as well, if you need more tactile, ephemeral material.

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Sasha Opeiko with Martin Stevens
Extraordinary Measures, 2020
Film, 6:23

Extraordinary Measures is a collaborative short film that conceptually responds to the Covid-19 physical distancing protocols, as well as the domestic experience of isolation during this time. How is our perception of the domestic space altered by the anxiety and fears associated with the invisible presence of a pandemic outside the safety of home? Our sense of scale and time, relative to the outside, is transformed. Malaise and purposelessness turn to inquisitive attentiveness and re-evaluation of overly familiar objects. Using the artists' own home and various objects and furniture at hand, the film consists of staged scenes where two objects are separated by a two-meter yellow measuring stick.

The film partly recalls 'memento mori' still life, but at the same time is a lighthearted experiment of applying physical distancing rules to commonplace objects. Are things potential carriers of the virus? What is a safe distance and what is the true measure of a safe distance?

While the film is accessible on all smartphone and tablet devices, it is optimized for full-screen laptop or monitor. It is recommended to view the film with high quality speakers or headphones.

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Michelle Paterock
Gingko, 2020
Oil on wood (diptych)

I was living in a small town in Japan last year with plans to return to Canada in the late summer, when I had to leave abruptly in April due to the pandemic. As I processed leaving the town and prematurely finding myself in new surroundings, I reflected on the dissonance between how I felt about my experiences living there at the time and the nostalgic filter my memory imposed on those same experiences. This inspired the creation of a series of diptychs with the same image repeated, filtered through different shades and colours. In my recent work, I am also considering the poetic effect of the passage of time and the ways in which awareness and consideration of time colour our perceptions.

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Kirsty Robertson
Together We Average as Zero, 2020
Various works

On March 13th, because of the pandemic, the Visual Arts Centre was locked down. For four months, the Artlab Gallery's recent exhibition, Together We Average as Zero, remained installed in the abandoned building. Together We Average as Zero was curated by undergraduate students with Kirsty Robertson in the Museum and Curatorial Practicum. Though no one could enter the gallery, two banners reading ARE YOU READY TO SURVIVE THE NOW and ALL FUTURES ARE CONNECTED could be seen from the outside through the glass atrium. The accidental prescience of Together We Average as Zero is a reminder that pandemics may pass but the damage done to the world will continue to impact our futures.

Organizers' note: In tandem with the launch of the Centre for Sustainable Curating, Kirsty Robertson has also collaborated with the Artlab to reduce the eco footprint for this exhibition. No vinyl wall texts or plastic-based exhibition labels are used. The gray paint on these walls was chosen for its zero VOC and zero emissions. The Artlab looks forward to working with Kirsty and the Centre to implement long-term, eco-minded exhibition practices on future exhibitions and events.

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Geordie Shepherd
Wolf, 2020; Pregnant Sheep, 2020
Stoneware, △6 Ox, glaze, slip

Herd Immunity

I am a Shepherd who actually did raise sheep when I as a young boy. Predation took many forms, none of them pleasant, and though it was nature's way, acceptance never came easily, if it ever did. During Covid, many people have rationalized humanities losses as personal irresponsibility for not redressing pre-existing conditions, then, like imperial soldiers, closed ranks to hide the gaps. And it made me wonder what they'd do if they ever heard the Wolf howling for them. Would they try to rationalize with it as those fangs sunk in? "I am healthy and hale, take another - him over there has a lame leg." But the eyes would hungrily reply, "You, here, now!" And acceptance wouldn't come easily, if it ever did.

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Andrew Silk
Lifehacket, 2020
Reclaimed pine

"Grab onto the things that float,

not the ones that sink."

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Christine Sprengler
Fractured Fifties: The Cinematic Periodization and Evolution of a Decade,
Oxford University Press, forcoming 2022

Image: screenshot from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)

View an except from Christine's forthcoming book, as well as a series of research images for recent articles (image scan).

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The Coves: Researching Reciprocal Rituals: A collaborative practice by Michelle Wilson, Bridget Koza, Sophie Wu, Azadeh Odlin
2020 - ?

Michelle Wilson: Harvested Coves clay, cattail fluff, Manitoba bee's wax, commercial potting soil, embroidery thread, blackberry dyed Indian crochet thread, heavy-metal contaminant report, scavenged branches, jet, succulents, time

Bridget Koza: Harvested Coves clay, cattail fluff, reclaimed wood, recycled t-shirt macrame

Azadeh Odlin: Cyanotype on canvas, leaves, beads, thread

Sophie Wu: pencil drawings of found trash

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Jessica Woodward
Untitled, 2020
Silkscreen prints

The environmental crisis always weighs on my mind. My work focuses on endangered animals and human impact on the environment. As an individual person what I can do to help seems so small and distant to the bigger picture. This past year has put a tragic explanation point on these larger problems and has strengthened my feelings of hopelessness for our planet and the beings that live here. But I'm trying to keep my head above water. I will continue to do everything I can to make the world a better place for the people and animals we share it with. Maybe others will too and the gap between our collective actions and actual change will get closer.

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Distance makes the heart grow weak,
January 15 - 28, 2021 in the Artlab Gallery and virtually
Organized by Dickson Bou and Ruth Skinner
Banner image cites Sasha Opeiko and Martin Stevens, Extraordinary Measures (2020), short film All artworks and writings © their respective artists and researchers