The most immediate impression as you walk into the 2010 BFA exhibition is a sense of maturity—maturity both in the works of art and their presentation, and maturity in relation to undergraduate shows of recent memory. Showing a professional sophistication from the catalogue to artist cards to the layout and flow of the show, the exhibition as a whole makes an effort to stand out within its own lineage, and certainly succeeds on that aspect.
With strong works leaning heavily on technical achievements, the majority of works this year surprisingly are not void of experimentation and concept. While there is a good variety within each medium of painting, drawing and intermedia, sculpture, and printmaking, the cross-pollination between the different areas of FAB are certainly evident in this year's showing.
With more traditional figurative sculptures and prints and some memorable works from Emily Soder-Duncan and Nicole St. Jean in the front room, upstairs, Mindy Hein's process-laden paper works greet you with a palpable sense of the tactile and the obsessive. Puncturing holes that resemble more closely craters devastating the text and page, the works appear to be a watershed between a concept and new direction in an artistic process.
Self-identity remains a constant theme in undergraduate shows, and this year Camille Louis's altar of plaster-cast bear skulls gives credence to the animals who visit her in her dreams, and Kim Lew contemporizes old photographs of her parents into how she views them.
Ambitious and already making a stir, Alexander Stewart and Micheal Cor dominate the middle section of the main space. Cor, who also serves as the Visual Arts Students Association (VASA) president, channels his days as a strip miner in Northern Alberta and makes a series of paintings—though perhaps they are sculptures that are painterly, reclaimed—and a revision of our steel-and-cement esthetic. Stewart, on the other hand, has a hidden video installation around the corner towards the fire escape, expanding first the perception of the gallery space and an all too real simulation of heat. His other piece, "Gently Down the Stream" employs the ready-made of a toilet bowl (with water) and the engagement of the audience. Placing a series of $5 to $20 bills folded into little boats, Stewart is keeping track of how much money will be taken. Confronting the audience, he is asking them if they will take money out of a toilet (and on opening night, the tally thus far revealed many will). While the idea hasn't been fully developed, the execution of the experiment is enough to marvel at for now, but this is where time will tell who will grow into a mature artist and who simply enjoyed the artistic exercises.
In the mix are undoubtedly some works that mimic their instructors more than expressing their own voices, but the show as a whole was certainly one of the strongest seen in years. However, if compared with exhibitions outside of the U of A, the show remains quite conservative in trials and vision, but is a bright and hopeful sign of change in the department.
*First published in Vue Weekly