(Not so) blank slate

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East Campus Hall was packed to the gills with artists and aficionados for the opening of the department of fine arts’ 40th annual fourth-year honours undergraduate exhibition, Blank Slate

The show, which runs March 20 to April 5, features artwork by 33 students, marking the culmination of their efforts throughout their undergraduate experience at UW. 

While the exhibition showcases a number of works rendered with traditional media such as paintings and drawings, the overwhelming majority of art was created using particularly unconventional methods and materials. To name a few, these included hybrid digital media, salt crystals, vinyl, steamed wood, plastic wrap, and even french fries.

“I always thought my fourth-year exhibition would be exhibiting some sort of painting or drawing … you never really know where it’s going to take you. I didn’t see myself ending up showing salt covered objects,” said Miranda Marcotte, one of this year’s graduating students. 

The students’ growth has not been limited to their artistic practice, either. Prof. Tara Cooper observed: “Four years isn’t very long, and yet for a university-aged student a lot happens in those four years. It is strange to look at the class from a perspective of growth. I can literally see the difference. There are shifts in how they carry their bodies and move through the world. There is a sense of being more comfortable in their skins and in their ideas.”

The opening reception included a ceremonial component, acknowledging each artist and their contributions to the exhibition. To the surprise of the students, a new award was announced to celebrate excellence of emerging artists and professional standards in studio practice. The recipient for the inaugural Auguste Office of the President Curator’s Choice Award was Audrey D’Astous, for her plaster piece I will call the police I am going to go to the police

The work — abstracted forms made of plaster casts taken from socks — is intended to explore the functional, historical, and intimate properties of worn clothing. 

“I always try to making something different, unique. Something that’s never been done,” said D’Astous. 

When asked about the provocative title of the piece, she replied, “I like to give a title that makes you look twice at what the piece is … it just gives it whole different context.”

The reception also included a contemporary treat for its audience. Julia Scappatura presented a live rendition of her performative piece Self, which involved wrapping herself in alternating layers of packing tape and plastic wrap before cutting herself out of the “second skin.”

The emotionally-charged performance had the audience captivated and concerned as she painstakenly wrapped herself in increasingly restrictive material, then slowly and triumphantly freed herself from the encasement. 

“For the four years that I’ve been coming here, I’ve been trying to find a medium, or a way to express myself,” said Scappatura. “I’ve found over the years I’ve used all different kinds of media, but I’ve found that with performance, as I am moving I can feel the audience breathing with me.” 

When asked about her relationship with contemporary art, she said, “Contemporary art should reflect who you are as a person, and how you reflect the world. It also should influence and affect society. 

“I feel the world is lacking a lot of depth and heart, and I think that art, through work that speaks to the people, can really start helping society to grow and become healthier.”

While some contemporary art can be challenging to the casual viewer, a number of exhibiting artists had advice to offer UW students. 

“Exposing yourself to more art is the key thing. Reading more, going to see more art … it will enhance your experience and teach you something,” said Alice Huang, runner-up for the Curator’s Choice Award.

Many of the newly-graduating students intend to develop their artistic practices, with some hoping to continue their art education. If the quality of the work shown at the exhibition is any indication, we’ll likely be seeing a lot from these newly graduated artists in the future. In the meantime, you can catch their works at the UW Art Gallery until April 5.

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