In Place of Sight at the Audain Gallery, Vancouver
By Yani Kong
Add the phrase “…in a pandemic” to the end of any sentence right now and the action you describe will acquire the qualities of urgency, adaptability, perseverance, and exhaustion. Even though the zeitgeist favours some combination of sweatsuits and hiding, we still aim to proceed. The exhibition In Place of Sight at the Audain Gallery marks this intrepid procession forward as it gathers a graduating cohort of artists from the MFA program of The School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU. Caitlin Almond, Hannah Campbell, Xinyue Liu, Jennifer Tham, and Ghinwa Yassine work across different media, but they share a process-based practice that draws from common themes of silence, force, concealed possibility, and the expression of deep human feeling.
Because of public health restrictions, I was not able to attend this exhibition in person, so the artists resiliently shared their works with me via email, video call, and a few other creative connections. As I thought about these pieces remotely, the aptly-titled exhibition took on the ghostly effect of so much digital work these days, where the experience is perceptibly real even when the thing is not there.
Tham’s piece Curious and Curiousear is a score that waits for a choir. Tham collected found haikus from phone poles along the waterfront in East Vancouver and mapped them into a sound and listening event that is still to come. In place of song, she mounts a graphic book to the wall as a drawn expression. Her instructions guide me down a long path, a journey I can start but have to wait to arrive. How do you capture the sound of yellow? What is audible in the stirring of 5 white clouds? How do we hear 59 half-eaten thoughts? In its incomplete state, the beholder steps into line and waits for the score to be realized.
There is an expansive quality to the works in this exhibition as they open up a portal towards the artists. Almond’s sculptural screen series Snare gives this idea a kind of physical form. Largescale web-like formations constructed of wood and plaster are brightly painted in dense patterns. Viewers are encouraged to look through them towards her collection of abstract paintings – a gaze that draws attention to the artist’s medium. Dense paint declares the object’s presence but conceals the form beneath the surface, gesturing to the frame and what this foundational structure can make possible.
The overall tone of this show is elegiac. There is a sorrow or melancholy attached to these works that gives room for the viewer to feel alongside them. I don’t want to give too much credit to the current state of things, yet in both Perennial, a film by Liu, and the photo series Swaying by Campbell, the artists appear to be making peace with an estranged world. Familiar places are revisited but neither artist seems to feel wholly present. Liu asks, “When will you come home?” as her footage of the washed tones of the sea fade in quality. Almost in answer to Liu’s refrain, Campbell photographs her shadow to prove she is still here.
Triumphantly, Yassine’s suite of works that compose KickQueen remind us we are still alive. She takes as her departure a viral scene from the October 2019 uprisings in Beirut: Malak Alawye kicks an armed male guard in the crotch. In both film and motorized sculpture, Yassine repeats this kicking motion, which in its looping creates what she calls “a magic potion against forgetting.” Across photographs, sculpture, and the artist’s own videoed body, the kicking form is at the ready – a container for force. In her documentation, Yassine states: “To Lebanese Women: Lebanon will not change until you kick patriarchy in the crotch.” It is a call to action and reminder of the work that must be done, even by bodies that are tired and depleted.
In Place of Sight is beyond commendable. These artists have released their work to an exhibition space that isn’t able to open to the public, so the sense that things are still yet to be realized about them is somehow fitting as the artists bring their degrees to a close.
In Place of Sight continues until December 12.
Audain Gallery: https://www.sfu.ca/galleries/audain-gallery/InPlaceofSight.html
The Audain Gallery is currently closed to the public in accordance with SFU’s Safety Guidelines under the H1 Impact Scale.
The gallery is accessible.
Yani Kong is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow of Contemporary Art at The School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU. She is the managing editor of the Comparative Media Arts Journal, a freelance writer and critic, and an instructor and TA in Art History and Communication.