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Featuring McMaster Alumni: K. Jennifer Bedford, Carlos Granados-Ocon and Stephanie Vegh
February 5 – February 28, 2015
Opening Reception: Saturday, February 7, 2:00-4:00pm
Exhibition tours every Saturday @ 2:00pm
Art Crawl: Friday, February 13, 7:00-10:00pm
As Hamilton Artists Inc. embarks on it’s 40th year of operations, it is pleased to present TRACES, an exhibition of work by McMaster alumni, K. Jennifer Bedford, Carlos Granados-Ocon and Stephanie Vegh. The exhibition provides a counterpoint to Hamilton Artists Inc.’s awards exhibition, IGNITION 3, featuring the work of four outstanding graduating students from McMaster University’s Studio Art program.
Each of the artists in TRACES engage with elements of the past, and in effect, critique the flow of information. Stephanie Vegh’s Eyrie Series probes vulnerabilities within absolutist views of the past through a reworking Bewick’s History of British Birds. Vegh skillfully dissects and inserts imagery all the while fusing the traits of the species depicted in this 18th Century ontological text with character descriptions from Jane Eyre. Vegh successfully subverts the authority of the medium by displacing established perspectives through the interpretation of the reader/ audience. Similarly, Carlos Granados-Ocon problematizes institutional authority by employing the archive to highlight its effect on the construction of historiography and collective memory. In this installation, Grandos-Ocon has created a collection of seemingly inconsequential personal ephemera, and legitimizes them by using archival standards, in effect, creating a new means of display and access that draws from personal interpretation. K. Jennifer Bedford’s series of photographs coerce the viewer into an intimate depiction of rural and suburban houses around Hamilton. Obsolete television antennae connect the series, their signals long dead. The choice of winter scenes further a symbolic connection to time, silence and ephemerality. In a time when technology is constantly shifting, each new iteration threatening and outpacing the last, this body of work functions as another kind of archive, reminding us of a time when no one questioned the longevity of this particular medium, just as no one questioned the zoological authority of Bewick’s birds or the (Colonial) authority of the archive. Never yielding to authority, by drawing on, engaging with, and critiquing these trace elements of the past, each of the artists in this exhibition acknowledge these structures and frameworks from a contemporary perspective.
Art school. The academy. The institution. The training grounds for artists and critical thinkers of our generation. Tracing its roots back to the 17th century and emerging under French monarch Louis XIV, the original purpose of the academy was to create painters and sculptors capable of serving and glorifying the crown. Just a few hundred years later modernism claimed that art was not something that can be taught and that modern genius sprung into the world fully formed, unrefined by schools and studies. Although this argument can seem suspect to our postmodern sensibilities, when we survey the 19th century we cannot help but notice that the great art of the era was in large part not supported by the institution. In our globalized culture of fractured narratives we struggle with the hangover of the academy. We are suspicious of art schools, their authority and their ability to canonize.
Yet the art school is still with us in its many forms, structures and dynamics. It continues to exist as a gauntlet, a rite of passage, and every year a new batch of students eagerly dives into the endless critiques and all night art history cramming sessions. We are told, indirectly and directly, that university will prepare you for a better future and for the job market, ensuring that you will be able to tread water and keep your head above the rising tide of financial collapse. But even within the university there is the anomaly; the programs that offer no clear road to success, the programs that demand not only complete commitment to a life of creativity but from the day you begin you are constantly told your will fail. Students are repeatedly bludgeoned with the hammer that is the myth of the starving artist, constantly being undermined with questions like “what is your back up plan?”
So where does a young artist look to for support? Naturally they look towards those who have broken ground ahead of them: the graduates of their program who are active, contributing artists and members of their community. TRACES, the McMaster Alumni Exhibition is an opportunity to reflect on the role of the Studio Art program in preparing and enabling the professional artists that construct our culture. In formulating this exhibition the jury did not consciously identify themes; however, in reviewing the work of the participating artists, connections emerge. For example, the sad and outdated antennas in K. Jennifer Bedford’s series of photographs, weeping rust and harkening back to a time when getting twenty television stations was the height of entertainment. These antennas assert a distinctly analogue presence in a time of smart phone and digital connectivity, a utilitarian architecture from a past age standing to the side of houses that seem quaintly posed for MLS listings. Bedford’s attempt to document this dead technology can be seen as an impulse to collect, not unlike Carlos Granados-Ocon’s examination of the archive in our daily life. Granados-Ocon’s act of curating his “personal archive” is not simply framing the ephemera of his existence, but removing the chosen object from circulation. This act of framing preserves but also divorces the objects from their relevance – it is an act of futile navel gazing that questions our cultural drive to collect and preserve as a means of embedding meaning, of signifying an existence that is important.
In contrast to Granados-Ocon’s building of an archive, Stephanie Vegh draws from a historical survey, specifically Bewick’s History of British Birds, as the starting point for her series, Eyrie. Vegh pulls imagery from this 18th century ornithological survey, overlaying and altering the images of birds in order to create complex identities that reference Jane Eyre, the quintessential romantic text from the era. The choice to modify and dissect a respected historical text as an exercise in constructing literary identity is, in a way, an investigation of the act of collecting. It speaks about the authority of a historic document/survey and the necessity of questioning our culture’s reverence for things “historical.”
The three alumni presented in this exhibition are collectors. Although subversive and unique in their own ways, they all explore the veracity of narrative through the act of accumulation. A collection presents points of reference that through inference provide a trajectory. The works of these artists points to history in order to question the direction we are heading. Is this collective desire to question the status quo the zeitgeist of their generation, or the impact of the McMaster Studio program on their development? This is a question only the artist can answer, but what is obvious is the level of refinement in the critical re-framing that each artist undertakes in their process.
Katrina Jennifer Bedford is a lens based artist, art educator and cultural advocate. She received an Honours BA degree combined in Multimedia and Visual Art from McMaster University and a diploma in Applied Photography from Sheridan College. Currently, she holds the position of Professor at Durham College teaching in the Digital Photography and Video Production programs. Jennifer has worked with notable not-for-profit organizations such as the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Cambridge Libraries and Galleries, Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener Area (CAFKA), Art Gallery of Burlington, and Oakville Galleries. Her photographs have been exhibited in Canada and the United States and her photos have been published in Azure magazine, Border Crossings, Canadian Art online, C Magazine and in numerous Canadian exhibition catalogues.
Carlos Granados-Ocon is a Toronto based artist working in print, sculpture and photography. He received a BA at McMaster University and holds a Masters of Information from the University of Toronto where he specialized in the archival sciences and their particular relation to art institutions. His work draws from his archival knowledge and uses archival techniques in the creation, description and organization of his work. Granados-Ocon’s work has been exhibited across Ontario including a solo exhibition at the University of Toronto Art Centre. Granados-Ocon has also been an Assistant Archivist for the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, a Digital Archives Assistant for the Art Gallery of Ontario and has presented at numerous conferences surrounding art and archives.
Stephanie Vegh (born Hamilton, Canada, 1980) is a visual artist and writer whose research is concerned with the reimagining of history and literature. She obtained a Combined Honours BA in Art and Comparative Literature from McMaster University before studying her MFA at the Glasgow School of Art. She has since served as Artist-in- Residence at the Repton School in Derbyshire, England and written essays and reviews for various galleries and publications in the United Kingdom and Canada. Since returning to Hamilton in 2007, her drawings have been included in group shows in Glasgow, Hamilton, Toronto, Kitchener and Winnipeg as well as recent solo exhibitions at Kitchener’s Rotunda Gallery, Hamilton’s Nathaniel Hughson Gallery and the Leeds College of Art and Design in England. She is a two-time recipient of an Ontario Arts Council Visual Arts Project Grant and is currently represented in Hamilton by the Nathaniel Hughson Gallery.
Brandon Vickerd is a Hamilton based sculptor and Professor of Visual Arts at York University. He has exhibited his sculpture across Canada and internationally, and has received numerous awards and grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council. www.brandonvickerd.com