BY PAUL GESSELL
Marc Courtemanche from the Outaouais community of L’Ange-Gardien is an artist, but also a magician, as revealed in the installation called The Studio he created for Carleton University Art Gallery.
The installation looks like a carpenter’s workshop. But it is really a magician’s workshop filled with life-sized objects. The difference is that the “wooden” chairs are actually ceramic. The same goes for the wheelbarrow in a corner. Likewise, the “wooden” handles on hammers and other tools neatly arranged on “wooden” boards nailed to the wall. Even the piles of “sawdust” on the floor are ceramic shavings.
The Studio is one of several artworks in the Carleton exhibition called Making Otherwise: Craft and Material Fluency in Contemporary Art. The six artists in the exhibition all produce work that hovers in that grey zone between “art” and “craft.” Most of the works assembled by Carleton curator Heather Anderson are daring and have a touch of whimsy.
Works traditionally called craft are all about the material used. The term craft also implies that the object is functional, or at least is rooted in functionality. A porcelain vase is an example of craft. It may be beautiful but it still has a function — a purpose — in this case, to hold a bouquet of flowers.
An idea is the central focus of art, which should also have some transformative powers. Think of Tom Thomson’s painting Jack Pine. It has no purpose except to be art, in this case, a painting of a solitary tree in the wilderness that has been transformed into a symbol of Canadian fortitude in battling the elements.
Carleton’s Making Otherwise presents objects that could be labelled art or craft. Courtemanche has assembled a realistic looking carpenter’s studio. But he has transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary by fashioning the objects, not of wood, but of ceramic.
Vancouver artist Paul Mathieu has created very ordinarily shaped porcelain vases and bowls and, then in a twist, sent the china to China to be covered in erotic hand-painted scenes. (Isn’t everything outsourced to China these days?) Think of ancient Greek vases depicting erotic scenes but, in this case, the scenes on Mathieu’s vases are showing very contemporary people and situations. Mathieu, not surprisingly, is the author of the book Sex Pots: Eroticism in Ceramics.
Janet Morton of Guelph does amazing transformations with wool, surely a craft material if there ever was one. One Morton video in the show is of a man playing a tuba. But as he plays, the tuba is slowly being covered by wool being knitted by invisible hands. In reality, the man began playing a wool-covered tuba. A video was then produced in which a strand of wool was pulled to unravel the wool-covered instrument. By playing the video backwards, it appears the tuba is slowly being encased in wool. Yes, that’s art.
Other artworks in the show include very artful quilts produced by Richard Boulet of Edmonton, stunning embroidery by Sarah Maloney of Halifax and “baskets” woven to become human portraits by Ursula Johnson of Eskasoni, N.S.
Making Otherwise continues at Carleton University Art Gallery until Sept. 14.