Seven of the 2021–2022 Master of Fine Arts (MFA) graduates from the University of Ottawa can finally publicly show their work in person, as the Ottawa Art Gallery presents Abound until March 6.
Both the students and the OAG are trying to help the public find their way back to the desire for connection in both natural and built environments, but also “to think critically about boundaries — pushed, explored, respected, and deeply felt over the passage of time.” This objective was obstructed by the recent protests. The start of the exhibition was planned for February 9. After the Gallery was closed along with other non-essentials, the artists had to wait another three weeks before their work was finally shown in real life.
Jenny McMaster and Peter Kohut, two of the artists, say they are relieved to finally be able to show their art to the world in a non-virtual way. Both of their work requires a direct connection with the public.
McMaster immerses the public in her fragmented installation, Hare in Situ, which uses handmade paper, sculpture, animation, and sound to depict the hare’s habitat. “My explorations also revealed the animality of art making the direct engagement with the materials. Many of the sounds used in the installation are actually recordings of my art-making process,” McMaster says.
Kohut’s thesis was reviewed online, as each of his panel had to view his work virtually. “This is really the first time these paintings are seeing the light of day. I’m curious to see how they will be received,” he says, explaining that the vibrant colours, materiality, and scale of his series of paintings are not seen to their best advantage on digital platforms. The oranges depicted in his work are used to talk about ideas such as hope, anticipation, and the desire to connect with others through touch and other non-screen ways.
“The repeated image of the orange is like a touchstone, a meditation (not of escape from, but of engagement with) the event of now,” Kohut says.
Having to deal with constant unexpected events has been most art students’ reality for the last two years. “The shift from in-person to virtual meant PowerPoints rather than in-person gatherings and organic conversations,” explains McMaster. Though it did have a positive impact on her artist’s perspective: “If it weren’t for the lockdown, I probably wouldn’t have gone on so many walks and discovered the seed pods featured in my animation sequence, or conceived of the idea of sending the experience of touch through the airwaves using a contact microphone inserted into a sculpture.”
For Kohut, it has been a challenge to balance his mental and physical health along with the rigorous self-examination that an MFA requires. He also pointed out that each of the graduates missed out on a lot of socializing. This prevented the program from becoming a close-knit environment and made it harder to make new contacts and network. He also recognizes all the accommodations from the facilities staff, who have had to adapt to such an unstable context.
The Ottawa Art Gallery presents Abound until March 6. Visit the gallery from Wednesday to Sunday, 10am–6pm.