Queen's University — Since 1873
11th March 2011

Bustling bodies

Fourth-year BFA students Laura Stewart, Katie Strang & Bronwyn Loucks bring their Body of Work to Union Gallery

In their collaborative exhibition at Union Gallery Body of Work, Laura Stewart blurs the line between nature and its distorted forms with bright paintings, Bronwyn Loucks grapples with the body’s presence in real and imagined space in her abstract and ethereal works, while Katie Strang investigates  the language of human form using life-like wire sculptures.
In their collaborative exhibition at Union Gallery Body of Work, Laura Stewart blurs the line between nature and its distorted forms with bright paintings, Bronwyn Loucks grapples with the body’s presence in real and imagined space in her abstract and ethereal works, while Katie Strang investigates the language of human form using life-like wire sculptures. (Supplied)

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The Union Gallery, a room nestled subtly within Stauffer Library is a hidden gem that I had not yet discovered until viewing the Body of Work exhibit. To be frank, I had no previous knowledge of the gallery, the artist or their work.

Walking into the gallery with no preconceptions of how it would be laid out, I had little to start with; a fresh slate. The Union Gallery looks like a lot of other galleries I have been to: a neutral coloured, garage-esque open space, with nothing to distract from the artwork.

I began my exploration with a walk around the room, getting a sense of the layout and my first impressions of each piece. The first piece, an oil on canvas titled “Learning to Breath” by Bronwyn Loucks, a combination of warm pastel colours and deep reds, blues and purples. The first thing I noticed was Loucks’ attention to physiological detail: the highlighted body muscles and ribcage, and her accurate proportions that could possibly be inspired by figure drawing. The way in which the colour suddenly goes dark at the bottom makes it appear as though this has been painted on top of something else, stressing Loucks’ focus on physical presence in reality versus a dream state.

Perhaps the most eerily disturbing piece I encountered was Laura Stewart’s “Dead Noise,” an oil and mixed media on panel piece. A group of deer heads are in the foreground, one bright yellow with its eyes a distant black and tongue hanging out. The stairs in the background imply these deer heads are hidden in a dark basement, secluded from everyday life. This becomes a reoccurring theme in Stewart’s later pieces. While we assume these deer are dead, the one in front has a sort of life-like quality as indicated by its colour.

This piece is followed by “I felt it just then—or was it a memory” by Bronwyn Loucks, which, similar to her first piece, used arching human figures. However, they were significantly less defined. I noticed immediately the unfinished limbs of both figures and began to make connections between both a haired figure and one appearing more like a figment.

As stated in the pamphlet, Loucks interests lie in the idea that the body can be present in reality, or in an imagined world. Her thoughts are illustrated through this work, which, from my perspective, showcases a woman’s body disconnecting from its soul, but also stressing that they are, also, connected through the blue drip line trailing towards the black.

All of Stewart’s pieces focus on animals or hybrids, featuring distorted human qualities that appear more animalistic. Her last piece “The Sleeper,” however, makes a clear distinction between animals and humans, both of which were provided with detailed features that clearly identify them as one or the other. What is particularly interesting about this piece is the blanket of fish lying over the sleeping man. This perhaps insinuates that both reality and dream-like worlds can coexist.

While the layout was relatively simple, the way in which the pieces were ordered appeared to follow some sort of pattern. The figures in each work progressively became clearer, becoming more human-like, rather than sporadic limbs cut off by an explosion of solid colour. Placed in the centre of the gallery are three wire and mixed media designs, “coil 1, 2 and 3” by Katie Strang.

This trio of pieces depict human bodies in different positions, one more drastic than the others. Upon close examination, you can see spinal cords and brains intricately molded onto or inside of the human frames. While the bodies are abstract, part of Strang’s intention is to show how body movement can be expressive despite a lack of facial emotion.

Body of Work provides the Queen’s campus with a colourful and disturbing array of mixed media and oil works that illicit questioning of the distinction between reality and imagination. I can confidently say that this exhibit is worth more than an informal glance.

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