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Two Walls [ATA article]


Ken Gerberick, Crushed Wall (1992)

Laura Moore’s exhibition, one man’s junk, showing at grunt until March 22nd, looks at the product of consumer waste and discarded objects. In this exhibition, Moore uses limestone as a canvas to document discarded electronic objects, such as old computer monitors, that most tend to overlook. Looking through grunt’s archives, you will find that this theme of artists critiquing consumer waste features prominently in the history of the Vancouver art scene. The themes of consumption and discarded objects are particularly evident in the 1992 grunt exhibit Two Walls by Vancouver assemblage artists Ken Gerberick and Marcia Pitch. The artists’ respective pieces, Crushed Wall and Off the Wall, which filled two walls in the grunt space with found objects, expressed an overwhelming feeling that society was mired in over-consumption, consumerism and waste.

Gerberick’s industrial themed objects versus Pitch’s toy themed works created a striking juxtaposition of discarded objects, affording viewers no escape from their complicity in the issue at hand. The assemblage art aesthetic featured prominently in the grunt archives during the late 1980s and ‘90s, but this aesthetic seems to have dropped out in the mid-‘90s. Gerberick and Pitch both identify rising rent prices as one of the contributing factors to this decline, making it more difficult for artists and galleries to exhibit this type of show, and note that assemblage pieces generally are not of interest to commercial galleries.

When asked about how he responds to people questioning the validity of assemblage art, Gerberick replied that he expects it:

“I mean, it’s funny too, because anybody that figures out which end of a paintbrush to use can slop paint on canvas. Some people do it really well; an awful lot of them don’t. Assemblage art is the same way. I mean, bad assemblage makes me just want to go back to doing silverpoint illustration, which I used to do. A lot of people figure ‘ah, you find something and you glue it down and there you go.’ It’s like abstract art, and I love abstract art, and bad abstract art just sucks.”

Gerberick, coming from a punk tradition, feels that if his work does not challenge or discomfort people then it’s probably not incisive enough. He sees a connection between assemblage art, Dada (Kurt Schwitters being his hero) and punk/noise music. The central concern, of course, in these forms of media is the control over materials. It allows the artist to disassemble and reassemble things in ways the original creators did not intend.

Marcia Pitch

Marcia Pitch, Off The Wall (1992)

Pitch discussed a common interest in using sound in her practice, but expressed that “it’s not sound in an electronic kind of way and the stuff that I like is sort of low brow or low tech. I like technical but the low; you know, the transistors and the wires and the grooves and nuts and the bolts and that kind of stuff.” She draws inspiration from children’s toys, particularly the older, less mass-produced toys that allow for a total transformation of the object— “you know, the plastic and all that stuff that people really hate, I love to work with.” Pitch noted that the materials found in these older, more generic toys tend to have a warmer, more human and less technical quality to them. As an artist who gathers the majority of her materials from secondhand stores, she has noticed that the increase in demand for ‘vintage’ objects is leaving her with fewer materials to work with, but what she finds most salient is what people are discarding:

“I guess the stuff that people throw away is new – like, you know, toasters. Anything that’s broken is never fixed, because it’s more expensive to fix than to replace. But I haven’t been able to use that stuff, because there’s no human element to it for me.”

There is a unifying theme seen ion the work of Gerberick, Pitch and Moore, mainly their concern with making viewers aware of their own complicity in consumerism, consumption and waste production. The changes in the “junk” we consume and dispose of has made it more difficult for assemblage artists to remove or distort the industrial/technological stamp of the image. Moore faces a similar dilemma, and by creating these objects in limestone she is able to bring a more human element into these ubiquitous plastic machines.

Marcia Pitch’s Between Madness and Delight will be showing at the Reach Gallery Museum on September 25th, 2014.

About Audrey MacDonald:

Audrey moved moved to Vancouver after graduating from the University of Alberta with a degree in Physical Anthropology and Linguistics. She’s enrolled in the Art History Diploma program at UBC and began volunteering at grunt and the Vancouver Art Gallery shortly afterward to become more familiar with the Vancouver arts community. She is currently a docent at the VAG and continue to work on the labour of love that is the grunt archives.

This past September, Audrey started an Internship at the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology where she is working as the Curator of Archaeology, Research and Collections Care Management. She is interested in public programming and creating inclusivity within the arts.

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An Image On An Image: A conversation with Marcus Bowcott [ATA article]

A raw steak must be among the least likely of things you’d expect to find in a cardboard box of papers. But that’s exactly what myself and another volunteer found, to our surprise, during an afternoon of work on grunt’s archive a couple of weeks ago. We discovered that the uncannily realistic-looking steak had formed part of a mid-nineties grunt exhibition called Palimpsest, and when the artist behind it, Marcus Bowcott, happened to stop in a few days later, it seemed only natural to catch up with him to discuss his art, personal philosophy, and what he’s doing now.

I took a rainy-day journey out to visit the artist in his studio in peaceful North Vancouver – a town that Bowcott’s long-time partner, Helene, describes as a “bedroom community, separated from agriculture, industry, entertainment”– an exemplification of the separation in the modern world of the facets of our lives, the way in which we work, eat, play and sleep in locations far removed from one another.

The modernization of the human experience is clearly something of combined terror and fascination to Bowcott. As we sipped on tea provided by Helene, who Bowcott describes as “a partner, in so many ways, in developing my work,” the artist described to me a recent trip down to Seattle, during which he was struck by “just the number of cars on the highway… The automobile is gobbling up energy.”

The automobile, in its used-up state as compacted refuse, has been a recurring theme in Bowcott’s work for some time. The painting exhibited at Bowcott’s grad show from London’s Royal College of Art featured wrecked and compacted cars, and since then, he’s explored the theme in sculpture, notably in a piece, 25 Standard Stoppages, currently being featured at Seattle’s Punch Gallery as part of a show, curated by Rock Hushka, titled Whither the American Dream?. He’s also developing a massively scaled-up version of the sculpture for Vancouver’s upcoming Sculpture Biennale, although, as he wryly comments, “people don’t want to show wrecked cars.”

“The bull doesn’t look that big here [in the photo] but he was 1200 pounds, and the whole gallery became like a manger… There were tons of people packed in there, but all of a sudden you’re honoring this animal, something that is often considered to be below us.”

The wrecked cars in question provide Bowcott with a vehicle to examine modern industry and its often unexamined aftermath. He titled a handful of these sculptures Das Kapital, which he explains as “a reference to our surplus capital, our surplus value/goods…which I’m presenting here as wrecked cars”, a leftover of the industrial process upon which most of us will never lay our eyes.

Another, perhaps more tragic, forgotten leftover of the industrial process was featured in Bowcott’s Palimpsest, the show that, years later, would inspire this article. Something amazing was accomplished in addition to the hyper-realistic steak sculptures and paintings of packaged steaks: for one night, the gallery was emptied of breakable artworks, and a live bull was brought in to inhabit the space. Marcus and Helene evocatively described what it was like to experience such a surreal coming-together of incongruities –

“The bull doesn’t look that big here [in the photo] but he was 1200 pounds, and the whole gallery became like a manger… There were tons of people packed in there, but all of a sudden you’re honoring this animal, something that is often considered to be below us. The cave painting [which was projected onto the bull’s body as part of the show] had much to do with feeding people. They were honoring the animal…and today we just shop for meat. We all had to be really quiet to keep it calm; that kind of hush was a really interesting addition to the installation and performance.”

“We live atomized lives,” Helene continues. “With technology, people become more and more isolated from each other. The same thing happens with food production. In many different aspects of our life…we are becoming more and more specialized.”

A critique or exploration of that atomization could be seen to run through Bowcott’s work as a unifying thread, perhaps in a sense of superimposition, of “stacking, or layering,” Helene tells me. “Even Palimpsest, the word, has to do with layering… An image on an image,” she says. A cave painting projected on the side of a bull. Crushed cars on top of cars on top of cars.

Visit Marcus Bowcott’s website.

About Genevieve Michaels:

Genevieve is studying art history and creative writing at the University of British Columbia. She has been volunteering at grunt since last October, writing and assisting with maintenance and digitization of the archives. She also writes about music and city life for local magazine Beatroute BC. Follow her on twitter: @LavenderIndigo0

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