Student artists take work to new level
By Jenn Watt
Published May 1, 2018
Student artists asked their audiences to get inside their heads, look closer at the plight of ocean life and re-examine their connection with what they consume. They created art both useful and fun and took risks by putting their hopes and fears on display in front of a sea of strangers, who came to wander the aisles of the I Made It student exhibition April 21 at Haliburton School of Art + Design.
At the far end of the hall sat Integrated Design artist Emily Ratcliffe, who had transformed a classroom into an anxious and depressed mind. Within the darkened room, a second space was created with four white cloth sheets hanging from the ceiling. The viewer is asked to step inside where she finds another smaller cube – this one made of plastic. In the middle of it all is an office chair.
The viewer is cloistered inside the small space, the plastic at once transparent, but oppressively close. Music on a loop featuring slow and solemn strings and piano fills the audible space. Projected onto the sheets around the cube are words, tweets, videos and artwork about the experience of mood disorders.
“#theworstpartofdepression you stopped believing that everything will be alright” one tweet reads. “Depression makes you numb, anxiety makes you overthink everything, vicious circle that never ever stops,” another says.
As the messages cycle through, an almost imperceivable flicker of black and white artwork appears. This is the visual art of Ratcliffe, who also had a large piece hanging in the hallway during the show.
“I suffer from depression and anxiety,” she explained. “The patterns are a way to express anxiety and the emotions in my mind.”
She said it was hard for her to describe the experience of depression to people and created her installation, called Simplicated, as a way to share her inner world with others.
Opening up in this way “is a little stressful,” she said. “It’s easier to talk about now.”
Despite a growing recognition of mental health issues, Ratcliffe’s artist’s statement said it’s still hard to get the message through.
“You can write words, talk it out or express what it feels like to have a mental illness, but people will never fully understand what it is that you’re feeling,” she wrote. “Mental illness happens in the mind, making people unable to notice when someone is suffering… So, by creating a space where people are able to experience what it feels like to have depression and anxiety, it can help them understand what it is that people go through and how it affects them.”
A statement on plastic waste
Across the hall, blue light fills another classroom, which holds sea creatures suspended from the ceiling. A sawfish, porpoise, sea turtle and pelican are suspended in air as though on their way to another destination. Their bodies shimmer a little, their colours muted through a gauze. On closer inspection, they’re wrapped in plastic, composed of the things we throw away. A plastic window into the belly of the porpoise shows a jumble of garbage, including a candybar wrapper.
The depiction is not far from reality. According to a story published in National Geographic last August, microplastics (bits of debris five millimetres or less) “have turned the world’s oceans into what scientists call a ‘plastic soup.’”
Artist Jessica Dockeray said the work combines her love of art and her environmentalism.
The creatures included a sawfish (critically endangered), great white pelican, vaquita porpoise (critically endangered), green sea turtle (endangered) and a school of herring.
Fellow student Kelly Van Raay, listed on her business cards as “light biologist,” also used the inspiration of the oceans to make her eye-catching creations.
Van Raay had a table covered in an acrylic coral reef with plants shining bright blue, orange, pink and green thanks to carefully placed LED lights.
“I have always been inspired by the sheer existence of sea anemones, sea sponges and other sea organisms with little to no body symmetry,” she wrote in her artist’s statement. “Their shape, form and genetic makeup is both bizarre and artistic and at times appears to defy the logic of Mother Nature itself.”
The student artist used 3D software to create the designs, which were cut with the school’s laser cutter.
Visual and Creative Arts Diploma student Aly McDonald said the program pushed her boundaries and has helped her build a foundation of art practice, which she hopes to use as an art teacher one day.
Her nude paintings, which were brightly coloured in acrylic and oil and mounted on the wall behind her booth at the exhibition, were part of McDonald’s exploration and expression of “female and sexual empowerment, issues of body image and rape culture, self-reflection and social norms,” her artist statement said.
“In spite of a handful of hardships (as we’ve all had), Aly continues to create as a means of coping, expression and self-guidance,” the statement says.
Another Integrated Design student pushed boundaries in another way, making her life the art itself. On the wall of a classroom, Kelsey Redman posted a manifesto of sorts, which read: “Feed your soul/Feed your soil/Feed your skin/Feed your savings/Feed your knowledge/Feed your empathy/Feed your desires/Feed your creativity/Feed your community/Feed your change.”
Outside the room were clothing racks offering up free garments.
Redman, who has been a student at the college for seven years, said her project was self-design. She was designing her outlook on life, with the aim of developing a “communal scenario.”
Originally from Orillia, she settled in the Highlands and intends to remain as part of the community.
The clothing swap was the “Feed your empathy” part of the manifesto. Students and instructors participated in the project throughout the year, bringing carloads of items at a time, including a fully functional camera, wool jacket and many 8-tracks.