Water Astonishing and Difficult Altogether Makes a Meadow and a Stroke
June 22-July 29
688 E Hastings St, Vancouver BC, V6A 1R1
By ERIC BENEDON, AUG. 2017
Vancouver knows water, from a drizzle to a downpour. In the summer, however, the weather clears up, so Wil Aballe Art Projects (WAAP) filled soggy hole in the city’s heart with his recent group show Water Astonishing and Difficult Altogether Makes a Meadow and a Stroke. The title of the show is an excerpt Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. The book is broken into three sections: “Objects,” “Food,” and “Rooms”. It is worth noting that Water Astonishing is found in the “Objects” section as the show alludes to the creative potential of water. Through their unique practices, the artists questioned the use of water as a medium or methodology. Wil Aballe’s curation of the show facilitated connections among the artists’ wide range of approaches despite the daunting theoretical undertone.
Aballe’s approach can be summed up thusly: “if you hang [all of an artist’s work] together, they cancel each other out.” I found his approach to be successful in creating a dialogue between the pieces. Rather than considering ideas existing within a solitary vacuum, the viewer was invited into a group mind where the artists’ concepts played off one another to create a larger discourse regarding how water can be considered as a material.
Aballe stemmed the show’s premise from Ebony Rose’s water colours. Rose pools water on paper and allows it to dry, thus exploring the fluid boundaries of liquid flow and material solidarity. Roses' work “Untitled” featured a dark geometric shape rising above what could be a horizon. The meticulously shaped water colour gives a sense of the tension required in creating beauty.
WAAP, in a way, feels almost like a sensory deprivation tank, except your eyes and mind are still stimulated. You submerge yourself into it by going down a set of stairs and enclose yourself within a windowless gallery. The isolation from the outside world allows you to completely immerse yourself in the curated walls. With the group aspect of Water Astonishing and Difficult Altogether Makes a Meadow and a Stroke, Aballe brought together a range of literal and figurative interpretations of water and/or liquid, from the photographs of Evann Siebens’ flooded childhood home to Vanessa Browns’ Ivans in the centre of the gallery. The show did not revolve around water, but rather drew from it. Water, which is uncontrollable, was controlled. Or, at least, the art presented a semblance of control.
In the entrance, photographs by Evann Siebens and Maegan Hill-Carroll ruminated on fragments of memory. Siebens showed multi-layered inkjet prints of the remnants of her flooded childhood home, featuring warped records and soaked pianos in a way that made you want to sort through the refuse for any possible keepsakes. Conversely, Hill-Carroll presented a small snapshot of her time living in Botswana. On a particularly hot day, a bucket of water has been thrown onto tile, where a naked smiling boy splashes around like a fish on a dock. The viewer had to look closely to see the smile, reminding us of the voyeuristic gaze we were placing upon the young boy.
As you continued, three of Niall McClelland’s Stains adorned the walls. The almost-surreal works were psychedelic stained glass on Japanese paper. Achieved by spilling inkjet cartridges onto rough paper and then folding it into bundles, an array of tie-dye patterns emerged across the Japanese paper in careful but unplanned designs. Like Rose’s pooled water colours across the gallery, McClelland's spilled ink cartridges manipulated the element of chance to form pure aesthetic abstraction.
Next to the large sheets of hallucinatory paper, a pink alien-like figure drowned face-down in a body of crystal blue water, immersed in the binary between male and female. In Shallow, the male simultaneously engaged and drowned in his environment, which took the form of a tropical seascape. Alex Gibson’s intimate and haunting painting contemplated ideals of place and how to navigate them.
With Water Astonishing, Wil Aballe essentially created a cocktail party on the walls for his artists to intermingle and for WAAP visitors to join in. Yet Nicolas Sassoon had the gallery’s back wall to himself and appeared intentionally isolated. His brooding triptych on metallic paper, Storms, almost seemed to undulate. By standing alone, the images, generated with pixels, called the viewer in for a closer look. The three dark frames produce a melancholic effect that left the viewer somewhat unsettled, as if there were a cloud hanging over their head. WM
The anxious pit in one's stomach created by Sassoon continued as the viewer was invited to piece together photographs of Christopher Lacroix’s performance There Are Reasons to Remain Bound, in which he read years worth of his journal entries backwards as an attempt to review himself. The photographs showed the unmistakable sign of Lacroix urinating in his light blue jeans over the course of the reading. As the journal itself details grappling with sexuality, the review, then, was Lacroix allowing himself to release any tensions.
Another of Gibson’s paintings was next to Lacroix’s documentation, this one titled Full. The same alien-like figure now had water spilling from his mouth and ears, in a way that is reminiscent of blood after a traumatic accident. Side by side, the works echoed a complete expulsion of the past.
With its flowing lines and placement in the centre of the gallery, Vanessa Brown’s Ivans gave the impression of a fountain. If Sassoon’s Storms stood alone in their darkness, they were nonetheless balanced by the stark white of Ivans. Equally isolated, the entirely white sculpture was reminiscent of Italian marble. But rather than resembling a typical cherub or a goddess, any figuration was instead suggested by the bends and angles of the abstract sculpture.
Liquid’s materiality permeated throughout Water Astonishing and Difficult Altogether Makes a Meadow and a Stroke. The artists chosen by Wil Aballe explored the boundaries of water as an object. Searching beyond our immediate associations of a clear blue resource, water becomes a subject of fear and acceptance, a purveyor of chance visions, and a reminder of identity. WAAP acted as a submarine where these ideas were able to live in proximity, and the group’s cohesion ultimately led to success. WM
Eric Benedon is a writer in Vancouver, BC. He recently graduated from UBC where he studied Art History and Creative Writing.view all articles from this author