Art, moms and nourishment 

Just in time for Mother's Day

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY GLENDA BARTOSH - STRONG VESSELS Tessa Reed and her performance-installation piece, The Studio, at Emily Carr University's grad show holds a lot of food for thought. Her first taste of skiing Whistler happened as a high-school grad. 
  • PHOTO by Glenda Bartosh
  • STRONG VESSELS Tessa Reed and her performance-installation piece, The Studio, at Emily Carr University's grad show holds a lot of food for thought. Her first taste of skiing Whistler happened as a high-school grad. 

Emily Choi's elegant little slipcast bowls march along a simple white shelf like so many earth-bound clouds: blue and white and blue.

tofu pudding (In Progress), as the installation is called, is part of this year's grad show at Emily Carr University of Art + Design until May 21. It's also one of many artworks engaged with food and nourishment that challenges our thinking about same.

Behind the bowls, big photographs (stills from a video) show soy milk, a pot, and pouring and cooking as well as liquidy blue/white clay slip, a mould, and pouring and "cooking." It's the same clay slip and mould that made the bowls on the shelf. We slowly realize the two processes — making tofu pudding and making bowls to hold the pudding — are remarkably similar.

Each bowl contains ingredients in the pudding — soybeans, ginger root and more — all with their own visual elegance. But the loaded ingredient is gypsum, which is equally important in the pudding (it acts as a thickener) and in the plaster used in slipcasting, a technique for producing ceramics and pottery.

Even the two processes — slipcasting and pudding-making — are similar, and that's the whole point of Choi's installation: Making us aware of overlooked similarities in seemingly unrelated things.

Nearby is Tessa Reed's The Studio. Part performance art, part installation, Reed throws pots on her potter's wheel, which is squeezed between three walls. The only opening, which faces the gallery, is covered in tall banks of shelving. The shelves hold the many pots and bowls she makes, but they also make the studio a jail cell.

Alanna Reyse's Destructive Luxury is sculptural "cache" of seafood, soup and sushi all caught in a net. The sushi and soup look like those plastic displays in restaurant windows to lure you in — very pretty. But look closer. They're made from bits of garbage: The sushi rice is a rolled-up plastic bag; the little fish parts of beer cans; all of it the kind of nasty garbage polluting our oceans and beaches.

You might start a conversation over Conversation Collage by Adi Berardini, whose art is all about connections between humans and nature. Bright and joyful, the painted wood off-cuts — which means she's using what was negative space as positive space — could be crazy bits of candy or pieces that fell out of a pinball machine. Is that a slice of pizza in pinks and greens, or a fighter jet?

My own Gloriously Cosmic Periodic Table, which is based on quantum physics, might get you talking about one of the 66 elements, Chompium. It was inspired by Barry Commoner, one of the scientists who tracked the effects of atomic testing through levels of the cancer-causing radioactive isotope strontium-90 in kids' teeth.

Strontium-90 is chemically similar to calcium, so it's absorbed from water and dairy products into bones and teeth; 300,000 kids' teeth later Dr. Commoner, nicknamed the Paul Revere of Ecology, and his colleagues concluded that kids born in the 1950s onward had increasingly higher levels of strontium-90 in their teeth — levels up to 50 times higher.

So who says art is just another pretty face? A number of pieces at The Show could even be seen as reinterpreting some very old critiques.

Memento mori paintings were popular in the 1600s. With their skulls, clocks, guttering candles and fruit and flowers (the latter sometimes withered), they were visual prods to "remember you must die."

The closely related vanitas paintings — Reyse's piece or Salvador Dali's melted stopwatch now on display at Hastings and Hornby in Vancouver could be seen as contemporary nods to these — featured subjects like wine and musical instruments to remind us of our fragility and the worthlessness of worldly pleasures and material goods. Still lifes with rotting fruits and dying flowers tucked among the beautiful ones, sometimes with insects crawling about, were especially pointed.

Then there's the idea that art itself is nourishing — nourishment for thinking and imagining; for culture and community; for getting out of the daily grind.

I like what Tessa Reed told me about her work, which will soon be part of Rove, the free art walk in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant May 26.

"All of it holds stuff that sustains you, and that's basically why I like ceramics," she says. "It can go into the world and be used — it's visceral, one of the most intimate things you can make. The lip of the bowl touches your lips..."

Actually, a ceramic vessel is a vessel like us in many ways: Besides the lip, there's the rounded shoulder, the foot of the vessel, and the belly, especially if it's a vessel meant to hold food. Sounds all very nourishing and motherly to me.

So what a great show to share with mom this Mother's Day! If nothing else, think of all the proud moms of such talented, emerging artists.

Plus this is the last Emily Carr grad show on Granville Island, where the campus has been since 1980. And here's a cool Whistler connection: The very first visual arts exhibition that Whistler Arts Council (now Arts Whistler) held in 1982, only two years after the school moved to the island, was totally student work from Emily Carr.

We rented a cube van and hauled the artworks up the highway, and in a smashing success sold most of the work presented. Many art students — and their moms — were absolutely thrilled.

Check out the artworks at theshow.ecuad.ca/2017/home, or daily at Emily Carr University of Art + Design until May 21.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who can't wait to see a branch of Emily Carr in Whistler.

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