Occurring at a juncture of professional art practice, historical study and critical theory, this exhibition marks the graduation of four artists from the MFA in Visual Art program at the University of British Columbia. Through their diverse investigations, artists Jerry Allen, Dick Averns, Christine D’Onofrio and Jennifer Pickering have generated a variety of works, each inflected by the theoretical focus and global outlook of the MFA course. Despite their differing interests and approaches, however, all four artists are concerned with the place of their work in relation to particular social contradictions.
The subjects of Jerry Allen’s portraits are vaguely recognizable celebrities who seem to have been borne into their brief fame by historical circumstances beyond their control, or who appear to be marked by deep inner experience. Ostensibly naïve, the paintings depict individuals whose ambiguous cultural status sustains the works’ uncanny quality. Through a careful, protracted painting technique, Allen seems to restore to these slightly bereft subjects a significance denied by cycles of media fixation and neglect. In contrast, Dick Averns’ performance art exploits its immediacy to infiltrate seats of power, aiming to incite public awareness of political duplicity. Averns’ practice involves performances in the public domain, media interventions and photographic works that assert the promise of reviving an avant-garde practice in the context of contemporary political events. Through photography, Christine D’Onofrio produces aesthetically engaging works that combine and reposition tropes of femininity. D’Onofrio’s work obliquely figures the female body through the aesthetic deployment of such gendered trappings as hair, panties and nail polish, examining consumption, desire and the unconscious. Finally, Jennifer Pickering’s book sculptures alter the institutional forms through which knowledge is circulated. By staging interventions in existing structures such as galleries or libraries, Pickering’s works play with the physical conditions delimiting knowledge.
This exhibition’s title acknowledges its host, the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, for supporting professional artists emerging from the MFA program in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory. Both the Gallery and the Department support graduate students by promoting connections between art history, art practice and curatorial studies.