From wall paintings to performing arts videography, there is something for everyone at “Looking Back”, the new Artlab Gallery exhibit that showcases work from former department of visual arts faculty members as a celebration of their 50th anniversary.

The display, which spans from the Visual Arts Centre's Cohen Commons student lounge to the spacious Artlab Gallery, offers a quiet atmosphere for students to reflect on a variety of installations that focus on the department's evolutionary cultural identity.

“We’ve been here for 50 years. We are recognizing that with some of the artists that started in the department,” says Artlab Gallery director Susan Edelstein, who curated the event alongside assistant director Tricia Johnson.

Entering the exhibit, students have a wide variety of mediums to ponder in the open space, as “Looking Back” features 12 artists who have helped shape the department over the past five decades, including contemporary photographer Fern Helfand and world-renowned painter Roly Fenwick.

Deciding which installations to showcase, however, was not easy for Edelstein.

As she was researching the historical works in the McIntosh Gallery's permanent collection, she realized that there was a lack of gender diversity during the early years of the department. 

Throughout the '60s and '70s, the university was not hiring women as full-time faculty at Western University, making it difficult for female faculty members to find equal opportunities to showcase their works. With that in mind, Edelstein took it upon herself to highlight every full-time and part-time female faculty member who taught in the department during its earlier years, including popular performing artist and sculptor Colette Urban.

Urban’s drawings, paintings and physical costumes fence in the far corner of the Artlab Gallery, including Bare, a bizarre and intricate performance film that highlights women’s positions within nature by exposing individualistic and empowering perspectives into the natural elements of society. 

“This was the first piece that I came across that addressed the issue that I was concerned about: the fact that there weren’t enough women in the collection,” says Edelstein. “That absolutely spoke to me in terms of what some of the issues were with women making artwork back in the '60s and women being hired at the university.”

Other pieces being showcased include six of Roly Fenwick’s lush impasto paintings, a technique that involves applying thick layers of paint to a canvas, creating a heightened level of abstraction for viewers due to Fenwick's bold move to stay outside the lines. Artistic craftsman Helmut Becker also has four of his disk-shaped hemp and yarn installations placed on the walls, which signify sun shining from the heavens. 

Edelstein also says that there will be a reveal during the opening reception, as the exhibit will showcase a never-before-seen piece of art from a surprise guest. 

Whether you're looking for a cheap date or you have a passion for aesthetic consideration, “Looking Back” will move students out of the winter blues and into a thoughtful mirage. 

“A lot of the works that are in here can inspire students that are in the field now, or they can simply enjoy the history that we have here at Western,” says Edelstein. 

For the past 50 years, a passion for art stood as the lifeblood for the department of visual arts, and “Looking Back” will showcase that passion with coherence and pride in what might have been the more forgotten aspects of Western’s art and history. 

“Looking Back” will be on display from Jan. 8 to 30 at the Artlab Gallery. An opening reception for the exhibit is being held on Saturday, Jan. 13 from 7 to 9 p.m. and is open to the public.

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Carmen Mallia is a third-year student in Media and the Public Interest and a culture editor for Volume 111. He enjoys writing about underground campus culture and protest movements across Ontario. Contact him at carmen.mallia@westerngazette.ca

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