The Power of Limitation

It was pretty impressive what MacGyver could come up with when faced with a problem, some string, a piece of gum, the gum wrapper, and a battery. That Canadian television show from the 1980s was predicated on the idea that when one finds oneself in a pickle, one can dip into a deep well of creativity and come up with something pretty cool.

That’s the same idea at the heart of an exhibition of new artworks by the Yukon School of Visual Art (SOVA) students. Every piece of art in the show has been created with the exact same ingredients: fur, ink, paper, string, watercolour paint, and wax.

Opening on February 7 at the Arts Underground in Whitehorse, the show, called String Theory, features pieces by all 15 students.

SOVA instructor Veronica Verkely says by limiting the materials, students can kick start their creativity – after they hit a wall, that is.

“For every one of them they got to some point where they were frustrated by the limitations, and then they got through that, and came up with something really interesting out of the process,” Verkely says.

The 15 students had complete freedom with theme, but they had to use every one of the materials.

The result is a show that is widely varied in subject and feeling, but is still cohesive.

“It feels connected,” Verkely says.

Two students who approached the challenge from different headspaces are Dana Levine, 26, from Montreal, Quebec, and Justice Colwell, 20, from Port Perry, Ontario.

Levine’s piece is a hot air balloon, called “Take Me.” Her creative process involved balancing her aesthetic interests with a desire to create artwork that has meaning for her.

“I’m going for both, ultimately,” she says. “A lot of it is the visual appeal of the strange materials put together. But it’s about more than that. I’m exploring fantasy and transcendence, and being taken away, and ideas of love and lust – and those ideas come together to blur the lines between dreams and reality.”

She’s curious whether people who view “Take Me” will pick up on any of those ideas before reading her artist’s statement.

“Overall, it’s a dreamy looking thing,” she says.

Justice Colwell’s process was like a melding of thoughts and paths he’d been down before. His piece is a wax mask mounted on paper, called “Self-Portrait as a Pre-Contact Inuit.”

He used wax to make masks before; he has been thinking about the ingenuity of the Inuit; and the aesthetic of Inuit art appeals to him.

“All of these mediums I’ve used before, so I figured I could cook something up – and I totally did,” Colwell says.

The piece ended up being a self-portrait for two reasons.

“I’m a Status Indian, so I can identify with the Inuit,” he says. “And if I used my own face, it’d be much more effective, than, say, using a cedar mask and doing a mold of that.”

The Inuit capture his interest and imagination because they’ve been able to meet their needs over the centuries using the minimal resources available in the Arctic.

“They’re very interesting people,” he says. “They have had to utilize what they have there, and they do it in such a creative and crazy way.”

And that’s what the SOVA students have done with this show.

The opening reception for String Theory is on Friday, February 7 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and runs until March 1 at the Arts Underground, located at 15, 305 Main St. in Whitehorse.

The opening coincides with an opening in the new gallery space called The Edge Gallery, featuring a show curated by Geneviève Gagnon and Hildur Jónasson, who have been mentored by SOVA director Curtis Collins.

Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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