Brock visual art students: The Contemporary Body

“Dog Days“ by Syerra Jasmin / Rounaq Chabra


February’s Exhibit in cultural hub, Mahtay Café, is called The Contemporary Body: A Photo-Based Exhibition and all the works are by students in Brock’s VISA 2P94 course taught by Judith Graham.

While the Exhibition is photo-based, the course itself is actually a drawing class. Graham says, “drawing is anything that makes a mark” to the students of her class and photography is far from the limit of these works.

Graham says that academics and artists talk a lot about the notion of the contemporary body, especially as a metaphor relating to the technological and digital representations of ourselves. She notes, “our phones are like an extension of our hands, our computers, our brains.”

The students were challenged to photograph or to use a photograph that is self-portraiture, ”of someone in [their] lives who has meaning, … the students then manipulate them to be more artistic.”

Students are also responsible for reading texts on the subject of the Contemporary Body and to become familiar with different forms of expression of the concept. She wants her students to be respectful and knowledgeable about contemporary and past works that are similar to what they are doing.

In many of the works, student artists have also written words or phrases on their pieces.

“Text is important,” says Graham.  “Every part of your work is a part of it whether you like it or not” and this includes marks, purposeful or accidental as well as mistakes.

In this way, she seems to have helped students to develop a self-awareness and they are then able to experiment and try new and different things. One such student is Curt Richard, whose piece is called “SIX SIX SEVEN.”

Richard’s work was an iPhone 4S photograph of himself that he edited digitally and drew on with permanent marker and gel pen. For the digital editing, Richard says that he used an app called PicsArt which can do all sorts of basic image editing including adding text. “I was just messing around with it one day,” he said about how the piece cam to him. “[It] was kind of a risk” he notes, “to bring a 2D photograph into a 3D plane.”

The adjustment from 2D to 3D is described in his artist’s statement as follows: “the concept was to initially obscure the view of the two-dimensional photo and replace it with a revived three-dimensional version of itself so it can be expressive and free.”

It also states that, “the layered/stacked images share similarities with photographers that have been double exposed” and that the ever-changing practices of photography and art are exemplified in the piece. The portrait is stunning and colourful and one of the most fascinating and original pieces in the Exhibition.

Another standout piece in the Exhibition is Anika Neuroth’s “Eidos” where she drew skeletons overtop of two people in photographs with silver ink giving them a spectre-like quality and of course, invoking the theme of death.

Neuroth’s artist statement says that she was “inspired by the concepts from the book Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes” in which he describes being photographed as to be “a subject who feels he is becoming an object: … a micro-version of death”.

“The Waters“ by Ahmed Bader / Rounaq Chabra


“The pictures taken represent a moment I wanted to embalm into time, into my own memory” the statement continues. Neuroth chose skeletons to not only represent death but to “give a sense of frailty and sharpness, as though a flash has gone off.” In this way, the piece plays with the process of photography as it relates to Barthes’ depiction of it.

All of the pieces in the Exhibition do something new and different with photography and drawing and present interesting perspectives on both processes. Syerra Jasmin for instance, notes in her artist’s statement for her piece “Dog Days” that “I have never enjoyed photographs of myself, not because of how I may look but because I find them slightly disturbing.”

“As long as the photograph exists we are frozen in that period of time, while putting on a performance for the camera” the statement continues. To express this, Neuroth embroidered patches out of embroidery floss to cover the faces of those photographed or “to create a physical mask to extend beyond what we present to the camera”. The colours she chose for the floss are meant to represent the emotions of the expressions on the faces of the people beneath them.

Many of the pieces in the Exhibit were tremendously personal to the artists as well, such as “2000 Miles” by Sarah Martin whose collage of photograms “of souvenirs recently collected on a road trip to Cape Canaveral, FL” according to her artist’s statement. It continues to describe the road trip as “a cathartic journey with the most important person to [her]”. She continues to describe the serene experience she had on her road trip and how it affected her as well as how she rendered this in her work.

Similarly, Ahmed Bader’s piece, “The Waters” which uses Gouache paint (similar to watercolour) on photographs of his father dealing with his “progression into becoming a professional musician.” He uses “dashes of paint” and other signifiers to show his father’s “creative essence” spreading outside of himself.

This past Saturday night the Exhibit had its Opening Reception with music by local singer-songwriter, and grade 10 Laura Secord student, Olivia Madera, who played some of her original songs as well as covers. She sings and plays acoustic guitar and has been doing so for about six years. She describes the majority of her songs as “kind of love-songs … folk-pop”.

In The Contemporary Body, nothing is ordinary, neither drawing nor photography are traditional, and the boundaries of all of the above are pushed far into the abyss to see if they can find a limit. From human cell photography with text and drawing to, embroidery floss, the Exhibition is a stellar representation of the diverse creativity of Visual Art students at Brock.

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