Art Without Meaning…What is the Point?

Miles Rufeld, You Put a Great Deal of Trust in This  and  You Put a Great Deal of Trust in This II  (A Great Deal of Trust at PDA) 2015. Video. Authors photograph with permission of PDA Projects and artist

Miles Rufeld, You Put a Great Deal of Trust in This and You Put a Great Deal of Trust in This II (A Great Deal of Trust at PDA) 2015. Video. Authors photograph with permission of PDA Projects and artist

In an art market that is 60 years behind global trends, new contemporary art exhibition openings are always of interest in Canadian art communities. In Ottawa, there is a very small smattering of commercial galleries with little contemporary representation. PDA Projects in the downtown core of the city seeks to disrupt the mundane with a go-big-or-go-home attitude, and inject the arts community with risky and edgy contemporary art. The artist roster is largely comprised of University of Ottawa recent graduates (both at the Bachelor and Master’s level) as a nod to the founders’, Brendan de Montigny and Meredith Snider, alma mater.

Miles Rufeld, Macreate (A Great Deal of Trust at PDA) 2015. 24 x 36 inches, colour photograph. Authors photograph with permission of PDA Projects and artist

Miles Rufeld, Macreate (A Great Deal of Trust at PDA) 2015. 24 x 36 inches, colour photograph. Authors photograph with permission of PDA Projects and artist

The newest exhibition entitled “A Great Deal of Trust,” is a solo showcase of newly graduated Miles Rufelds’ video, photographic, and sculptural works. In the exhibition description, the overly frothy language boils down to this: the work has no point. Apparently the pieces are supposed to play with the idea of perceived meaning in art to the point of rejecting this pursuit via the representation of benign everyday objects such as sponges, peppers, and real celery—evidenced in the mechanical sculpture, Cruelty Sculpture (2015) pictured below. But I ask, what is the point of having pointless art? Why should the audience become comfortable with accepting a space without meaning, without perceived meaning? That is a rather self-indulgent stance to take in such a politically tumultuous global context and post-post-modern era to reject meaning in art practice. It is not necessarily unchallenging work insofar as it challenges out innate need to find meaning. But the work comes across as an immature reproduction of Dada works of the interwar period. Perhaps because the artist is fresh from his Bachelor training and has not had the opportunity to develop his practice and really explore these ideas at the level one might at the MA or PhD level.

Miles Rufeld, Cruelty Sculpture (A Great Deal of Trust at PDA) 2015. Various dimensions, mixed metals, wire, screws, celery. Authors photograph with permission of PDA Projects and artist

Miles Rufeld, Cruelty Sculpture (A Great Deal of Trust at PDA) 2015. Various dimensions, mixed metals, wire, screws, celery. Authors photograph with permission of PDA Projects and artist

Montigny makes a good point, however. In a city where there is much of the same art—largely landscape painting—a gallery has to make an impact somehow to not only gain recognition as a commercial space, but to also begin to elevate contemporary art at gallery level in the city. Whereas Toronto and Montreal have an appreciation and appetite for contemporary art, Ottawa plays it safe with the old faithful landscape; contemporary art representation is still in its infancy with small exhibitions held in universities or local restaurants. PDA Projects helps fill that void and offer opportunity to budding contemporary artists, but “A Great Deal of Trust” missed the mark. The gallery has held thought provoking shows with great multi-disciplinary artists, so it will be interesting to watch as this space grows and develops as an edgy contemporary space in a safe-playing city.

For more information on PDA Projects, their artists, and upcoming exhibitions, click here.

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