arts and environment
by Dylan White
exhibition images to come!
On exhibit at the Rooms until September 20, 2015, Jeannie Thib’s exhibition Hyperflat forces us to ask pressing and at times difficult questions about our lived environments, while at the same time remaining a marvel of aesthetics; at times disorienting yet hypnotic. The amount of work and attention to detail that goes into these pieces is easily enough to garner plenty of attention and praise for Thib’s work, but Hyperflat is so much more.
Thib, who sadly passed away in October of 2013, has long been a major figure in the Canadian art scene, earning international acclaim. Thib has worked with a variety of different media, including but not limited to small and large scale sculptures using acrylic, wood, stone, metal and many other materials, multi-panelled prints, hand-sewn gloves, chalk drawings, and much more. Her work explores meanings of the body, feminine identity and its social constructions, as well as many related topics. It is precisely these topics and their relation to architecture and the world around us that Thib investigates throughout the numerous works in Hyperflat. A series of highly ornamental and decorative sculptures created using an abundance of materials, traditional to model making and otherwise, Thib transforms these materials through cutting and piling, to show the viewer what may at times appear as buildings, as cities, or as entire worlds. These sculptures criticize the long accepted Modernist tradition of rectilinear building, more often than not associated with a certain kind of rigidity, straightness, or masculinity. Thib suggests reinvigorating ours ways of creating our lived environments with ideas of the feminine and of nature through these highly ornamental structures.
Column - 2011 (installation view & detail) Accessed at jeanniethib.ca
Thib also calls in to question how we as humans, and more specifically humans who possess bodies, interact with the world around us, both the natural and the built. One is reminded of French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach to the body and the world around us. In The Primacy of Perception he writes: “Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it’s caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But, because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself. “ This body-centrism does not necessarily have to be detrimental or lead to such Modernist rectilinear ways of building; or thinking, for that matter. Such body-centrism has to be approached with a clearer comprehension of the surrounding world, again both natural and built, which I believe, in a sense, Thib is trying to show us with Hyperflat.
Here in St. John’s, where we are constantly and continuously surrounded by construction of one sort of another, whether we are aware of it or not, these sculptures and the ideas they carry with them should be particularly striking to us. With the downtown skyline (if you can call it that) changing, the city becoming more and more city-like all the time, and subdivision after subdivision being developed we have to be more aware now than ever of the relationship of these building to the environment and to our bodies. Not only do we risk losing something of our environment with such drastic change and development but we risk losing something of ourselves as well.
Thib’s work and reimaging of ways of building and relating to the world feel more like something you could find yourself in (after losing yourself first, of course). The ornament, the repetition of pattern, the floral nature of the structures, the colour or lack thereof in certain pieces, all work together to create a sort of sublime feeling in the viewer; a sense of uneasiness penetrated with a peacefulness and wonder at the work before you. One wishes these sculptures were life-sized, something you could walk through and truly experience. This wishful thinking should truly inspire us to realize these feelings in our lived environments. Thib’s Hyperflat excellently captures the relationship between body, environment, and building that we experience everyday but do not always take the time to stop and think about. It is becoming clearer and clearer in St. John’s and throughout the world that this is something that we must do if we wish to exist comfortably with the world around us and each other. Can the way we go about building our lived environments and urban spaces effect how we interact not only with nature and the environment, but also with each other? The late Jeannie Thib raises this, and many other questions with Hyperflat. The answer seems pretty clear to me.¶