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Massive exhibition opening takes local art community by storm

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The Reach Gallery Museum held the opening reception for its six new winter and spring exhibitions last Thursday, Jan. 18. As they are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, it is fitting that this could be one of their most ambitious and diverse series of exhibitions yet. Mediums presented include sculpture, audio, video, painting, and much more.

The six projects introduced at last Thursday’s event were: Touch by Marjatta Itkonen, The Projectionist by Mark Neufeld, Salt Water Skin Boats by Erica Grimm, and Search by Image by UFV visual arts professor Christopher Friesen. Additionally, The Reach hosted the first Art on Demand exhibition of the year, curated by Kendra Anderson, and the introduction of The Reach’s new Community Art Space studio, which currently features an exhibition by the Abbotsford Photo Arts Club (APAC).

Each of the exhibit’s artists are connected to the Fraser Valley, yet each artist’s work is inherently different. Laura Schneider, executive director and curator at The Reach, feels that despite this, “When taken together, [the artwork] makes us more aware of what it means to visit an art gallery, and consider how that experience differs from other aesthetic experiences that we might have in our lives.”

Schneider introduced the artists one by one, and asked them to come forward and speak about their respective exhibitions.

The first artist to speak was Abbotsford-based artist and associate professor in the School of Arts, Media, and Culture at Trinity Western University, Erica Grimm. For the past several years, she has worked on a body of work that discusses the connection humans have with the ocean. Salt Water Skin Boats uses sensory experience to convey the seriousness of the current crisis regarding our oceans. With the help of fellow artists Tracie Stewart and Sheena Anderson, Grimm transformed the gallery space into a wondrous and spellbinding environment that inspires a reflection on ocean changes.

Grimm commented on how much human activity has chemically altered the ocean. “If we were talking about our bodies chemically changing, or our children’s bodies, we would be taking them to the emergency room.”

She added that humanity has a responsibility to take action: “Our global response will be the biggest thing the global community has ever had to achieve.”

Schneider encouraged reception attendees to return to the gallery at a quieter time. Though the large crowd was appreciated, the audible aspect of Salt Water Skin Boats was lost in all the voices and excitement. The audio truly completes the piece, so attendees could not experience the full effect of the installation at the reception.

The second artist was Mark Neufeld, who is originally from the Fraser Valley but currently teaches at the University of Manitoba School of Art. The Projectionist is part of his ongoing series of exhibitions which includes paintings and found objects within the same space. Both are connected through performance pieces, which will take place several times at The Reach during this exhibition.

Neufeld’s project considers how objects relate to one another. Neufeld spent the week before the opening tailoring his project to be specific to Abbotsford. With the assistance of the curator of historical collections at The Reach, he incorporated objects from the city’s past into the installation.

The third artist to speak was Chris Friesen. Friesen is an artist from Langley and teaches at the University of the Fraser Valley in the visual arts department. Search by Image is a body of work in which Friesen connects the viewer’s experience of the paintings to the images encountered daily, online and through social media. The series is based off of paintings by 19th-century artist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, who is known for his landscape paintings which have unfortunately been copied and forged numerous times. Electronic devices and digital manipulation have had a huge impact on the authenticity and ownership of art. It’s now easier than ever to create a forgery.

One of the goals in Friesen’s project was to see if, during a Google search, his work would come up alongside Corot’s. “I want my audience to be engaged enough to take pictures and share them on different social media platforms.” Online, the Google algorithm may see the two artists’ paintings as similar. But viewers of this series will understand differences between the physical painting and how it exists online, especially if they stand in front of the piece.

Next, Schneider introduced Marjatta Itkonen, a Finnish-Canadian artist from Mission, B.C. Itkonen’s project Touch consists of figurative sculptures made out of brown paper. Schneider was drawn to her work partially due to Itkonen’s acute level of proficiency in this unusual medium. Her simple materials create a representation of the human form. It resonated well with her subject matter as she spoke about gender, familial relationships, immigration, memory, and loss.

The Reach was also celebrating the first Art on Demand exhibition of 2018. Curated by Kendra Anderson, it displays works by Joy Kinna in the atrium gallery. Art on Demand is part of the Emerge program at the gallery. The program is designed to support artists and professionals in the Fraser Valley between the ages of 18 and 35.

Anderson said she thoroughly enjoyed her experience working with the Emerge program.

“This experience has taught me how to not only be a better curatorial writer, but also how to put together a show from start to finish,” she said. “It is something I could not have learned simply from reading a book, or attending a lecture.”

This year, The Reach launched a community art space in one of its studio rooms. Through an application-based program, community arts groups now have the opportunity to show their work all year round in their own space. The APAC holds the honour of being the first to produce such an exhibition, which opened alongside the aforementioned projects.

The Winter/Spring Exhibitions Opening Reception was one of the most well-attended events The Reach has seen. During the opening speech, Mayor Henry Braun mentioned that it was good to see so many young faces at the exhibition.

The current exhibitions will be on display until May 7, 2018.

Image: Cassie de Jong/The Cascade

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