You're My Obsession

October 14 - December 5, 2005 

Third Space Gallery, Saint John, NB 

Donna Akrey, Jérôme Fortin, Kristiina Lahde, Lisa Lipton

Business Mandella, Donna Akrey

I love you, Kristiina Lahde, detail

I love you, Kristiina Lahde, detail

St-Jean-Port-Joli #3, Jérôme Fortin

 lost me hand before the door, Lisa Lipton, detail

lost me hand before the door, Lisa Lipton, detail


all images courtesy and copyright of the arists 

You’re my Obsession features wall-based installations by four artists from across the country. Donna Akrey, Jérôme Fortin, Kristiina Lahde and Lisa Lipton each utilize found objects as a vehicle for creating art. In the treating the world as a studio, inspiration and raw materials are drawn from the everyday. In this particular grouping of artists it is the obsessive repetition of a single motif which determines the final shape and dimension to the artwork, whether this be a salesman, a sewing pin, a plastic bottle or a Post-it® note. The approach taken by these four artists investigates the tautology between the origins of the materials and their transformation into art. The repetitive actions reflect the obsessive nature of the collector as they reveal the creative impulse.
Many contemporary artists choose to work with non-traditional materials to emphasize a stronger correlation to the world we all live in and share. Materials drawn from daily life brings attention to concepts lived in the everyday as well as draws a tighter connection between art and life. Many artists use materials and incorporate a language drawn directly from the immediate world around us, and utilize strategies of seriality and repetition as emphasis or to comment on our mechanized, computerized, post-modern world. In collecting and utilizing large numbers of everyday items, they ask us to consider the sheer amount of stuff that surrounds us. When empty bottles wash up on shores, they are often devoid of any message but of consumerism and waste. Junk mail we often throw away or recycle without even reading it. Post-it® notes leave temporary messages and are discarded. Pins hold a hem until it is sewed. In this exhibition there exists a tautology between the banal origins of the material and its final form as something beautiful and poetic. Art isn’t always a creation; most often, it is a transformation.

Donna Akrey, like many of her peers, is not only an artist, but she also has a day job, that of postal worker. It was her day job that gave rise to her 2005 Business Mandala, in which she took hundreds of flyers made by a real estate agent in Calgary, cut out his photograph and used the repeated image to form a giant mandala, a circular pattern used in many eastern religions as a symbol of worship. Akrey successfully intervenes in the normal exchange of information and uses an obsessive methodology to transform a banal image into an elevated form of worship. In using his own picture on the flyer, the Calgary real estate agent hopes that his image will create a sense of familiarity with potential buyers. By taking his image out of context and repeating it hundreds of times in the mandala shape, the businessman has been reduced to pattern. An iconic symbol of consumerism becomes a meditative cog in the wheel of Akrey’s universe, and prompts us to consider the saturation of advertising in our lives and where it is we truly place value.

Kristiina Lade also employs a similar strategy of using many of a single, simple item, in this case, a 3-M Post-it® note. This ubiquitous note always carries a message, hastily scrawled or neatly printed: phone numbers, buy milk, etc. Sometimes it might be left at a bedside table or on a fridge or a phone for a loved one to stumble across: I love you. A profound, often deeply moving statement for one to make to make to another. In this case the artist has written the intimate message thousands of times, repeated and arranged the notes in a mechanical, grid-like fashion, filling an entire wall. Does the repetition serve to enhance or diminish the message? Is this the patient voice of a Penelope awaiting her love or the insistent, empty noise of advertising, of obsession? The obsession inherent in I love you (1998) exists between the vacuum of nothingness and the oppressive weight of too much.

To create his Marines (St-Jean-Port-Joli 3, 2001), series, Jérôme Fortin strolled the along the beaches of St-Jean-Port-Joli in Québec while participating at a residency program, collecting plastic bottles that had washed ashore. He then grouped them according to type or colour, then sliced them open with a thin, continuous incision. Next they are stretched and stapled to the wall in the shape of a circle. The components of the Marines have lived a previous life before undertaking their adventure through the waters of the St. Laurent, where they were buoyed and bounced along waves and rocks and mud and grass, polished and shaped by nature. Installed in a gallery, sliced to ribbons and stretched to a wall their shape makes me think of lush, full-colour diagrams of planets, or perhaps seaweed or grasses laid on a beach to dry in the sun. Fortin’s Marines, passing through a systematic process that turns everyday waste into art, travel ‘full circle’, and present a story of our own planet, full of non-biodegradable junk, containers, and landfills.

The most lyrical use of everyday materials comes from Lisa Lipton. A large wall painted black becomes a ground for a full scale drawing installation titled lost me hand before the door. In a manner not unlike that found in a high school biology lab, Lipton utilizes the white headed sewing pin as one might employ the stippling technique to render form and outline to biological specimens. The subject matter closely relates to the method of drawing as mythological beasts emerge, taking charge of the gallery space. This is Alice in Wonderland meets the Teletubbies and they have a wonderful, surreal adventure on Sesame Street. Lipton transforms the wall into a psychic playground, ripe with bizarre visual imagery, playful and poetic. The tradition of biological drawing, the stippling most often used to give accuracy to observed specimens, is here employed to render the imagination.

Apparent throughout all these works is the element and value of labour; notably, the use of repetitive labour. There is required an obsessive amount of labour for each of these pieces. Lisa Lipton and her assistants spent days sticking the close to 15,000 pins into the wall to form her drawing; Kristiina Lahde must have given herself carpel tunnel in writing out 2400  “I love yous"; Jérôme Fortin spent countless hours cutting apart hundreds of plastic bottles and Donna Akrey was equally obsessive in cutting out over 500 salesmen. What drives these artists to go to such lengths? Perhaps it is the merging of compulsion and creativity. We can see in these works the value of time, of labour, and appreciate the aesthetics of newly claimed forms. We can also see these works as new modes of expression that take elements from our daily surroundings and imbue them with new meaning, creating a dialogue and commentary on contemporary life.

My thinking surrounding the selection of these artists was very much tied to the idea of re-opening an alternative, non-commercial gallery in Saint John. One element was practicality: The gallery needed renovations to adequately support the display or any artwork, and we had no idea how extensive or how long the renovations would be, nor if or when any funding would arrive (thankfully it did!). I placed parameters on my selection process that charged that the work would be almost ephemeral; lightweight materials, easy to ship and store, installation that would perhaps be laborious (obsessive?), but not difficult to achieve with a little instruction. Given that this was the first exhibition in the new space and our budget practically non-existent, shipping large artworks at high cost was downright impossible. More importantly, perhaps, was to provide a selection of work by artists who work very much in the world, where both materials and inspiration are drawn from the everyday, where the world becomes both a living space and a studio workspace, where the third space becomes the magical process of transformation that turns such banality into fun, thoughtful, playful, and fabulous works of art.

-Chris Lloyd
Artistic Director

Special thanks to volunteers Meghan Barton and Erin Bateman, as well as generous Brodie Building owners Peter Smit and Judith Mackin, and translator Claudine Hubert. Thanks also to the Third Space Gallery board members: Judith Mackin, Suzanne Hill, Karina van der Linden, Janet Scott, Andrea Butler, and Joel Butler.

The Artists:

Donna Akrey recently re-located from Calgary to Montréal. This year she exhibited Business Mandala in Vancouver and in St. John’s, NF. She studied at Simon Fraser University, Concordia (BFA) and received her MFA from NSCAD. Jérôme Fortin lives and works in Montréal and is represented by Pierre Ouellette Art Contemporain. He studied at UQAM. Kristiina Lahde received her BFA from NSCAD and a Collections Conservation and Management Diploma from Sir Sandford Fleming College, Peterborough and currently lives and works in Toronto. Lisa Lipton recently moved from Halifax, where she received her BFA from NSCAD, to Windsor, ON to pursue her MFA.