Tuesday, January 16, 2007

This is a Prequel

There's the Mike you all knew and loved... what happened to that Mike?

Maybe Tara, Sarah, Kristina, Steph or any other Western Visual Arts grads who are reading this can back me up when I say that in the John Labatt Visual Arts Centre, sculpture was probably the most ignored medium. I can count a number of accomplished painters, printmakers and… drawing-type people, but few of us really took to sculpture (not that there weren’t some people who made some excellent 3D art in that building). I count the high costs associated with pulling it off successfully as the barrier (I’d definitely say my greatest unrealized ideas for projects were sculpture-based) rather than the facilities and sculpture professors, who were excellent.

Nevertheless, generally accounting to scheduling needs, I found myself taking a few sculpture classes over the years. They suck, man. Each project can take you back dozens – nay, nearly a hundred dollars if you want to do it right. And if you want to half-ass it, you can always go the messy and time-consuming papier mache route. If I want to look back at my university career and feel that it was a depressing waste of time during which artistic vision took a backseat to more pragmatic needs, I need only think of every single fucking sculpture assignment I ever did.

In order for my coming story to make any sense, I’ll have to outline the way in which my 4th year sculpture class was set up, scheduling-wise. Basically, the 4th year and 3rd year sculptures were the exact same class, except 4th year was divided into two half-year courses for some reason I’ll never understand. And if you got under 70% in the first half, you wouldn’t get back in for the second. Thus, I found myself in early December just barely scraping by, desperately hoping to grab a 70 so that I could… well, graduate.

Our professor, the inimitable Colette Urban, gave us an assignment at the end of the first semester in which we had to involve our bodies (those of us from the VAC know that sculpture is always billed as “Sculpture and Performance” for some reason). These can be difficult, as you’re really having to put yourself “out there” to really get a decent mark. My 2nd year body-related project is a story for another post. If you are lucky.

Desperate to get a 70, and with time and money running low, I took a look around the shop (managed, as always, by the esteemed Doug Mitchell). There I saw two planks of wood measuring 4X4 feet, as well as a roll of saran wrap that was basically as tall as myself. It took me a minute, but I figured that if I attached the wood together (creating a plank 4X8 feet long) and put a bubble of saran wrap over it, I could encase myself inside, attach the shop vac, and create an airtight seal around myself as I rested on a bed of wood. Maybe it was a commentary on our consumerist society? Shit, I dunno. I figured it was good enough for a 70, at least.

I spent an evening or two in the shop getting things ready, making sure to keep the plastic airtight. If this scheme was to fall apart, that was the one thing that would throw the whole damned thing off-course and send me packing for a “victory lap”. I taped the plastic to the wood, cut two holes (one for air and one through which to insert the shop vac) and… went home to enjoy a few Lakeport Honeys (my drink of choice at the time). Tomorrow would bring with it either victory or defeat, and my half-assery assured neither one.

Upon completing an assignment, we spend 1 or 2 classes (3 if you’re with Dave Merritt – Oooh, I went there!) critiquing the class’ work. This particular class had only 6 people, so we managed to get things done in one evening. Given that this was the bi-annual “involve yourself in the project” assignment, there were some interesting entries.

Eventually my turn came. The moment of truth. I had no less than Justin Min himself, brother to the delightful Emily, to work the shop vac. I climbed into my little bubble of saran wrap, making sure to bring with me my trusty roll of packing tape. From the inside, I took a few minutes to seal the plastic from the interior and, placing the end of my breathing tube in my mouth, gave Justin the thumbs up.

Brilliant? You tell me. Wait... don't.

The deafening roar of the shop vac was followed by an intense pressure spead across my entire body. Like a vice, the plastic pressed against my chest, restricting my breathing; it clung to my forehead so tightly that I began to feel light-headed; movement in my extremities was out of the question. Beyond my wildest dreams, my lame-brained, half-baked sculpture assignment had succeeded!

With this under my belt, I managed to pass 4th year with flying colours, go on to Education at Queen’s and begin my illustrious career here, teaching in the Far North of Canada. So, basically, I should have taken Andrew’s long-standing advice and shat on a board. Also, Chris Burden’s idea of jacking off under a ramp while gallery visitors pass overhead isn’t too shabby, either.

Once in a lifetime comes an artist as genre-defining and genre-defying as myself. Also, I'm about to pass out here.


Blogger sare said...

Holy shit Mike - I love it!
You certainly are in a vulnerable state - if I was there I'd be tempted to walk, sit and possibly even jump on you. What was your grade by the way??? I've always wondered how our profs came up with their marks... hmmm.
I would also have to agree with you on the sculpture (or lack there of) front at Western, there is not one piece or person that particularly sticks out in my mind...
And what was your second year body project?

Amused and Curious.

7:10 am  
Blogger sare said...

Answer my questions, dammit~!

9:50 am  

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