a, Art, Arts & Entertainment

McGill’s underground art show

Prior to last Wednesday, the only type of event I had ever attended at the Arts Lounge—located in the basement of McGill’s Leacock building—were a handful of the weekly Bar des Arts (BDA) gatherings, which always promise a boisterous crowd of tipsy students. The Fridge Door Gallery (FDG) Fall 2013 Vernissage—one of the bi-annual art exhibitions organized by the McGill student-run FDG—offered a similar if slightly less boisterous experience.

As a first-time FDG attendee with little idea of what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to find that such a large and upbeat group of students had come to check out the exhibition. The cheerful student presence was juxtaposed with eerie yet engrossing experimental musical performances interspersed throughout the vernissage.

Sleek, well-designed programs were waiting for people as they walked through the doors of the Arts Lounge, as well as a large printed board that stated and explained the Vernissage’s theme and title, Diffusion | Distortion. Its broad goal as stated in the program was to celebrate artworks that “explore the fluidity of perception.” Nearly all of the artwork was arranged hanging in front of the lounge’s long wall. Lamps were set up to illuminate the various pieces, and ample viewing space was available, with the usual couches that line the room bunched together off to the side, where the pool table is.

The event’s starting time was 6 p.m.; when I came in at 6:15, the majority of guests had already swarmed the table where refreshments were being distributed. I took advantage of that rush to get a first glance at all of the art, positioning myself right in front of it without any competition— in what proved to be a Pyrrhic victory. Since almost all the cheese and crackers were gone by the time I was ready to sample, I only ended up with some grapes, and veggies with dip. Though I wasn’t drinking, the organizers still seemed to be going strong with their generous wine and sangria supplies.

(Wendy Chen / McGill Tribune)
(Wendy Chen / McGill Tribune)

Considering that McGill has no fine art program, I was very impressed with the FDG selection. There was a diverse mixture of paintings, photography, sketches, and digitally-designed work. Staying true to the theme of the night, many of the pieces displayed distorted images, and images that diffused different artistic styles, especially the digital images. One of the standout photos by art history alumnus Elisa Penttilä, called “Evening Haze,” manipulated evening streetlights beautifully, so that they appeared as “near-perfect semi-opaque circles.”

My favourite paintings were a small grouping called “Toxic Trees,” created by U4 Education student Madeleine Williams-Orser. Her unusual natural depictions of forestry and bodies of water are the product of an effort to make her landscapes “look the way that they feel.” The results were distorted landscapes built with wispy shades of green. It was a fascinating interpretation—a complete 180 from traditional Canadian Group of Seven paintings, despite the similar subject.

FDG had arranged for undergraduate Music student Ryan Kelly, who is also pursuing mathematics and linguistics degrees, to perform at the vernissage. Shortly after the event began, the organizers diverted everyone’s attention towards Kelly, and he began to play from a set called around_me that the program clarified “is meant to be extremely uncomfortable for both the performer and the listener.” Given the way the event had unfolded, with students happily socializing and enjoying the complementary items, it was a drastic mood change, and felt like a bit of a misguided effort. However, everyone was respectful and engaged as he revealed his impressive and spooky sounds, which utilized an amplified closing and scratching of a textbook in its arrangement.

By most accounts, Diffusion | Distortion felt like an absolute success; the art was excellent and the vibe was very positive—creepy music notwithstanding. According to the vernissage’s Facebook event, 195 people were expected to show up, and by my estimate, the actual turnout seemed to be right around that—an admirable feat in this era of mass, impersonal online invitations to student events. I’m already excited for the spring vernissage, to which I’ll be promptly arriving at with a mandate of eat first, admire later.

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