U of O alumna receives rave reviews for new show

Photo: Maitland Shaheen

Human bones may seem like an odd material to use in an art exhibition, but for Nichola Feldman-Kiss’ show Witness, they were a vital component.

Witness, which opened last week at the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG), is a multimedia production by Feldman-Kiss, a University of Ottawa alumna, former professor, and Ottawa-based artist.

The show is a contextual study of the body and the psyche, and its relationship to the external world. The collection began years ago as single pieces of work, and evolved into a diverse collection inspired by each individual piece.

“It feels to me like one body of work that I worked on over a very long period of time,” says Feldman-Kiss.

The exhibit spans two rooms. In the first is an array of multimedia pieces—photographs, videos, sculptures, and acquired objects. One installment, entitled Reliquarium, is a collection of ninety objects spanning from pressed flowers, to written excerpts, to blood samples.

The edited form of Reliquarium in Witness comes from “a database of images and text that include over five hundred pieces.”

While creating the other installments for Witness, Feldman-Kiss recognized that she was subconsciously working from Reliquarium, and continued to push that idea. “I’ve always thought as the Reliquarium as a storyboard for subsequent investigations.”

In the first gallery, themes of the body, mind, emotions, and memory resonate. In the second room, these reappear, but in a wider, more global context.

Entitled Between Here and There, the final piece uses overhead speakers to play news recordings describing what sounds like war-like attacks and their casualties. Mechanical butterflies line the walls and flap their wings as people approach.

The most haunting aspect of the room, and the entire exhibit, is within a glass-covered cardboard box illuminated by overhead lights—a skeleton composed of human bones.

Between Here and There is frightening enough to force the audience to reflect on the piece and its possible meanings. Its sensory aspects are especially intimate, almost invading.

Feldman-Kiss’ interest in global affairs and travelling experiences undoubtedly inspire her works. She explains that being a citizen of three countries—Canada, Germany, and Jamaica—inspired her to study the ideas of identity.

Many elements of Witness suggest a topic of memories, especially from childhood. Feldman-Kiss describes the collection as part of a self-psychoanalysis. “I go back into my earliest memories of having an identity and what makes me have an identity… my ideas and feelings of myself.”

Feldman-Kiss describes Witness as about asking questions about herself as a woman in this time in history, and directly about her body. “What space does this body occupy in a political context? This is the person, how is the person political?”

The exhibit is a unique and intriguing experience, accomplishing exactly what contemporary art should do—make us think.

Witness is on display at the Ottawa Art Gallery, 2 Daly Avenue, until Feb. 7, 2016.