Photo: Allegra Morgado.
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Exhibit at Karsh-Masson Gallery features work of seven U of O MFA candidates

The Karsh-Masson Gallery is a quiet, calm place on a Saturday afternoon. Tucked away in Ottawa’s City Hall, it’s simply a single room off of the building’s main hallway—easy to miss, but fascinating once found. The tranquil nature of the gallery gives attendees a feeling of rest and serenity, an escape from the busy city that awaits one on the outside of the building’s doors.

The nature of this gallery makes its latest exhibit, Full Catastrophe, appear almost ironic. The pieces, all created by University of Ottawa MFA candidates, disrupt the tranquility, leaving behind a catastrophe of sorts, reflecting the nature of the seven artists’ pieces featured in the exhibit.

The exhibit is a mix of different mediums and subject matter, from Anthony Sauvé’s smashed guitar and looped video of said smashing, to Gillian King’s monochrome action paintings that combine acrylic paint, rainwater, and her dog’s ashes to make a large, striking works.

The first piece that grabs your eye is a painting by Elle Chae, featured on the wall directly as you walk into the gallery. The painting has many elements and dimensions that pull you in, as you attempt to make sense of the many shapes and colours interacting with each other in the piece.

“I was going through a lot of emotional changes, me becoming a new mother and all, and I was watching a few documentaries about these babies being abandoned and the infanticide in India,” says Chae. “I (also) just remembered about Pygmalion, the Greek mythical sculptor who fell in love with his own sculpture, so this strange relationship between the creator and creation, so the mother and the baby.”

Chae says that that these different events and subjects in her life combined to inspire what she describes as a “self-reflective” piece, and that she juxtaposed herself and her daughter with the Pygmalion while also reflecting on the heavy moral issues of child abandonment and infanticide. She felt that the mix of themes in her piece went well with the catastrophic theme of the exhibit.

Justine Skahan, one of the other artists featured in the exhibit, has three pieces in the gallery, two paintings and one sculpture, all three that are much calmer than Chae’s large, chaotic painting.

Skahan says that despite the title of the exhibit bringing to mind chaos and disorder, it actually derives from a line from the 1964 film Zorba the Greek and relates more to life and humanity being referred to as the “full catastrophe.”

Skahan’s work focuses on the way “natural elements and architecture co-exist, mostly in suburban landscapes.” The paintings featured in the exhibit show the awkward relationship between the two, working with the disordered theme of the exhibit.

Skahan says that some of the pieces, such as Adrian Göllner’s “Cast Gunshots” series, which are sculptures made out of blocks of clay that have been shot with handguns and then had resin poured into the void, are more overtly catastrophic, but insists that all of the pieces have some element of catastrophe in them.

“There’s something mildly catastrophic about all of our work… we were choosing stuff that had more of a catastrophic feel to it,” says Skahan.

By visiting the Full Catastrophe exhibit, one can temporarily escape from the busy outside world while reflecting on the true catastrophe in life—the human experience itself.

Full Catastrophe runs until April 24th at the Karsh-Masson Gallery. Admission is free.

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