Getting Your Fix of Art on Campus at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery

Hello Blogosphere, I hope all of your lives are going splendidly and that your week was full of Pride events, Canada day celebrations and beaches. If you care to know, your poor, devoted blogger has been having a terrible week. I was sick on Monday and Tuesday, and have spent the rest of the week in the frenzied state of playing catch-up which culminated in the explosion of a can of black spray-paint as I was touching up the paint on my dresser in the front yard. (OK, it didn't really explode, because then I probably wouldn't have a face anymore. I did get coated in paint, though, and it WON'T COME OFF.) *Sigh* But when I'm annoyed, fed up, stressed and coated in black spray-paint, there are only a few things that will get me out of my mood. The first option is to crank an angry song by The Arcade Fire and punch an inanimate object (preferably a punching bag) repeatedly until my arm gets sore. But since that is tiring and completely useless, I much prefer the second option: Engaging in Art Therapy. And U of T's got you covered. There are a few different art galleries on campus that have rotating exhibits throughout the year and are free for students. This week, I decided to check out the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery. So the first thing to know about the JMB (as it is fondly known) is that it is actually inside Hart House despite being an independent gallery space. To get there, enter Hart House (located, as I'm sure you know at 7 Hart House Circle). Walk to the Hub (the central information desk on the first floor) and take a left. Follow that hallway until you're outside and you can see the Hart House Quad on your right. Keep going straight, and you've made it! Congratulations. (If you get lost anyway, just ask the folks at the Hub for directions.) The JMB is a contemporary gallery space that exhibit works from new, local and international artists. And they don't just display art: they also host public forums and talks to try and foster a community for contemporary artists and admirers. They usually have four different exhibitions a year. (The gallery is open Monday-Wednesday 11am-5pm, Thursday 10am-7pm, and Saturday-Sunday from 1pm-5pm.) The exhibit on right now is Don't Stop Believing by Kevin Schmidt. (It might just be me, but I couldn't stop singing Journey while I was browsing around the gallery.) Schmidt is a young artist, who works mainly with video installations. The exhibit as a whole has kind of a "epic mythology in this day and age" feel to it. The room immediately to your left is a video installation of an isolated burning bush crackling. (Moses, anyone?) In another room projected phrases and words predicting doom and gloom dance around the walls in graffiti script. The lights remind me of a room in a club, they're flashing in bright neon. The phrases are ominous and warn of your "vain deceits" that will cause you to "drown in lies." They're epic statements, they seem like they come straight out of prophecies of the apocalypse in Revelations, and it's strange to see them dancing around a dark empty room that wouldn't be out of place in club-land. They would be more at home when you're leveling up in World of Warcraft, or watching a Game of Thrones marathon on HBO. You're lead down a small hallway with a spray-painted tale of the coming apocalypse. The end of the prophecy suggests that in the end, the birds will feast on all of our flesh. Jolly. I'm almost too freaked out to walk into a room completely cut off by a thick black curtain. There are barge noises coming from inside, and I pause, kind of too scared to walk into the completely empty room in the completely empty gallery. Finally I do, and, well, SPOILER ALERT, but inside is a video installation of a lonely looking man in a small boat on water watching the Lord of the Rings.
Photo courtesy of Justina M. Barnicke Gallery
Photo courtesy of Justina M. Barnicke Gallery
The exhibit is curated by Barbara Fischer, the director of the gallery. The great thing about the JMB is that every time they have a new exhibition, there is an artist's talk and an opening reception that are both open to the public. The gallery attendants are nearly always art history students at U of T, so I recommend dropping by if you want to bend someone's ear about your thoughts on art. (They have to listen - they're getting paid to sit there.) I like this exhibit. The video element of it makes it accessible, and there's something wonderfully tactile about being able to walk into a room and have its totality complete the experience of art. You don't have to worry about the traditional "look at a piece of modern art, tilt your head, step back and sigh." You just walk into a darkened room and let the piece do the work for you. (Now that I think of it, this might make a great spot for a date.) All you have to do is keep your mind open to the possibilities of symbolism, instead of wondering why the heck you're watching someone in a boat watch the first Lord of the Rings film in an art gallery. (Easier said than done, I know.) That's all for now, folks. (I'll keep you updated on the status of my hands... Right now it sort of looks like black acid snow came down on my hands and stuck.)

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