So what does it mean?

Art in buffeteria spurs conversation

You might have noticed four colourful banners hanging in the buffeteria on the fourth floor of Centennial Hall at the University of Winnipeg. 

In the familiar shape of signs that might say “Congratulations,” or “Happy Birthday,” each one instead carries a different phrase: “So What,” “That’s It,” “What Difference Does It Make” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah.” 

Cailyn Cheasley, a University of Winnipeg student studying biochemistry, and her friends noticed the signs one day and tried to figure out what they were.

“It definitely started a conversation,” she says.

For Mary-Anne McTrowe, the artist behind SO WHAT, generating discussion was exactly what she had in mind. 

“I met a fellow at a residency in 2013 who teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design (University),” McTrowe says. 

“In his critiques with students, he would often ask them ‘So what?’, not as a way of shutting down the conversation, but trying to extend it. For SO WHAT, you could read the phrases as being either a conversation stopper and something very negative, or they could be something that welcomes a kind of back-and-forth.”

The installation is a part of Gallery 1C03’s current exhibition, A Putting Down of Roots: 40 Years of CV2

Curated by Kegan McFadden, the exhibit displays archival material from Contemporary Verse 2, the Canadian journal of poetry and critical writing. 

Jennifer Gibson, director of Gallery 1C03, found out about McTrowe’s work after it was displayed in the Lewyc Institute of Contemporary Art. 

Gibson thought it would be an excellent compliment to the other text-based work by contemporary artists McFadden had selected for the gallery.

“I see it as continuing the conversation on how visual artists use text in their work,” Gibson says. “I chose to display it in the buffeteria because it was an opportunity to have all the banners in sort of a concentrated location where they would be a bit more noticeable and make more of an impact.”

Gibson would like to find other ways to insert contemporary art into public spaces on campus. 

“If people see it and they’re sort of scratching their heads going ‘what is this about,’ well, it can be kind of fun,” she says. “When you install artwork in unexpected places, if people don’t see the label, they’re kind of left on their own.”

McTrowe agrees, hoping that by removing the expectations that come with going to see art in a gallery setting, her work can create different reactions. 

“There’s not that context that an art gallery sets up,” McTrowe says. “It could be anything, it might not even necessarily be art. They may not know how to read it and so they’ll have to come up with their own ideas, which I think is great. People might not necessarily be looking to have an experience with a work of art, but there it is.”

The banners will be up until Dec. 11.

Published in Volume 70, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 26, 2015)

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