Even during a normal year, it can be a challenge for our Visual Arts students to complete their degree requirements and present a finished body of creative work while also planning the annual BFA grad show—a student-organized public exhibition which normally attracts hundreds to campus.
This year, however, graduating students have had to grapple with both creating work under strict COVID conditions and the uncertainty of whether a physical exhibition would be permitted. The bad news? Less than a month before the exhibit’s opening date, student curators were informed that a public show would not be possible—but the good news is, they’ll be shifting it online for viewing by anyone, anywhere, as the annual BFA graduation exhibition, The End, will run online starting April 27.
Graduating Visual Arts student Nick Patterson, exhibition chair for the 2021 BFA exhibition, The End (photo: John Threlfall)
Something new & different
Despite a title like The End, however, don’t assume it’s a doom-and-gloom student reflection on being the pandemic class of 2021. “It’s almost sarcastic calling this The End, but it feels like a specific kind of world has ended,” says exhibition chair Nick Patterson. “We’re passing through the threshold into something new and different.”
Given the uniquely hands-on, often collaborative, nature of their program, Visual Arts was among the few departments permitted to run in-person this past academic year: 46 percent of their classes were offered on-campus from September to April, thanks to rigorous safety protocols.
“People have been working really hard to still make the work they want,” says graduating honours student Zoë Joyall. “There are many [of us] in the graduating class who make installations or performance-based work, which is directly impacted by COVID precautions and regulations. I feel really grateful that we do have the space to come together as a group, as a community . . . people who are doing school entirely on Zoom don’t have the same connections we are lucky enough to have.”
Graduating Visual Arts honours student Zoë Joyall (photo: John Threlfall)
Part of something special
Patterson agrees. “There are fewer opportunities to work together because of the restrictions, and yet we are still putting forth our best—and that is really inspiring to me,” he says. “There is definitely a feeling that we are part of something special.”
The online exhibition The End will feature work by 30 graduating students, ranging from painting, sculpture, photography and drawing to digital media, installations, multimedia and more. The exhibit is presented in both a remarkably interactive “Google maps” style walk-through of the gallery space, which allows you to not only a 360-degree view of the work but also find out more about each artist, as well as a more conventional catalogue.
“It has been a privilege and inspiration to see the students rally behind their vision with endless determination and a tremendous sense of community,” says supervising Visual Arts professor Jennifer Stillwell. “Any limitations have only inspired innovation.”
Graduating Visual Arts student Jasper Van Alderwegen, head of curation for the 2021 BFA exhibition, The End(photo: John Threlfall)
Exploration of identities
As with any exhibition, subject matter will vary by individual artist. “I think a lot of the work deals with not just COVID, but working through trauma,” says head of curation Jasper Van Alderwegen. “Identity and mental health are huge themes, [as are] the end of isolation or an exploration of identity.”
Rather than discouraged, recent JCURA recipient and head of documentation Jamie Oosterhuis feels “incredibly inspired” by the work being exhibited in The End. “If you want to feel a sense of creativity and optimism during a time when everything feels very bleak—if you want to feel that connection to others in the arts community—that’s why you should view this show,” she says. “The End of a chapter means a new beginning.”
Graduating Visual Arts student and JCURA recipient Jamie Oosterhuis, head of documentation for the 2021 BFA exhibition, The End (photo: John Threlfall)
Next generation work
That’s a sentiment with which Stillwell agrees.
“Even though the exhibition marks ‘the end’ of their degree program, spotlighting that moment in time will allow them to start the next scene—I am more than confident this next generation of visual artists will do so.”
You can view the full exhibit here via a remarkably interactive website which simulates the experience of walking through the gallery, but the photos below also offer a quick view of some of the work on display.
—with files by Grace Dillon