The Just A Sec’ Exhibition: Comments from the Curator


by Katherine Neil

Exploring ideas surrounding ‘a moment in time’ and translation, the Just A Sec’ exhibition was a collaboration by students at Emily Carr University with varied art and critical theory practices: Ashlea Conway, Scott Kemp, Jacek Porowski, Olivia Qiu, Sonja Ratkay + Angela Smailes.

The Just A Sec’ exhibition came about as the result of a request that I curate a show for a group of artists who had already agreed to participate. This was unusual in that typically a curator selects artists whose work she thinks will go well together and add something to an existing dialogue, or create a new conversation.  In this case, the challenge was to identify the connections and relationships among the practices of a disparate group of artists. 

The idea that what comes before and what comes after affects the ‘now’ is illustrated by German philosopher Walter Benjamin in his essay entitled The Task of the Translator[1], which was a catalyst for the process through which I developed the conceit of the exhibition. A translation suggests an ‘original’; an original, like a photograph, can be viewed as a time capsule for a particular moment. What surrounds that moment is an ever-shifting context of time and space.

The Just A Sec’ exhibition highlighted the work of artists interested in studying and challenging the idea of a ‘moment’. Can any moment be truly autonomous, distinguishable from all those before it, and those to come? What is the result when ‘we’ consider a work of art, something that has traditionally been understood as a replete gesture, in a shifting context? The artists in this exhibition addressed the effect of time and space on an art object, and additionally, the implications of imagining space: physical space, historical space, conceptual space, as the ‘object’ itself.

Primarily sculpture students, Conway, Kemp, Porowski, Qiu, Ratkay and Smailes’ work for the show ranged from drawing to painting, to light and scent-based installation. Despite their material differences, the pieces in the exhibition manifested interesting connections:

Upon entering the gallery, the two works to the viewer’s immediate left and right were Olivia Qiu’s painting entitled one million years, and Ashley Conway’s untitled mixed media work. one million years depicts a glass enclosure inside a room with high ceilings and large windows, a scene that recalls On Kawara’s piece of the same name, which also addresses the passage and marking of time[2]. In Qiu’s painting, the floor of the glass enclosure forms a brown, two-dimensional rhombus, which mirrors the mahogany plinth that is part of Conway’s three-dimensional piece. Both Qiu and Conway’s artworks suggest a ‘proposed space’, with infinite possibilities. I think of the art exhibition as a similar kind of space.

While Qiu’s painting directly references Kawara’s earlier work, it also presents something new. In her work the transparent sides of the enclosure from Kawara’s piece collapse further into the two-dimensional surface of the painting, emphasizing a lack of definition between inside and outside, illusion and reality.

On the back wall of the Concourse Gallery, invisible at a distance, appearing only as the viewer approaches, Scott Kemp’s acrylic sculpture also challenges the distinction between inside and outside, and illusion and reality. The reflective surface of Kemp’s piece, suggestive of commercial display devices, echoes the reflective surface of Conway’s Plexi-covered plinth, and the suggested reflectivity of the enclosure in Qiu’s painting. All three artists’ work could be interpreted as making reference to museum displays (vitrines, for example), which have their own connotations related to time, and the preservation of material matter.

In the center of the gallery Angela Smailes’ work combined art historical elements with humor. Her assemblages, which she refers to as “3D sketches”, suggest a fleeting moment or movement; the draped plinths on which they stand are reminiscent of the history of still life painting and photography, and, like some of the aforementioned works, various modes of display. Meanwhile Sonja Ratkay’s projected images broach the movement of light through a camera and the technical aspects of capturing life on film, as well as the atmospheric effects of lighting used in stage production. The interaction of her work with the other works in the Just A Sec’ exhibition, including Smailes’ assemblages, transformed the gallery space into a surrealist set, disorienting in a way similar to the proposed scenes in Conway’s and Qiu’s pieces.

The shrine-like devotion to the past in museum displays is evoked in Jacek Porowski’s triptych entitled it sinks beneath our wisdom like a stone. Constructed out of found wood and depicting a series of hand gestures, re-contextualized from well-known images from the Renaissance to the Russian Revolution, Porowski’s three panels pay homage to significant periods in human history. While their display in a gallery setting seems to signal their metaphorical ‘death’, it is also the moment at which the viewer is invited to translate and interpret the work, and therefore the beginning of its stage of continued life[3].

Despite some unusual challenges encountered during the process, the Just A Sec’ exhibition establishes that unconventional beginnings can lead to a successful collaboration amongst different cultural practitioners.

[1] Benjamin Walter, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 71

[2]  unknown, unknown. David Zwirner art gallery, “For immediate release: On Kawara - One Million Years.” Accessed March 3, 2014.

[3] “For a translation comes later than the original, and since the important works of [art] never find their chosen translators at the time of their origin, their translation marks their stage of continued life.”

Benjamin Walter, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 71.