Super odd art hangs in the classroom building

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Clumps of ceramic + skulls = weirdest art of life

What on earth is that?/Laura Billett

What on earth is that?/Laura Billett

For a university that prides itself on its various arts programs, there is little visual art on campus. Some works of art can be sporadically found, and the Riddell Centre has a great gallery to showcase students’ work; however, many of our halls are quite bleak.

“There’s not a huge presence of art,” says psychology major Mia Bell, who would like to see more art in our university halls and classrooms. “Including art in any space can make it more diversified, and give it a little bit more interest.”

Out of the little permanent artwork that does adorn the university halls, the strangest I have ever noticed is an installation above the second floor landing in the Classroom Building main staircase. You may not have noticed it before. In fact, if you have noticed it, I would be surprised. This piece asks to be ignored; it boasts neither engaging colours, nor engaging content.

The mural is composed of small square tiles covered with what looks like ceramic molded into three-dimensional shapes. What seems like a pale-blue river flows across the work, spanning the width of the staircase. The bulk of the piece is gray and brownish, with some random pale green and orange circles.

“What is this a picture of?” you may be wondering. Well, that is what I was set out to discover.

Since a plaque with the artist, title of the piece, and materials used was nowhere to be found, I figured I would take my question to those who are experts in the world of art interpretation: The MacKenzie Art Gallery.

There I ran into Bell, who has been working for the gallery for two years. She kindly explained the MacKenzie’s method of art interpretation in an effort to help me work through my own interpretation of this very unique and mysterious work of art.

“It’s called the MacKenzie Method, what we use here to analyze and process any art. It’s something that anyone can do,” explains Bell. “When you are looking at any piece of art, especially one that is abstract or something that you are not sure about, it can be pretty intimidating to absorb the art right away. The first thing you can do is get any impressions.”

My first impression was confusion, but as I studied the work, I noticed the small grouping of what seemed to be human skulls at the bottom of the piece. Bell had a similar impression when I showed her an image of the mural.

“For that one, the part that kind of looks like a skull makes me a little uneasy, so that could be my first impression.”

So, with uneasiness and confusion, we moved on to the second and third steps in the MacKenzie method: find what provoked your first impression and why the artist might have wanted to give that impression, if in fact they did.

Bell explained, “The fourth bit, which we would definitely have trouble with, is finding context for the piece. … That’s where the unlucky part is, with the context.”

Unlucky is right. Who created this, and why? I am a devout art lover, and will normally defend the most abstract of work, but this one has me stumped. I could go on an interpretive rant, but you would likely find it neither enlightening nor entertaining. Luckily, Bell had a little more insight.

She states, “I think in Saskatchewan, [it’s about] pottery or ceramics, which I assume that this is. There is a pretty big culture of ceramic art and pottery art in Saskatchewan. So, it would be important to include that in the space. This one is a little bit weird because it’s not something I’ve noticed myself, looking in the classroom building.”

A little bit weird is the understatement of the week. Perhaps the university was having a rough batch of student artists at the time that they decided to adorn the classroom building staircase with this work of art. I apologize to the artist, but until you come forward to defend yourself, or someone does on your behalf, this work will remain an impressively odd piece of work.

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