Urbanite a Victoria art gallery delight

At Urbanite, AGGV’s Nicole Stanbridge will walk groups through the exhibition and demystify the themes behind each piece.

Jaimie Robson adds a paper crane to her art installation in preparation for Urbanite at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

Contemporary art can instil fear in a person – fear of exposing one’s ignorance to a genre so often cited and yet so hard to encapsulate.

The chasm between observation and comprehension of these works seems daunting, too wide to venture across with frail curiosity alone.

But on Feb. 1, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria aims to allay this fear as it morphs into an evening cocktail lounge and performance venue and offers a crash course in its latest contemporary exhibition.

The gallery’s quarterly social event, Urbanite, was realized seven years ago as a way to attract a more eclectic audience and offer accessible tours in a social environment, said Tanya Muir, educator of public programs.

“It was a building process, but the last few years have been a booming success,” she said.

Urbanite features live music as well as interdisciplinary performance groups from theatre, dance or film backgrounds to flesh out the themes behind exhibitions and provide entertainment throughout the evening.

“Everything is thematically related to the exhibition,” she said.

To compliment the opening of the gallery’s latest exhibition, Traces: Fantasy Worlds and Tales of Truth, Montreal-based studio Mere Phantoms will bring shadows to life as the evening unfolds.

Using paper cutouts and handheld lights, Mere Phantoms draws on shadow puppetry, animation and performance to hypnotize its audience with an organic display.

“It’s very playful work,” said Jaimie Robson, who established the collaborative studio in 2009 with Maya Ersan.

“There’s something magic that happens when people take the light in their own hand and start moving it. It’s unexpected.”

Robson led a workshop at the art gallery this week to give participants a chance to contribute to her theme of rapid urban change and create pieces of their own.

Previous installations reveal a paper skyline of gnarled trees, skyscrapers and looming industrial towers.

While the duo has teamed up with musicians in the past, Robson is excited to integrate her work with the three artists curated for Traces by the AGGV’s Nicole Stanbridge.

Works by Daniel Barrow, Alison Norlen and Ed Pien push the boundaries of their genre by expanding scale and translating the drawings into three-dimensional space.

Barrow’s use of overhead projectors to adapt narratives is particularly hypnotizing and haunting, while Norlen compliments her well-known monumental drawings with wire sculptures of her sketched drawings.

Pien’s technique includes, among other works, the surgical removal of tiny shavings of paper from a single sheet, revealing a delicate web of design with trenchant detail.

At Urbanite, Stanbridge will walk groups through the exhibition and demystify the themes behind each piece.

To purchase tickets to Urbanite or find out more about Traces, visit aggv.ca.

“We strongly encourage people to buy tickets to Urbanite in advance, because we are starting to develop line-ups outside,” Muir said. “But we never want to turn anyone away from the art gallery.”

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