'Garbage' art at MSVU challenges viewers' perceptions

Kate Walchuk has two pieces in Rubbish Rubbish exhibit


Walchuk "at home" in her studio, surrounded by pieces she did for a show called Rec Room. Photo: Wes Johnston

Kate Walchuk's art is garbage.

Check out her pieces in Rubbish Rubbish's online catalogue and you'll understand.

Domino's Pizza Box, one of her entries in the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery exhibit, looks like what you'd expect: an empty pizza box lying flat on the floor.  But up close, viewers realize the box is a painted piece of wood, complete with grease stains where you'd swear a pizza once sat if you didn't know any better. What once appeared to be trash transforms into art.

According to Stefan Hancherow, the curator of the exhibit, it's art that also tells a story.

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The double take: empty pizza box or installation art? Photo: Brendan Dunlop

"Kate Walchuk creates a great illusion through trompe l'oeil painting.  It's adding a surface to an object to make it look like it's something else," he says. "She puts a historical narrative in her work, so with the pizza box, her work symbolizes that an event happened.  She's showing traces of history."

Walchuk is only 23 and already her work is appearing in the exhibit alongside that of Roula Partheniou-an established Toronto-based artist and one of Walchuk's idols.

"She doesn't know me at all," says Walchuk. "But I am certainly a fan."

That might explain why Walchuk was nervous to have her work appear in Rubbish Rubbish.  But her installations don't seem at all out of place alongside some of the more prominent artists' work.  And talent aside, it didn't hurt that she knew the curator, who is also a former NSCAD student.

Hancherow attended Walchuk's NSCAD grad show and liked what he saw.  It was her Domino's Pizza Box that caught his eye, and Walchuk was flattered when he asked her to put it in the show.

Walchuk is from Barrie, Ont., and called it home until moving to Halifax in 2006 to study fine art at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.  She specializes in painted sculpture, which she uses in her other piece in the exhibit, Leaning Boxes.  Another narrative experiment, the sculpture is made up of what appears to be three flattened boxes leaning up against a wall.  They're complete with factory logos and labels such as "X-mas Ornaments" signifying the boxes' former purposes.  But of course, get up close and you'll find that you've been had by a few deftly painted pieces of wood.

And that's exactly what Hancherow is going for in Rubbish Rubbish.  He wants people to look at a piece, do a double take and rethink what they're actually seeing.

"I wanted to make it seem as if you were walking into a space you weren't sure you were supposed to be in.  With the materials in the gallery, it's not immediately thought of as being art because the work is so well-crafted it really just looks ordinary."

And for those who might not think that everyday objects can be transformed into striking pieces of art, Kate Walchuk has some advice:  take another look.

Rubbish Rubbish runs at the MSVU Art Gallery until Nov. 20.

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