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SLIDE ROOM GALLERY

May 5 - May 29, 2017

GONE HOME Exhibition with work by

Alison Bigg 2017 graduate of the Independent Studio Program Vancouver Island School of Art


Gone Home

Gone Home is the result of an ongoing process of hands-on material investigation, discovery, analysis and contemplation. Alison Bigg came to VISA in September 2016 with one idea: to make work that commemorated the life of her brother, the late Robert Bigg. Over time this concept developed into several smaller ideas that included a range of materials from soap to sand, from paper swaths to display cabinets. Through these ideas and materials, Bigg created a small inset map of a life that was her brother’s. When a person close to us dies, we are left with the memories of what that person meant to us and how they fit into our life. However as we go through the objects they leave behind, we often discover another person, the personal and intimate side that a person keeps for themselves. We are forced to see them as a person separate from ourselves, and through this informal inventory of objects, we might begin to imagine what was it like to walk in their shoes. This experience of piecing together a life through the objects of person who died, makes us wonder how the objects we each leave behind will create our own posthumous narrative. It is often the mundane things, the notes left behind, or the food in the fridge, or the objects on a coffee table, that reveal the hidden stories of a life. Bigg’s work addresses those smaller, seemingly insignificant aspects of a person’s life through an installation interspersed with recreated objects and texts. The strength of Bigg’s work is that while it is extremely personal and specific, it is also universal. Emotions are often larger than the words used to describe them. While people entering the Gone Home exhibition might not immediately be aware of the specific story being told, they can feel and respond to the emotions that emanate from the arrangements of materials, smells and text-based compositions that Bigg has created. Bigg’s personal story is recognized through our universal experience of feeling emotions based on sensory details. She has given us a glimpse not only into the life of her brother but also what it means to be a sentient being. Wendy Welch, Executive Director, Vancouver Island School of Art


Outside the Box Display case with cast soap, constructed boxes with etching on surfaces On back wall: A Bad Taste Shelves with constructed boxes


Repetition on Small Portraits of Brother Human Story Telling Man Alone Staring Son Ending Alone Brother Eyes Portrait Friend Mouth Story Alone Son Friend Eyes Telling Open Staring Man Mouth Mouth Staring Human Open Portrait Man Portrait Brother Eyes Telling Friend Ending Story Human Brother Ending Open Son Gone Gone Gone Colette Baty The Art of Preservation and Conservation: Care of Objects and Collections The encased: The collector: confined, i can’t move boxed in, trapped

safe, it has a place sheltered, private

immobile, i can’t flex pinned, restrained

secure, it won’t break protected, unharmed

visible, i can’t hide spectacle, displayed

adored, it can be seen valued, revisited

permeated, i can’t breathe chemical, cleaner

clean, it’s pure impeccable, untainted

dehydrated, i can’t swallow extracted, hollow

dry, it will keep well preserved, cared for

controlled, i can’t blink suspended, stopped

perfect, it won’t change treasured, honoured

isolated, i can’t connect taken, separated, gone

isolated, it’s precious kept, collected, remembered

Debra Gloeckler


A Bad Taste Shelves with constructed boxes

Installation view


The Cabinet There you are in a cabinet, an artifact in a museum R for grease, grey muddy and slick S for leather oil, fragrant dabbed sprayed and lit O for bacon fat, splatter burn yet so tasty L for motor oil, keeping parts running smoothly 4 for tobacco, chewed sniffed smoked and eaten Y for hash oil, brown shades of shatter and waxen P for teeth, nash grind and biting A for lye, white caustic and cleansing 2 for sand, gritty with power to bury W for gravel, grey hard and sourced from a quarry C for sea salt, white buoyant and crunching G for charcoal, smoky black and mark-making Michelle Ford

In the Blink of an Eye Display case with cast soap and artifacts (detail)


Gone Home A cone of sand rests upon a circular piece of grey felt on black linoleum tiles. Around the edge are small soap-cast trucks. This is Gone Home, one part of Bigg’s exhibition of the same name. For this work, Bigg dug deeply into the life of her brother Robert Bigg to assemble a portrait of his likes, phrases, and interests. Like an archaeologist she excavated his surroundings and his belongings, discovering the manual that belonged to her brother when he was a keen boy scout. The requirements for the Hiker Scout Badge caught her attention: signs intended to be communicated to the next person coming along the trail, in the form of rocks, sticks or plants. Bigg has recreated the circle-within-a-circle “gone home” symbol in this sculpture. The materials interact and contrast with each other simultaneously: the softness of the felt opposes the light-coloured, gritty, fine particles of the sand. The memory of each material used allows the to experience the differences in texture without needing to touch. Sand, as in an hourglass, references time slipping away, running out. With connotations of comfort and wrapping, the felt waits quietly. Both felt and sand absorb. In this still piece they hold the past, with its loss and acceptance. Cast soap trucks circle the sand mound in the same way pioneers used to circle the wagons to keep loved ones safe, homage to her brother who loved his truck. The neutral colours of the materials emphasize the twilight world of memory. “Gone Home” means never forgotten. June Higgins

Gone Home Sand, soap, felt, vinyl letters and linoleum (detail)


Gone Home & The Art of Display Gone Home uses both the motif of display and the work itself to effectively communicate her message. The objects are displayed in three large white cases. Objects are made of soap. The soap is cast into a variety of shapes: numbers, letters, toy cars and car parts. Some of the soap sculptures mimic something you might find on someone’s coffee table like game controllers, remote controls, and portions of a bong used to smoke marijuana. Bigg uses soap as a metaphor; traditionally soap is made with ingredients used to cleanse the body and wash away the dirt and residue from the day. The handmade soap sculptures make the viewer feel more comfortable with the idea of handling it and smelling it as you would do in a retail store. It is only when you interact with the soap that you realize the ingredients are such things as, teeth, motor oil, and human ash. These ingredients give the viewer a visceral response of discomfort not commonly associated with something meant to be intimate with the body. Each of these display cases showcase the objects in a different way, effectively changing the meaning of the work based on the way is it displayed. The first case, In the Blink of an Eye, references a museum with each piece of soap laid out carefully and glass separating the viewer from the item. The soap is transformed to artifact. The viewer looks at each of them carefully examining them for the shape, size and colour. They become specimens from the past, something that will be revisited over and over again. The artist is asking that we as a society understand what happened and what are we missing. Mounted on this case is a plaque with a man’s name (the artist’s brother) and date of birth and death. It slowly dawns on the viewer that this work is a memorial. The second display case, Outside the Box, is set up to resemble a retail store. The soap is ready to purchase, each with their own packaging. This display method allows the viewer create a relationship with the soap. We feel entitled to pick it up and examine it from all angles. Upon closer inspection the boxes provide soap names and list the ingredients. Bigg is confronting the audience with something that we would usually cringe away from or avoid. By setting the soaps in such an inviting way, she creates an interesting tension in the work. Bigg does not give you a chance to avoid what she is poignantly trying to communicate. The third display case, Band-Aid on Bullet Wound, is completely covered


except for a small eye-hole big enough for one viewer to look through. When you look into the darkened display case you see a confusing array of objects. All of these soaps glow in the dark. This display is something the general public would not normally see, it is a secret stash of objects from the commemorated man’s coffee table. We feel as though we have not been invited into this space; as if we are seeing part of his life kept just for himself. This display case is about the life he lived, rather than a commemoration to the life that was as displayed in the previous display boxes. The objects and their possible interpretations are greatly enhanced by the artist’s considered arrangements and placements in these three display cases. These cases are micro-worlds allowing the viewer to contemplate and piece together the meaning of the work on display. Chantelle Parent

Installation view of Outside the Box and A Bad Taste


Band-Aid on a Bullet Wound: Seeing Beyond the Visible

Bigg pushes our sensory experiences in this exhibition by inviting us to peer into an interior lighted display case that is covered with a soft felt surface. Cut into the felt and case, is a small viewing slit padded with three layers of felt to allow the art viewer to actually bend over and peer into the hidden case interior while resting on this cushioned surface. And what they see —and smell— is both delightful and curious. Bigg has inserted mirrors in the bottom of the case. The first thing one might notice is your own set of eyes peering back. The second thing is the aroma. When I peered in, Bigg had a faint scent of red cedar emanating from the case. But then the entire tableau hits you. Scattered around the case floor are various translucent, glowing green and blue, soap carvings or moulds of various objects: a PlayStation controller, three bongs with their tubes snaking across other objects, a toy truck, three cable TV controllers, a jar brimming with gel caps, several egg shaped objects, blue arrow objects, orange flagging tape, and various pipes and parts from a machine shop. All of these objects are lit from a black light source and the interior walls are covered in black material. The viewer suddenly enters a secret and intimate space; a space which is distinctly separate from the rest of the gallery, the rest of the world and yet it is clearly filled with objects of the world. After a while, you start to make the connection: they are all objects that are most likely, but not necessarily, from the domain of a young male with time on his hands. These could have been scattered around the house of a millennial but Bigg has transformed them into ghostly, pseudo-objects and transported them into this fantastical grotto where the viewer is forced, without the distractions of neighbouring art pieces, or other visitors, or room fixtures and furnishings, to focus on what she wants you to look at. You cannot turn away. James Mulchinock


Front: Band-Aid on a Bullet Wound (display case with cast and sculpted soap, sage essential oil and UV light) Back wall: Back Against the Wall Ink, watercolour, pencil, charcoal, wax, motor oil and image transfer on paper

Band-Aid on a Bullet Wound (detail looking inside case)


Alison Bigg’s Idioms as defined by Karima Heredia Head in the clouds: being unaware of the world outside ones’ mind Back against the wall: there is no escape Pull the rug from under: unexpectedly take away support from someone Cut off at the knees: forcing someone into submission Cry stinking fish: bring oneself down Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater: don’t throw out something valuable with other things that are not desirable Heart in one’s mouth: being full of strong emotions Band-Aid on a bullet wounds: trying to cover a massive problem with little resources Down in the mouth: sad, depressed, disappointed Grit your teeth: convince yourself to carry on even when the situation is tough Rear Its ugly head: when something becomes visible in the eye of the storm; in the middle or climax of the problem A bitter pill to swallow: accepting failure or unpleasant news Don’t work yourself into a lather: getting upset with no good reason Go “Bigg” or go home: to go all the way

In the Eye of the Storm Ink, watercolour, pencil, charcoal, wax, motor oil and image transfer on paper


Gone Home: Opening Remarks by Wendy DeGros When Alison submitted her proposal for this work for the Independent Studio Program she wanted to do an installation work as an homage and honouring of her brother. This work evoked a time in her life when there was great sorrow and grief. A time when there were far more questions than answers. The author Joan Didion said “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we’ve reached it.” Neil Gaiman said in his address to a University of the Arts graduating class “When things get tough this is what you should do: Make good art.” As Alison began this work she realized there were many layers of narrative. The initial one her commitment to creating an homage and honouring her brothers’ life. As she worked on the pieces she discovered there was another parallel narrative. One about her grief, loss and all the emotions related to it. In this narrative there was a catharsis and the beginning of healing for her. Also she had a desire for a third narrative. The one she hopes the viewer will imagine and engage in. Alison wants there to remain an element of mystery and discovery for the viewer. So it becomes a balance of what to reveal of her narrative while honouring the original purpose and intention of the work. And also it has always been her intention to create formal works of art, that stand on their own. While the work is personal the work is also universal. This work is an installation of painting, sculpture, printmaking, re-use objects and light that has evolved over this last year. Alison allowed herself to paint in an unrestricted way to express the power of her emotions. She included idioms in text on the painting to overtly connect the viewer to the work and her feelings at the time. Alison told me that one of her brothers’ favourite sayings was “Go big or go home.” He used it often and found humour in the comparison and ambiguity with his last name. In conclusion of this work and in the end Rob Bigg has gone home.


Artist Statement: Gone Home In Gone Home I have created an environment using hand made soap, which has been cast into letters and objects, and large Nimbus cloud paintings, to encourages people to reflect on the emotional meaning of severe depression and how it affects them or the people close to them. Soap is a metaphor for impermanence; it holds connotations of intimacy, and reveals hidden elements as it dissolves. Boxes for the soap are constructed using dry point etching and a list of ingredients: ash, bone, blood, motor oil, lard, bacon fat, sea salt, charcoal, etc. Letters and idioms are used as visual elements, raising the question of language and the challenge of communicating emotions. The castings are displayed in three ways: as a museum display, turning the soap into precious objects; a store display as a commentary on the commodification of conformity; and a voyeuristic display of a young man’s coffee table with phosphorescent soap sculptures suggesting various means through which emotions are avoided. The nimbus paintings are long, infinite paintings of storm clouds; the power of severe depression for some, and the magnificence of what we cannot control in others. Having the simultaneous experience of looking into and looking out of a dark cloud will encourage the viewer to be left alone with their own thoughts. The last sculpture is made with sand and cast soap trucks, arranged in the boy scout wilderness symbol meaning “I’ve gone home”. It represents the end of my brothers’ journey but also becomes the conclusion of my own journey, through process, towards a new relationship with my brother and with my grief. The intention of Gone Home is to start a conversation about what it might feel like to be deeply sad, to have no choice but to take one’s own life. Gone Home brings to light the taboo subjects of suicide and death and how these experiences play out in our thought processes. This work is dedicated to my little brother, 1976-2015.


A Bad Taste Shelves with constructed boxes (detail)

In the Blink of an Eye Display case with cast soap and artifacts and plaque made by Nicole Bigg


Acknowledgments We would like to thank and acknowledge the following: Independent Studio Program graduate: Allison Bigg. The Diploma of Fine Art students: Jane Coombe, Karima Heredia, June Higgins, Kim Leslie, James Mulchinock, Chantelle Parent, for their ongoing studio support and encouragement. Colette Baty, Michelle Ford, Debra Gloeckler, Karima Heredia, June Higgins, , James Mulchinock and Chantelle Parent for the essays in this catalogue. Mentor Wendy DeGros who worked with Alison Biggs on a bi-weekly basis to facilitate the development of her creative process. Amanda Dodds, our office manager, who helped with the labeling and organizing of the exhibition. Natasha van Netten, our Media Coordinator who made the poster and was responsible for the promotion. And all the community supporters, volunteers, faculty and students who make the Vancouver Island School of Art and Slide Room Gallery an important part of the Victoria community. Alison Bigg would also like to thank her family, Matthew, Theo and Olivia, for their encouragement and support and Wendy Welch for giving her the space and encouragement to realize Gone Home and for putting together this catalogue.

Photo credits: Alison Bigg and Natasha van Netten. All work in catalogue was completed 2016-17.


SLIDE ROOM GALLERY 2549 Quadra Street, Victoria, BC V8T 4E1 250.380.3500 info@slideroomgallery.com www.slideroomgallery.com

Gone home catalogue  

Graduation exhibition catalogue of the 2017 VISA Independent Studio Program student: Alison Bigg. Essays by Curatorial Studies students.

Gone home catalogue  

Graduation exhibition catalogue of the 2017 VISA Independent Studio Program student: Alison Bigg. Essays by Curatorial Studies students.

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