A Quick! look at student artwork at the Hatch

It’s a new decade at UBC which means nothing less than a new exhibition at the Hatch gallery. For 2020, we’re starting off with the annual Visual Arts Students’ Association (VASA) exhibition, called Quick! a last show before I go off my rocker.

I agree. There is a lot going on in the title. I like it.

The eight works in this exhibition came from student submissions which were selected via a jury of students and alumni from the UBC department of art history, visual art & theory. Like a lot of Hatch exhibitions — which I feel very qualified to say, having covered them for most of this academic year — Quick! is both a multimedia exhibition and quite ambitious, at least conceptually.

Artworks range from video to performance — live on the opening night, January 14 — to painting to falling on rocks to a book and some fans. There are also Polaroid photographs and a Polaroid camera. And, what has to be one of my favourite descriptions of an artistic medium: “cloth, tube, spit.”

But what does “Quick! a last show before I go off my rocker.” mean?

That one’s easy. It’s the first line from a 1953 Frank O’Hara poem, “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday,” which can be read online. The date 1953 is important here, because Frank O’Hara wrote seven different poems entitled “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday.” One of them you can listen to on Spotify. Wack! As surreal as ever, Frank O’Hara.

What the fuck at all does acclaimed American poet Frank O’Hara have to do with our
AMS art gallery? Very little! But his 1953 poem does convey a sense of frantic need to move forward. His 1968 version of “On Rachmaninoff’s Birthday,” — which I mistakenly thought was the one Quick! was referencing — also talks about penises a lot, while a completely different third version from 1956 talks about death. These are the three loose themes of Quick!: death, sex, and moving on.

After all, it’s a new decade. We have to get moving along on it. Can’t keep thinking about 2019 forever.

Overall, Quick! is a small exhibition with its own sort of charm. The term “student artwork” tends to evoke a range of quality, like we were still hanging up the best pieces beside the classroom door. If there is anything I can guarantee about Quick!, it’s that a lot more conceptual groundwork went into the pieces on display. Even if I didn’t like all of the art, I still walked away from the exhibit with a few new ways of thinking about things, whether it was how to more physically interact with the medium I’m using or the intimate sorrow of reenacting someone’s dying breaths.

Quick! is a student exhibition. I’ve been in those before. For some of these artists, this could be their first exhibition. They could have been submitted by their professors and be barely aware that their work is even in a show. They could hate all of the other artists they worked with and think their piece is better off without the thematic connections. They might just be happy that other people are coming to see their work. Or it could be none of those things.

So I wrote a poem about it.

Let me explain, just a little, before the poem. In fact, if you don’t enjoy poetry, you’re welcome to stop reading here. This part is all for me. Have a nice day!

Why go to an art exhibit and write a poem? The annual VASA exhibition is about celebrating student artwork. Sure, I could critique this exhibition just as diligently as I would critique
a show at the Vancouver Art Gallery but let’s be real, most of the people who will read this are the artists or their families. (Hi! I don’t know you!). Student art has already gone through critiques. They don’t need me to tell them that their paint layer is too thin or whatever. This exhibition is to celebrate.

What better way to celebrate creation than to create?

The Quick of It

You fall onto a rock
and create the truth of falling onto a rock:
it hurts. We can see it there, how it hurt,
the smear of your hair, your crunched nose.
Is that all of it, then?
What if we wanted to see more? Oh, sweet
voyeurism. We want to have pictures of strange men
|and know their names too. Do me one better.
Tell me their favourite type of chip. The colour they associate
with driving home in the rain, angry. The last time
they lost their keys.
Don’t we deserve it? There is room
for more here. More of an act or an admission.
We all want to see the worst parts of ourselves,
flayed and strung in the opening. And someone
to sit by to watch us watching ourselves.
if I tell you why I loved it,
will you tell me how you got here?
To rocks and polaroids and a glaze of acrylic so thin
I want to touch the paper. I swear,
I don’t mean anything more than love.

Quick! will be at the Hatch until January 23.