Exploring the limits of feminist expression in ‘Abstract Answers’

The latest exhibition in the Kimura Gallery, “Abstract Answers,” displays the work of four Canadian, female artists.

The artists explore “the limits of abstraction, representation and expression as a feminist political strategy,” according to the show’s description on the Kimura Gallery website.

The exhibit opened on Oct. 21 and includes abstract art in a variety of different mediums. There are paintings by Wei Li and Alma Louise Visscher, cloth works by Alma Louise Visscher and Jessica Bell and an animated video by Caroline Monnet.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Elizabeth Tower Endowment Faculty Award and allowed the pieces to be shipped to Anchorage, according to Riva Symko, the Kimura Gallery curator.

The goal of the award is to “increase the visibility of Canadian studies at [the University of Alaska Anchorage] and in the community to improve opportunities for UAA students wanting to study in or about Canada,” according to the Elizabeth Tower Endowment webpage.

Visscher received her master of fine arts from the University of Alberta in 2012. Since then, she has attended residencies in Blonduos Island, Iceland and Leipzig, Germany and has been a part of over 30 art exhibitions.

Visscher was invited to participate in “Abstract Answers” in July and was thrilled to accept.

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“I loved the concept of [‘Abstract Answers’]. Every chance that I can get to show my artwork in relation [to] other artists and other contexts, I always find that I learn more about my art,” Visscher said.

Alma Louise Visscher’s paintings convey a sense of flowing fabric in the “Abstract Answers” art exhibition in UAA’s Kimura Gallery. Photo by John Novotny.

Visscher’s paintings and cloth works center around the use of textiles. She says that the inspiration for her cloth works, “Unknown (the waiting)” andCumulus (Accumulation)” came from considering the difference between hoarding and collecting.

“I was reading and thinking about the difference between hoarding and… holding onto things, and that fine line between what’s discarded and what’s used,” Visscher said.

Visscher took that idea and created “Cumulus (Accumulation)out of several smaller parts used in her past works to form a quilt.

“There’s that juxtaposition, where it has that softness to it or it could be almost [made] into a blanket. So it has those domestic allusions, but then I also like to play around with scale and [how it] counteracts [that] intimate experience,” Visscher said.

Visscher says her fabric works are reminiscent of cloth items and clouds encountered in everyday life, such as hospital curtains or construction tarps. While she produces works in a range of mediums, working with fabric is her favorite.

“My favorite part when I’m working with fabric is the dying part because… I’m just playing around and seeing what happens, so it’s [really] free-flowing,” Visscher said.

Along with Visscher, Li’s paintings are also featured in the exhibition. She graduated with a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Alberta, and has been a part of 14 exhibitions since 2015.

Li’s work focuses on what she refers to as her hybrid identity. She was born and raised in China and trained as an artist in the West.

“I’m searching for a visual language, which combines representation and abstract elements to address my own hybrid identity, as well as the subjective emotional experience of living in a socially and ethnically diverse modern culture,” Li said in an email.

Li creates abstract art to express herself and her ideas.

“I am always testing the boundary for abstraction, trying to find a poetic way to communicate my feelings and ideas. I use abstraction as a means to depict things, compose images, balance conflicts and to create [a] narrative,” Li said.

Another artist featured in “Abstract Answers,” Bell, is from Vancouver and received an undergraduate degree in art history from the University of Calgary.

Bell says that tasks that were performed by women in the past are a good source to draw inspiration from for her artwork.

“I think it is a feminist perspective to think of this territory as ripe for representation and expression,” Bell said in an email.

She also says that although her work is abstract, it still draws inspiration from everyday life.

“I’ve never really been very interested in abstract work that abandons the nuts and bolts of daily life in pursuit of something transcendental. I think everyday life is enlightening,” Bell said. “If I can take the ultra-familiar aspects of daily life and make them a bit strange through the use of abstract form, then the ordinary opens up; it becomes a place worth dwelling in.”

Bell says that her pieces “Effort 1, 2, 3 (red, blue, yellow)” were created by a routine she decided to follow for three weeks.

“For one week, I only painted small pieces of fabric blue. The next week, I only painted with red and the next, only with yellow. After three weeks, I’d gathered piles of painted fabric that could then become something,” Bell said. “I often find myself in this position of having to work with the results of one of my invented routines. It’s sort of like looking inside your fridge or cupboard to see what you’ve got and then figuring out what to cook for dinner.”

Monnet, the fourth artist with work in the exhibition, is from Outaouais, Quebec and studied sociology and communication at the University of Ottawa and the University of Grenada. Monnet then worked in visual arts and films and has had her work shown in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and the U.S.

“Shapeshifter” by Caroline Monnet evokes a kaleidoscope by pairing an animated video atop a similar black and white background. Photo by John Novotny.

Monnet’s “Shapeshifter” is an animated video and the pattern surrounding the television, both of which only use black and white with very intricate patterns in the style of a kaleidoscope moving around the screen.

“Monnet revisits motifs passed down through her family by generations of matriarchs. First appearing to mimic digital languages of microchips and processors, the patterns also echo aerial views of land plots,” according to the description of Monnet’s ‘Shapeshifter.’”

“Abstract Answers” is on display in the Kimura Gallery in the Fine Arts Building until Dec. 20. The gallery is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. There is also a lunchtime curator’s tour on Oct. 30 from noon-1 p.m.