ART STUDENT, PART I

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I don’t know if I qualify as having ‘gone to art school’, since I hold a BA and an MA (rather than a BFA and an MFA). I did eventually transfer to the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Regina for my undergraduate degree, after having started in “pre med” and completing all of the science prerequisites for medicine at U of S. I had always felt evenly pulled between arts and science, and had been taking English and Art History electives alongside Organic Chemistry and Biochem. My official move to Fine Arts was prompted by a trip to Europe in 2008 and my experience in Introduction to Intermedia Studio with Rachelle Viader-Knowles (RVK). RVK’s approach to art-making forever changed me. The notion that I could begin with a concept — such as anxiety or ‘getting all existential before bed’ or ‘gathering myself as a 19 year-old after the foundations beneath my feet began to crumble’ — and then choose a medium that best fits the concept to then realize my idea was hugely inspiring to me. I had never seen myself as a painter or a drawer or a sculptor, but after taking intermedia I began to see myself as a video artist, or a performer, or an installation-maker. I did not necessarily need to be skilled at representational drawing to constitute an artist. At the time, this realization meant the difference between life and death for me. I could now see the possibility of my agency — as an artist, as a creator, as a maker of conceptual and artistic experiences! I had experienced so much loss at this time — the loss of all of the things that had constituted my life as a teenager (friends, boyfriend, religion). It was in my studio art classes and my art history classes that the ‘new chapter’ of my life began: the chapter of my life as an adult, finding my own footing, being a bit of a loner, making my own decisions even if they were decisions that seemed foolish or strange to those around me. I felt elated in my newfound recognition of all things art-related, and spend the next few semesters making all sorts of more or less sad (maudlin) video art installations to process my young grief. We all have to start somewhere.

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I found this long purple floral nineties dress on a thrifting adventure in Toronto. Here I am wearing the dress with my trippen platforms, which I purchased at a trippen outlet last summer in Berlin. My hair is DIY: I used Manic Panic’s “Electric Lizard,” purchased from Shopper’s Drug Mart at Yonge and College (my neighborhood!) in Toronto. This long purple floral dress is one of my favorites, and I transition the dress from ‘summer wear’ to ‘winter wear’ by adding a sheer long-sleeve black crop top over it. The shorter pink floral dress, which I am wearing here along with two nineties-style ‘tattoo chokers’, was found at Front & Company, a half consignment and half new clothing store on Vancouver’s Main Street. If you want to take the nineties look even further, this dress goes great with a pair of combat boots. I like the kaleidoscopic feel of this pattern. It evokes the “hyper-natural,” a Baudrilladian notion that I’ve been reflecting on lately. I recently had a wonderful conversation with Betty Julian, a brilliant professor at OCADU here in Toronto. She was lamenting the fact that young feminist artists still seem to be turning “back to the Earth, back to nature,” like our ecofeminist predecessors back in the 60s/70s. “Aren’t we past that yet?” she asked. During my open air arts residency, where the desire to turn back to the earth is very much encouraged by the surroundings of forest and sea, I reflected on this tension between nature and culture and where my art practice and personal philosophy fits. For feminist aesthetics, ecofeminism (long critiqued for its essentializing thrust) seems to mark one polarity, and Donna Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” marks another. We have the desire to turn back to goddess mythology, back to the earth, and yet we do not want to essentialize women as being inherently more ‘natural’ than men. And yet, environmental politics and ecological disaster prompts all of us to cultivate deeper connections to our natural environments. Sally Morgan, a dancer, PhD student, and dear friend of mine, has been encouraging me to read Jane Bennett’s “Vibrant Matter,” which is next one my reading list. But I digress. I’ll leave it here, with the term “hyper-natural,” in light of the cyborg feminism alluded to in Scholar Wave episodes past.

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Turning to the third dress: I’ve had this little beige dress for a long time, so long that I can’t remember where exactly I got it from! It was found at some point during my time in Vancouver, very likely at a Value Village, a consignment store, or a vintage store (the three places where I did my shopping when I lived out west). The pattern of the dress is what some might call “tribal,” though I’m resistant to using this culturally loaded and problematic (re: issues of cultural appropriation, deeming ‘the other’ more ‘primitive’, etc.) term. I love the little drawstring around this dress, which I believe is meant to be tied around the back (to cinch in the waist without the string being visible), but which I like to wear so that it is visible in the front. This ‘making visible that which is supposed to be invisible/hidden’ reminds me of a wonderful project called “Visible Mends” that an artist named Nancy Cole did as part of her residency project at White Rabbit Arts this summer. I recently spent the past two weeks out in Nova Scotia, where I was an artist in residence at White Rabbit Arts in Red Clay Farm, Upper Economy, Nova Scotia. I will speak about that experience at more length in my next T+A post (“Art School, Part II”). One of my favorite dresses — at least my most frequently worn dress — is an ankle-length black rayon sleeveless dress that I found at a Value Village in Vancouver. It has had a large hole near the bottom at the back of the dress, which I have been ignoring and wearing regardless of this ‘defect’. Then, during a workshop with German sound artist Helmut Lemke, in which I was learning to make a contact microphone, Helmut accidentally burned my dress with the soldering iron! (I was lucky that the iron only hit my dress … it just missed my thigh) It was then that I knew the dress should be hemmed: I planned to cut a few feet off of the bottom of the dress, hem the dress, and then use the remaining fabric to make head wraps. Instead, I had Nancy hem the dress for me as part of her “Visible Mends” project, and she created the following hemline which reads “Art is a Verb, 2015.”

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I’m a passionate lifelong learner and an art student. Learning new things and developing my intellect is something that has been fueling me for as long as I can remember. I’m a lover of all things artistic, conceptual, aesthetic, feminist, sonic. I ‘came out of the closet’ as an artist/art freak back in 2008. By queering the spaces that I had been raised in, I found myself losing many of my old friends as we went separate ways. I ‘came out of the closet’ as an artist/art freak back in 2008, even if I wasn’t aware that that was what I was doing. Indeed, it has only been recently, at the age of 26, that I’ve started to have some confidence in identifying as that — an artist. It’s still a complicated thing for me to do. “Are you an artist?” I will be asked, as if on cue, at any given art opening in Toronto. Yes, I suppose I am.

Thanks for tuning in!  Until next time — Lauren ☾

Lauren Fournier is an artist and writer currently based in Toronto.
She is working on her PhD in feminist theory and performance art at York University.
http://www.laurenfournier.net

Photography credits: Lee Henderson (www.noattainment.com)

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