The third floor of the CCT Building, with its narrow corridors and squeaky floors, might be the second-last place you’d expect to see an art exhibition (right after the library bathrooms). This year, the Department of Visual Studies Student Society has turned it into a perfect gallery space with their latest show, “Caché: things we keep”—the exhibition for anyone who likes secrets.
Rounding the first corner on the left, you’d nearly pass right by the gallery were it not for the sign. At first glance, it’s a thin hall of grey lockers stacked two by two on one side, with barely enough space for two people to pass through abreast. But in “Caché”, the location is half the spectacle.
Step one: open a locker. What’s inside? Maybe a silver web in which shiny knickknacks are caught, a flower locket, a vintage truck toy, a Snoopy pin. Junk that someone might have once called treasure. Step two: repeat. In this locker, there’s an Algonquin rock and mineral collection on display. In the next, a colourful troupe of bats hanging in their cave. Some might confuse you, like a shrine to the male genitalia surrounded by flowers on the locker walls and electric candles assembled around a Corinthian column. Some might amuse you, like an interactive gum locker—including gum to chew and a wall to stick it on.
DVSSS executive and gallery contributor Ebony Jansen says “Caché” is a gallery of obsessions, secrets, and things people like to keep to themselves. She points out that it can also be a gallery for projects and creations, referring to lockers #1 and #3 by Daniel Deus. His piece “365 Days of Plaid” presents his year-long study of plaid—both the patterns themselves and why people wear them. In one locker hang a few of his own plaid shirts, and attached to the door by magnets are a dozen notes responding to Deus’ question, “Why are you wearing plaid?”, with replies like “Because Thursday is plaid day” and “Because I don’t have to wear t-shirts underneath”. In the next locker, under a hanging counter reading “102” (the number of portraits he painted) are piles of thin wooden paintings of people wearing all the colours and patterns of plaid… without the people. Deus only renders the plaid in paint; the people are only distinguishable from the white background by the hinted-at shapes of their bodies and the waves of their hair falling over the plaid shirts.
As several of the artists place the finishing touches on their lockers on opening day, Jansen introduces me to Samantha Hanrath, the artist behind locker #10, “Attempting the Impossible”. Opening her locker reveals a man’s bald head and naked, armless torso, hanging from the hook like you’d hang an extra coat. The detailed shadows and highlights she painted give the figure the realism of an anatomy model. Hanrath explains the meaning behind her piece as a reflection of something she often sees in others and herself: the wearing of a metaphorical “second skin” that allows people to lie to themselves and others, but can actually become who they are. She explains that she chose latex for the way it bends and folds when hung and for its skin-like feel.
Further down the hallway, after opening surprise after surprise, I reach Breanna Shanahan’s locker. It’s the only one containing things you’d normally expect to find in a locker: books. White books with bold black titles reading Guide to Perfection, Guide to Academics, Guide to Niceness. I open that last one. On each page, the words “be nice” are repeated. I open the next book, Guide to Life Success. The words repeated in this one? “Don’t do art.” Shanahan explains to me that they represent the imaginary rules and guidelines by which people live their lives. Everything in the locker is white, including the wall behind the books. In the middle of the wall is a window, and on the other side, another book. A diary. Inside are her handwritten feelings: “I’m not. I’m sick. I’m sick. I’M SICK.” As I step back to look at the gallery again, appreciating it with new eyes, Shanahan observes, “People get sick of following all those rules just to be perfect.”
“Caché: things we keep” will run until April 15. The opening reception on March 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. will take place at the same time as the Blackwood Gallery’s “Double Crossing” art and art history graduate exhibitions and the UTM Arts Festival.