Distributary continues at Ace Art in Winnipeg until August 31. This exhibition was curated by Chris Pancoe, ceramic artist and 3-D technician at the University of Manitoba, with participation by seven ceramic artists, including Grace Nickel and Kevin Stafford, both teaching ceramics at the University of Manitoba. Please see Alison Gilmor’s review.

Grace Nickel and Michael Zajac, Non-Orthogonal Image No. 1, 2012
Inkjet print. Peripheral photograph by Michael Zajac of a porcelain tree form by Grace Nickel.
Grace Nickel, Fabricated Tree Form No. 1, 2012

Grace Nickel’s Artist Statement

I grew up in southern Manitoba and moved to the city of Winnipeg when I turned eighteen. My family home was situated near Plum Coulee, the flatest part of Manitoba, where trees were rare and those that did exist were planted in a purely calculated and practical manner. I have never taken trees for granted. Now, my porcelain trees inhabit a metaphorical space situated between urban and rural existence, the fabricated and the naturally occurring. Trees are a welcome relief in our ever-sprawling and invasive urban landscape. They provide natural beauty and protection, and we go to great lengths to preserve them. We also cut them down – once stripped of their bark, planed and standardized into uniform building blocks, they serve to create shelter.

But trees are indifferent; they tower above us ominously, prone to disease, parasites, and old age, frequently felled and destroyed by design or natural disasters. Yet we bestow a symbolic significance on trees – they play a commemorative role, often planted to acknowledge a momentous occasion, be it historic, celebratory or mournful. Through this act, they gain special status. In the studio, I reflect on this culture versus nature dialectic, creating a series of sculptural tree forms that either permanently or temporarily inhabit an environment and mark a spot.
On a technical level, some of my current interests include fabric-formed mould making and non-orthogonal digital photography of my works. The stitching and stretching of fabric to form models for plaster moulds harkens back to my childhood days as a meticulous and award-winning sewing sampler maker. But the fabric processes also correspond to the stitched images that are being created by having my 3-D tree forms photographed in the round and stretched flat, resulting in strange, surreal landscapes. Although 2-D work is often a precursor to 3-D creations, I am fascinated by turning that tradition around and beginning with the 3-D as a means to achieving a 2-D end. I am grateful for the collaboration, ingenuity, and skill of Michael Zajac in producing these non-orthogonal images of my porcelain trees. I also want to acknowledge the expertise and generous assistance of Ronnie Araya, architect and research assistant at CAST (Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology) at the University of Manitoba.

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