Baden’s art shines lens on the beautiful and banal

Vancouver Art Gallery exhibit explores form, humour and the absurd

There’s a section of the Vancouver Art Gallery that looks like it was hit by a tornado.

A bunch of dollies are somehow interconnected, cheap mattresses are configured in a fortress-like fashion and a mirror swallows your reflection whole.

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Is this heady, high-concept art or just a bunch of absurdity to make you pause, think and laugh?

The answer is found somewhere in the middle.

Rolled out March 9 at the VAG, Mowry Baden’s 15-piece exhibit represents 50 years of re-defining the ordinary and giving life to the unextraordinary.

Mowry Baden's 1994 piece, Cheap Sleeps Columbine. - Vancouver Art Gallery

Take Cheap Sleeps Columbine, for example, a series of low-cost mattresses stacked on top of one another that resemble a fort made at a 10-year-old’s sleepover party.

“It’s a sheltered enclosure, something that has bargain references, but the bed plays off the place where you’re sick or you’re having sex,” explains VAG curator Grant Arnold. “There’s a notion of comfort being provided but on very basic terms.”

Then there’s Marsupial, a wheelbarrow with cloth wrapped over top of it in a dome-like shape. Once inside, the viewer’s sense of sound and sight is completely limited and distorted. 

“It’s not like these works don’t have any meaning, but there is a kind of open-endedness to it,” Arnold said. “And it does really foreground the fact that meaning comes out of the interaction between the viewer and the work.”

Mowry Baden's 2011 piece, Marsupial. - Mark Alldritt

A former Vancouverite and UBC professor, Baden’s been at it in the art world since the 1960s and received the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts in 2006.

His work straddles minimalism and conceptual art and can be found in public spaces across North America, including in Victoria, where he now lives. A trio of Baden’s sculptures, entitled Fulcrum of Vision, are on display near BC Place on Beatty Street.

Arnold said Baden’s work shifted from the sheer abstract to an emphasis on the visual side as his career progressed, though one constant has remained.

“His work has always been about how we perceive space, how we relate to space, how our bodies react to space,” Arnold said.

Created in 2011, Ukulele reinforces that point. The piece has next to nothing in common with the stringed instrument, and is instead a dark enclosure that shoots ping pong balls at the viewer.

Calyx, on the other hand, is a mirror-like creation that can give the viewer a mild LSD flashback. The 2008 piece has a sensor that measures the viewer’s height and then distorts that reflected image into a series of psychedelic shapes and colours before disappearing entirely.

Far out, man.

Baden’s exhibit is on now and runs until June 9.



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