By: Alex Florescu
Midterm season is upon us, school has begun to pick up and I’m starting to feel the stress. Last Friday was no exception.
However, in between group meetings, library study sessions and online quiz completions,
I found free time to visit Ian Johnston’s exhibit The Chamber at the McMaster Museum of Art. I went from frantically dodging the 20-minutes-after-the-hour-crowd on my way over the museum to being the only one in a cavernous, nearly silent room.
I say nearly silent because, as it was, there was a familiar sound emanating from the corner of the room. I ventured over and discovered that what I thought was a corner is actually another room. It is in this room that I found Johnston’s Chamber, a dynamic installation that towers above you one minute and lays flat on the ground the next. More specifically, it is an inflatable white bag that covers the surface area of the room. When fully inflated, the installation fills the room in a white mass. In this state, the installation is accompanied by a recording of trickling water. It is this sound that first drew me to Johnston’s art piece, a sound that seemed so out of place in a museum.
As I stood in front of the piece, I noticed, with surprise, that the installation was changing. The bag was slowly deflating, the sound of water was gradually replaced by the sounds of a crackling of a fire and the dimmed lights became strikingly bright. By the time all of the air had been vacuumed out of it, the bag had become completely plastered against the mass of objects piled underneath it. Through the nearly translucent nylon bag, I could make out familiar forms and colours. There were pots, pans, plates, board games, bins, lampshades and other common-use objects. As it turns out, these items were removed from a waste stream in Medicine Hat and incorporated into the installation – a comment on the detrimental effect of consumerism on the environment.
Intrigued to delve deeper into the motivation behind this piece, I watched an interview with Ian Johnston. The architect-turned-sculptor began his career in art by creating large-scale ceramic installations. However, he soon discovered that he had a passion for vacuum forming the art of placing a bag over an object and vacuuming the air out of it. He would do this to any range of objects, from bicycles to telephones to cappuccino makers. What fascinated him most was the bag, and how it would inflate and deflate to reveal and conceal its contents.
It is from this discovery that he drew inspiration for The Chamber and the other pieces in his series of works called Reinventing Consumption. To Johnston, The Chamber represents the things we know exist but choose to ignore, things like consumption and refuse. With exhibits in several places around the world, one thing is for sure; Johnston’s message is loud and clear.