Through a Window


The main floor of SFU’s AQ building is a major thoroughfare. It’s busiest at peak class times, especially in the fall. It’s a transit hub, but also as a social space — perhaps the most social space at SFU’s Burnaby campus. 

Found on this floor, across from the largest lecture halls in the school, are the SFU Galleries. This space stewards the Simon Fraser University Art Collection which includes in its holdings of over 5,500 works, significant regional and national works spanning the last century. One of those is Brady Cranfield’s Rhythmanalysis, marked on a bright poster outside of the SFU Gallery, which continues to illuminate this space at SFU. It is one of several personal rhythmanalysis studies conducted by SFU artists and writers near literal windows at the SFU campuses, and these posters are just one facet of a grand, three-part exhibition put on by SFU Galleries this summer, titled Through A Window.

Curated by Melanie O’Brian and Amy Kazymerchyk, Through A Window traces the history of art at SFU of the past 50 years. The inspiration behind the project stems from Henri Lefebvre’s book Rhythmanalysis (1992), particularly the chapter “Seen from the Window,” which allows us to consider three social, spatial, and material windows of SFU, and explore different rhythms since SFU’s inception in 1965.

Lefebvre’s method of rhythmanalysis begins with observing the rhythms of the body and how they are impacted by the natural and synthetic rhythms of the economies and cultures we live within, which in turn produces social practices and public spaces.

“It’s about making what has happened here known,” she emphasized. “It’s recuperative and celebratory.”

“It is such a big idea, and SFU is a portal,” explained Melanie O’Brian, the director of SFU Galleries. “Here we can look at those big and small rhythms in a meaningful way.”

The rhythmanalysis takes place in the framing of these different spaces, and is rooted in the concept of the ‘lens.’ We can first look through our lens at what’s going on ‘out there,’ on the other side of the window. We can also be introspective, and look at the rhythms within the walls of SFU and ourselves.

The exhibition is anchored at three SFU windows: SFU Gallery at the Burnaby campus (established 1970), the Teck Gallery at Harbour Centre in Vancouver (established 1989), and the Audain Gallery at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts in Vancouver (established 2010).

Each space reflects its own unique history, psychology, community, and rhythms. Therefore, though the works one sees and the experiences one has are completely different, they still contribute to a whole cohesive and powerful narrative. O’Brian asks, “What is each without its context?” and stresses that each window “provides a space for social development.”

The SFU Gallery showcases intimate moments from our past, ranging from works of photography — my favourite is a grainy, oversized one of a professor throwing books from her office in the AQ — to video installation, such as an assignment in which a student records himself walking back and forth, over and over, in the space where the original SFU Pub was located.

Historically, our Burnaby mountain location has been slightly removed from the city’s rhythms, and so a unique situation of special freedom and ‘bird’s eye view’ thinking has manifested here. Featured are conceptual artists from the SFU community such as members of N.E. Thing Co., Christos Dikeakos, Ken Lum, Jeff Wall, and succeeding generations of SFU students and faculty, including Allyson Clay, Carol Sawyer, Reece Terris, Stephen Waddell, and Jin-me Yoon.

The Audain Gallery, located in the heart of Vancouver, is rooted in a more political performance, and uniquely takes up sound, activism, film, literature, photography, and performance as extensions of Lefebvre’s process of rhythmanalysis. It includes works by Lorna Brown, Rodney Graham, Tiziana La Melia, Elspeth Pratt, Judy Radul, and Althea Thauberger.

At Harbour Centre’s Teck Gallery, Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber’s installation, The Templeton Five Affair, March 1967 (2010) features two opposing images: one of the exterior of the AQ with all people removed, leaving only white space, and the other of all those people without their surroundings. It investigates the struggle for academic freedom, as well as collective agency and the educational institution.

O’Brian acknowledged that the intention behind the exhibition is to lay the foundation for art history at SFU. “It’s about making what has happened here known,” she emphasized. “It’s recuperative and celebratory.”

Entering into the frames and rhythms of art and SFU, it’s clear that there have been huge transformations throughout the decades. Pointing out pieces by students, alumni, professors, and community collaborations, O’Brian explains how the societal consciousness and external rhythms are reflected internally through the artwork at SFU.

Looking back at work from Jeff Wall from 1977 reveals a process of relation rooted in conceptual art and photography. Moving into the 1980s, the shift of identity politics and feminism in the community is reflected through the change in teaching styles of art instructors at SFU, and subsequently the artists and art itself.

In the 1990s, through the age of the Internet, new media, and questions of gender, labour, and corporate versus individual identity, there was an increasing pull towards video and installation as the landscape of identity politics continued to change.

Through A Window is a dynamic and special exhibition. It signifies the first time that the art history of SFU has been collected, documented, and, of course, shared. It lays down the foundations of what our past has been, and sets us up to explore our future of possibilities.

We will be able to explore the rhythm of our history for some time longer — until July 31, 2015 at SFU Gallery in Burnaby, until August 1, 2015 at the Teck Gallery at Harbour Centre, and until April 30, 2016 at the Audain Gallery at Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

The next time you find yourself power-walking to the Renaissance Cafe or your downtown location of choice, I encourage you to take a moment to stop by and feel the rhythm of our past 50 years. You won’t regret it.