A place of knowledge: SFU Galleries celebrates the university’s 50th anniversary


“Art tests things,” Melanie O’Brian, director of SFU Galleries and curator of its upcoming group exhibit, Geometry of Knowing, explained to The Peak. “It pushes on the unanswerable and unstable. It shifts, and it can make people uncomfortable with space.”

From January to May of this year, SFU Galleries will explore the ways in which more than 30 local and international artists have opened up or recovered spaces in time and knowledge via processes such as “witnessing, being with, querying, and generating,” according to the project’s description.

The exhibit’s theme of emerging and recovered knowledge also creates a space for SFU Galleries to explore its own engagement with the production, dissemination, and acquisition of knowledge while approaching an important milestone. Geometry of Knowing marks not only SFU Galleries’ celebration of the university’s 50th anniversary, but also the culmination of a project to rebrand the Audain, Teck and SFU Burnaby galleries in tandem as ‘SFU Galleries.’

“When we were thinking about the exhibit’s concept, we thought about the interstices that connect the SFU Galleries with the university and the community — how we create and spatialize knowledge,” said Amy Kazymerchyk, Audain curator and assistant curator for Geometry of Knowing.

When SFU was established as a space for knowledge production in 1965, the Burnaby campus’s ideas of knowledge were based around introspection and focus. In contrast, the school’s newer campuses in Surrey and Vancouver have developed a view of knowledge as something integrated into all aspects of life.

From of these early explorations, O’Brian and Kazymerchyk produced the first group exhibit of its kind at SFU. Their desire is to use SFU Galleries as a space in which to re-examine how the visual and material languages of contemporary art generate experiential, emotional, physical, environmental, and intuitive intelligence.

Geometry of Knowing presents diverse works, some new and others featured from SFU’s permanent collection. These pieces span multiple generations of artists who have engaged the tactics of fieldwork, embodiment, and materiality, in a manner that reveals or instigates a process of knowing.

“SFU’s collection of art, which now stands at 6,000 works, began roughly in 1965 and coincides with the advent of contemporary art,” O’Brian explained. “We have a lot of paper and print editions. We also have work from Vancouver artists like Carole Itter, who explored art as lived experience back in the ’60s and ’70s — how we understand our bodies and space in relation to it.”

Itter’s 1979 photographic series, Euclid, is a good example of the diverse art on exhibit at Geometry of Knowing. It documents musician Al Neil tracing Euclidean geometric theorems in the sand at Cates Park in North Vancouver. These images were projected as part of a collaborative live performance with Al Neil on piano, and later used on the cover of Neil’s 1980 album Boot & Fog.

“Geometry is a convergence of lines in a free way,” O’Brian said, referencing the exhibit’s vision and title. “It creates a new context that allows things to happen at SFU Galleries that don’t take place elsewhere.”

Geometry of Knowing is a four part exhibition presented at the Audain Gallery and SFU Gallery from January 15 to May 15. There is a free opening reception at the Audain Gallery, January 14 at 7:00 pm. For more information, visit: sfu.ca/galleries.