TEDxVancouver presents exhibition on identity

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This year saw the arrival of something new as part of TEDxVancouver: ID: The Exhibition. Through an exhibition of visual art, it showcase local artists who explored this year’s theme of identity.

Featuring three artist’s series, 14 individual artists, and three installations, this was a loaded exhibit presented within Postmark Brewing in Vancouver’s Railtown District, situated between SFU Woodwards and SFU’s Visual Arts Studios. A pop-up exhibit lasting only two days — the weekend before the main event — ID: The Exhibition is another step forward in the continued growth of TEDxVancouver. Though, while this ambitious exhibition had great potential, it could have done more to explore identity from a critical and less corporatized perspective.

The exhibit drew heavily from talented Emily Carr and Capilano University grads, with several self-taught artists also featured. The three artists’ series, featuring work by Amelia Alcock-White, Drew Young, and Ilya Viryachev, made up over half the artworks. Their focus was on figurative painting carrying over into the rest of the exhibit, which was almost exclusively dominated by paintings with only a few sculptures and installations in between. This focus is largely a result of the background of the artists selected, which tended towards illustration, design, and digital media.

The creation of an exhibit around identity as part of TEDxVancouver has great potential. With an extensive pool of talented artists in Vancouver, and the personal, critical, and reflective potential of the visual arts, the exhibit supported the purpose of TEDxVancouver by looking at the issues of identity through a more distinct lens.

ID: The Exhibition, however, isn’t given this space to breathe. The theme itself is problematic. ID: capitalized for impact? Id, the psychic apparatus driving our most basic instincts, comes to mind, but neither the works in the exhibit or the main event support this interpretation.

TEDxVancouver 2015 is centred around identity, repackaged for branding as ID. But ID doesn’t bring to mind personal identity —  it evokes the facelessness of bureaucratic and corporate identification. ID is not the grassroots, introspective identification of self, but the imposition of identification from on high. This confused theme was a surprising and ultimately misguided choice for the exhibitors.

An exhibit on ideas of identity has the potential to critically engage with its definition, boundaries, and expectations. ID: The Exhibition is first and foremost a commercial showcase, with most of the works priced for sale. The space was co-opted in the style of a commercial gallery with artworks crammed into its confines. The descriptions of work failed to spark discourse or invite questions.

The work was largely upstaged in part by the presence of a corporate liquor sponsor, and the loud music was reminiscent of a corporate launch party or a club.

Canadian artists must often work the role of producer, financier, exhibitor, and promoter in a delicate and exhausting balancing act. ID: The Exhibition brings this to the fore. It provides a space for supporting local artists while undercutting their ability to engage critically. Though the potential existed for an exhibit to create a distinct space of discourse around TEDxVancouver’s theme of identity, we were left instead with a window dressing.