From art comes connection

Erika Dueck and Hillary Smith liken art to problem-solving. The 2013 School of Art graduates happily take on the challenge of how to transform an abstract idea into a tangible work of art that resonates with people.

They’re on the right track—both students recently won a BMO Financial Group’s 1st Art! prize at the Invitational Student Art Competition. Selected among 250 entrants coast to coast, Dueck won the lone national prize, valued at $10,000, for her sculpture The Ephemeral Mind (pictured above). Smith won the $5,000 regional prize for her work Phrenological Petrifactions.

Dueck’s eight-foot, mixed-media sculpture is a cloud-like, glowing paper shell that houses six miniature rooms full of documents, drawers and boxes. The contents represent how we store and house memory. The complex sculpture suggests our memories degrade over time if not retrieved—an idea the fine arts (honours) graduate first pondered as a child. Fascinated by how memory is open to interpretation, Dueck included dark spaces to depict parts of our past that may disappear altogether. Her award-winning piece will now become part of the BMO Corporate Art Collection, which includes works by historical and contemporary Canadian masters such as Emily Carr.

Regional-winner Smith designed a shelving unit that looks part-examination table, part-curiosity cabinet, and displays a combination of porcelain objects she crafted to imitate bone. The pseudo-bones—including a vertebrae and finger bone—are tweaked to look more fantastical and paired with found objects like glass jars and boxes. The work suggests bones and organs have souls living inside of them and hold stories they want to tell us but can’t. Smith, who grew up painting rocks during camping trips and doing crafts at her grandma’s house, is drawn to creating art that explores the human body and our struggle to keep it healthy and sane.

In 2010, U of M student Sherrie Rennie won the prestigious national prize for her work Inner-City “Bred” and every year since a U of M School of Art student has won the Manitoba prize.