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This aint junk: The Rooms' Junkosphere exhibit is all-consuming

15 Mar 2012 by Clare-Marie Grigg in Culture , Entertainment and Art Galleries
Region: Avalon


Value Added? - Nicola Hawkins
(courtesy of Nicola Hawkins)

I'm sitting in the café at the top of The Rooms, in St. John’s.

I’m surrounded by glass, the dominant feature in a building perched high above the city on the old military site of Fort Townshend. My view of streets tumbling away to meet the harbour Narrows is unbeatable. But for some reason, I often forget this café is here - even though it's always available for food (you don’t have to pay admission) and it offers a delicious, part-organic menu with really reasonable prices. The Rooms might be impossible to miss on the skyline and an obvious tourist attraction for the fact it houses the provincial museum, archives and art gallery, yet at 3 p.m. on a Thursday, this bright café with the best view in town is almost empty and feels like a special discovery.

My view

I’ve visited The Rooms lots of times, but I was here last night in particular to check out a much-hyped new art exhibition called Junkosphere. Wednesday’s are free admission and so I grabbed a couple of friends and we shook off snow day lethargy (a big blizzard had wailed over the city earlier), determined to immerse ourselves in art and culture.

I was surprised by how many other people had taken the time to do the same thing. Wednesdays are often quite busy at The Rooms, but after the extreme weather, I hadn’t expected to see many people. It wasn’t bursting at the seams, but there was a goodly assortment – from the elderly, to young couples, families, and art students sketching.

uper Bug - Nicola Hawkins
(courtesy of Nicola Hawkins)

The Junkosphere exhibit, brainchild of artist and dancer/choreographer Nicola Hawkins, certainly lends itself well to being drawn – or photographed for that matter (except you’re usually not allowed to take pictures in the gallery). As the name suggests, the premise of the work is junk – or rather, how we create and process and throw away all the junk from our accumulated lives and the impact it has on our fragile environment. The pieces are large (in the artist’s words, allowing her “to raise (her) voice”), mixed media creations incorporating clippings from magazines, photos, paint and all kinds of daily-discarded trash. They are also incredibly intricate.

My favourite is called Value Added?, an enormous (12 ft-square), colourful, symmetrical creation that could take you years to visually digest. It’s a smorgasbord “of cause and effect, independence and colonization, sustainability and greed, life and death.” (I make no pretence at being an art expert, so here and there I’ve pilfered some quotes from the artist’s website.)

Alyssa reading some of the contents of the hundreds of paper receipts coating the periphery of Value Added?. (The artist is apparently quite fond of crackers and tzatziki.)

By far, the most dominant feature in the space is a ginormous, suspended sculpture – the namesake of the exhibition. It’s so big and intricate that I spent quite a lot of time wondering how on earth they got it in there in the first place (you can see why I have a hard time passing myself off as an art critic when so much of my brain activity  merely obsesses over lame practicalities!). I also spent a lot of time in wonder of the patience and hoarding creating an exhibit like this must have required. As someone who breaks out in a cold sweat at the notion of  too much stuff, the sheer scale of these pieces left me dizzy – which actually, I think, was the artist’s intention. She wants her audience to have their minds boggled by the irresponsibility of endless, mindless consumption. Hawkins, originally from the UK, works out of a converted church in rural Admirals Cove here in Newfoundland and Labrador, so her studio is big and spacious enough to contain the giant scope of her imaginings.

 'Junkosphere' is a globe, sprouting nine towers of accumulated urban trappings representing nine major cities in the world. Each tower is a testament to waste and destruction. The sculpture also includes a wheel at the base, which is there for people to turn manually – a metaphor for the idea that just as we can influence and reposition the sculpture, so can we take positive action towards affecting environmental change.                               (courtesty of Nicola Hawkins)

As well as Junkosphere, The Rooms, of course, has many other exhibits, some permanent, some visiting like the also arresting and wonderfully ironic New Romantics art collection, which I also really enjoyed. The great thing about The Rooms is how accessible it is: last night I was able to stroll around an acclaimed exhibition (for free!) while spouting statements of sheer observational brilliance: “but it’s just so BIG and the stuff… so much stuff… I can’t, I just..."  and this afternoon I’m back. The building has a much different vibe in the daytime with sunlight pouring through all the glass. And it’s a perfect place to explore or just sit – like I’m doing, working on my laptop, accompanied by Frank Sinatra and a cup of Jumping Bean… the place practically to myself.

The atrium

Oops, spoke too soon. My special discovery just filled up with lots of people (perhaps from a tour group?). It was cloudy out earlier, but blue sky is now waging a war with the grey, so the city below is getting progressively prettier.  I’m off to take some pictures. Guess I'll let someone else sit at my table with a view.

Junkosphere runs until: April 15
The New Romantics runs until: May 27
For more information on The Rooms and upcoming exhibits visit: