Art exhibit explores challenges faced by youth
EDMONTON - Blown up and framed against a stark white wall are a series of notes penned by young girls. They are written in alternating colours, dotted with hearts and swooping circles. Some have been folded so that they can easily be passed in class.
All but one begin with a sentence about being bored, and then move on to everyday chatter and gossip.
The artwork is the brainchild of Vancouver's Kyla Mallett, 31, who collected the notes from girls and women, some of whom had saved their teenage missives for years.
"It's really about jockeying for social position, or how all of these really rigid social structures play out in this really quiet way," Mallett says by way of explanation.
"Because girls are taught that they're not supposed to hit each other, or yell, or whatever, they find other ways to sort of operate."
Mallett's work is part of "Generation," a show that begins Friday at the Art Gallery of Alberta and examines issues facing North American youth.
Chief curator Catherine Crowston came up with nine artists - seven of them Canadian - who were examining youth culture.
"There seems to be a lot of focus on youth right now in contemporary art, but I think artists tend to respond to what's around them in the world," says Crowston, pointing to the proliferation of teen TV shows and the attention given to starlets such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.
"What really stood out was ... how they were kind of investigating the challenges of being young today, both positively and negatively -- the impact of youth violence, the kind of challenges that all kids face in terms of discovering themselves, and the pressures of life at that age."
Part of an exhibit by artist Jeremy Shaw of Vancouver reflects an encounter he had with police four years ago.
He'd arrived at an art shop to pick up some pieces that had been traditionally "blueprinted" -- a process that made them look dated and dusty. Eight police officers ultimately confiscated the work, which consists of cartoonish scenes of destruction crudely penned by 15-year-old boys.
When the police finally returned the art to Shaw, it was sealed in a plastic evidence bag. The bag now hangs on the wall of the gallery, next to the series of finished blueprints.
Shaw, 30, says that experience added legitimacy to the work's concept.
"What I was dealing with was the public overreaction to teen fantasy, you know, violent fantasy, in this sort of post-Columbine environment," he says.
"People were just ready to pounce on anything that seemed like some kind of deviant behaviour, whereas these kids are just -- it's such a common, male teenage thing to draw pictures of buildings burning, or whatever, and so kind of harmless."
It turned out the blueprint maker had alerted police to the pieces, which included directions for homemade explosives. The information was more than three decades old and readily available on the Internet.
Other pieces in the show are less dramatic, but still evoke strong emotions.
Demian Petryshyn, who lives in Banff, Alta., says his work illustrates the struggle faced by young people as they grapple with what they should do versus what they want to do.
It's an eight-hour video installation of Petryshyn playing video games with his brother, side by side, rarely talking or interacting save for the screen in front of them.
"The work's also a great deal about indulgence, and indulging my desire to consume things like popular culture," he says.
"It's kind of what's expected of youth, I guess. We kind of don't expect young teenage men or boys to do anything but that, kind of consume these things."
Much of the artwork in the show was made several years ago, but Mallett believes society's obsession with youth is still strong, and underscored by a degree of fear.
"It's sort of like the desire to be youthful, but this sort of fear or panic around youth that every generation always has, this kind of idea of the crisis around youth and what's going to happen to them," she says.
"And I think everyone kind of remembers this struggle of being a teenager and really how difficult it seems, and how unique you think you are, and all of those things."
The show runs until March 24.