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Artists have fun getting serious

Retreat combines childhood glee with adult angst; Distractions of a Stationary Nature shows stationery run amok

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 02, 2014 06:00 am

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  • TREEHOUSE ART – Artist Sherri Chaba and her exhibit, entitled Retreat, which borrows from her childhood experiences building and playing in treehouses.
    TREEHOUSE ART – Artist Sherri Chaba and her exhibit, entitled Retreat, which borrows from her childhood experiences building and playing in treehouses.
    CANDACE ELLIOTT/St. Albert Gazette
  • FILM CLIP – Distraction of a Stationary Nature is a stop motion animated short by Calgary video artist Shyra de Souza.
    FILM CLIP – Distraction of a Stationary Nature is a stop motion animated short by Calgary video artist Shyra de Souza.

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Works by Sherri Chaba

Distraction of a Stationary Nature
Stop-motion animation video 9:37 long by Shyra de Souza

Opening reception Thursday evening from 6 to 9 p.m. during the July ArtWalk
Artists will be in attendance.
Both exhibits run until Saturday, Aug. 2
Art Gallery of St. Albert
19 Perron St.
Call 780-460-4310 or visit for more information.

It’s almost like being a kid again. The Art Gallery of St. Albert is filled with what looks like a giant playset with trees, a treehouse and a portable hill that you can walk underneath for a good, old-fashioned hideout.

This is the best thing ever! But wait. Artists Sherri Chaba and Shyra de Souza have some deeper meanings behind their works, making their art appealing to audiences of all tastes. They are equal parts fun and serious.

Even Chaba – whose exhibit Retreat features the treehouse and hill among other installations – admits that the “playset” was in no small measure borne out of her own enterprising childhood.

“When I was a kid, I was a master at making treehouses and hideouts,” she said, before suggesting how those early influences have come to be lifelong considerations.

“A lot of my work is about trees and about the significance of trees, how important I think they are to our sustainability.”

That treehouse stands at an average adult’s height and has real moss inside and on top of the roof. Attendees are invited to peer through the reverse door peephole that offers a 180-degree view inside but with a somewhat distorted perception of the interior.

She indicated that this is meant to further open her work up to different levels of interpretation.

The structure itself is sturdy, she averred, but appears like it’s wobbly. It’s no coincidence that the cross-beam construction is reminiscent of transmission line towers.

“It’s very precarious. Nothing is square. It could collapse at any minute. And intentionally I did it that way.”

Chaba is interested in the delicate balance of nature and industry. The artist currently is in the process of moving away from her countryside home, a farmstead that has seen industry interfering with its natural beauty of late.

A water line has been installed, necessitating many trees to be felled. Perhaps that’s why she has a tree-making machine, surrounded by sawdust. It’s something that she calls her “whimsical component.”

“It will be spitting out these little tree leaves,” she laughed. “I had to do it. I just had to get it out of my system.”

There are the power towers too. Her serene home in the midst of nature, a place she calls a “sanctuary,” has become a dwindling oasis in the middle of a growing maelstrom.

She understands that she’s not alone in this scenario. There are all types of progress, she indicated but not even that which forces trees to fall could compel her to make this exhibit as dark and ominous.

“When I started working on this, it was about retreat. I was reading a lot of depressing material in my research. I read about Peter Maass in the Third World and what’s happening in Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria. I thought, ‘No. I’m going to turn this into a little bit more light and happy and optimistic.’ I switched it. It became more about where I live. I live on a farm.”

Her farm, it so happens, is on a hillside that overlooks the river that runs through her property. That’s why there’s the hilly component, an artificial hideout that allows viewers to walk underneath and peer through more peepholes, looking to the world outside that shows more scenes of how industry has wreaked havoc on nature. Powerlines. Tree stumps. Demolished homes.

It seems that Chaba’s own retreat is much like her exhibit, Retreat: it looks idyllic and could be enjoyed as such but there is a presence of something festering throughout.

Chaba will also be offering an in-gallery artist talk about her exhibit on Thursday, July 24 from 7 to 8 p.m. She will give a brief tour of the show as well. Attendance is free but a suggested donation of $10 is encouraged.

Pre-registration is required as space is limited. Refreshments will also be provided.

People can contact the gallery at 780-460-4310 or email to sign up.

Stationery not so stationary

Calgary interdisciplinary artist Shyra de Souza is bringing her own bit of whimsy to the gallery’s vault space. Distractions of a Stationary Nature is a nearly 10-minute long stop motion animation piece of a person at a desk who is overcome with life in the form of a multitude of stationery supplies acting like they’re insects and other creatures.

There are bees made out of bulldog clips. Cardboard tube trees pop up and leaves of Post-It Notes sprout all over the wall. A wave of water blue index cards splashes on the floor as a snail leaves a trail of white-out tape across the desk.

She joked that she had fun coming up with the title. It is a distracting video but it certainly isn’t stationary.

“There’s not a lot of nature in it either!”

“It’s a playful look at the way we construct our environment in a way that satisfies some sort of need to interact with nature but in this hyper-controlled way. The piece is a lot about losing that control when things become something that we didn’t intend them to become.”

Much like Chaba’s Retreat, Distractions has an admittedly serious undertone about how we control our world, something that automatically creates a distance from reality.

“As a result, we become less acquainted with that natural environment.”


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