South Surrey’s Paulo Majano teaches digital media at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and is fascinated with photography and technology. Scarborough, Ontario’s Nep Sidhu is a welder, a prodigious multi-medium artist and, for want of a better expression, a hippie storyteller. Together, they make Surrey Art Gallery an interesting place to be this spring.
Six years in the making, Sidhu’s exhibit lays claim to the entire main gallery and even then feels as if it could use a tad more space. During Saturday night’s opening reception (April 9), guests walked among its elements like they would trees in a forest, gazing upward and outward to the dizzying array of mediums surrounding and towering over them.
Over there, a collection of jackets and vests draped over simple mannequin torsos – their colours and designs and their themes reaching out to make you question the message. Anger? Pride? Affirmation?
(Pictured: Nep Sidhu)
On the walls, grand squares featuring intricate patterns of hand-cut and hand-painted aluminum. Above, hanging from the ceiling, are massive “prayer rugs” blending wool, cotton and aluminum – and again, those colours. African? Indigenous Canadian? Punjabi? More likely a melting pot.
Stroll into the small gallery and you’ll see more of Sidhu’s visions – he says his main message is “connectedness and protection” – transformed into clothing. Dramatically illuminated, “No Pigs in Paradise” is especially haunting.
And all around you, music. Grammy award-winning musician Ishmael Butler provides the sonic backdrop. The two friends are a big part of “Black Constellation,” a Seattle-based collective of artists.
Music aside, Sidhu has handmade everything seen at the art gallery.
“There are no robots, no looming, no automation. Just the hands. That was important, because when we’re talking about Malcolm (X, one of Sindhu’s key inspirations), we’re talking about transformation. Transformation has the idea of time inside of it. Just like one would say they’re working with oils or fabric or acrylic, working with time is also a practice.”
Indeed, there is a certain “power of the oppressed” theme winding its way through Sidhu’s works – works that are the result of self-teaching, he says.
“There’s no family tradition of professional art making in my direct line that I can see. I just found it gave me some purpose when I was a young child. This started giving me value and respect for myself. It was self-taught. It happened outside of institutions.”
One door down from the main gallery you’ll find the much smaller TechLab, a space where Majano has set up shop. Walk in and you’ll see five works – just simple photographs from first blush. But pick up your personal mobile device, or any of the provided tethered tablets, and everything changes.
Point your device at a photo, and you’re immediately immersed in Majano’s version of augmented reality. It is, in essence, 3D. And a far more “real” 3D than the 3D you might see at your local movie theatre.
In Majano’s world, you’ll not only see elements jump from the photo, but you can then look around them to see what lays behind. Elements change position and orientation as you navigate a semi-circle in front of each photograph. A woman appears to walk forward. A billfold opens to reveal its contents.
It is, undoubtedly, a wee bit freaky. Indeed, watching visitors react to the concept is entertainment enough – people moving this way and that, smiling and laughing, as they interact with the various photos and strain to find new angles.
Majano explains that each scene is Surrey-centric. One, for example, looks across the Nicomekl River as it flows past Historic Stewart Farm. He says he typically spends several hours on the photography alone – using his Nikon D610 from multiple perspectives and then later stitching many of those photos together for a 180-degree panorama.
He then scans other elements into the space and performs additional technological wizardry that goes beyond the scope of this article. In the end, he uses “Maya” software to put it all together.
Interestingly, the file size of each finished image is less than four megabytes – a mere pittance by today’s standards. And that’s because Majano must crunch the final product so it loads quickly on the mobile devices that are so essential to his presentation.
Nep Sidhu’s “Shadows in the Major Seventh” and Paulo Majano’s “I Was Here” continue at Surrey Art Gallery until June 12. For details, visit Surrey.ca/artgallery.