Wood You?: Sustainable views on material and relationships

By Keisha Oliver. 

This past summer at the University of The Bahamas (UB) Oakes Field campus through a meeting of creative minds, an enthusiasm to produce was met, with a heart to preserve. UB’s Carpentry and Visual Arts Departments collaborated to host an intensive wood workshop in June designed as a pilot project to foster a sense of community through craftsmanship and creativity.

As part of UB’s art faculty, I had the opportunity last semester to work alongside a colleague and skilled carpenter, Fritz Cox. This experience taught me the importance of comradery as a tool for social and professional development and exchange. Cox’s desire to engage and mentor young Bahamians through his profession began four years ago when he first adopted the Albury Sayles Primary School, followed by L. W. Young Junior High School and most recently Palmdale Primary. Although unfamiliar with working alongside university students, his time with them became an organic and enriching experience.

Carpenter Fritz Cox working alongside students Jarrette Stubbs, Cordeia Munnings, and Matthew Rahming on UB’s Oakes Field campus. (Photo by Keisha Oliver)

Unlike Cox’s carpentry style, which focuses on refined meticulous woodwork, a creative challenge and experiment was introduced as the workshop’s focus. Bent on maximizing the potential of the students, the experience was designed for the group to create outside of their comfort zone. Similar to my creative practice, concerned with salvaging everyday objects from the environment; I wanted the students to learn and appreciate the process of working outside the luxuries of time and material, but with the expectations to create a meaningful piece in their unique style. In 3-hour sessions held across six days, with basic tools, and discarded wood salvaged from building sites on UB’s campus we covered fundamental techniques in carpentry and woodturning.

UB students Jarrette Stubbs, Cordeia Munnings, and Matthew Rahming created a small collection of furniture from shipping pallets and sculptures from reclaimed wood. Inspired by a shared appreciation for materiality and process the group re-imagined the discarded material by challenging ideas of value and perception. The culmination of this experience, in the form of a group exhibition entitled ’Wood You’ opened at The Pro Gallery on Thursday 24th August. Less focused on the final works, the artists were keen to share their creative process and personal experiences. We wanted to engender an appreciation for repurposing. Exploring conversations on environmental sustainability and urban design as a community effort through the question, “Would you?”

Wall art made from reclaimed wood. From Left: ‘Porch Lullaby’ by Matthew Rahming, ‘Native Styles’ by Jarrette Stubbs, and Discerning Frailty by Keisha Oliver

The title of the show is a play on words and rhetoric. On the one hand, it presents this idea of the relationship between man and material. While on the other hand asks the rhetorical question, Would you consider this, in the context of the project, the collaboration, the exhibition and the work. Beyond rhetoric, the exhibition is a call to action. The group challenges the public not to merely appreciate this effort, but to become creative ambassadors of the vision to reclaim, enhance and influence our community’s physical and social landscape.

This mandate has not fallen on deaf ears but has sparked much curiosity within the campus and by extension the local art community. Interest for participation in future projects is increasing, self-taught artisans have emerged, collaborations have started, and the group was commissioned by to create outdoor furniture for Hillside House Art Gallery. A success and inspiration in many ways the Visual Arts Department is pleased to support this momentum by developing programming and related projects geared toward impacting its campus and the wider community.

The ‘Wood You’ collection spans a variety of functional and abstract objects including outdoor furniture, sculptures, and assemblages. Although the focus was wood, other natural and manmade materials were used to complement the body of work.

Outdoor lounge set by Fritz Cox (Photo by Keisha Oliver)

‘Porch Lullaby’ by art major Mathew Rahming Is an assemblage of finished lumber remnants that appear as a disarray of cladded wood on the frame of a chair seat. This wall hanging continues on Rahming’s narrative of self-exploration. Presenting his view on the labour, process, and decisions he makes as an artist. The arrangement of the wood refers to the complexities and burden the artist carries through life.

‘Native Styles’ by art education Major Jarrette Stubbs uses unfinished plywood and fluid, organic shapes layered to form a hybrid portrait that appears as half woman and half animal. The duality of the piece touches on psychology and speaks to this idea of one’s inner animal instinct.

‘Cozy Cernie’ by Art Education Major Cordeia Munnings is a two-person bench fitted with a built-in table was her first attempt at repurposing shipping pallets to create furniture. Like Cox’s outdoor lounge set both artists’ works speak to a need for more outdoor and green spaces in The Bahamas to promote a sense of place for closer and safer communities.

Exhibitors of “Wood You” in front of exhibition signage.

In contrast to the other works, my pieces are quiet and delicate and use mirrors as a way to place self within a conversation on material. The ‘Discerning Frailty Series’ includes three abstract wall hangings crafted from pieces of plywood, natural tree bark and broken mirror. Each material was used as it was found and paired with another object using their similarity in shape and quality to produce a minimal assemblage that is both functional and artistic.

’Wood You’ will be on display in The Pro Gallery at the University of The Bahamas until September 13, 2017.