Blocked and Untagged

Scott Bowering's "Natura Naturans" at SOIL.

If you walked into SOIL recently, the gallery looked a bit like a construction site. What appear to be pink Styrofoam building panels lean against one wall; against another, a stack of what look like Mac laptop boxes, while a whitish block sits in the center of the raw concrete floor. All of it looks a little undone. And very quiet. Untagged, with no wall text. Vancouver-based artist Scott Bowering doesn't title or label his work, and when you first step into the gallery, you might not know quite what to make of this collection of objects. The title of the exhibit, "Natura Naturans," comes from Spinoza, meaning something with a continued life. These objects allude to an artificiality taken over by something possibly more real, perhaps more permanent. The faux-Styrofoam panels are canvases painted an industrial baby-pink, threads of linen visible at their sides. The whitish-block sculpture, nearly a foot long on one side, is a dirty mass of codeine (imported, as the artist told me, from Thailand). First ground to a powder in a coffee-grinder, then made into a paste, and finally placed into a mold, "the thing has enough codeine to kill you 50 times over," Bowering tells me. "If you were to eat the whole thing." On first sight, I took this form to be a mockup of the Styrofoam inserts in the Mac boxes. "Part of the problem," says Bowering, "is you think you know what you're looking at." Yes, it can be a problem to read your way around a gallery, instead of looking at what's in front of you. Though the art also has to do its job, it has to tell its own story. Being lucky enough to catch the artist in the gallery and hear from him about the materials and process behind this mute work, I was charmed by what otherwise might seem banal objects. Thurs.-Sun. Free. Ends July 31.

Thursdays-Sundays. Starts: July 3. Continues through July 31, 2008

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