Concordia part-time faculty named co-winner of the 2020 Prix Powerhouse
La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse presented their Prix Powerhouse 2020 award at an online ceremony November 20 to artists Shanna Strauss and Jenny Lin.
This biennial prize recognizes and celebrates the work of women and gender minorities in the mid-stage of their careers. Strauss and Lin will receive $5,000 each and will present their work in the gallery’s vitrine. Their exhibition We are wary, we are weary is on view from November 20 to December 12, 2020.
Lin received her MFA from Concordia in 2001 and is currently an award-winning part time professor in the Print Media Program. She works with experimental narrative and autobiographical fiction, primarily in the form of print-based installations, artists’ books and zines. Her practice also extends to video, web-based and augmented reality projects.
In a conversation with Lin, she discussed how the pandemic has continued to affect her art making and teaching practice.
How do you feel about winning the Powerhouse prize?
I don’t necessarily like having so much attention on myself, but it’s very nice to be sharing the prize, to have met co-winner Shanna Strauss, who I didn’t know before this. I had just seen her work for the first time in the Fondation Phi show. We were in touch by email and Zoom throughout the fall. It’s been so nice and I feel so lucky to be in touch with Shanna!
Also, I feel it’s important for two BIPOC artists to be able to take the prize this year. It really matters. feel very grateful to the jury and to Laurie Milner who nominated me. So many people are deserving of this prize.
Can you speak about your process creating for the exhibition and working with Shanna?
We emailed each other some photos of things we’d been working on and wrote about what we were thinking about while making these works. I had also just sent work to Ho Tam’s gallery in Vancouver for the Pandemic Drawings (2020) show and I was feeling like it caused a bit of a shift.
Shanna sent images of linocut carvings that she was going to print. One of them is being shown in the vitrine of La Centrale. It’s an image of her hands mending a heart, sewing into it as a gesture to help mend community, loved ones, and offer care for people, but also to acknowledge that for Black folks, the wounds keep being picked open. There’s re-wounding, a new wounding, and a need to continuously recover and heal.
So, I was looking at my own drawings to find something I had done that could maybe be altered for the vitrine, and there were a couple drawings I had made of my hands drawing. I thought about hands sifting through, picking and choosing, and also self-criticizing.
I think that this has really been a period of reflection, looking at and re-examining systemic issues in institutions but then also looking within ourselves. I’m really feeling aware of being associated with Concordia and what that means, being a person with some level of power because of the institution. I’m also a queer person of colour, but at the same time, how did I get there and what is my role? In what ways do I participate in perpetuating systemic issues or in what ways can I help unravel them? I don’t have an answer, but it’s a moment of feeling uncertain and kind of pried open.
How has the pandemic affected your art making practice?
For the first part of lockdown I felt so unfocused, agitated, and completely worried about other people and loved ones. I was going on a lot of walks, taking photos, and posting them online.
At some point, I thought, “maybe if I draw this it will be a way of processing what’s happening.”
When I’m drawing, I kind of lose myself a bit in the act of it. I find it really helps me process my life, which sounds cheesy, but it’s calming. Dreams are ways of processing thoughts and experiences, too. When I posted some of these drawings on Instagram, a lot of friends would comment. I had a lot of fun with that because I felt like every day, I had to make a drawing, then I would just end up chatting with friends. It was a nice way of connecting with people.
Have you shaped your practice around Instagram more lately?
I’ve been really missing people and loved ones and thinking a lot about personal history or family history.
With my work The Wanderers (2020), I made some multi-paneled comics that are about my relationship with a loved one and place. We’ve had a relationship that’s a bit edgy and there’s so much love but there’s so much intensity.
It still feels really new and not completely figured out. I thought maybe I could take some time with this format of really scratchy tiny drawings. I have this relationship with drawing that’s therapeutic in a way, but maybe there’s a way that it also reaches other people. Everyone has these same relationships or issues just in different variations, but these drawings could still ring true to people.
I was really surprised about how people responded to those drawings on Instagram because there’s not a lot that’s visibly happening. But you can talk about something that’s very vague and for whatever reason, it might still have something in it.
Because of Instagram I thought about this nine-to-ten-panel square format, and I had seen other comic artists using it as a way of showing all their panels. There is this format of zine or book called a meander book. You have to constantly turn the orientation of the book, so it feels a little disorienting or like you get flipped around in it. I thought it suited the subject a lot.
How has teaching been?
It’s been so different in a lot of ways. One positive thing is that it brought my colleagues together. Catherine Wild, our program head, went all out to look out for us. My colleague Stephanie Russ was also teaching an Intro to Screen Printing class, so we ended up talking a lot and collaborating together and supporting each other. I feel that that was a super important and a beautiful part of all of this.
I feel quite worried about the students, that they’ll feel very disconnected from each other. We meet on Zoom and I look at their faces in these tiny screens, and they’re smiling or engaging, but sometimes people look so tired or sad. There’s a different way of checking in on people when teaching in person. My only way now is to send a lot of emails and check in with them if they’ve missed class, to see if they’re okay.
The work that they’re doing is really amazingly good work and the way that they’re engaging with each other in critiques, as well. We form smaller groups for this. I divide the class into half so that people don’t have to attend the entire four hours of critique. Students are really giving good feedback to each other and making thoughtful and touching work. They’ve been making screen prints with paper stencils that are not waxy so the paper is disintegrating as they work. I find myself thinking, “why are you trying so hard? I would be so frustrated if I were you.” But they’ve made some really beautiful work and are just going with it.
Learn more about the Print Media program in the Department of Studio Arts.