Michael Doerksen

Thought in Space
The spatial dynamics of sculpture intrigue this future art teacher

Portrait of Michael Doerksen in front of his piece Watch Tower by Christie Vuong. Portrait of Michael Doerksen in front of his piece Watch Tower by Christie Vuong.

An eight-year-old might be excused for wanting to eat the half-finished sculpture sitting on Michael Doerksen's kitchen table.

What kid - or indeed any sweet-toothed adult - wouldn't be impressed by a globe of ice cream cones? The cones are real but the ice cream topping, of course, isn't; it just looks good enough to eat. The sculpture may be Doerksen's master's thesis, though the third-year Studio Arts student isn't yet convinced.

He seems to like globes, because he has a few on display in his studio-cum-apartment in Verdun, including one that contains a physical representation of a neuron he made. But the artist, who hails from Victoria, B.C., says he doesn't have an overarching theme or muse, and none is evident in the variety of materials - from foam and molds to plastic penguins and telephone poles - and sculptures about the place.

What fascinates Doerksen is that materials and thought are the same thing, in a different dimension. "I see the sculptural potential in materials and space. I'm curious how materials shape and form meaning in space, and how we experience and move this sculpted space, physically and mindfully," he notes. To him, sculpture "is a thought in space - and a space of thought."

Doerksen, who has recently been picked up by Montreal-based Lilian Rodriguez Gallery, is also interested in creating art for public spaces. He conceived the Watch Tower (2011), featuring an alert dog atop a tower of buckets, for the garden of Concordia's downtown Visual Arts building, which lies at the juncture of bar-lined Crescent St. and René Lévesque Blvd., near the Bell Centre.

"It's a rough corner, and my idea was to give the courtyard a sculpture explicitly to watch over it," Doerksen explains.

Atmospheric immersion

The year he was 16, two events transformed his relationship with art: he saw Michelangelo's' Crouching Boy at the Hermitage during a school trip to Russia, and he saw an Andy Warhol show in Vancouver. These were the first times Doerksen, who'd begun drawing at age five or six, had experienced art in person instead of in a history book.

The next seminal moment in his life's work came at Victoria's Camuson College. "I had no idea what contemporary art was," he recalls, describing his introduction to the work of such artists as sculptor Charles Ray and performance artist Paul McCarthy. "It was a shock to my sensibilities. That's where it all really started for me."

Michael Doerksen, Arrangement in White, 2011. Click to enlarge. Michael Doerksen, Arrangement in White, 2011. Click to enlarge.

While he knew he ultimately wanted to teach art and so would pursue his education, Doerksen took a break after his BFA. He worked various odd jobs, his most exciting as a member of the successful psychedelic-rock indie band Sunset Rubdown, which took him around the world.

He sounds a bit wistful describing this period, but when he's asked where he sees himself in 10 years, his focus is firmly on the future.

"I'm going to be teaching a foundation-level sculpture course," he says, adding he would shortly be teaching a sculpture course at Concordia on a one-semester contract. "This is why I came to Montreal. I knew I could always do art, but I want to teach, too. In ten years, I'll be making art and teaching, immersed in that atmosphere."

Story by Liz Crompton. Posted on Jan. 25, 2012

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