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Tanya Bub challenges the definition of the art space

Tanya Bub wants to take you out of the art space. For her, the art space becomes what you want it to be and can include breaking certain conventions of how art is displayed or even the physical boundaries of the gallery itself.

Mind Games: Defying the Art Space is the current exhibition showing at Art @Bentall throughout the month of November. Tanya has transformed the space with driftwood sculpture, wire sculpture and collage.

“I came in to see the space, and I saw there’s three very distinct areas,” Tanya says. “So, I thought in this case, I would do water, land and air.”

The idea is to transport the viewer into the space where the art subject would be found. For example, in the sea space, Tanya has a giant mermaid and octopus of driftwood while fish made of both driftwood and wire are suspended from the ceiling, giving a sense of being underwater.

In the land area, there is a life-sized horse of driftwood, which takes up much of the floor space, forcing people to move about it. Another is coming out of the wall.

“There’s the horse crashing through the wall, half in and half out. So, I wanted to sort of break down the walls of the gallery … the walls don’t bound this art physically.”

The concept of the show, Mind Games, comes from Tanya’s art itself and its use of materials that many people have some familiarity with.

“There’s a phenomenon when people come and see art, when they’re not expecting to see art or when they see it in a way that’s unexpected. It sort of pops them out of putting it into their box and gives them a moment or gives them a few moments where they can see something with fresh eyes.”

With her use of found and common materials as well as construction techniques that people can physically see, the brain starts switching between seeing the individual pieces of the materials and the finished sculpture.

“The materials are in some way familiar and in some ways unfamiliar. The construction, in some ways you can see how it’s done, but in some ways, it’s a bit of a mystery. Because it’s very raw. And when you look at the piece, you go, ‘Okay, there’s one piece of wood and there’s another piece of wood and there’s another. And they’re all stuck together. But now it’s a mermaid.’ It’s not like a bronze sculpture where you wouldn’t necessarily have a natural intuition about how it comes together. You can see what it is. The construction is transparent.”

The ways of things

While Tanya did study art at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, her eclectic life has taken her on a journey away and back to art. She has worked as a computer programmer and is the co-author of two books on physics, one on Einstein’s theory of relativity and the other on quantum mechanics.

Knowing this, it becomes easier to understand Tanya’s fascination with how things are constructed, how they work and how both principles influence her art.

“The way I think about physics too is it’s almost like people think, ‘Oh, physics. It’s impenetrable. It’s something I can’t really understand.’” Tanya says. “I’m very much a first principle person. I like to start with something very simple that I can’t understand, and I like to go from there. So, in the same way, when I’m making a driftwood sculpture, I take one stick and I can another stick and I put them together and I try to imagine how I can go next, to extend the picture. And the way I approach physics is sort of the same … start with a really simple principle that you can really get your head around, that you feel like you have ownership of, and then just take little steps from there. And it’s amazing how far you get with that approach.”

Her return to art was quite by surprise. Tanya had been working as a computer programmer for years. But it was a walk along the Victoria beach with her daughter that brought her back.

“It was sort of by means of the driftwood,” she says. “I found a single piece of driftwood that looked exactly like an orca breaching. I was just walking with my daughter and I held it up and said, ‘Look at this.’ And she said, ‘Whoa, that’s an orca breaching!’”

Finding a singular piece of driftwood that looks like something else led to the idea of what several pieces of driftwood, stuck together, could become.

That spark—that moment—changed Tanya’s trajectory. Now, she says, art is her “more than full-time” job.

“I think in my age, in my early fifties, I see many people having this rebirth experience where they get back to something that really excited them when they were younger.”

Mind Games: Defying the Art Space runs until November 30 at Art @Bentall.

More of Tanya’s work can be seen currently at Outsiders and Others on 716 East Hastings Street. The show, New Discoveries, runs until November 28.

By Nathan Durec


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