Similar But Different

Jayda Karsten, Asmaa Al-Issa, Neal Philipsen, Alyssa Haas 

March 8 - April 13, 2013

Similar but Different
By: Jayda Karsten
I sense a return to the collaborative approach of art, architecture, and design with the inclusion of other
disciplines such as math, science, psychology and technology. Throughout history there has been much
debate about the connectivity or individuality of disciplines. Through this curatorial process I was able to
see convergences and departures of both Environmental Design Studies (EVDS) and Fine Art students at
the University of Calgary. These up-and-coming artists and architects have created works that bridge their
specific disciplines and opened a conversation on shared language, methodologies, processes, and
intentions. I would like to thank The New Gallery, who approached this project with the intent to provide
a bridge between the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD) and the University of Calgary (U of C) through
an inter-institutional exhibition.
Historically, during the Renaissance period in particular, artists such as Bernini and Michelangelo referred
to themselves as architects as well as sculptors and painters. In late Victorian Britain this division was put
into question by William Morris and John Ruskin through the Arts and Crafts Movement. The early
twentieth century saw groups such as Bauhaus and De Stijl advocating an increased dialogue between art,
architecture, design and technology. The quest for the Gesamtkunstwerk (total art work) continues into
the ’40s with Sigfried Gedion who influenced the Situationists International in the ’50s. Fast-forward into
the present day where the zeitgeist of Calgary’s artists, architects and designers continues to be one of
interdisciplinary exploration.
One observation is how technology is more than just a tool but also a medium for those in creative
disciplines. Stephen Rowe and Linds Horan both tuned to technology and the virtual world for the
language used to communicate their site-specific guerrilla installations. This is a surprising twist on how
objects are typically appropriated through remediation, taking something from the physical world and
reinterpreting it in the virtual world, has been completely reversed. Similarly, Alyssa Haas’ design for a
Cellphone Booth was created entirely in a virtual environment that is both weightless without human scale
and then brought into reality. This complex structure has both an architectural and artistic feeling to it;
combined with a design intention for function in a process she describes as “digital sculpting”.
Another observation was how concerned artists and architects are with social, physical and mental
wellbeing. Asmaa Al-Issa’s Surface is a site specific installation inspired by eastern philosophies and
through “ritualistic and meditative” processes. The result is a labyrinth like reflective space within the
gallery, while Elmira Aghsaei, Will Frank, and Jason McMullen’s installations try to alleviate social
awkwardness in the public realm and encourage playfulness in parks and LRT stations to increase public
wellbeing. In contrast, it is often the well-being of the lower class in society that is a predictably low
priority. Sol Aasland, Andrew Pun, and Alana Piche seek to draw our attention to the social injustices that
are prevalent in our city and how the social, physical, and mental wellness of the homeless goes
These are just some examples of the many interconnections that artists, architects, and designers share;
creating outcomes that are Similar but Different. Having arrived at this point, I ask myself how the
distinction of disciplines is either helpful or harmful in terms of generating dialogue around larger social,
political, and environmental issues, and is the term “interdisciplinary” becoming a cliché?