We’re So Thirsty comments on oil industry and our waterways

“I don’t want to make art just for art’s sake I want to make something that has meaning” says artist Tiffany Wollman. “I just want other people to start thinking just not take things as they are.”

Avalanche! Institute of Contemporary Art is showcasing a series of Wollman’s mixed-media work in a show called We’re So Thirsty directly inspired by the oil industry’s use of water and the long-term impacts that may have on our environment and the people who rely on affected water sources.

“I realized that as an artist or as a person that we have rights to ask questions even if the answers aren’t easy. And from there I wanted to work with what concerned me the most and what was local” she says. Wollman a recent graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design explains the exhibition title by referring to how ambitious people are often described as “hungry.”

“Because of people’s economic ambitions we’re going to be pretty thirsty if our water is destroyed.”

Each of the seven sculptures in the show mimics a cross-section of a pipeline spewing liquid but instead of oil or water Wollman has draped colourful sheets of solid house paint. Wollman collected the paints from colleagues who were about to discard the materials and glossed the sheets of paint to give them a liquid sheen.

Wollman initially explored the idea with a larger piece about two feet in diameter but has adapted her approach for the current show. Because the space is relatively small she made a series of smaller sculptures “which was amazing because I got to make a larger body of work and then they can work off each other.”

While each piece follows the same model Wollman chose the colours and titles of each piece carefully to express different ideas about the issues she’s tackling. “I think I like working indirectly and evoking a number of things” she explains. For example a piece titled “Bitymen” works in the black and grey sheen more commonly associated with oil but another “The Gateway” evokes the greens of a boreal forest and the natural tones of animals and humans that might live nearby. A sculpture that references one of Canada’s aquatic research libraries is a gentle blue; another of solid gold is titled “Near Sighted” referencing according to Wollman a modern-day gold rush.

The experience of We’re So Thirsty is primarily aesthetic and it’s up to the viewer to delve into the deeper questions it raises — because like many art exhibitions this show is more about questions than about answers. “I don’t want to point fingers and say ‘This is right’ or ‘This is wrong’” says Wollman. “I basically want to set up the framework for discussion.”

It’s evident though that Wollman also hopes viewers might be inspired to take a stand on these issues. “Protecting and standing up for Mother Nature and each other is crucial to our collective well-being” she says.