Travis McEwen’s exhibit tackles themes in an inventive sci-fi world
Working in the medium of vibrant painting, Travis McEwen explores the themes of gender identity, queerness, science fiction, and the abstract in his exhibit, The Arch: Plans for a Heterotopic Space Opera.
The exhibit is somewhat focused on the topic of heterotopia, a concept of human geography elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault. The concept, in layman’s terms, is essentially a space that functions with little to no ruler or power.
“A utopia is a good space that doesn’t exist and a dystopia is a bad space, but a heterotopia is an other space. So, spaces of otherness,” McEwen says. “I like the concept to be a way peripheral people sort of inhabit the larger world, often in smaller communities or through digital platforms. Things like Tumblr or Facebook are good examples of people having a community that occupies digital space, but may not be in physical proximity.”
McEwen’s paintings take inspiration from the science fiction world, specifically Frank Herbert’s desert planet Arrakis, in his Dune series. The paintings are made up of inventive, chromatic landscapes as well as an array of unique portraits. Though the paintings all stand out on their own, they all to reside within the same scorching world.
“I was reading all six of the Dune books and the Mars Trilogy, and I had a short trip to South Turkey, so I had the desert in my mind,” McEwen says. “They’re certainly sci-fi future oriented images. The work has nothing to do with climate change, but in the back of my mind I was thinking about how the planet is getting hot and dry as well.”
The words “space opera” may suggest a hidden story within McEwen’s paintings, but that was not his intent. Though the images are linked, there is no concrete idea or story. The perfect example is the consistent arch featured in almost every one of McEwen’s paintings. That being said, McEwen has no precise story behind them.
“I always like the idea of things being suggestive,” McEwen says. “Are they giant structures within the landscape or on the horizon? Are they floating in space, but we can see them because of how big they are? Are they from a civilization passed? It’s unclear how they are in the landscape.”
That ambiguity also surrounds the portrait work. We have these beings each with a unique jaw line, article of clothing, and different coloured face. Much like the landscape, the portraits are inventive and represent nothing specific.
“It was a project of world building. At the end of the day, I’m really concerned about formal aspects like colour, shape, and scale,” McEwen says. “I thought, what if I’m building these characters and these spaces for a place that I’ll never make?”
A few of the portraits have a soft, wispy white lining encompassing the character, suggesting they are specters of their predecessors. This happened by accident after McEwen painted over some of the portraits in hopes to start from scratch.
“If I have a painting in my studio I decide I don’t like, I’ll cannibalize it and paint over it. So I decided to wipe them off,” he says.
McEwen’s exhibit as a whole may not answer any of the questions it poses, but every piece will leave the audience puzzled and astonished at the same time.
“I hate when people are like, ‘Oh, what are you getting out of it?’ I think of it sort of as a cop out,” McEwen says. “I left an openness and made them non-specific for a reason. I want to be directional in how I want the audience to read it, but I also left it open to the audience’s interpretation.”
Fri., Sept. 8 – Sun., Oct. 14
The Arch: Plans for a Heterotopic Space Opera
dc3 Art Projects