To an outsider, the group’s name, Unit II, has an air of mystery to it. “And we are very mysterious,” says one of its members, Tonia DiRisio, playing along.
The Anna Leonowens Gallery director is among more than 30 technical staff at NSCAD exhibiting work in Too, which opens Friday, January 7, with a reception at 6pm. It runs through Saturday, January 15.
This marks the first group show by Unit II, or “education resource personnel,” as DiRisio reveals the official term to be. But, Too is the latest to illuminate the art practices of NSCAD workers outside the classroom. Certainly Unit I, the university’s faculty, has had its turn to show this other side of themselves. For the past two years, DiRisio says, the NSCAD community has made greater efforts to show itself. And the intended audience has taken notice.
“I found students like to see what other people make here,” she says.
All three gallery spaces at Anna Leonowens will be occupied by Too. The work covers many disciplines and types of production, including painting, sculpture, photography and the NSCAD library (in the form of journals). There’ll be ceramics from the likes of Doug Bamford, textiles by Anne Pickard and jewellery by Ann Pocket. Along with her own multimedia work, DiRisio’s gallery co-workers Eleanor King, whom DiRisio says “does everything,” and Aimée Brown, whose practice combines printmaking and performance, also contribute.
While there’s no single concern or universal theme intended or expressed in this large and diverse collection of work, says DiRisio, a subtext to it all does exist. “You’re almost divided into two people,” she says of being a Unit IIer.
There’s the work persona, the technical staff person who teaches, guides and aids students with everything from conceptualization to operation of equipment. And there’s the practicing artist who creates and exhibits his or her own work in galleries across the city, region and country, indeed throughout the world. But, adds DiRisio, these two personas come from the same source. To make art and to teach one keeps current in knowledge and practice, she says. In that way, perhaps, Units I and II are one. “We’re all teaching all the time.”
DiRisio doesn’t ever feel distanced from her own work, or too busy with and burnt out from the day job to do anything else. “I have a pretty active practice, like most of the staff here,” she says.