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Studio art students create their own award when a classmate misses out

UTSC students created a Student Choice Award to celebrate students artists with more conceptual pieces not recognized at the annual juried exhibition. (Submitted Photo)

In early March, art students in the UTSC Studio Program held their annual juried exhibition, complete with cash prizes for works selected by three prominent Toronto artists. But a few days after the awards reception, there was one more, unexpected honour.

A group of students in the program felt that one of their peers was truly deserving, but had missed out on a prize. So they created a Student Choice Award, with ten students, including several award winners, signing a certificate and contributing $10 each to create the $100 prize.

The artist they gave it to was a very surprised Rhenix Shi, a third-year Studio student who creates intriguing conceptual works. “I was really happy that my work got this recognition from my peers,” he says. “I had no idea about it until they announced it at the end of class.”

Tiffany Schofield, a member of the Student Choice group and an award winner herself, stresses that the students had no argument with the jurors over their choices. But she notes that because Shi’s work is conceptual, the short descriptions posted alongside his entries did not give the full flavour and background of his art.

“The work that Rhenix does is often performance-based and or it’s more ephemeral,” she says. “The jurors didn’t get the chance to see it the way we do.”

For instance, among his show pieces were three photos of an installation he did in UTSC’s Arts & Administration Building in November, showing a labyrinth made of salt blocks leading to a cup of beer in the middle. In the labyrinth he had placed some 15 snails, who are attracted by beer but can die from salt.

“None of the snails died,” Shi hastens to note. “I wanted viewers to see the snails as themselves and the labyrinth as our world. It’s about our desires and our challenges – the beer and the salt.”

There was also an hour-long video in which the screen was divided into 12 mini-screens, each showing the same set of fruit flies at different stages of their short life cycle, as well as one photo from a series showing the China-born artist lying naked in various spots.

During class, Schofield points out, Shi had the opportunity to fully show and explain his work.

“We wanted to initiate an award that reflected the students’ opinion,” she says. “Rhenix is an incredibly hard worker who consistently produces professional work that we have great respect for.”

Schofiled, a fourth-year student, hopes the Student Choice Award will become an annual part of the juried show.

Tanya Mars, director of the Studio Program in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media, has no problem with that idea.  “I think it`s the nicest thing a group of students has done of their own volition in a really long time.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough