Alanna Baird was on the cusp of finishing her engineering degree at the University of New Brunswick in 1977 when she realized she was more interested in the drawings in her lab reports than their content.
She dropped out of the program and instead took up roost at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, where she quickly discovered her true passion and launched an illustrious fine arts career.
Now, she’s heading back to school – but not in the way you might think.
Baird will showcase her latest body of work, a scintillating school of fish made out of recycled materials, for the UNB Art Centre’s World Water Day exhibit starting on March 14.
“[My work] is very unique. Unique is one of those overused words, but this is truly unique in that there isn’t anyone else doing it,” said the St. Andrews artist, who has been “redefining the art of recycling” for the past 21 years.
Baird’s solo exhibition, entitled Plenty of Fish, incorporates everything from cat food tins to old copper roofing to create a series of ocean-dwelling critters that both astonish and inspire.
This is the first time it will be showcased in New Brunswick, and Baird can’t imagine a better venue. It’s a perfect fit for the university’s celebration of World Water Day, a United Nations initiative held annually on March 22 to recognize the value of water globally and to advocate for the sustainable management of water resources.
“People will walk into the gallery and the first thing they’ll see is bright, shiny metal fish. But then they’ll realize that the fish are made out of a waste material and start making connections . . . It comes as a surprise because you don’t associate something you throw away regularly with something beautiful and sculptural,” she said.
“My pieces have nothing to do with the kind of stuff that washes up on the beach, but there is an awful lot of rubbish out there floating up. [You’ll get] the association of waste material and water, which is very precious to us, and how that translates into an object that is precious in another way.”
Baird’s Plenty of Fish will be presented at UNB’s Memorial Hall in the fashion of a real school of fish, by dangling from the ceiling and moving with the air ducts. She can’t wait to see her work outside of the confines of her small studio by the water in St. Andrews.
“There is something very creative about taking individual pieces and combining them, through grouping them together in such an exhibit, and making something more,” she said.
“The exhibit becomes more than the individual works. I am not only taking tin cans to make a fish, I am taking fish to make a school.”
But Baird’s school won’t be swimming alone in Memorial Hall from March 14 to May 2.
Nova Scotia artist Wilma Needham will bring her exhibit Souvenir to the UNB Art Centre from a recent showing at the Dalhousie Art Gallery in Halifax.
The exhibit provides multiple perspectives on Niagara Falls through a selection of photos, mixed media and new media, and aims to engage viewers in an examination of environmental, political and social issues that have played out around the falls.
“Individual parts of the exhibit speak about the emotional and visceral experience of this powerful place but also about the history and social relations that develop around such a phenomenon,” said Needham, who is a native of Niagara Falls, Ont.
“Having experienced World Dater Day every day of my growing up life, I have known the wide implications of disrespecting and working carefully with such a vital element of our environment. My work gives a very personal perspective on this.”
Baird and Needham’s exhibits will be on display from March 14 until May 2 at the UNB Art Centre at Memorial Hall. The galleries are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and for special events. Admission is free.