2008

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly | John Will, RICHard SMOLinski, and Kris Lindskoog | November 14 to December 13, 2008

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Written by David Folk

            The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is an appropriate – albeit predictably appropriate – title for an exhibition focusing on the link between masculinity and language.  Too often masculinity is perceived in an overly simplistic conceptualization solely as a binary opposition in gender politics. Luckily, the work of the artists in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is anything but simplistic. Through their various insights into how masculinity and language cohabitate, the artists in this exhibition begin to reveal the potential pluralities existent in masculine identities. 

Kris Lindskoog’s text-based pieces are conspicuous in their noticeable lack of prescriptive interpretation.  Characterized by what is missing – whether a letter, a word, or a normative context – Lindskoog’s fragments of text deny an authorial voice.  Through their lack of completion and/or distortion, they become visual puns that reject structured intent.  Rather, they are reliant upon the viewer’s complicity to establish meaning and provide insight.  Words and phrases themselves are treated as visual devices, with the descriptive and determinative power of language mitigated through their distortion and evident manipulation.

The inherent problematic of language is that it provides insight, clarity, communication and meaning.  Yet, simultaneously, it functions as a determinant to impose order and an authorial voice through the directed intent of the author.  As such, this implies all of the complications associated with the establishment of the strictures of control and power.  As we seek to illuminate our intent, we limit its reception.  As we define, we demystify and subsequently reject the mutability of experience.           

In removing its linguistic and narrative codifiers, Lindskoog’s manipulated text rejects this mono-directional ‘reading’.  The interpretive text is invented through the cooperation of artist/author and the viewer’s subjective experiences and expectations.  Rather than being controlled, Lindskoog subverts meaning by the intrinsic interactivity of his linguistic cum graphic devices.

In sharp contrast to Lindskoog, there is nothing vague about John Will’s work.  Phrases such as “I am a sex machine” or “Filthy Beast” unapologetically promote a linkage between an uncompromising machismo and sexual prowess.  The overtly descriptive, first person, narrative pronouncements do more then simply suggest a hyper-masculine identity.  Rather, they position the artist/author as the ultimate possessor of his own “manhood” – especially according to perceived stereotypical norms of the masculine ideal.

Over the past twenty years or so, representations of masculinity in popular culture and media have shifted drastically.  The male body has encroached upon the eroticized domain of the objectified, female body.  Even more recently, we have seen the rise of the androgynous, physical body in cultural representations.  And, while this shift in representation has conflated our traditional understanding of masculine norms, the predominant ideology of authority and virility still remains inextricably linked within our popular consciousness.[i]           

The obviousness of Will’s work lays this bare. The treatment of Will’s textual elements – in its scale, delicacy, and execution – conveys a preciousness that is indicative of the artist’s appreciation of the construction of language and/or masculinity.  Furthermore, his aggressive assertions of macho-ness function as caricatures of male identity and become acknowledgements of our cultural expectations.  Ultimately, Will’s work refutes the dominant, masculine ideology through its tongue-in-cheek self-awareness.

RICHard SMOLinksi’s work is also concerned with exploring conceptions of the hyper-masculine.  SMOLinkski incorporates aggressive and lurid imagery with re-configured textual elements in an evident manipulation of representation and wordplay.   The combination of blatantly masculine signifiers and phallic imagery connotes the drive for control and coercion that is innately associated with the masculine imperative.  And, the inclusion of re-structured text belies the ability of language to encode such dogma.   

Words are not impartial in their function but, rather, language is used as a tool to mediate between meaning and influence.  The ability of words to control and contain – to determine and pre-determine – action and response cannot be separated from behavior.  The very nature of language is as a structured apparatus that can be used to explicate meaning and, even more so, impose upon our conduct.  At its root, the link between language and power is inextricable.      

In the re-combinatory efforts of SMOLinksi’s text, this linguistic apparatus is disrupted.  The resultant de-familiarization severs the link between language and any possible unidirectional connection between word and meaning.  Language becomes pliable and its perceived neutrality is called into question.  In juxtaposing this re-worked text with blatantly hyper-masculine imagery, SMOLinksi explicates the connection between language and gender.  In particular, his work reveals and simultaneously undercuts the power of language to encode and reinforce the authoritarian drive of the ruling masculine praxis.

While there is no denying its power as a force in proscribing and describing gender norms, masculinity is complex in its operations.  The work in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly explores the link between language and visual representation.  And, ultimately, it expands upon our understanding of the intricacies inherent in the construction of identity and gender.  Each of the artists in the exhibition has interpreted this link in vastly different ways, yet each has also managed to reveal the multifaceted nature of masculinity. 

 

David Folk is a visual artist whose work focuses on the construction of identity and gender, primarily through narrative painting strategies.  He currently resides in Calgary, AB where, in addition to his artistic practice, he teaches Studio Art at the University of Calgary.

 

Notes

[i] See Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Male Trouble,” in Constructing Masculinity, ed. Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis, and Simon Watson (New York: Routledge Press, 1995), 68-76.  Solomon-Godeau presents an interesting parallel between the usage of the male body in contemporary media and Victorian-age representations to explore the recent “crisis” in masculinity.  Solomon-Godeau proposes that, despite this perceived crisis, the underlying ideology of male representation still promotes the masculine imperative of dominance and control.

Buffalo Boy’s Battle of Little Big Horny | Performance by Adrian Stimson | October 11, 2008

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This video installation and performance will parody Buffalo Bill’s recreation of the “Indian Wars” in his Wild West show, specifically the “Battle of Little Bighorn”. In essence it will be a re – recreation, like a rumor gone wild a la Buffalo Boy, Adrian Stimson’s performance alter ego. This performance will loosely follow the film “Little Big Man”, specifically the battle scene in which Colonel George Armstrong Custer makes his last stand.

Adrian Stimson is a member of the Siksika (Blackfoot) Nation in southern Alberta. He is an interdisciplinary artist with a BFA with distinction from the Alberta College of Art & Design and MFA from the University of Saskatchewan. Adrian is currently Associate curator at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon. At the Mendel he also completed both the aboriginal curator and artist in residence through the Canada Council and Saskatchewan Arts Board. Adrian is a session instructor at the University of Saskatchewan and has written articles in Blackflash magazine and several Mendel publications. An interdisciplinary artist, Stimson has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally. 

Old Sun | Adrian Stimson | October 10 to November 8, 2008

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“Old Sun or Natusapi was a chief of the Blackfoot and distant relative. My family has told me that he was a respected leader and distrusted the new comers greatly, he did not want to sign Treaty 7, preferring war to what at the time he considered the end of our way of life. The Blackfoot Reserve #149 or today called the Siksika Nation was divided in half for conversion, the east to the Catholics and the west to the Anglicans. My family camped on the west-end of the reserve and by happenstance claimed by the Anglicans. The school that was built was named Chief Old Sun Residential School, I find it ironic that his namesake was used as it ensured the end of a way of life for many of his descendents; my family members. The institution now called Old Sun College has made the transition from residential school to college yet remains a colonizing symbol for many on my Nation. Over the years, various renovations have created fragments of material culture; I have been privileged to collect many of these fragments.” 

Old Sun is a new exhibition of installations by the Saskatoon-based artist, Adrian Stimson. Stimson explores identity, history, and transcendence through the reconfiguration of architectural and natural fragments culled from the relics of the Chief Old Sun Residential School.


The works that appear in Old Sun focus on a particular chapter in Canada’s history of colonialism: the long and unfinished story of the residential school system. This colonial education system—founded and operated through a state-church partnership for over a century until the last school closed in 1996—attempted to “kill the Indian in the child” (Fontaine) by erasing the culture of generations of Aboriginal people: an assimilative practice that is identified in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as cultural genocide.

The title, Old Sun, links this installation-event with Old Sun School, an Anglican residential school founded in 1890 on Stimson’s reserve: the Siksika Nation. Many of Stimson’s family members attended Old Sun School where so many children died of tuberculosis, mumps, cholera, small pox, influenza, measles, and malnutrition: all in the name of civilization. In successive government reports Old Sun School became infamous for its high mortality rates: its buildings were condemned as unsanitary and its overcrowded dormitories were described as providing an ideal incubator for the spread of disease. As Stimson notes, Old Sun School—just an hour’s drive from the Truck gallery—was named after Old Sun or Natusapi, a chief of the Blackfoot and Stimson’s distant relative. “I find it ironic” Stimson says, “that Old Sun School is named after this respected leader who did not want to sign Treaty 7, preferring war to what, at the time, was seen as the end of our way of life. Old Sun School did ensure the end of a way of life for many of his descendants, including my family.”

Moving back-and-forth between the installations brings together an accumulation of images: a steel-ribbed sweat lodge lined with scraps of buffalo hide; a classroom light casting shadows that mimic the ‘double-cross’ of the Union Jack; a sleeping figure lying on an infirmary bed wrapped in buffalo fur; the phantom shadow of a flayed buffalo hide; a tall sketchy structure resembling an Indigenous burial platform and a wooden coffin; a small fur-sarcophagus suspended in front of a projection of historical and contemporary images of Old Sun School; and an old Anglican church banner reading: “All one in Christ Jesus.”

Stimson’s installations start from and continually return to the found object: material fragments from Old Sun School including windows, light fixtures, an infirmary bed and black-and-white photographs from an instructor’s personal photo-album. “These fragments,” Stimson notes, “bear witness to the trauma of these schools. They also invoke my relationship to this history. I went to residential school until grade four as a day student. I have a lot of vivid memories that I draw on when I work with these fragments.” Talking about, Old Sun (2005), Stimson says: “The Old Sun light fixture that hangs above the sweat lodge shines downward interrogating the piece. I believe that objects hold energy. This light that once shone above the heads of many children in the school is a witness to cultural genocide. The shadow it creates on the fragments of bison fur is the Union Jack. Shadows of history haunt us but illumination of our history can

enlighten us.” In bringing differing visual elements and signifying systems into juxtaposition, Stimson creates an image-montage that allusively yet insistently draws connections between things that are normally kept apart in the Canadian national imaginary.

Old Sun engages in the exhausting work of mourning yet it is also a story of survival and strength. In his practice as an artist, Stimson repeatedly turns to the figure of the buffalo as a metaphor for spirituality, creativity, and rebirth. In this exhibit, the figure of the buffalo is at once witness, mourner and survivor. As he tells it, “I use the bison as a symbol representing the destruction of the Aboriginal way of life. It also represents survival and cultural regeneration. The bison is central to Blackfoot being.”

In this hauntingly beautiful installation Stimson has created an archive of visual testimony that bears witness to Canada’s colonial past and the “national crime” (Milloy) of the residential school. It is an exhibit that reveals the affective and interrogative force of the visual arts and their ability to make a significant contribution to the urgent task of building an inclusive national imaginary as a process of historical accountability.

Lynne Bell is a Professor in the Department of Art and Art History and Co-Director of the Humanities Research Unit at the University of Saskatchewan. Her essay on Adrian Stimson's work, "Buffalo Boy: Camp, Mourning, and the Forgiving of History" appeared in Canadian Art (Summer 2007).

Future's So Bright | Group Exhibition | September 5 to October 4, 2008

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In the fall of 2008 Truck Contemporary Art in Calgary will be celebrating 25 years as an artist-run centre in the city. While an anniversary year is a natural time to look back at those who have brought TRUCK to where we are today, the Programming Committee felt it would be the perfect time to engage Calgary’s cultural practitioners who are emerging as vital contributors to the lively contemporary art and culture scene. From past artists, exhibitions, specific artworks, or the space itself, local artists were invited to thread our past into their present work, responding to some facet of our history.

The result is Future’s So Bright, a group exhibition featuring new work by painting team Dave + Jenn, Sarah Houle-Lowry, Hilary Knutson, the Ladies Invitational Deadbeat Society (LIDS), and Caitlin Thompson in both our Main Space and in the +15 window. This exhibition combines painting, sculpture, installation and performance as these emerging contemporary artist’s engage in a direct dialogue with TRUCK and Calgary Artist-Run Culture’s past.

Calla and Response | Dave Dyment | June 27 to August 2, 2008

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Dave Dyment’s practice deals with sound as both medium and subject matter, exploring the shared associations of pop music. His work is conceptually rigorous and combines humour and the blend of high and low art. For TRUCK he will be exhibiting a series of score-based works – some realized, some not.

Dave Dyment is an artist and writer based in Toronto. His work has been exhibited in Edmonton, Ottawa, Halifax, Toronto, Philadelphia and Dublin. He is currently the Director of Programming at the artist-run centre Mercer Union.


Dave Dyment’s White Noise (2005) is an audio work that takes all of the tracks from the Beatles’ White Album and, using time-stretch software, lengthens or shortens them to their average length (3:06), and plays them simultaneously, creating a cacophonous roar through which one can barely make out traces of the original. This time-lapse audio portrait of an album in some sense exemplifies Dyment’s artistic approach. It employs a seductive “call” to the beholder, referring to a pop-cultural monument that has wide-spread appeal and familiarity. But rather than providing a passive and nostalgic revisiting of single hit songs—so that one may, with comfortable ease, ask “Where and when did I first hear it?”—it provokes an active “response” that alternates between the experience of mere noise that challenges one’s attention span, and a series of unsentimental speculations: for instance, despite the noise one cannot help but strive to detect familiar phrases and reassuring notes, as well as consider subcultures preoccupied with the dissection and manipulation of songs, including those intent on revealing hidden occultist messages.

            Dyment consistently manages to make clichéd sources strange—and worthwhile once again as objects of study and contemplation. Duet (2008) features a dog and gramophone that unmistakably recall another mythical bit of music history: the RCA/HMV logo, deriving from a painting dating from the 1890s, starring the intently listening canine Nipper. The video may trigger both shared and personal memories of specific RCA records or recording artists—thus demonstrating the power of one of the most successful marketing images in the history of the music industry—but Dyment’s portrayal frustrates the desire for such mere easy-going reminiscences. The dog depicted, which happens to belong to the artist, wears a protective plastic cone collar, an accessory that strikes sad and comic notes, and mirrors the gramophone’s form. But the audio component of this short video includes only the closing fade-out of the song “Day in the Life” from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album. Included as well are a few seconds of a 15-kilocycle tone, which exists just below audible human levels and therefore functions more like a dog whistle. Awareness of the inaudible sound may cause one to reconsider the plastic cone, which might normally represent a handicap, as a sign for the dog’s amplified hearing and superior ability to detect and reveal realities that are most often ignored and dismissed as silence or noise. 

            Rooted in the tradition of pioneering Fluxus artists such as George Brecht and Yoko Ono, Dyment’s score-based practice is initially conceived as written proposals, composed of directions that may or may not be followed and realized, recalling Lawrence Weiner’s often-quoted conceptual-art credo “The work need not be made.” The conspicuous lack of whole and coherent objects to fetishize in “Call and Response”—either material or audio products—reflects a critical mode of thought that is more about repeated questioning, rather than definitive answering, of our common cultural landscape and history. This tendency is perhaps best expressed by the video Pop Quiz (2001), a work that includes every question posed in every song in Dyment’s own eclectic record and CD collection. As the video plays, one silently sings a duet with each musician so the each query potentially takes on a diverse symbolic life that is freed from the constraints of its original symbolic context: The lines “Where are you now when I need you?” and “What the hell am I supposed to do?” both speak to the productive predicament of not being spoon-fed easy entertainment products—so that we may become motivated to come up with critical content to fill the awkward pauses and silences.            

Dan Adler 

Parallax | Bettina Hoffmann | May 16 to June 21, 2008

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Roland Barthes describes the magic of an image as punctum, the moment when some essence or detail punctures the surface of the photograph, capturing the viewer. [1] Somehow, Bettina Hoffmann has made this breach a two-way conduit. We the viewers seem to be inside the still image, moving through it with ease. But where is that essence we are searching for?

The camera proceeds at a smooth, measured pace around the frozen bodies of its subjects, never stopping to frame an individual face or detail. In a breakfast scene where several generations of a family are gathered generic cartons of milk and juice at the centre seem to be the camera's only focus as it sweeps around and around the table. We grasp at each face as it passes across the screen, hoping for an insight. Who are these people? What are the relationships between them? Nothing is revealed.

A series of similar vignettes follow. Each time the picture fades to black, our expectations are frustrated. Trained in the strict cues of narrative cinema, we want the plot to move forward. Tension builds and is sustained. Two couples in a small, bare apartment – a continuous soundtrack seems to stretch out the moment just before a dramatic event, never coming to a resolve. Elements in the room – piece of clothing draped across an old kitchen chair, a pair of wine glasses – cut across the screen in turn, but no object is telling enough to let us in on the situation.

Laura Mulvey compared the role of the camera in traditional cinema to that of an invisible guest – a perspective of privilege and satisfaction. Hoffmann's camera though, does not occupy this pleasant role. Instead it delves into the darker, voyeuristic tendencies Mulvey sees at the root of traditional cinematic structure.[2]

The exacting loops through each scene in La Ronde take on an obsessive quality with each precise repetition. In the split screen of Décalage, the camera scans each body with a thoroughness that becomes invasive, passing slowly over chests, thighs, and faces. The camera is not merely a passive observer, but a controlling force – the bodies of Hoffmann's subjects are trapped as the camera moves around them.

Hoffmann is not just exploring control in a metaphorical sense. She has not created the illusion of frozen bodies with digital manipulation, but simply asked her subjects to remain still, without even blinking as she completes each shot of 30 – 90 seconds. This realization makes the lack of information even more strange. Surely one of her subjects must have made some minute, accidental movement, but none is revealed. Even the homes used in each scene seem inhumanly clean and ordinary, without any murky corners.

Hoffmann has trapped both her viewers and her subjects in a slick automatic feedback loop of audio and visual cues. The tension is never released. The secret is never revealed. Meaning is never made and this product is never really consumed. Or is it? Like a department store window display at night, the promise of empty pleasure is suddenly replaced with an opportunity for self-reflection. Why did we need to know? What made us expect that these stories, these bodies, these people, should be ours for the taking?

Jennifer McVeigh is a writer based in Calgary, AB.

  1. 1  Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Noonday, New York, 1981.

  2. 2  Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Screen vol. 16, no. 3, 1975.

Sun Dogs | Group Exhibition | April 12 to May 10, 2008

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SHOWCASING WORK BY Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, Erling T.V. Klingenberg, Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir, Pall Banine, Ragnar Kjartansson and Sirra Sigrun Sigurdardottir

Sundogs bring together the work of six emerging and mid-career Icelandic artists.  Through a variety of approaches, including video, installation, performance, sculpture, and photography, these artists draw inspiration from the theatre of the commonplace, investigating facets of everyday life in their native land and within an increasingly global community.

Sundogs is curated by the Kamploops-based David Diviney and serves as a continuation of his collaborative research with Icelandic artists and institutions that began in 1997.  A version of Sundogs will be presented as part of Núna (now), a showcase of art-making from both Icelandic and Canadian communities, in Winnipeg in May 2008.