Friday, January 25, 2008

Cat Fight: Rematch! The Artery, January 11 - February 8, 2008

It’s been less than a year since the first Catfight! graced the sharp corners and overhead lighting of ArtsHab Gallery. Resurrected in its second life in the Artery, a space that continues to prove itself to be one of the better exhibition spaces in town with its large white walls, spot lighting, and beautiful dark flooring, Catfight: Rematch! once again addresses the implication of female-to-female aggression.

Curated by Dirt City grinder Andrea E Lefebvre, known in some circles simply as Ladyballz, the intention behind the show isn’t to lament empowerment, even though Lefebvre’s Laila Ali drawings say otherwise. Perhaps it’s from growing up with a lot of sisters, or the fact that Lefebvre still counts a lot of strong women as close friends, but the intention behind Catfight! straddles somewhere between reactionary politics and moot issues. Women fight, but what of it?

There’s the forefront “Cunt” by Gabriela Andrea Rosende Gonzalez that speaks for itself. Marian Switzer’s passive aggressive candied hearts present the other end of the emotional spectrum. Infusing a bit of concept into the show is Jana Hargarten, freshly painting scratches over the face of her piece, destroying the memory and monument of a girl, possibly a former friend, posing during better times.

The show also presents Tammy Salzl’s last as an Edmontonian before her impending move to Montréal, and her disturbing “Deliverance” reveals a stormy scene of mothers at sea, throwing their wee ones overboard into the violent water. The fluidity of her strokes for both the women and the sea suggest serious elements of power struggles, and this mother of two will be missed until her future exhibitions come this way.

In addition to the returning roster of artists dishing out more interpretations of female aggression from a female perspective, two male artists have been added—and their inclusion adds a blatant sense of humour that was suggest but direly missing in the first and rest of Catfight!.

As sexually pessimistic as it may seem, the men simply make fun at the theme without thinking female aggression is an issue. Michal Wawrykowicz gives us a painting of a regular guy fighting a cat. Surprisingly, the work was not painted specifically for the show, but the piece contributes a weighty balance with its nonchalance. Ashley Andel, the other male artist in this 12-artist show, weighed into the cliché of a traditional girl-on-girl cat fight with a highly energetic drag photo series. Donning a slip, a wig, and some smeared red lipstick, Andel wrestles with his girlfriend in bright, show-stopping close-ups that at first just looks like an American Apparel advertisement of two girls fighting.

Two gaunt figures, brightly tinted cheekbones and pouty red lips, the seduction of the photographs echoes many of our media’s depiction of skewered female power, but Andel’s hairy armpits and sharp jaw line keeps us from falling too deeply into the theatrics.

“It’s a response to masculine insecurity and cliché,” Andel says. “I was fully aware that I’d be surrounded by women in this show and I wanted to make the most banal example of a catfight I could (Jillian and I end up in lip-lock), while slightly referencing artists like Pierre Molinier, Claude Cahun and Cindy Sherman, who blatantly use themselves as theatrical fodder.”

Though compositionally there is some relation to Sherman and Molinier, it is mostly the nod to Cahun’s sexual and gender ambiguity that succeeds as a play on the term cat fight. Lithe displays of aggression shouldn’t be bound by sex and gender, but be represented by all human behavior that blurs such limitations.

Image credit: Ashley Andel, 2007

Catfight: Rematch! runs until Fri, Feb 8 at the Artery (9535 Jasper Ave) and features works by Tammy Salzl, Penny Jo Buckner, Marian Switzer, Gabriela Andrea Rosende Gonzalez, Amelia Aspen Shultz-McPherson, Natalie Danchuk, Ashley Andel, Andrea E Lefebvre, Michal Wawrykowicz, Jana Hargarten, Charlotte Falk and Lisa Rezansoff.

First published in Vue Weekly, January 24 - 30, 2008 Issue #640

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