Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yes, but who loves the 70s more? Friday, November 21, 2008, The ARTery, REVIEWED by Sarah Hamilton

“Hot Topic vs. Wednesday Lupypciw" with the Ladies in the Back Room promises to challenge visitors and how they identify with singular labels. Kirsten McCrea, an Edmonton native, back from Montreal with “Hot Topic,” a painting series of 60 notable feminist and queer icons mentioned in the song “Hot Topic” by Le Tigre. Wednesday Lupypciw, a Calgary-based performance artist, whose work “Beige Decade(s)” combines performance and fibre art in a loving tribute to the 70s. The third artist in the show is Corissa O’ Donnell, whose ink nudes are places on vintage textiles and presented in baroque vintage frames.

In her curatorial statement, Amy Fung states that she hopes that “gathered together, the connections and disconnections between these three artists aim to prompt audiences to re-evaluate what still constitutes as a “Hot Topic” in our increasingly post-ism identities.” The works all individually pay tribute to the history of feminism, queerness, and subversion, but together are strained in scale and medium to make those strong connections over the louche din of The Artery. The fourth, unacknowledged conversant in this conversation is the seeming apathy of nearly everyone in the room.

Photo credit: Sarah Hamilton of Wednesday Lupypciw in "Beige Decade(s)" 2008

All the artists seek to address a certain aspect of feminist history from the 70s but each one is approaching it with her own medium and politic. McCrea’s paintings, a little smaller than legal size paper, are hung in a grid style on several chains dangling from the ceiling. Most of the images are head shot portraits, with a few exceptions. McCrea discovered in her process that she couldn’t find images of some of the icons mentioned in the song, or any information, in the case of one or two. Undaunted, McCrea interpreted what information she had about the figure and created her own image of the person.

Across the room, Lupypciw is capturing the essence of a decade through interaction with weaving and text. She sits, perched in beige, amidst an unmitigated compilation of fragments weaved in tribute to 70s naturalist fibre art. Her work is ritualistic, almost without purpose besides the task at hand. Beige was chosen for its historical relevance. With the emergence of fibre art in the 1970s, many fibre artists moved away from brightly coloured polyester and towards organic, undyed fibres. Beige, though unexciting, came to stand for what is natural. Lupypciw participates in their ode to beige – she wears a beige blouse and a pair of beige pantyhose (an especially brave move, since they are one of the most unattractive garments I think any woman or man could put on, but Lupypciw has embraces them whole-heartedly). Lupypciw is surrounded by a mountain of books, ranging from the 70s to the 90s which you are invited to look through as you sit with her.

Corissa O’Donnell’s work, which is in the backroom of the Artery, is a tribute to the women left behind by the work of the women in the front of the Gallery. In the eyes of the feminists that are celebrated in front of the house, these women are the exploited, mistreated and objectified casualties of the era. As interesting as O’Donnell’s work is, it remains in the back of the mind of the exhibition, unaddressed and unresolved, though ultimately where a great many of this evening’s revelers reside.

O’Donnell, McCrea and Lupypciw individually work to convey a message about maintaining connections with the past and acknowledging the hard work of those who came before you, but I think that in this post-ironic, post –ism crowd, these themes require stronger, louder voices all around. A simple “fuck you” cross-stitch will not do in the era of over-the-counter counter-culture. Give us an obscenely large tapestry that reminds us of where we have failed our own history. McCrea’s paintings come close to this, but the positive tone to her work does not address our failings. This performance and exhibition was the initiation of a conversation that is no where near complete but brings these issues to light.

The work lives right now as a tribute to the past. In future incarnations and exhibitions the historic references could be reframed in a contemporary light; all three artists intend to take their work further (with or without collaboration). These themes can be investigated further without compromising the integrity of the work and it would be interesting to see how Lupypciw and McCrea’s work would change if they sought to make it actively political. They have both shown a strong recognition of feminist and queer history by celebrating it. Lupypciw’s cautious sense of irreverence could be cultivated further. McCrea originally exhibited the “Hot Topic” series with the subtitle “A Feminist Memory Project”. A stronger voice from each artist would give the overall collaboration more potency and meaning. This more engaged sense of storytelling could transcend community boundaries.

It’s also worth noting that this is the first collaboration of its kind in Edmonton. There are no artists in Edmonton working in performance and fibre art simultaneously and this was a debut for both Lupypciw and McCrea. This is a type of risk taking that Exposure embraces and something I hope the larger visual art community will take up.

- S.H. Edmonton

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