Sunday, March 1, 2009

Diana Thorneycroft, "A Group of Seven Awkward Moments" Skew Gallery, February 19 - March 28, 2009. REVIEWED by Kim Neudorf

Bears, elk, deer and wolves pace wistfully outside of an outdoor hockey game. A hockey player falls through the ice while the remaining players play on indifferently. An ice floe resembles a sublime arctic night ferry. A fisherman floats face downward upon a family fishing scene. A group of beavers have chewed down a totem pole, caught in the act, while a monkey is carried off, unconcerned, by an eagle. An igloo has been set ablaze, looked on by figures frozen in kitschy gift-shop poses of the surprised doll, the howling wolf, and the helpful Mountie. Prints of Group of Seven paintings are backdrops for these scenes in Diana Thorneycroft’s latest series of photographs at Skew in an exhibition titled A Group of Seven Awkward Moments.

Image credit: Diana Thorneycroft "Group Of Seven Awkward Moments (Algonquin Park)", 2007. Courtesy of Skew Gallery.

Continuing the use of figurines and miniature set pieces based upon well known Canadiana via the souvenir and collectible, Thorneycroft focuses upon the deadpan and the slapstick within scenes of thwarted schmaltz. Aside from the tarnished dignity of these recognizable Canadian figures, what works in these photographs is the overall way that these manufactured actors ‘play it straight’ within scenes of often harrowing situations. This speaks to the widely-accepted, phony veneer and formulaic ‘realism’ within the depiction of violence in the TV drama and cinematic blockbuster.

The most successful photographs in Thorneycroft’s series pushes this awareness of overacting into corners or allows for dark and risky humor. The photograph '(Mirror Lake)' skips the full frontal iconic for the spotlit eeriness of the diorama’s frozen emptiness, wherein two approaching bears are out of focus and creepily 'snapshot', while two fishermen reel in the night’s catch with an unawareness resembling a scene from ‘Jaws’. ‘(Algonquin Park)’ finds the right balance of awkward indifference, earnest overacting, and slapstick horror within a well-lit winter woodland scene. Several children in parkas and toques react to the well-known, not necessarily Canadian myth of the danger of licking a frozen metal post. One child bends over in hokey awe as another child attempts the forbidden initiation, despite the fact that several oversize, truncated tongues hang fixed to the outer side of the post. A trail of blood leads to the suggestion of a failed (or ‘successful’) attempt, while a crowd of children have created a circle around a dazed but delighted child, sans tongue. An RCMP officer skis by with jaunty self-absorption, while another child watches with arms crossed, practically rolling his eyes.

- K.N. Calgary

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