Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Icelandic Love Corporation Meets the Discriminating Gentlemen’s Club, Platform Gallery. April 24 - May 30, 2009. REVIEWED by Noni Brynjolson

This exhibition is part of Núna (Now), a festival currently in its third year that celebrates connections between Icelandic and Canadian arts and culture. More than one hundred years ago, Icelandic settlers came to Manitoba and settled on Lake Winnipeg. They formed what is now the town of Gimli, home to the largest population of Icelandic people outside their native country. The legacy they left was more than vinatarta and difficult to pronounce surnames: it also included a strong sense of cultural tradition that has been preserved and continuously reinterpreted. Núna is focused on showcasing hybrid relationships between Icelandic and Canadian cultures in the form of contemporary art, dance, and music.

The exhibition at Platform, curated by J.J. Kegan McFadden and Freya Olafson, works along these lines of juxtaposition and convergence. Within one small room, the ladies of the Icelandic Love Corporation (Reykjavik) have been formally introduced to the lads of the Discriminating Gentlemen’s Club (Montreal). Both collectives have created videos that combine wintery scenes of nature with caricatured representations of the traditions of high society. Issues of gender and class are brought to the forefront in this making of acquaintances; this is immediately evident in comparing the ILC’s logo of vulva-shaped hearts with the DGC’s crest of flame-ejaculating penises.

Photo courtesy of Platform Gallery, 2009

The ILC exemplify the quirkiness of Icelandic culture. Not surprisingly, they have worked with Björk (they created the colourful crocheted costume on the cover of her 2006 album Volta). Their video "Dynasty" (2007) was created at the Hydro Power Plant in Vatnsfellsvirkjun, and imagines the end of electricity due to Global Warming. The ladies hunt, fish, golf and crochet, before symbolically removing their jewelry and placing it in a box along with their useless cell phones. They bury these precious cultural mementos on a point of land surrounded by the beauty of snowy mountains and icy streams. The video ends with the ladies disappearing into thin air as they walk towards the camera. Adjacent are nine large photographs, which vividly emphasize the textures and details of certain scenes. Bright orange yarn contrasts with the greys, browns and whites of background and figures. Well manicured hands clutch a dead fish with its mouth gaping open. Rich furs, an intricately carved silver ring, and the box of treasures buried beneath the rocks suggest culture, in the sense of the word that corresponds with a dynasty’s material possessions.

An interesting inclusion by the curators is a cloak from the Costume Museum of Canada, made of green velvet, silk and ermine. The garment was created in 1924 to adorn the first Fjallkona of Islendingadagurinn (translation: a mother figure symbolizing the spirit of Iceland, selected to symbolically preside over Manitoba’s first Icelandic festival. This is a tradition that continues to the present day, minus cloak).

In an essay accompanying the show, Laurie K. Bertram notes that the garment signifies the construction of gender and identity in Canada in the early twentieth century, through the symbolic status it conveyed. This can also be witnessed in the two video pieces.

While the ILC takes the mock-form of a corporation, the DGC satirizes the Gentlemen’s Club - the old-fashioned version, that is. Their artwork has involved the organization of social events, accompanied by the promotion of a faux-elite image. In "The Discriminating Gentlemen’s Club’s Fox Hunt" (2006) the five dapper fellows wear traditional riding costumes and gallop around on pink styrofoam horses. They hunt down a headless fox, celebrating with drinks after they capture the stuffed creature.

The ILC’s video leaves a lasting impression for its remarkable contrasts between intricacy and expansiveness, technology, nature, and the precariousness of human existence. Not immediately noticeable are several surreal elements, such as a stream of water flowing backwards. The DGC’s foxhunt, while charming, does not go much beyond prancing and posing. However, exhibiting these works together parallels their similar parodying of the upper classes on frozen terrains. In the context of Núna and the discourse on Icelandic-Canadian culture that has come out of the festival, this brings up questions familiar to prairie dwellers: does isolation breed creativity? Does it nurture culture, or merely encourage the repetition of tradition? The works in this show elicit these questions using sublime backdrops of snow-covered lands, upon which the contradictions inherent within the rituals and traditions of the elite have undergone a little northern exposure.

- N.B. Winnipeg

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