PREY & THE SECRET OF THE MIDNIGHT SHADOW.
Our precious formative years: Boys will be boys and girls will be girls at Latitude 53
Dana Holst’s Prey and Daryl Vocat’s The Secret of the Midnight Shadow may have come together independently as solo exhibitions about little girls and little boys, respectively, but both these exhibitions from contemporary artists share a common ground.
While Holst moved from Ontario to Alberta, Vocat has moved out east from the Prairies. Their bodies of work and interests are not necessarily opposing of each other, but their aesthetics are radically different. Their pairing here in Edmonton demonstrates a unique programming trait that leaves room for independent ideas to speak to one another from communities far and near, crisscrossing in our seeming solitude. Respectively, the works focus on the representation of little girls and little boys, with the theme of the childhood constructions of gender identities undercutting both their works during the precious era of our formative years.
Prey evokes an era of garters and garlands. Hanging in a pink and stenciled salon parlour marked with heavy dark lines and ornate frames throughout, the room has all the post-Victorian charm of golden gilds and frilled glamour. Using mostly silverpoint illustrations, the prepubescent cherub-faced girls in Holst’s works are dressed the part of the innocent and virtuous, too young to be fully sexualized, yet not too young to be gendered. The girls are sweet, bratty, and whatever else you would associate with the behavioural patterns of those with dimpled cheeks and ringlet curls. Decked out with butterflies in their hair and ribbons around their waists, each girl can simultaneously hold the vacant gaze of the lost or the sinister stare of the possessed.
Image and photo credit: Dana Holst, Slow and Steady, 2009. Silverpoint on paper, 7 x 5" Collection of Jill Davies Shaw and Darren Shaw, Edmonton, AB.
Holst poses the girls in various stages of the hunt, eyeing up their prey or looming over their kill, with pistol or bow and arrow in their chubby little hands. The illustrations are anything but gory, rather, they are graphic in suggestive violence, soliciting the inevitable conclusion that these girls could kill, but refusing to show them in the act. With subtle shadowing in their face, the girls hold the temperaments of riled hunters. They are not hunting for survival, but sport, and the desire to hunt is the desire to overpower their surroundings. Holst composes the girls with their prey out of context; that is, the girls are dolled up, sitting on fluffy clouds or with their cherished pets, but their desire to prey upon others is situated as generic as a greeting card composition, save for the bullet holes in the corpi and the weapons in hand.
Aesthetically and conceptually, Holst bridges the gap between the pronounced nostalgia of identity by Canadian artist Angela Grossmann and the harnessed latent aggression in former-Edmontonian painter Tammy Salzl. The primary difference unique to Prey is that Holst is situating the gallery space beyond just the frames, touching down on an era when women were elevated as the innocent while focusing on an age when desire and power are shaped and groomed.
Linking directly to Holst in their shared fascination on the formation of desire and power, Daryl Vocat’s exhibit in the main space re-creates the childhood imagination as a lived, illustrated pop-up diorama. The midnight garden is filled with dark corners and unexplained moments, bodies suspended in the air and limbs jutting from bushes and trees. There is a charged sexuality in the positioning of the cut out figures, re-contextualizations of illustrated boy scout figures in various poses. Crouched as a wolf, splattered in blood or huddled in a shirtless triad, the boys are taken out of their original context of instructive diagrams of skill building to Vocat’s world of exploration and imagination. The world lurks, but the boys are active in their engagements with each other.
Image credit: Daryl Vocat, Detail of Crawling wolf boy and hand with bone. Acrylic on MDF. 2006.
Directly facing the midnight garden is the series “The Old Guard is Dead,” a set of silkscreens on paper depicting the illustrated scouts at play in a real park. The park in question is here photographed empty and in the daytime—and is apparently a well-known cruising ground. Situating the scouts at play on cruising grounds and titling each piece after an innuendo-friendly Scout guideline, Vocat elicits an overtly homoerotic reading of the scout’s highly structured team building and male bonding. Vocat does this through shades of humour, but the boys' blank expressions layered through Vocat’s sexualized setting creates a much more intense atmosphere than the midnight garden, which still remains somewhere between ambiguity and the imagination. But here in the photographed park, nature, once a subject conquerable by the Scouts’ tenacity, is now undeniably and unimaginatively the setting for repressed abandonment and play.
As a complimentary contrast, the boys in Vocat’s world, much like the girls in Holst’s, suspend their own identities by releasing the very constructs of how they have been represented.
*First published in Vue Weekly, June 25, 2009
- A.F. Edmonton