Anthropocentric and anthropomorphic, the animals currently on display in both exhibitions at Harcourt House run wild through imagination.
In the main gallery, 12 Point Buck tempers our narrative of an idyllic wilderness with a heavy dose of kitsch and irony in Wild, Wild Life. Comprised of Lethbridge artists Leila Armstrong and Chai Duncan, 12 Point Buck have been collaboratively, if not argumentatively, processing how our human relationship with nature has been heavily mediated. Working off the idea that all interactions with nature must be mediated by the very nature that we are human, 12 Point Buck pushes this concept further to examine how we continue to uphold representations of nature, and consequently, how we continue to engage with nature through a superiority complex.
Photographs of plastic animals arranged in a staged nature lead you through most of the gallery space. Humorous in their subversion of wildlife photography tropes, the photographs are composed very similarly to the found landscapes in the back corner.
Laid out like a yard sale, ceramic and plastic figurines of Canadian wildlife are here gathered in all of their kitschy glory. From animal-moulded salt-and-pepper shakers to a bobble-headed moose, the implicit feeling here is hoarded nostalgia. This goes one step further on the walls, where the reaction towards the simplicity of the wood-framed landscapes recalls for many the artwork hanging over their grandmothers' sofa. Amongst the gems are Artex paintings, which were a '70s popular hobby art that Armstrong's mother participated in and can be summarized as a type of paint-by-numbers done through fabric painting onto white or black velvet canvases.
There are also a couple of genuine Flexhaugs in the mix, which according to legend, are treasures in the prairies. As the story goes, Flexhaug was a traveling salesmen and a raging alcoholic, and to pay off his drinking tabs, he would paint these idealized and picturesque landscapes. Often containing a moon, a deer and sometimes a cabin, there are supposedly hundreds of Flexhaugs out there, many owned with pride, and even some within the collection of the University of Saskatchewan that will see 12 Point Buck playing off them next fall.
In the front room, Edmontonian Jenny Keith-Hughes marks a two-year solo exhibition absence with new works in, You, Me and Everyone We Know. Spending the last two years showing and selling heavily in New York City through the Prince George Gallery, that experience has led to opportunities such as her first show in Chicago this fall and getting a print picked up by the North American clothing/lifestyle chain Urban Outfitters.
Keith-Hughes' style of blending the whimsical with social observation has continued to blossom since graduating from the U of A in 2003. Showing a new level of maturity without losing the inherently fun personality, this new body of work also reveals a new direction, one that is informed by a bold confidence in her skills in painting and in drawing where both the hand and imagination are working in sync to explore new experiences.
*First published in Vue Weekly