Monday, October 22, 2018

Rootless: A Review by Tamara Yewchuk




Lichen wig: These two words made me curious about the show Rootless by Natasha Lavdovsky at the Xchanges gallery.   

I arrived to find everyone on the balcony just outside the door enjoying the Vickers-esque sunset. They seemed to know one another, adding to the celebratory vibe for this opening. Ambient music with the echoes of birds in a wind rustling forest played for white plaster heads and torsos adorned only with lichen wigs and merkins while I browsed the gallery alone.   

Immediately I was drawn in by the cultural significance of hair and thought of the many merkin jokes my sister and I shared.  Merkins were first used in the 15th century after pubic hair was removed to combat lice; later on in films to make them less sexual and later for theatrical purposes. I mulled over the option to interact and spray the merkins with water but instead moved onto inspecting other pieces. 

On a projector screen, mesmerizing images of rapidly moving lichen alternated with the image of a young woman wearing a long lichen wig covering part of her breasts. The nudity evoked Eden and sin and our relationship to sexuality. The video showed us just how one would look in a lichen wig. Would our understanding change if we could see the wig in different settings such as a bus, café or street?

The artist statement discussed the desire and obstacles to create art with minimal environmental impact. I learned that many lichens are endangered and the artist harvested these specimens that had fallen to the ground that might otherwise perish if not rescued. Scientific descriptions and samples of various lichen reminds us the materials are living things thereby blurring the line between objects and nature. The tension between the artist’s intent to cultivate an identity as one appreciative of nature, yet faced with a disconnection or rootlessness to the land as a white settler is apparent. This desire to create a new identity with a wig, an object most often used to play with other identities is clever. Lichen is simultaneously exalted but also used as a camouflage. The artist sought to protect nature while also using it as a protective veil. 

Although it was a soothing space it felt limited. While the sameness of the pieces provided continuity it also created monotony.  Everything was either white or green and did not promise further epiphanies. The wigs and merkins were quite conservative, the wildness of nature neatly trimmed to mirror contemporary fashion.

As the party outside moved in, I commented in the book that the show resonates on many levels: ecology, the body, sexuality and history. As I walked into the humid evening I realized that yes the artist was successful in eliciting a desire for a lichen wig; I would just prefer a wilder, bouffant, eccentric style that resists the constraints of civilized society. Why stop at lichens: throw an entire forest in there. The difficult part is keeping such wigs intact, perhaps why this show only lasted for three days from September 28-30.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

James Lindsay - Lance Austin Olsen at Deluge Contemporary Art

James Lindsay
I reviewed a show of James Lindsay and Lance Olsen at Deluge Contemporary Art
in 2016 and managed to upset a few people by mentioning death. There was more than
a whiff of big D in that show to my mind but talking about it was seen for some
reason as negative. In an age when skulls are everywhere, as tattoos, T-shirts,bumper
stickers etc. and we seem to live with constant reminders of the end of times, it's
surprising that it would cause such alarm. Monty Python even made jokes about it.

But we must remind positive and this is Victoria where we need to read gently which
makes art reviewing especially difficult. It's ok for Jonathan Jones in London and
Jerry Saltz in New York to say pretty much whatever comes into their mindsbut 77
years old unpaid provincial dilettantes like myself must choose our words carefully.
You are on safe ground with comments like "Great Show", "Strong work", and "Great use
of colour". But beyond that it's a minefield some thoughts are best kept to ourselves.

Sorry about that. My mind wanders. Fortunately Lindsay and Olsen have done it again
with separate shows at Deluge Contemporary Art so I get a chance to redeem myself.
This time the overall feeling is upbeat without any overt hints of mortality. 'The state
of things (in two parts)" is billed as continuation and evolution of the previous
pairing, 'hide in plain sight' but the shows may just as well be a testament of the
rejuvenating power of art.

Apart for both being UK transplants in their later years with strong personalities
Lindsay and Olsen don't seem to have a lot in common. Perhaps there are faint echoes
of per-conceptualist British art schools in their respective styles but time and distance
have made them difficult to discern.

Lindsay presents a suite of 19 new paintings that "document our contentment with the
unpalatable parts per million in our nature". This paintings are a harmonious fusion of
abstraction and landscape suggesting any conflict between nature and intellect may have
been at least partially resolved. His environmental concerns are obvious and the
paintings clearly represent the increasingly critical relationship between humanity and
the planet we live on. Mountains and forests struggle with the pipelines and oil spills
but the paintings themselves are bright, lively and colourful as if the artist has
succeeded in finding some hope in the precarious state of things.

Olsen's work comes across at first sight as pure abstraction. There are no obvious
figurative reference points, viewers are free to provide their own, and almost seems to
defy any kind of analysis of definition. But, just my opinion of course, there is no escaping
the language of expressionism. It's the compulsion with which Olsen works that tells the
story. The paintings he has chosen to show are mostly monochromatic but highly
emotive and loaded with a finely balanced tension. His output is enormous and what
may seem repetitive is actually in constant state of flux. Each painting is a mark of
passage. The paintings and prints are complemented by "Plato's cave" a sound work
composed of guitar, fields recordings, stones and assorted objects scored from dry-point
plates.

Certainly is continuation here but to what extend has the work evolved ? When in doubt
ask the artist.

James Lindsay: "It all evolved over the last 18 months. Oil spills and pipelines have been
much on my mind.I guess you could say it started with a small leak and spread outwards".

Lance Olsen: "Evolution ? How the **** would I know? I just keep working.There's so
much work to do. I had to sort through 500 paintings to pick out 12. It's always evolving".

We live in interesting times. Missiles are flying over Syria and World War 3 can start at
any minute.Ordinary folk have not a lot of say in the matter. Will Lindsay's warnings
go unheeded or will Kinder Morgan get their new pipeline?
Olsen distrusts words and reduces them to sound and symbols. A lot of physical and mental
energy has gone into these shows."Lindsay and Olsen are both at an age that death is no
longer an abstraction" (their words) and they both agree that careerism is an anathema
to life. Neither artist shows any sign of slowing down however and it will be interesting
to see where they go from here.

Philip Willey

The State of Things (in two parts)
Deluge Contemporary Art
March 17 to May 5, 2018


Lance Olsen