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Winnipeg
Steven Leyden Cochrane
Erica Mendritzki at Actual Gallery & La Maison des artistes
February 18, 2016

Erica Mendritzki has two shows up in Winnipeg right now (one closing Saturday), and I’m seeing doubles everywhere for this and other reasons. A consistent format – intimate in scale, portrait-oriented – links the whispered silverpoint and gouache drawings of Planned Parenthood at Actual Gallery to the sickly-hued and viscous easel paintings of Sinon, l’hiver/Snowed in and Felt Up at La Maison des Artistes. Both shows abound in repetitions and quotations. Half of that double-barreled title is a French gloss of Anne Carson’s English translation of a fragment from Sappho. Carefully copied images from art history (a Henry Moore reclining nude, a piece of a Rosemary Trockel installation, a cache of artifacts that might be ancient or Modernist) recur amidst repeated phrases. These echo across wintry, partly pictorial debris fields, dissipating into scratchy, slurring abstractions that map their own peculiar rhythms.



Erica Mendritzki

What does it mean to repeat oneself? At once emphatic and equivocal, Mendritzki’s tone is hard to parse and so impossible to police, and she wields the power of that ambiguity with greatest precision when the work feels most vulnerable. Embedded in quiet surfaces (soft and dry, itchy, sticky, frozen), the dissonance is palpable – disarming, affecting, and often darkly funny. Painted in tidy cursive German, “Bitte Bitte” might be pleading or obliging. “Let me talk to you man to man,” when coupled with Moore’s odalisque and repeated a dozen times, looks like a chalkboard penance but reads like a playground taunt. In an instant, Sorry, I’m not sure if you heard me, but turns to Did I fucking stutter?

A face materializes in one canvas like a Bloody Mary, its drawn expression as much wiped away as painted on, captioned “MOTHER.” – the all-caps and full stop registering terror and teenage exasperation in equal measure. (I looked in the mirror one morning, and my mother’s face was staring back at me). When another painting babbles “our bodies, ourselves” in Ophelian singsong, the equivalence it implies comes hopelessly unglued.



Erica Mendritzki

What does it mean to articulate an image of oneself that was modeled by someone else? This split subjectivity – a double awareness, an out-of-body experience, a sense that one is neither alone nor entirely oneself – is a fault line running through Mendritzki’s work, a source of both its destabilizing mode of address and its deeply-held, carefully-articulated feminist ethics. All things aren’t equal, and, as most women know, reproduction usually entails both coupling and cleaving, an articulation and an abnegation of the self. Ripped from the headlines, the title Planned Parenthood invokes ongoing assaults on women’s bodily autonomy, among them official admonishments to consider themselves perpetually “pre-pregnant,” always “expecting.” At the same time, it tugs at other, private expectations, joyful if wound up with presentiments of loss.

Mendritzki’s breathtaking accomplishment is to seamlessly interweave ruminations on motherhood (as it’s variously constructed) with an interrogation of the patriarchal canon of art history, which she pictures as a minefield, an archaeological site, and a violent, benumbing winter landscape. Canvas and paper suggest snow without picturing it, an obliterating whiteness that shows every stain. Anxious brushwork mimics Feely Touchy fingers of cold air that wriggle under layered clothing. In Snowed in and Felt Up, Mendritzki litters the floor with tiny found-object sculptures, tripping hazards like pipe-ends or garbage peeking out through the snow. We watch our step instinctively, as if for stray patches of ice, and then it happens anyway. She holds us suspended in that giddy, disembodied free-fall just long enough to anticipate – and then appreciate – the impact still to come.


La Maison des artistes visuels francophones: http://maisondesartistes.mb.ca/expositions/2016/galerie-dart-contemporain/sinon-lhiver-snowed-and-felt
Erica Mendritzki: Sinon l’hiver/Snowed in and Felt Up continues until February 20.

Actual Gallery: http://www.actualgallery.ca/exhibitions/2016/1/22/gallery-3-planned-parenthood-by-erica-mendritzki
Erica Mendritzki: Planned Parenthood continues until March 19.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.

 

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