June in Calgary brings skies of pollinating poplar fuzz and the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, with its own type of pollination and cross-pollination. Ages, social cliques, hangouts, and genres are intermixed and swapped as new breeds of culture are born. The curators of Sled have a knack for scouting the musical talents that are best shown-off live, and these latter often confuse delineations of visual art, comedy, politics, performance art, music, outsider forms of expression, etc. in the best ways (e.g. Hamilton's B.A. Johnston, hyper-speed dance and crowd therapy maverick Dan Deacon, and Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre fame.)
Ashleigh Bartlett, Summer Friend Gang XXL
Though Hanna, this year's most venerated guest curator, was unable to attend the festival due to illness, Jodie Rose, the visual arts coordinator of Sled took great inspiration from Hanna's legacy as a (third wave) feminist and promulgator of culture for and by women. In addition to programming a musical lineup, Hanna put together an exhibition called In Light Of It at Contemporary Calgary that explores the prodigious and pregnant space of performance or of "being seen by others." The riot grrrl movement, of which Hanna was an originator, uses art and music as a platform to explore everyday women's issues. This, together with the many iterations of Hanna's time in the spotlight from visual artist to stripper to musician, implies that everything we do as social people is a performance of some kind, so how do we make light of it or learn to live with such an existential burden? Included in this exhibition is New York performance artist Zachary Fabri's film converted to digital projection which documents his stroll through a public outdoor setting with a mass of helium balloons tied onto his long dreadlocks. A simple but captivating video, Fabri shows how easy it can be to attract attention and set a stage upon one's own person, until he cuts those threads loose and a part of him extends into the ether. It would seem you have to lose a part of yourself to be seen. In a similar way Ashleigh Bartlett's Summer Friend Gang XXL installed on the rooftop of the Palomino bar employs bright dollarstore vinyl tablecloths and tarps cut up and layered in a fanfare of flirting colour reminiscent of car dealership banners, and then let loose to the wind.
On the other end, rather than "making light of" our daily performances of self, there arises a critique of our pleasure-seeking irises and how generic popular visual media can become when it's all about pleasure. The exhibition Pussy Whipped at Avalanche! as well as the temporary installation Zoloft Garden at the No.1 Legion are soaked in saturated colours, glimmering surfaces, seductive flora, and sunset gradients. These pieces seem to float somewhere undecided between rapture and critique, sincere love and ironic distance. Cited on the Pussy Whipped program material is Hanna herself saying, "(t)here's just as many different kinds of feminism as there are women in the world." But if this group exhibition is supposed to be an indication of contemporary girl culture, with its inflated dolphins, whip cream paintings, purple florals, glittering dildos, crashed car facades à la Sarah Lucas, and hetero male fantasies, I hope it's ironic "BECAUSE we don't wanna assimilate to someone else's (boy) standards of what is or isn't." Or do we?
Sled Island Music & Arts Festival: http://www.sledisland.com/lineup/visual-art
Contemporary Calgary: http://www.contemporarycalgary.com/
In Light of It continues until July 6.
Andrea Williamson is a Calgary-based writer and artist. Her reviews have appeared in C magazine, Swerve, Color magazine, esse arts and opinion and FFWD. In January 2013 she initiated a critical theory reading group that meets monthly in a collective attempt to approach academic texts in peripheral and humble ways. She can be followed on Twitter @andreawillsamin.
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