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Making It Like a Man!
Mackenzie Art Gallery 2004
Making it Like a Man! is an exhibition of contemporary art made by men about masculinity. It is not just a show of men's art--there has been plenty of that, for centuries. Rather, it is a collection of self-conscious reflections on being a man. The show calls attention to masculine modes of art production. It invites viewers to consider these objects as both the work of individual artists and as expressions of more general patterns of masculinity.

To be a man is to conform to social expectations assigned to male bodies. These requirements vary across cultures and over time, but there are some consistent characteristics. Most importantly, men are not supposed to behave like women. If you accept this premise then all sorts of ideas and behaviours seem to follow naturally . If women act one way then men must act in an opposite way. If women are passive, men must be aggressive. This division of qualities makes some sense. Binaristic, black and white, thinking is a clever way to simplify and manage social relations. However, since no one fits their assigned gender roles all the time, trying to maintain these structures can cause personal and social distortion. Being one's self and being a man are not identical. Tensions arise, for example, when a male is required to act like a man or take it like a man when those behaviours contradict their personal feelings, thoughts or ethics.

On a social level, gender division has led to one set of traits (those assigned to males) being seen as preferred qualities. And, of course, those with the preferred qualities should be the boss and receive more stuff. Boys are raised to have an (unearned) innate sense of superiority over females. However, faced with growing evidence to the fundamental inaccuracy of this half-conscious doctrine, many man are re-evaluating their social construction and the relative values of so-called masculine and feminine qualities. A symptom of this reconsideration is that I could find no male artists who create confident images of iconic masculinity. Some in the exhibition narrate a sense of anxiety. Others simply describe their experience. Most take stock and review how they came to be whom they are. A few search for new models in this (hopefully) transitional era.

The paintings, sculptures, photographs and prints assembled here were selected from over eighty submissions from Canadian artists. I made over forty studio visits, from Vancouver to Montreal, looking for exciting works by artists who were not especially well known--I wanted people to attend to the work and the theme more than to a list of famous names. The works I finally chose were not made in response to a curator's thesis, but were already part of each artist's research. Narrowing the field from 80 to 40 to a dozen was excruciating. A larger show could have offered even more variety, though I cannot imagine a single exhibition that could do more than scratch the surface. Despite numerous lacks, Making it Like a Man! includes a rich range of performances and interrogations of masculinity.

I really had an open mind when putting out the call for submissions for this exhibition. I was not looking to illustrate gender theories so much as I just wanted to find out how men were expressing their masculinity. I wanted to gather together some very fine works of art and see how people responded to them. Would the artists feel uncomfortable being boxed into this category, or is there something we can all learn from the experience? Would viewers find something in this work that triggers feelings, thoughts and sensations about their own gender?

So many questions! This text is primarily a description of some of the pieces in Making it Like a Man! , and a few opinions. This essay was written in haste as the works were coming in to the gallery. It is a first glance intended to compliment the artists' statements. I wanted this sketch ready for the exhibition so that you could have some background to this often-complex work. There will be a longer, illustrated website, CD and book to come.

All the best,

David Garneau

June 8, 2004




Walter May's Knockout is a row of 105 hammers hung by their claws on 2 x 4 rails set high on the wall. The steel heads face forward in a uniform row. The wooden handles have more variety; a few are longer and several are broken and short. The variances create a rhythm as you pass your eyes along the composition. Flames have blackened all the handles. Some are scorched charcoal black, some are distorted from the heat; others are charred into fragility. It is hard to determine the depth of damage by sight alone. If you were to test by touch you would get dirty.

May's sculpture is heir to Duchampian readymades, to some aspects of Dada and Surrealism, to Arte Provera and other Junk Art movements that sought to give new life to abject materials. Is this a masculine quality? I don't know. But I sure know a lot of men who compulsively rescue derelict tools and restore them. My grandfathers were both legendary for their basement and garage 'workshops' stuffed with machine parts and things becoming themselves once again, or becoming some useful other things. It seems to me that repair, however, was less important to them than hunting, gathering, organizing, developing novel storage schemes and sharing.

An uncle, who showed no such proclivity before retirement, recently found himself launched on the same enterprise. I was amazed, last summer, to see the range and depth of his collection and 'projects'. He knows it's obsessive and may cost more than he saves. And who is going to use the renewed tools anyway? Not him, his main industry is using tools to fix tools! But collect and fix he must. Continuing to be useful seems to be part of the driving force.

I would not say that my work is about issues of masculinity, but it would be difficult to deny that the work appears masculine. And in most cases that would be because of what the work is made from objects and materials that are generally associated with men. If I thought that the studio process didn't change that to any great degree, or rather if in the final analysis the parts remained the most defining quality of the work, then I would be pretty disappointed.

To be uncritical of stereotypical masculinity would be foolish, or at the very least one would be missing an opportunity.

To make work that is unapologetically masculine needs no apology, but it seems that in the best work, masculinity (or femininity) is not the defining issue.

( from his artist statement )

It is possible, I suppose, to see Knockout as non-gendered. But I can't. Though it is among the least didactic pieces in Making it Like a Man , it resonates with male experience. Hammers are extensions of the human body, and the body most associated with this particular extension is male. The rigidity and shape of the handle also make this tool an apt metonymy for the male appendage. The hammer line-up might enact a familiar masculine nightmare of being measured and compared. These hammers are humiliated and appear to have endured a 'trial by fire'. The title, Knockout , describes a violent contest (esp. boxing) in which, one by one, combatants are eliminated.

It is difficult not to anthropomorphize. The arrangement suggests a sports, criminal or military line-up. The scorching has caused the handles of some to wrench, others to lose charred bits or larger sections, giving each handle an irregularity, even personality. We can imagine the burning process; how the shafts twisted with the heat, as if in pain. Hung at eye-level, we are asked to look at, rather than use, them. Hammers are usually displayed in profile. Having them face forward, at our faces, suggests witness. Our gaze hits theirs head on--so to speak.

Even without the burning, this is not a utilitarian display; it is a collection. But what sort? Most contemporary hammers have metal or fiberglass handles. A metal hammer is a tool; a wooden hammer made useless by fire (and by becoming an artwork) becomes symbolic. A set of old-fashioned hammers so displayed feels nostalgic. Some tools have character. There are mere tools and there are tools that gradually wear to the worker's body, tools with personality and history. Wooden handled tools do this better than metal ones. A wood handle wears to a habitual grip and has a patina from its owner's sweat. It may be scarred by experience, and held on to for the same reason. Men love their tools. There is an expression of longing in Knockout , for an authentic relationship to tools and what they symbolize.

We associate wooden handles with old tools, old days and old men. I collect antique, non-mechanical hand tools. I know it's corny, but when I use them I like the feeling that my labour is linked to the work and specific bodies of those past men. My prized tools were handed down from my grandfathers. But I also like strangers' gear, especially if they look well used. I even have some very old tools that are initialed by their owners.

Many western, urban men are estranged from daily manual labour but, consciously or not, see their masculinity dove-tailed with making and repairing things. Many urban men have well stocked home workshops. Even if little actual work goes on in there, it is a token of masculinity.

In Being and Time , the philosopher Martin Heidegger explains that we only realize the full nature of a tool when it breaks down. When it works, tools are invisible. They conform to their function as part of an (almost) unconscious action. A broken tool isn't its self, and its new nature isn't easy to determine. We have to examine the thing, turn it over in our hands. We have to rehearse the tool in its old ways to determine the nature of the damage. This rehearsal requires us--literally so in this case--to 'get our hands dirty', to interrupt work and relate to the object both intellectually and sensually as it is and how it ought to be.

I think Knockout is in the memento mori Still Life tradition. It reminds us of the fragility of flesh. Even the most virile body eventually falls apart. We all return to carbon. But it is less about ultimate demise and than about sudden failure. In the context of this exhibition, it evokes distressed bodies damaged by external forces--hammered, knocked-out. These broken bodies bear witness and demand address.

Our relationship to a broken tool implies an ethic and implies a degree of masculinity. Do you fix the tool yourself, send it out for repair, or replace it? Or do you collect or hoard them in a basement perdition to await salvaging and rebirth?

I used to visit the Hillhurst Sunnyside market most Sundays, just to see what they had. Ivan and Ruth Noble, who used to bring in stuff every weekend, as some form of entertainment and to make a few bucks. Ivan always had the strangest assortment of things, which were always worth a look, and Ruth brought pies and homemade pastries that were almost inedible they had so much sugar. In any case, I got to know them a bit after asking for stools when I was collecting those, and eventually I got an invitation to visit their spread near Cremona. It was unbelievable. Ivan was one of those guys that just couldn't throw anything away. He bought an incredible amount of stuff from country auctions and hauled it all back to the farm. Every outbuilding, and there were about 8 of them plus 3 or 4 trailers, were stuffed with things, and whatever was durable was just left out.

I made a few trips, and always bought some thing, which seemed to make Ivan happy. Eventually, he pretty well gave me the run of the place and I got to poke around just about everywhere. One day I discovered the tool shed. It had a bewildering amount of stuff in it. Along one wall, high up so you could just reach it, was a 2 x 4 nailed to the studs that ran the length of the building and on it were hung old hammers. Maybe 150 to 200. Lots had metal or fiberglass handles, but most were wood. Knockout is essentially an homage to that image.

I asked Ivan, "How much for the hammers." He said, "Three bucks each" (expensive for the late eighties). But I wanted them all and it was too much money. I tried to get a bulk deal, but no dice. Three bucks it had to be. So I left it. But as an image it hung in the back of my mind. I eventually found myself buying hammers, always with wooden handles, wherever I could find them for less than $3. To make a point I guess. After a couple of years I had maybe thirty and no idea what to do with them. They accumulated in the studio.

Life went on. After awhile I didn't see Ivan anymore, he wasn't coming in to the market. John Chalke, who has a place near Sundre, told me that he heard Ivan was sick. More time passed and then someone else told me Ivan had cancer. I guess I wanted to see him again and to see what had become of the place, so one day I phoned. Ruth told me I could come out on the weekend, since Ivan was due home from the hospital in a few days.

So I went, and waded through the farm dogs and knocked on the kitchen door and Ruth let me in and offered me instant coffee with lots of sugar. Ivan was in bed and Ruth told me to look around and he'd come out later. I told him from the hallway that I wanted a lot of his hammers. He said, "Go pick them out." I drove my van through the field as close as I could get to the shed and started to load hammers. I laid them out on the floor of the van in tens so that Ivan could count, 'cause I knew it was important to him not to be duped. I got 90 hammers with wood handles and there were still plenty of the others left. I poked around in a few other buildings for a while until Ivan came out.

We talked a bit about weather, being sick, and how much work he needed to do to catch up. It didn't look to me as if he had it in him, but that was his idea. I showed him the hammers in the van and pulled out the 270 cash and handed it over. I don't think he really believed what was happening for a minute, and then he said, "You didn't take any of my good ones, didya?" I told him that I just took them from the wall. Apparently he had a secret stash of the best hammers, in a bucket somewhere, that he wasn't about to part with for a piddlin' three bucks each. And he claimed that he had another barrel with just heads that he was getting around to putting handles on, if I wanted to come back.

John told me that Ivan died later that year. Which everyone but Ivan could see was coming. I wish I could have seen him again, but I think that at least I made one day for him, and probably gave him the opportunity to tell a story about the artist from the city and the hammers.

I still had no real idea what to do with them, so they were added to the thirty in the studio and they waited. Eventually the notion of burning arrived, probably through working on the "museum of fuel" pieces, and beginning to see them as fuel - as a symbol of a kind of capital necessary for exploitation (ie. the blunt and simple implement one needs for creating a simple constructed pioneer shelter in the face of too much nature), and when burnt, as a symbol of how one dirties ones hands, when employing such capital, and of a kind of poverty in nature that is created through our blunt and simple constructions.

I eventually made a piece with the hammers called Damaged Goods that I sold to the Art foundation. It consisted of all the burnt hammers piled on a 9' x 3' stone table that had been cracked. Sort of funereal, but very elegant. Knockout has a new collection of hammers, that are burnt quite a bit more than the last ones. There are 107 hammers derived from a numerical progression of 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12+13+14 to give some sort of notion of perpetual accumulation. And I feel there is something about loss that is implicit in the work.

            ( Edited from a correspondence with Walter May, 2003. )



I aspire to non-violence. I don't think that I have been violent or the subject of physical harm at the hands of someone else for over twenty years. In my youth, I experienced both sides of aggression. I had several explosions of rage that led to my attacking other boys and I got into a few fights. At the time, I felt justified because it was part of the accepted male code--they were physical contests and a fight for honour or respect. But I was disgusted with myself after each event. These feelings gave me great anxiety. I felt that to be pacifistic and not to enjoy fighting put my masculinity in jeopardy. At some deep core I still feel , however I might think otherwise, that my rejection of violence separates me from a large community of men. I think that this sense of separation--whether on the basis just described, or for other reasons/differences--and the difficulty in socially expressing this and coming up with improved modes of being a man , is the basis of much male anxiety, loneliness and continued violence.

The question of how to address male brutality hung over my head throughout the curatorial process. I wanted to acknowledge this fact without offering objects that suggested a justification or celebration. While this theme courses throughout Making it Like a Man , it is most condensed (and problematic) in the work of Dean Drever.

I am both fascinated and repelled by Drever's sculptures and artist statement. Who can resist the gleaming stainless steel bats ( Instructional Bat Series #2 ) and polished aluminum wall pieces ( Common Struggle series). He transforms sports equipment into jewelry. The craftsmanship is impeccable--he knows what it takes to reel us in. Once we're landed and read his texts, pleasure gives way to wincing pain. He sneaks back-alley violence into the comfortable art gallery, corporate office and suburban home in a seductive package. He shares "street knowledge" like an old-school gangsta rappers (N.W.A.). His ambivalence toward physical aggression is chillier than his chrome knuckle-dusters. When he argues that society is hypocritical when it deems state sanctioned cruelty acceptable while similar tactics used by street gangs are unacceptable, I have the creeping feeling that he is not arguing for less violence, just less hypocrisy.

My work comments on the repression of anger in individuals and the perverse expression of anger through violence and its systematic suppression. Evidently there are socially sanctioned forms of brutality, exercised by the military and the police, and non-socially sanctioned forms, exhibited by the Mafia, street gangs and Bikers. My work concerns itself with the hypocrisy surrounding these distinctions and the role the media plays in reinforcing them. Curiously, socially sanctioned forms of violence (especially those directed at minorities) are often suppressed while the media has a feeding frenzy on the latest serial killing.

( From his artist statement. )

The Instructional Bats are replicas of baseball bats, but in stainless steel. They look as precious as silverware and would certainly be ruined if you used them to hit balls. They have the same relationship to real baseball bats as the Staley cup has to real cups: it is more a portable monument than an object to be used. The real meanings are in the ceremonial use and in the inscriptions. Each bat is engraved with a different phrase that calls up images of serious beatings, even torture.

Some of the voices in the text are cartoony, the sort of 'witty' cracks you hear in old radio shows and B movies from prohibition-era tough guys on either end of a baseball bat: "Gather up what is left of your teeth and leave;""We can not continue to meet under these circumstances;" "If you can understand this you are too goddamn close." But my skin crawls at other sentences that sound too much like the real life contemporary utterances of a habitual abuser: " The only thing you have ever been able to understand;""The only way it makes sense to you;""You've never been very good at listening;""You have not left me any other choices."

There might be something cathartic about dragging this private language into the open. Hearing an abusers words coming from this static and approachable source might enable someone to see their own situation and recognize these words as a common strategy of oppression. But I wonder if this is the artist's intent. It seems that Drever is more concerned about hypocrisy (the enduring difference between how things are said to be and how one experiences them) than with reducing violence. He seems to want to show us that civilization is only a thin veneer over our real, enduring and aggressive natures. I imagine that Drever sees this work and attitude toward human, and especially, men's violent nature, as neither optimistic nor pessimistic but realistic.

The Instructional Bats offer different lessons for different folks. For those living mostly apart from the violent world Drever alludes to, they may just offer a vicarious thrill. Like gangsta rap, they present a polished taste of the thug's life without the pain of broken bones, lacerated flesh and psychological scars caused by routine abuse and the grinding stress of anticipation. But, also like gangsta rap, the bats offer young men in those (under) worlds a practical guide to its codes and dangers--information not available in the mainstream. Drever plays Virgil; he is here to describe hell, not reform it.

Ten Commandments Wrench Set (1997) and The Instructional Bats series (2000/2003) juxtapose weapons commonly used in street combat with texts evoking mainstream behavioural codes (both religious and institutional). The Wrench Set work suggests similarities between the Ten Commandments and the rules of conduct for a gang or subculture, and while phrases such as "Punish one, Teach a Hundred" are received wisdom in correctional facilities, they take on other connotations when inscribed on a baseball bat.

( From his artist statement. )

Drever's work is beautiful, shiny and shocking. In many respects, he is in the tradition of Minimalists like Judd who design perfect objects and have them fabricated with the latest industrial materials and using the latest industrial techniques. Untouched by human hands, these gorgeous surfaces are cool, dispassionate and unyielding. While the men who made the first heavy metal minimalist works in the sixties seemed oblivious to the hyper- masculinity and the implied violence of their work, Drever fesses-up and self-consciously embeds that calculated rage into his work. Floating on the slick surfaces of the Common Struggle Series , for example, are scenes of horrendous brutality. Just what the silhouetted figures are up to is a little difficult to make out, but, spurred by blunt descriptions like, "Drag Him Around the Floor by His Neck With a Chain" (1998), and "You Hold Him and I'll Smash Him With a Pipe" (1998), you stick with it--moving your head from side-to-side and up and down to catch a glimpse. If you look past the surface, though, you will catch sight of your own reflected searching face.

Viewers cannot help but identify themselves in the shiny surface of the work, allowing for a play of desire, repression and corruption. Viewers are naturally (and narcissistically) drawn to their own image; yet, seeing anything unflattering or negative reflected back at them, either in themselves or in their surroundings--they suppress their impulse to look.

( From his artist statement. )

There are similarities between Drever's Instructional Bats and Walter May's Knockout . Both artists employ and subvert old-style masculine minimalism. They use a series of manufactured items set in a row but make each object unique through a subtle violence that re-inscribes their (phallic) bodies. And, just as holding May's hammers will get your hands dirty, so picking up Drever's bats will leave fingerprints. There is a sinister but creative intelligence behind the design of a stainless steel bat to be used for beating people. A weapon designed for criminal acts that is both stain less and yet retains perfect fingerprints is the very definition of an ambivalent object.



Mark Dudiak is also interested in ambiguity and how creative tools are sometimes transformed into destructive ones. Facture, notes on artistic collaboration consists of a small photograph of a sledgehammer or stone carver's steel mallet mounted beside a larger text panel. Printed on the hammer handle are the words: The Gentle Hammer . The text panel has four paragraphs. The first describes Laszlo Toth's 1972 sledgehammer attack on Michelangelo's Pieta . The second paragraph describes Michelangelo's own hammer assault on his Pieta and his student's restoration attempt. The third section explains that while restoring the sculpture in 1972, the conservator discovered a hidden Michelangelo signature. The final paragraph quotes the 1962 Venice Charter on restoration: "the valid contributions of all periods to the building of a monument must be respected, since unity of style is not the aim of a restoration."

Laszlo Toth, a schizophrenic, was spared a nine-year prison sentence but spent two years in an asylum before being deported to Australia. As he attacked the sculpture, he yelled, "I am Jesus Christ." Was his attack an (Oedipal) attempt to usurp the interloper in Mary's arms? In the Futurist tradition, Italian iconoclasts at the time cheered Toth with the slogan "no more masterpieces." Their anger seems to be less about sibling rivalry for mother love than (Oedipal) anger with a masterful father figure (Michelangelo) whom they felt they could not equal or excel.

In Tradition and Desire , Norman Bryson argues that much of western (one might say, 'masculine') art history is a dialogue of rivalry, one artist taking on, imitating, mastering and then overcoming the previous artistic master through novelty and invention. Dudiak may see this sort of rivalry as outdated. He doesn't seem to be taking sides but has a longer view. He constructs a chain of creation and destruction and recreation that forms an evolving whole. If, like the Venetian rules for architectural restoration, all alterations are considered valid contributions, then, he implies, some trace of Toth's "creative contribution" should be respected and retained. In fact, most responsible restorers do "show their work;" they do not try to seamlessly recreate the damaged art object. Perhaps Dudiak is offering a solution to the art-as-competition model that has reigned for so long.

"The Gentle Hammer" was Laszlo Toth's oxymoronic name for his instrument of destruction. The name hints of the dual nature of violence, or rather its preferred mode of justification. You can hear the same sound chiming back in the 'it's for your own good' type of sentences inscribed on Drever's bats. "You have to be cruel to be kind," etc.

Dudiak's other piece in Making it Like a Man is another photograph, but it strikes a completely different tenor. Dudiak CAN (After the Alkaholiks ) is a tableau of the artist and his friends imitating the cover of the Tha Alkaholiks 1997 album Likwidation .

Growing up in Saskatoon during the 90s, my friends and I followed the trend of young white men who chose to express teenage angst through product association, particularly with the image of black, urban rap musicians. We of course were not marginalized in any true sense of the word, but we found a message, which seemed to condone our general lack of ambition, and adolescent pre-occupation with fighting, partying, and minor, generally destructive crime. I can remember sitting in cold parking lots during the winter, on coffee breaks from some minimum wage job, smoking a joint and listening to groups such as the Alkaholiks , and honestly believing that what they said was true and that it was a representation of my life and possible future. There was seldom much reflection upon the odd scenario of a bunch of white, middle class, prairie kids believing that we were in the same position as poor, legitimately angry black men from Los Angeles.


Part of the appeal of rap musicians is the lifestyle that they purport to lead and the promise that anyone, regardless of education or social class, might be able to achieve the same social status and wealth. The only barriers noted in this new utopic view of capitalist conspicuous consumption are those presented by those personal acquaintances who might seek to seize what one has achieved by force. Obstacles are tangible, lives are secure in the knowledge that working harder than the next, and keeping your mind on the goal will bring success. No mention is ever made of concessions, artistic or financial, questions of right, wrong or responsibility are conveniently left out. Mainstream rappers such as Eminem or 50 Cent rarely express existential angst or social maladjustment. They are, for all of their purported criminal behaviour, the perfect norm, concerned with few questions beyond money and women. Most of these qualities are present in all pop music, but the blatantly exhibitionist, even braggardly approach of many high profile rappers linguistically describes the lifestyle which they and other celebrities exhibit.

This pre-packaged cultural set of aspirations, produced far away in a very different cultural environment came to form an aspect of my young identity, and is still present today. I think that the self-reflection encouraged by contemporary art has helped me to recognize that I may not be as completely of my own making as I might like to believe. Feminism is one of the routes that I turn to to better understand my identity. This might seem like a paradox or a play to appear as a "sensitive" (read more desirable) man, but I'm specifically drawing on the critical feminism, which emerged in the mid seventies. Far from man bashing, I think that this form of academic inquiry and social action was more concerned with examining social relations, not only between men and women but subjective internal relations. Its concern with discovering why certain beliefs might be held, determining whether social behaviour was inborn or learned and if negative, divisionist beliefs could be changed has contributed a great deal to our understanding of self.

I focused my current attentions on The Alkaholiks because of their name. Often visual artists present or find themselves viewed as a group of drug addicted, alcoholic, bohemians who do little more than whine. Certainly films like Pollock do little to dispel this image. So then, a rap group that presents itself as a bunch of alcoholics, both in lyric and in image, seems an apt subject for investigation.

  ( From his artist statement. )



Broadcast sport has a big influence on the gender formation of boys. A 1999 report commissioned by the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles observes that 98% of 8 to 17 year-old males regularly "use some form of sports media." The masculinity represented in television, radio and print coverage might charitably be described as hyper-masculine, representing the best and worst gender stereotypes in a concentrated form.

Men-in-formation watch these impressive images, in part, for allegories of the real world of men. These representations derive their power by pairing noble masculine traits with baser drives within archetypal, heroic narratives that are compressed into a limited and predictable time period and presented within a safe, controlled, theatrical setting. The stories simplify life into binary contests; win/lose matches intended to build and release tension in an unpredictable but always regulated and resolved way. Add the mass ritual and exciting spectacle of sporting events, especially when the spectatorship is primarily men with men, and you have a very successful, mass form of masculine modeling. Sports spectatorship is the male lodge of the media age.

Sports narratives compose masculinity as heroic, vital, competitive and aggressive. The dominant themes are comradeship (but definitely not homosexuality, and rarely men and women working in partnership), violence and pain, victory and loss--mostly loss--and money. Few media spectacles reinforce the dominant capitalistic, homophobic and sexist agenda as effectively as do sports media. For a man to choose not to participate in this circuit is to jeopardize his status as a real man.

Craig Le Blanc's installation, I don't play is a display of sports equipment. Each item is impressed with an I don't play slogan. There are stacks of hockey pucks, ball caps, sweatbands, golf towels and badges. The texts render the items ironic and impotent. That is, if you use the puck, for example, then you do play--but then it is no longer an object d'art . If you don't play with it, it may be a work of art but disabled as a piece of sports equipment. Le Blanc provides non-combatants with a means to express their non-participation in an enterprise that may go beyond sports. Conceivably, this could be read as a rejection of a whole region of masculine identity. But, it is a wounded proposition.

Le Blanc's game reifies sport as a presence and inscribes alternatives as absence. That is, in this display, playing has a physical possibility, a positive attribute signified by the presence of the actual sports objects. Not-playing is signaled by the text but no specific alternatives are named. The display, then, places sport at the center of attention even while rejecting it. It reinforces the idea that sport is what counts. In the context of this exhibition, if sport and masculinity are nearly synonymous--being a man means playing, or at least watching-- I Don't Play does not hint what a guy does if not sports, or what a guy may be if he refuses this way of being-a-man.

[I am not finding fault with Le Blanc. This is a classic problem when challenging any hegemonic discourse. It is also a central feature of masculinities studies. Most authors and researchers are clever about deconstructing problematic masculinities but are shy about positing better ways of being men. Well, suggestions are made about being more fluid or ironic, but few are willing to point out positive role models who are not just troubling masculine stereotypes. Championing particular men as role models is always liable to disappointment. But until academics step up to the plate (so to speak) with credible alternatives, we will be left in our meta-textual armchairs, critics not coaches.]

Art that endeavors to critique a dominant discourse can, paradoxically, end up supporting it. If the art gesture is strictly formed as an alternative, the connection to what is being rejected might not be made. But if the mode rejected is stated--and especially if it is imitated, as it is here--then the artwork is caught within the dominant mode's signifying field. In other words, someone who wears the I don't play clothing line is a player in the sports commodity circuit. Even if the message is a rejection of the hegemonic discourse, it calls up that mode and its power (only the powerful are worthy of such satire).

This reminds me of a high school friend who wore a shirt that had "Yes, I am 6' 6" printed on the front and on the back, "...and, no, I don't play basketball." He was hoping to curtail questions about if he played, only to invite even more questions about why he did not! His height made him a candidate for the circuit of sports meanings and available to such questions as "Do you play." But his shirt put him firmly within the circuit of sports discourse as a resistor whose radical message demanded interrogation so that its particular meanings could be determined and punishment or reward meted.

Now, my temptation is to read Le Blanc's work as a rejection of sports as a positive masculine mode. It may be, in part. But when paired with the artist's statement, quite another set of meanings emerges.

I don't play is an attempt to create a sense of individuality, not conforming to public expectations. Not following rules or being an individual is difficult in the sports world and in life. The commodities of sport and their accessories have become greater than the athlete or the activity.

( From his artist statement. )

I want to read this, in the Making it Like a Man! context, as a statement about masculinity--that the sort of manliness reinforced by sport culture may not be tenable for many men or for most men over the long haul. There is also a semi-Romantic tone here, a sense of loss for sports sullied by commercial interests. In this light, Le Blanc is not rejecting sport, just its professionalization. This is a familiar narrative within sports spectatorship discourse--a longing for purity that parallels with the pining for a certain type of honorable masculinity. I don't think this is imaginary or vaguely utopic but based on memory. It is a yearning for the camaraderie, sense of personal and collective success and skill building one can experience directly in the pre-capitalized, boyish, pre-manly world of amateur athletics.

Le Blanc did play:

hockey, baseball, wrestling, and volleyball. I was a goalie, a pitcher/back catcher and a setter in volleyball.   All the positions that are somewhat solo. I guess I liked the clutch positions, either being the hero or the goat. I am somewhat of a non-team player now, working solo and barely liking assistance. I quit at 18-19 because I had to get a job, and it would never have been a profession. Baseball was my best chance, and I blew my arm.

( From his artist statement. )

It seems that I don't play is more of a statement of resignation: "I don't play; but I used to." It implies a huge, though different, absence that begs an explanation. The character and affect of this gap reverberates throughout the rest of Le Blanc's work.

Please Use Me is a hockey stick with these words carved into the blade. Le Blanc sees the work as symbolic of "the commodification of the athlete; the use of the athlete as an object and tool for big business. The objects of sport becomes irrelevant, even though they are objectifying sport" ( from his artist statement ). It's another tool made impotent. If you were to make a single slap shot, the thing would be ruined. The words are the thought every boy has while waiting to be chosen for a team. It is also a sense many men have of themselves--as tools defined by their use and usefulness. This idea is summed up in the unforgettable Slump , a Daliesque wooden bat mounted perpendicular to the wall, but instead of jutting out it suddenly droops downward. Slump emphasizes the relationship between masculinity, sexuality and power/impotence.

I want to leave the final words to the artist, whose personal reading of his own work is eloquence enough:

The work is about a lot of different angles on the collision of two worlds, art and sport: the objectifying of the athlete/artist, male social and cultural impotence. Training.

I find the language of the sports world widely applicable. The terms are ambiguous and can be applied in new contexts. All four phrases [in the tablet pieces] are understood regardless of their relationship to sport. Caught Looking is a term from baseball. Scoring a strikeout is written down as a K . If the batter does not swing at the third strike, but merely watches it cross the plate, it is called being "caught looking." and is scored as a backwards K . I feel this represents missed opportunities; having the chance right in front of you and you didn't take it. I'm Wide Open, vulnerability and opportunity. Made the Cut , acceptance and confirmation. Hail Mary, one last chance; taking the chance. Hope.

There are similarities between athletes and artists, in their histories of practice and repetition. They have a common bond in the lifelong dedication to one craft. Most start very young. This lifetime invested is overlooked. Success blinds us to the process and sacrifices made over the years of training. Only the end result is considered, the path taken is ignored.

( From his artist statement. )




The location of the unnamed young man at the center of Andrew Szatmari's photograph is indeterminate. He's probably outside on a summer's night in a city. Two solid walls, one white, one black, meet at a thin, vertical corner of brick trim. The space is ambiguous; does the corner protrude or recede? The man seems to be leaning against the white wall. If so, the corner recedes. But it is very difficult to tell. The ambiguity suggests two different psychological spaces: he is either standing at a corner, or he is in a corner, pinned by the photographer.

The man is about twenty, Caucasian, has short hair, and, except for lean side burns, is clean-shaven. He wears a thin metal chain around his neck and is shirtless. The thick band of his Joe Boxer underwear peeks out over low-riding pants. The photograph is shot with an instant camera. Its crude flash creates a hotspot that recedes into the night toward the edge of the picture. The man seems to have been in the dark, was briefly illuminated, and returns to the night.

Intellectually, I know that I am looking at a sheet of paper. He is not staring at me. And yet I feel as if he is and I respond accordingly. I feel embarrassed by having to take such close stock of this man's face and body. I don't know quite what to make of the experience. I remember as a young man attending to photographs of men's faces and bodies, looking for models to emulate. But now?

He displays his body to attract (sexual) attention, but the gender codes are blended. His lean yet muscular build is obviously male, but his lack of body hair, coyly tilted head and slightly puckered mouth suggest femininity. His eyes look at the camera/photographer, not in a challenging way (as in Afshin Matlabi's self-portrait), but with a slightly averted face, as if to invite and accept assessment. Some of the other Street Hustlers are more confrontational. All display themselves with subtle codes that intimate preferences, specialties, receptivity and limits.

There is an implied violence in these photographs, a certain risk. Men wandering the city streets at night--the wrong look could lead to a sudden attack. The young mens' look and stance dance between availability and readiness for defense or assault. What their hands are doing? Szatmari uses "an instant, disposable camera because [he] likes the look (based on experimentation)" but "also for protection against expensive equipment being stolen, my being mugged, harmed." ( From his artist statement. )

The photograph belongs to Andrew Szatmari's Street Hustlers series. They were shot on the streets of Toronto and Montreal beginning in 2001. He approaches his subjects, explains his project, gives them "just enough money for them to say yes," and takes their picture. Photographers pay models all the time. But when a man pays a hustler he does not know to take his picture, it signals a different sort of relationship.

Szatmari explains that his work is about "photographing the activity, not the subject." By which he seems to mean that his work is a form of participatory performance captured by the camera. He is not a disinterested observer and does not see his art as a just a recording of one person by another: "I don't consider the work documentary. I don't believe that documentary exists within the context of art-photography." He is "fascinated by hustlers," how they "view our interaction and my activity, how they interpret what I'm doing" ( from an interview and his artist statement ). And this exchange is captured and passed to the viewer who, like it or not becomes wound up in this exchange.

It might make you uncomfortable to stare at young male bodies, make you feel exploitative and voyeuristic. It may also have you wonder: Is the photographer really an artist? Isn't this young guy familiar with being lied to by older men with cameras?! What is the artist's real interest in taking these pictures? Is it a form of voyeurism, a hunting licensed granted by the title artist ? In any case, we are coaxed into this dynamic second-hand. The photographs give the straight male viewer a small sense of what it is like to look at another man with sexual interest, and to be seen as a john by another man. In this sense, these are not representations of Street Hustlers, but, perhaps, a buried aspect of ourselves



From the center of the small, untitled, black and white digital print an eight-year-old boy grins. He looks up into a camera, which judging from the angle, was held by at adult. Superimposed on the boy's white shirt is a text from a mid-twentieth century primary school textbook. The lines include:

Are you a boy or a girl?

Is "Mary" a girl's name or a boy's name?

Was your brother a girl when he was little?

Was your mother a boy when she was little?

Was your father's mother a girl or a boy?

These queries would have been innocuous to most people a few generations ago. On one level, the test is not about gender, but was designed to test logic and comprehension. The correct answers were supposed to be unambiguous. But today this interrogation looks like an almost comically obvious effort to reinforce the traditional nuclear family and heterosexual gender norms. At a time when it is conceivable that your mother could have once been a boy, the answers to these questions are less stable than they once were.

The photograph was taken at my grandparent's house at some family gathering. With one arm behind my back I am hiding something, while at the same time I am pushing one hip forward. In this unstable gesture, I stare directly into the camera and smile unselfconsciously. It is the type of candid posturing that the camera would never catch me in today. It was taken before a gendered physicality had been socialized into my body; it is the easy smile before my discovery of shame and guilt.

( From his artist statement. )

Young Derek looks genuinely happy and at ease. He has composed himself into an expected representation, but one that does not seem to conflict with his self-image--a happy boy! However, seen twenty years later, and with the addition of the questions and the artist's statement, we might find a subtle twist in this re-presentation. The boy's contrapposto pose and hidden right arm hint of a coyness. By concealing some thing behind his back, the young Derek demonstrates self-consciousness; he knows that the thing , whatever it is, is not appropriate to this picturing. Even at that age, he performs an awareness that some things should be concealed, repressed, hidden from the family's gaze, and from the historical record (family album). What it was is probably not important. Now, as a family snapshot remade into a work of art, the hidden thing is a metaphor, a preterition that stands for "a gendered physicality...socialized into my body" and "my discovery of shame and guilt."

Not accidentally, there are two boys in the background. The younger one plays on the floor. The older boy is looking into a full-length mirror on the hall wall. These figures may refer to a moment of transition that the young Derek is passing through, from pre-gender formation (unselfconscious play) to a more self-conscious inscription (reading self image in the mirror).

There is yet another way to understand this picture, a way that converts the boy's grin into a knowing smile that hints of agency. It may be wishful thinking, but there were occasions in my childhood when I read questions like these and they served to open imaginative possibilities rather than close them. These questions can be read as a radical interrogation of gender binaries and a rupture in the naturalization of heterosexuality. If a child that this text addresses were indeed at a somewhat fluid moment of gender identification and construction, there might be a gap between their reading and the teacher's correction, a flexible moment of reflection and writing when imagination might loosen these strictures.

Look at the questions again. What might go though a child's mind when considering "Are you a boy or a girl?" If the child does not respond with the rote, 'correct' answer, he or she might wonder more about what this division means. What about a more complex question? "Was your mother a boy when she was little?" This sentence might cause laughter. But it could also open the imagination: 'what would it be like if my father was once a girl?' Any blurring of gender binaries, even if only in the imagination, can lead to acceptance of difference in one's self and others



When I first glanced at Afshin Matlabi's self-portrait, On Technologies of man's Sensuality, I saw a naked man reclining on a sofa draped with a patterned carpet.* A machine gun is strategically angled across his body. His face is unsmiling, serious. Months later, when I showed the slide to a professional colleague, she saw the same thing. That photograph is a disturbing blend of macho sexuality and sinister gun culture. But I couldn't quite locate a category for it in my mental repertoire of images. It is foreign, to me. Who could it possibly be addressed to? Would you find it on an Internet site: "Iranian (?)   freedom-fighter seeks woman with like interests."? Is it a joke or meant to be taken seriously?

I met Afshin in his Montreal studio in May 2003. An energetic smiling man--quite different from the guy in the photograph, more like the toothy fellow in the Zen to Paranoia digital photograph--he spoke enthusiastically about his ideas and art. I loved everything I saw, but On Technologies of man's Sensuality struck me as something strange and cunning. I wondered if Afshin was playing up what some North Americans might be projecting upon him as a "Middle-Eastern" man after 911. I was too embarrassed to ask.

It took several minutes before I really looked at the picture. It's not a machine gun but a vacuum cleaner! Why did I want to see a gun? Racist associations are deeply ingrained. They irrupt from the unconscious and are projected on to images and people from the minds of even the most anti-racist. I assumed that this artwork had to be, firstly, about race. My imagination would not permit me to see it as, first, a play on gender.

So, now I see a hilarious send-up of Western art history and gender expectations. Matlabi is reclining on a patterned rug that covers the floor and curves up the wall to act as a backdrop. The pose is something out of Caravaggio and Ingres. The artist poses like one of Caravaggio's sensuous lute playing boys or Ingres' rubbery "oriental" odalisques--only he's hairier, his body is alert and his gaze is penetrative rather than receptive. It's an "are you talkin' to me" look that challenges the viewer. His stiff body and active stare seem set on resisting an objectifying gaze. Even though he is in a "feminized" position, he manages to cloak himself in masculine authority. It is the physical attitude of a man making a boudoir photograph but is worried about it falling into the wrong hands (seen by another man).

The other sources of this play are men's magazines and vintage mechanic's calendars featuring barely (and un)dressed young women modeling the virtues of the latest hammer or chrome wrench. Here Matlabi assumes the position with a twist, a vacuum replaces the tool! This could be read as a man switching places with a woman to underline and ridicule the association between domestic labour and sex often portrayed in male-made porn and mainstream advertising. The artist has a slightly different take:

As I was vacuuming, I could felt the absurdity of the act. Sophisticated technologies created this machine to enable the other sex to clean the house. It is a strange reciprocation. I discovered the love affair, the obsession, between making and improving this machine and objectifying its use. Maybe that is how men express their sensuality. What needs saying, expressing, translates into a design, a power to suck, or ability to clean efficiently. Man's expression of sensuality is technology and the vacuum cleaner is his common thread of understanding with the domestic world. ( From his artist statement. )

Perhaps this is a hapless attempt by some guy who bought his wife a new vacuum cleaner to show that his efforts are really an expression of love. His composition, however awkward, even pathetic, is sincere. Matlabi is on to a theme that courses through this exhibition. Men tend to express their feelings indirectly, through things and labour. Women, of course, do too. But men seem to be socialized to use things as their primary vehicle for demonstrating feeling. He also indicates the masculine anxiety around being seen to be trying to appear sexy and sensual. A fear that probably has its roots in homosexual panic and leads to a more general fear of intimacy and public display of affection.

Matlabi's Corporeality, Domesticity, and Sexual Order is a series of five self-portrait photographs embedded into individual plaster, icon shaped slabs that rest on tall pedestals arranged in a circle. They show the artist doing domestic chores: vacuuming, cleaning the toilet, etc. He is naked but for an old-fashioned apron. Again, he is playing on gender role switching and its inevitable, in the masculine imagination (?!?), association with sex. He assumes an impassive mask in an effort to retain his masculine dignity and authority--underlining the idea that a woman similarly positioned would appear to lack these attributes. But the artist adds a homey touch wonderfully expressed in his statement about this piece:

This work is a reflection on a period when my wife and I lived in a white box, a one bedroom in a high-rise apartment in the 10th-floor. She went to school and worked full-time. I had to stay in and run the household. I shopped, cooked, cleaned, washed, and, of course, anticipated the 2 pm soap operas which I watched methodically, addictively, and lovingly everyday. I got used to the domestic life. I began to notice the details and subtleties of the chores: paying attention to the coupons while shopping; picking the not too ripe fruit; or on-special chicken wings; reading calories on the boxes--after all, I was watching out for my wife's health; washing the dishes so they make the skeweeshy sound; separating the colors from the white, figuring out the cycles; and so many exciting and now important things. I started to vacuum the corners with the special head. I could see dust microns and eliminate them with a Swifter. I realized that cooking was very complex.

One hot day, I was vacuuming with nothing on but my apron, I wanted to cook while vacuuming, and then take a shower. She got home. She saw me, and it turned her on. We had sex. I was left on the floor thinking, so, the inspiration to make this piece.

The whole domestic space is mystifying. It is a space that no ideologies, or grand anything have much validity. It is thought differently, lived differently. It is one of the undiscovered frontiers of masculinity. Maybe the final answer was always here, so close so everyday. ( From his artist statement. )

Is this an artist statement letter to Penthouse Forum !


After I wrote this, I sent it to Afshin for his comments. He replied:

Usually women in Iran weave rugs, because of lower wages (it is a Persian rug I am reclining on and an expensive one too, not carpet). Usually they are hired from the age of 7 and 8, since they have smaller fingers they can weave smaller knots, so it will increase the rugs value. In traditional households (probably not practiced widely any more), the girl-child starts to weave a rug so by the time of marriage 10, 11, 12 years old, she can take the rug as her dowry. The rug is a proud offering for the groom to walk on. These rugs are a prize since they are the expressions of a child growing up of love and hope, also the quality: knots, color, form, design are simply heart stopping.




Jeff Nachtigall's sprawling, six-panel painting, Schwarzenegger Shrine , is a meditation on his relationship to the paragon of late 20 th century celluloid masculinity . While there is some irony in his retrospection, the assemblage is primarily an homage to the iconic power of the can-do muscle man and his impact on the artist and his peers. Each panel is named after an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie-- Pumping Iron, Conan The Barbarian, Commando, Terminator, Predator , and Running Man --spanning Nachtigall's childhood and youth.

Each section employs a different support and none are conventional. Nachtigall paints on an old sign, a dismantled kitchen cupboard (complete with cup-hooks and hinges), flattened cardboard boxes, wood scraps, chipboard and metal siding. There are stained sections, areas with dripped and slathered house paint, layers of handwritten text in acrylic, fine, painterly passages, scratches and violent gouges. There are child-like drawings and cartoons of body-builders, silhouettes of running men, doodles, and a loose imitation of 70s computer game graphics. Most of the paintings feature athletes: body-builders, runners, a blocky video game man in a cowboy hat who swings on a vine; even the pipe smoker flexes his veined and muscled arms. It is as if materials, technique and content flow equally. A stream-of-consciousness pours over the panels, occasionally resolving itself into a communication.

Formally, there is a conversation between the gridded supports and the organic spurts of paint; the pattern of rectilinear shapes against the curvy drawings, scrawled words and clawed cardboard. There is a competition between control and abandon, things holding together and falling apart. From the tangle of lines and marks, accident and incident, cryptic word fragments emerge to echo this yin/yang wrestling: "no more, no less; true story; looking for the silver lining; somewhere somehow, someone's going to pay; all white people look alike; sucked like me; no good; sucker..." Some are movie tag lines. Others are insults one says to others or, perhaps, internalized rebukes you say to yourself to goad you to do better. Some words, like shawkinaw , are hard to make sense of: the Shawkinaw First Nation(?), a joke on 'shock and awe'?  

Like a rapper, Nachtigall 'spews' whatever comes to mind as it comes to mind. Some lines make sense; others pile up on each other and are more about being an elegant cacophony than a meaning. In other passages the form is the content. The range of marks, the invention, the timely 'breaths' and gasps--leaving space for the rough support to announce itself rather than to be covered--the gesture, is abstract poetry in motion. But figures do emerge. Self-made men untangle themselves from the lines and into form. They are funny: hieroglyphic profiles, phallic noses, over blown and misshapen bodies--exaggerated masculinity. Veins, or nerves, pulse across their flesh as a child's approximation rather than as an illustration of anatomic fact. These men are no idols but a rogue's gallery of buffoon he-men trying to hold on to their dignity. Unlike Schwarzenegger, these guys don't appear to have a shining 'second act'. The smoking man--a recurring character in Nachtigall's work--is an aging father figure, a decrepit refugee from the Hugh Hefner era. As with all the profiled men, he does not challenge our stare with his; he is posing and knows it. He begs to be looked at, admired and emulated. " Commando is loosely based on a painting I did in grade ten art class which inspired the works for this show. The figures are Arnold and myself, a hybrid, a 'glorified' self-portrait" ( his artist statement ).

Nachtigall's use of derelict materials may reinforce the idea that the masculine styles he portrays are old and out-moded. But I think that his project is more one of resuscitation, "looking for the silver lining" in these macho types. I can't help but think that he still admires Arnold but is more aware of the consequences for young men of their emulating such a model. It turns out that achieving Schwarzenegger 's body is nearly impossible without medical enhancements. At the time, Arnold seemed above the fray, a god who earned his meat the old-fashioned way. Recent admissions that he, too, used performance-enhancing drugs must either be a discouragement to wannabes or a prescription. In either case, Nachtigall seems to be sending an 'approach with caution' message.

Both Arnold and Nachtigall appear together again in Pumping Iron . A muscleman poses on an Olympic platform. In the bottom right corner a boy pokes his head into the composition. He is looking, wide-eyed at the engorged body.

In grade 11 [ Pumping Iron ] changed my life. After seeing it, I ran to the gym to work out. Muscles meant money, fame, power and girls. My friends and I would wake up at 5 am and work out for 3 hours before school and return to the gym after school for another 2 hours. We were obsessed with body image. We were taking all sorts of supplements: amino acids, weight gain powder, carbohydrates, and lactic acid inhibitors. Many of my friends were taking steroids like candy. Some were even taking human growth hormone! This obsession for the perfect body was a frightening experience. Stupid kids doing stupid things at an age when they believe they are immortal. ( From his artist statement. )

Significantly, the boy in the painting is disembodied. We only see his head. It is as if he doesn't signify until he becomes a viewer of the displayed body, and is not worthy of deeper signification (beyond his attention as 'audience') until he imitates the body on display, until he earns a body that qualifies as masculine.

Even so, I think that this work is primarily an expression, rather than a critique, of masculinity. The scale is heroic--it takes up a lot of gallery real estate--the 'attack' is aggressive, even penetrative, and the result is meant to impress. Nachtigall is well known for being able to pull major pieces together at the last minute. He thrives on pressure and prides himself on being able to create something exciting from material that others throw out. He manages to build danger and risk into an art practice and turn painting into a contact sport! The fact that many of his monumental combines come from the trash suggests that after the exhibition they might return there if no one comes to the rescue. This creates another tension and thrill. The work and the man share a devil-may-care attitude, a sense that anything could happen, that success and failure reside on the shoulders of spontaneous artistic genius. While not confined to men, many see these as masculine attributes.

There are many figures in this huge composition, but few are in relation with each other. Most pose, run, look, and swing alone. Because this is a retrospective piece, I think Nachtigall is describing a consequence of stereotypic masculinity. Radically independent and self-obsessed men (the narcissism of body-building) may end up lonely. There is a certain pathos in the Conan The Barbarian section. On an old "Bedding Plants" sign (turned on its side) decorated with cartoon daisies is an ambiguous, but probably male, figure. The supplicant is seen in profile on his hand and knees. His other arm is outstretched, offering a flower to an unseen other.


As a young man this [ Conan The Barbarian ] was a very enticing movie. It was back in the days of "x" rated movies. So it was a quest to get in, especially for the sex scenes--which turned out to be more hype than anything. I chose not to put another "mate" in this painting. The offering of the flower was enough. This way it can refer to a number of scenes in the film, including Conan's encounter with a gay priest.

( From his artist statement. )

While this is a somewhat tender scene--one of the few images in the exhibition that shows a man responding romantically and even attempting a relationship--it is rather sad. The male is isolated and humiliated because of his limited repertoire. Refreshingly, Nachtigall shows the guy laid low by the way he responds to his desire, rather than putting the blame on an enslaving 'love' object. Nachtigall may just be reporting or he may be showing the absurdity of the present masculine condition.



Jefferson Little's Evo-Blaster 2000 is a giant pull-toy. Mounted on a cart with heavy-duty wheels is a wood, plastic and metal structure that features the lower part of a tyrannosaurus rex, two targets, and a huge ray gun with a row of four soldiers that bob up and down when the toy is pulled. This sculpture derives from Little's practice of assembling broken toy parts and torn bits from comic books into fantastic new creations. In his paintings, the trompe-l'oeil bits cast shadows on solid monochromatic grounds. You can imagine rearranging them in their virtual space. Evo-Blaster 2000 is graphic, too, but it is also a solid fact, a big object occupying real space. Next to it, we feel small, child-like.

Little's work is fun. His paintings and sculpture are more performative than didactic. That is, they are not critical essays on masculinity but appealing confections with the potential to disturb. Some artists use their skills to create illustrations of their ideas; others think visually and haptically. They collect things, move them around, combine and arrange them until they feel right . Intuitive artists are guided by process and the unconscious projections that animate things and images. The value of this method is that it may uncover new relationships and truths, ideas that are not the property of the artist, only transmitted by him. I think that Little's work subtly speaks to men who feel that they hover in an extended adolescence.

According to the Robert Bly, few modern men have had a signal experience that marked them as men. Traditional cultures signal this transition from boyhood to manhood through elaborate ceremonies. A result of this contemporary lack is that the boy-to-man transition can be protracted over many years, and, in some cases, old boys may never feel that they have been accepted into the company of men. Many young men do not know how and when to put away the toys of childhood and assume the tools of adulthood. This is not all bad; the binary of childhood/adulthood needs challenging as much as that between the genders. However, in a society that enforces this division but does not provide a formal marking/celebration, it is a problem--masculinity becomes a perpetual and unresolved contest. So, many contemporary men do not give up their toys at all, but invest in more expensive ones on the same themes

The Evo-Blaster 2000 is a type of anxious transitional object. It is an over-blown version of a child's toy, but it is not quite the work of a man. You don't have to read Freud to know that boys are fascinated and anxious about their equipment in relation to that of other boys and especially to men. (This is flagged in Craig Le Banc's sports tablet, Caught You Looking .) You also don't have to be Freud to see Evo-Blaster 2000 --with its big ray gun, pumping dinosaur legs and soldiers that rhythmically pop in and out of slots at the top of the toy--as a symphony of phallic symbols.

Little's imaginary is obviously gendered. The source comic books and toys, with their hypertrophic superheroes and soldiers, are stereotypically masculine. The work is also nostalgic. Most of the toys could belong to childhoods from ten to sixty years ago. The style of the text, and other design elements, echo the mid-twentieth century. The artist even distresses Evo-Blaster 2000 with dulling stains to make it appear old. He seems to want to construct a generalized male childhood. [In researching this exhibition, I came across many male artists who in their examination of masculinity turned to, and on, antique sources of broadcast masculinity--sometimes from their own childhood, but often from their fathers' or grandfathers' childhoods. It was as if some of these guys were conducting an archeological dig to find the legitimate roots of maleness, or, the source of where things went wrong.]

The common theme of Little's work, and this constructed collective boyhood, is aggression. Childhood play is a safe means of rehearsing, understanding, experimenting with, and even upending social roles. But mostly it is a way to learn the various ways to be human. Boys' play is more violent than girl's play because boys are socialized to express their anger and fear that way more often than girls are--and many more boys' toys and games are designed to rehearse aggression. On one level, Little seems to be enacting the script given to him. On another, he exaggerates it in order to undermine it.

By going through a process of dissection and reassembly with this cheap toy-like ephemera, I seek to deconstruct their popular identities in order to achieve a Frankenstein-esque narrative of pop imagery that is both familiar and frightening.

( From his artist statement. )

The artist acts like the evil Sid in Toy Story . Both have a sadistic relationship to toys. They break and reassemble them into cannibalistic hybrids that are more disturbing than funny. Sid's play is not only a symptom of his individual rage, but also an elaboration of the script written into boys' playthings. The reassembled toys are just heightened expressions of that latent message. Toy soldiers, comic books and action figures in a boy's room are ubiquitous to the point of invisibility. But gathering the parts of numerous violent toys into a single mutation makes us more aware of their message.

However, Little may not be critiquing stereotyped masculinity but trying to inhabit and understand it symbolically. If play can be a means to apprehend social roles, then these art constructions might be an effort to gain control over masculine roles or just express what they feel like. The presence of targets on the sculpture, and darts being thrown at the figure in one of the paintings, is interesting because while most toys and video games position the player as a shooter, many boys' nightmares, and some boys' lived experiences, are made up of being the target. Little seems to be acting out this anxiety, or representing it, in order to show another side of boyhood. The hint is that violence is a learned response to aggressive modeling.

The Evo-Blaster 2000 i s painted to look old. The conceit seems to be that 2000 is in the past and that we are in the future looking at an antique. Written across the targets are the words "It's Apoc-o-licious!" Little may be offering his toys as a humourous artifact of the turn of the millennium that will be as quaint and funny to the future as Cold War duck-and-cover films are to us. However, the reference to the biblical end-of-days tied to the extinct dinosaur, the soldiers and ray guy, may be hinting that Little fears that our continued socialization of boys into a culture of violence may end with extinction.

I've always tried to view toys and toy culture as a sort of raw material, something that can be shaped and sculpted by an audience's individual experience.

I like to think that I'm "playing on" and "playing with", perception. I think there is a fine line between what we perceive as illusion and reality (now there is a can of worms...) and that is part of these figures, they seem real, they look 3 dimensional but they are not. In terms of social role playing its a bit like the Emperor's new clothes, we all try on identities to see which one fits (artist, athlete, husband, father, etc.) when really, identity is much more fractured and complex than that. 

You're right there isn't one particular instance that I can point to that I could stand and say I'm a MAN. Ceremony? Was it my mother memorial service and interment? or marrying my wife in Las Vegas on New Year's eve 2002? Two pretty big events neither of which led me to believe that I was any greater or lesser of a man.

Ya know when you think about it the greatest challenge that Superman ever had to face was to reconcile his secret identity as Clark Kent. He always seemed in comfortable and focused in the role of Superman but awkward as the everyday mild mannered working stiff.


However I digress...don't get me started on super heroes....

            (From Jefferson's response to the above text.)



A naked angel with real wings, dirty blond hair and her back to us gazes out over her right shoulder from the polychrome relief sculpture, Bass Acwards . She tugs on a red ribbon attached to a poorly taxidermied pike that hangs from a branch at the center of the composition. A taut line runs from the fish to a hook held gingerly by a tanned man who reclines on the right. He wears a John Deere hat and sunglasses. A cigarette juts from his lips. The setting is bucolic, in a prairie gothic sort of way. It is a fishing scene but we see no rod or water--however, the rocky foreground suggests that we, the viewers, are standing in a stream. The mid-ground is bright with straw and chickens. The background is dark--perhaps a storm is rolling in. The wings, ribbon, fish, line, hooks, sunglasses and cigarette are all real objects worked into this eccentric picture.

Kevin Freidrich's paintings are like dreams. While absurd, you sense an organizing power that thinks it is not only making a clear meaning but a damn funny one. Where to start? There is a word play on angel and angling . There may also be references to 19 th century French Realist painting. The artificial setting, the naked woman on the left and clothed man on the right with the outstretched arm are all reminiscent of Manet's Luncheon on the Grass . Like Manet, Freidrich may be making fun of European high art conventions, especially when transplanted to the Canadian prairies. The unethereal angel sporting a pair of real Canadian goose wings reminds me of Courbet's defense of Realism. When asked to paint an angel for a church, he replied, "Show me an angel and I will paint one." Freidrich's faux angel shows the absurdity of the gesture and yet retains his desire that there be such creatures. Similarly, he paints his experience in a high art manner to show the silliness of such an inflation--the ridiculousness that his feelings and observations warrant such attention--and yet, at the same time, offer the possibility that they just might. The artist seems ambivalent, caught between Realism and Romanticism, a desire to show both the truth and his wishes at once.

Bass Acwards looks like an in-joke. I can imagine it in a nightmare designed by David Lynch: it would hang above the bar in a fishing lodge/bordello set in a Twin Peaks version of the Canadian woods. Perhaps it memorializes an incident that could not quite be resuscitated without the combination of story and image. Unfortunately, we only have a scrap of the tale:

Bass Acwards is an allegory of "fishing" and the ying yang between men and woman, romantic and tactile. Both characters are attempting to help the fish; one pulling the stitches shut, the other releasing the fish in order to free it, ironically opening the wound. Neither is making anything any better but both are content with their endeavors. PS:   I was quite bitter about relationships at the time.

( From his artist statement. )

If the painting is an allegory of romantic love with fishing as the vehicle, then the split fish stands for the relationship. Rather than a conventional image of lovers trysting in the woods, this couple appears incompatible and distant. They aren't even relating to each other. She looks at us; sunglasses shield his gaze. The dysfunctional couple project the relationship , as if it were a thing, onto a third party (the wounded fish). The relationship is constructed as some thing between them, rather than feelings they share directly, in relation.

The root of this strained relationship may have its origin in the way the genders are figured. The woman is not really a convincing angel. She has a normal female body and homemade wings. Perhaps Freidrich pictures her as someone who aspires to the angelic, or as someone whom the man figures as divine. In either case, she is positioned as being above the man who is so down-to-earth that he is nearly one with the rocks and even has the colouring of the earth. It is a familiar dichotomy.

The man holds the hook, the fish has the line; this reverses the usual scenario, it's Bass Acwards ! The image may symbolize the man's anxiety about being hooked by a relationship. Perhaps he wants to keep fishing . If I were to succumb to the temptation to see phalluses everywhere in this show (I really can't help myself!), the pike could be a wounded phallus/masculinity that the man wants to repair but the woman just wants to let go (another angling pun, 'catch and release'?). So, the painting may also be about the fear of committing to a relationship that might lead to abandonment. Many men are defensive about their feelings and tend to withdraw from affection and 'entanglements' because they are not as well socialized as women to manage them.

As Freidrich explains, the lovers are acting separately, "content with their endeavors," their own way of doing things, but they aren't doing the fish/relationship any good. While they both want to save the fish/relationship, they can't get together on the best method. The difference in how they perform their compassion seems stereotypically gendered. He is taking heroic, medical measures; she tries to relieve the immediate pain. The man wants to close the wound; the woman is willing to let it remain open. Freidrich seems pessimistic. We might be wondering, "Why can't they just get together and work this thing out." The artist seems to be more interested in inscribing a chasm between men and women as a 'just so' story. When women are constructed as angels and men as Huck Finns, how can you be anything but fatalistic about their being able to form a mature relationship?

Freidrich grew up on an acreage and his father was a farmer/carpenter.

Stared, Farted and Fell has a bit to do with an uncle of mine who passed away last winter. He kept the family farm going while taking care of his schizophrenic brother. The farm was sold after his passing and I guess I feel a little guilty for not taking any responsibility in carrying this on. But it has more to do with a dream I had when I had slept in for work. (I'm not much for pity parties)

Mermaid has to do with the isolation and loneliness that must have been a factor in such an existence that my uncle must have had. On the up side, though, it would provide much time to dream....... ( From his artist statement. )

Mermaid appears to be one of those weird reveries that arise when you do repetitive work alone. An old man sits on an antiquated tractor conjuring the prairie mermaid below. Being a farmer, he associates the young woman with the land and fertility--and it's not subtle. She lies naked on the stubble field. Her partially splayed legs angle toward the viewer. Plants spring up at her genitals. Assumable, both she and the earth are ripe for planting. Inexplicably, and hyperbolically, a real (phallic) iguana bursts through the canvas and breathes fire. It also spews an oily bluish liquid that drips onto the woman's bottom and pours down her thigh. Like Bass Acward's angel, the woman looks over her shoulder somewhat impassively at the viewer. Both women seem positioned in their settings and are not ascribed any particular thoughts or feelings.

On one hand, this seems to be the old man's fantasy. On the other hand, it could be a perverse offering, the senior's artless enticement to younger men to return to the farm.

There is a rich history of posters from the turn of the last century that employed images of pretty girls as sirens. Like Bass Acwards (though less graphic), associations were paired for young men in an effort to get them to settle the prairies. Many prairie urbanites are not long off the farm, and some men feel deep guilt about abandoning the land and breaking that (patriarchal) lineage. This painting is creepily funny, but may also trigger subterranean emotions. It is as loaded with as much patriarchal dread as a 'farmer's daughter' joke. Rather than being a sexy lure--if some guy took up the sexual offer, it would be under the gaze of the father--this image seems posted by Freidrich as a warning.



Daniel Fisher’s Wounded War Pony is a dilapidated boys’ bicycle salvaged by the artist and transformed into a mechanical horse. It is more showpiece than functioning vehicle: the bike is missing a pedal, chain, front tire and rear wheel. It has, nevertheless, been outfitted with a horsehair tail and mane, and decorated with feathers, brightly coloured beads and leather tassels. The saddle is wrapped in rabbit fur. Screwed into the red frame are new metal parts that suggest a horse head, back, flanks and thighs. Striped paint on the nose and thighs, and other markings, indicate that the steed is prepared for battle.

The sculpture elicits a mixed response. On one hand, Wounded War Pony is celebratory; it draws continuity between urban First Nations boys on two-wheelers and their ancestors on horses. The bike becomes a stallion, the boy a warrior. It is also about survival under changing conditions. This vehicle is adopted and adapted by Fisher just as his ancestors adopted and adapted the horse from the early colonizers. On the other hand, the resuscitation is melancholic. Despite his creative efforts the transformation is incomplete. The horse/bike is still missing vital parts, and an arrow pierces its side.

Fisher reminds us that Aboriginal youth have both a proud and tragic history. This legacy is written on their bodies and continues to influence their actions and sense of self. Wounded War Pony teeters between optimism and pessimism. The sculpture could be read as a first step on a healing journey: the body is salvaged, the repairs begun, but there is still much to do. However, these initial treatments appear cosmetic. Time and money has been spent on decoration rather than on taking care of basic repairs. The result is a still wounded body/soul decked in regalia.

This object embodies an on going crisis. Should Aboriginal men focus on restoring pride, traditional culture and methods? Or should we concentrate on economic and social reforms—enter into the mainstream? It isn’t really an either/or debate, but there is a struggle on both personal and social levels between maintaining traditional ways and more or less assimilating. Many devise ingenious ways to perform, adapt and balance both. Others remain wounded and unsure which way to turn.

The mental image of young men riding through city streets on Wounded War Ponies haunts my imagination. To some, this may be symbolic of continuity with the past, biking can represent freedom. There is even a radical element to the sight of Aboriginal males touring white neighbourhoods. But, as a First Nations friend once said to me about this phenomenon, “It makes me sad. They should be riding in cars.” The image may suggests a lost generation, young men cruising interminably and aimlessly because they have not found their place in society. They are the portable abject, young men riding the margin, coping, unconsciously or not, with the repercussions of colonization.

What about the steel arrow? Did another wheeled warrior shoot it? This may be so, but Fisher also suggests that Wounded War Pony

is a statement about the impact of industrialization on First Nations Youth. Industrialization can be seen as the epitome of modern man, the civilized man. I was interested in how my life had been influenced by the Beast called Modernity—not only my life, but also the generations who grew up under the technological wonders of society. It is about assimilation, urbanization, loss of identity, sadness and everything negative that has been experienced by First Nations children. It is about pride, resistance, strength, gentleness and childhood joy.
(From his artist statement.)

How do Aboriginal boys and men of the 21st century compose themselves? Do they try to revive something of what has been actively discouraged, banned and beaten out of so many generations? Do they adapt, even assimilate into the dominant culture? Wounded War Pony hints at the complexity of being split between the land and the city, traditional culture and contemporary mass culture. This challenge is echoed in Traditional Drum Kit. It’s a familiar drum kit only the bass drum, pair of toms and snare are made in traditional First Nations stretched hide style. It also includes fur, feathers and beaded decorations, and a deer skull and rack mounted on the top of the bass drum. The kit is playable.

The First Nations connection to music is sacred and integral to our belief systems. The Drum represents the heartbeat of the Mother earth and all life. This drum kit represents the contemporary First Nations musician and the evolutionary process of traditional songs. It is a comment about the uniqueness and identity of a Nation, its ability to adapt and incorporate meanwhile holding true to its identity.

Growing up on a Reserve, then Residential school, then moving into the city, gave me a unique perspective between Traditional First Nations drum songs and Rock and Roll. (From his artist statement.)

Fisher explains that the deer represents love and that he painted one half purple because it is the colour of “death and rebirth” and the other half is blue, symbolic of healing (from a conversation with the artist). Traditional Drum Kit signals a more celebratory and successful adaptation than Wounded War Pony. Rock and Roll, with its steady backbeat, resonates with many Aboriginal people born in and since the 50s (like anyone else!). And many musicians have incorporated First Nations drumming into Rock. In this work, Fisher, also a musician, offers some uplift and a positive direction—music that sooths the soul and that finds a space that combines traditional and dominant cultures.



Making it Like a Man has its origins in Men in Relation , an exhibition curated by Robert Milthorp and Monte Greenshields for several Saskatoon artist-run centres in 1993. I had a peripheral involvement with the event as a writer. Blair Brennan was in that show and he is in this one because of his long-standing research in this area and as a link to that first groundbreaking effort.

Brennan's present contribution is an installation of things collected and gently altered by the artist. There is a large boy scout cap, belt, shirt and leather jacket, three army cots, a ring toss game, steer horns, two propane tanks and three branding irons: all that leather, old canvas and metal--definitely masculine territory. The embroidered shirt, hat and cots that might hint of feminine labour are actually done by machine. While carefully staged and museum lit, the items still look like they were seized from the artist's home and arranged by someone else--which is so. Most don't seem like art at all. They look like things the artist was wearing and working with. They are fugitive fragments of experience formed into unfortunate objects. Unfortunate because they hover between being themselves and being the new meaning Brennan is forcing them toward.

It is perhaps easiest to start with the three X sculptures. Matador is a set of steer horns mounted on a wood plaque. Hanging from the horns are two long branding irons with an X and a Y brands. On the floor is a propane tank and torch, implying that the brands could be heated and applied right now. Ring Toss is that old game modified so that you can throw rubber rings to score your X and Y chromosomes. X Marks is another X branding iron a propane tank. The general idea of the X works seems to be that sex, the allotments of X and Y chromosomes, is on one hand, a game of chance, and, on the other, like a brand that influences the social deportment of people/cattle. But if it is true that these determinants come from within, why mark the outside? This reiteration is redundant. Is it a conservative attempt to align the outside (social, gender) with the inside (genetic, sex)?


X Marks deals, to some extent, with territoriality, property, wealth, and, by extension, imperialism and colonialism. I am however, more interested in branding as a complex kind of language use. Most of my branding pieces use symbols, initials (like X and Y ), acronyms, palindromes, magic spells, single words of great symbolic import, etc. The act of branding is a highly ritualized activity-heat and brand, heat and brand, etc. Branding is primal--fire and skin, it doesn't get any more primal! Branding is also a peculiar hybrid. For me, it exists in a liminal zone between the marks our ancestors would make for psychic protection and those marks we make to afford legal protection of property. ( From his artist statement. )

The brand is Brennan's artistic trademark. It has a flexible power. I see it as a profound symbol for the mark-of-the-father. The long firm hot rod with the ability to imprint itself numerous times--is there a better phallic and male fertility symbol? It is also, as he says, a painful marker of territory and property. Such a brand is part of masculine patrimony, an inheritance that is a privilege as well as a burden. Because so much of Brennan's work is about pain and the possibility of redemption, I think that he is wielding the rod in search of its positive aspects.

Shirts and Skins , the title alone sends shivers of humiliation up my spine. The words drag me back to junior and senior high school gym class. For some perverse reason, groups of boys were divided into teams distinguished by those who wore shirts and those who were skins . " It always takes women longer to get the shirts and skins reference. I was one of those unfit, overweight boys (now an unfit, overweight man) praying to be a shirt " ( from his artist statement ). Shirts and Skins , t he artwork, is a white T-shirt embroidered with the word shirt . Draped over top is a leather jacket branded skins .

Nogoodboyo is an extra large American boy scout cap embroidered with Nogoodboyo, who, Brennan explains, is a character in "Dylan Thomas' play Under Milk Wood . He only has three or four lines. At our first meeting he tells us that he is 'up to no good in the wash-house'. Later on, he says, 'I want to be good Boyo, but nobody 'll let me'" ( from his artist statement ).

Both works are about the lasting effect of labeling--the difficulty of getting out from under hurtful, inscriptive descriptions. They suggest that language can sear youthful flesh with indelible meanings like a brand that lasts a lifetime. Or, more hopefully, some words burn less deeply and can (like our clothes) be out grown. They may still be in the closet as a reminder, but they don't have the same power. Shirts and Skins' branded leather jacket may be a proxy for human flesh. Does it suggest that men have to develop a thick skin to endure the taunts designed to make men of us?

Brennan is interested in the magical properties of written words, by which I think he means the strange ability some human-made marks have to conjure up actualities. While he refers to brands and other signs we address to each other as prohibitions, territory and property markers, he is also interested in magic numbers and other marks (in the Bible, for example) that seem to communicate between the mundane and metaphysical realms. He could also be talking about artist's marks--and the hope that they might have some magic. Unlike his brands, much of Brennan's embroidery conjures the healing properties of text.

While his other works are fairly available, Easter 2003 (for Patti Smith and W. B. Yeats) --an army surplus stretcher embroidered with Easter 2003 in red -- is less so. The words paired with the cot could memorialize a wartime incident, a recovery from an injury? The old cot and recent date may be meant to establish continuity between a personal crisis and analogous events over the years. Is the author looking for the heritage of his own affliction/sacrifice?

The Yeats reference may be to his WW1 poem Easter 1916 . Which, in part, is about the burden of living with an unrepayable debt. Knowing that one lives only due to the sacrificial deaths of warriors. The voice in the poem refers to living in "their dream," a transformed world of "terrible beauty." "Beautiful" because it is peaceful and no longer taken for granted, "terrible" because of the cost. The poem includes a call to remembrance. He says that is the living's duty is to revive the dead, re-member them, by reciting their names. Yeats was steeped in the occult and believed (perhaps as poets must) that the dead could communicate through words (automatic writing) to the living.

Patti Smith's song is also about dying and reviving. Easter has a passage that echo's Brennan's interest in permanent and magical marks: "I am the sword, the wound, the stain. Scorned transfigured child of Cain." Cain is the cursed son of Adam and Eve. Having killed his brother he and his heirs are punished with the 'mark of Cain,' some kind of persistent difference. Romantic artists often feel that they are "born under Saturn" or have "the mark of Cain." It is easy to make light of this, but when suffering from mental illness, stress or other disorders, it is often the arts that we turn to to sooth or express those states. Some people, named artists, simply persist at it longer and get better at making things that not only communicate their personal pain and healing, but that resonate deeply with others. By having the cot on the floor, Brennan may be proposing that someone else may use this healing device now that he's done with it. Lying on a cot emblazoned with Easter , at least to a Christianized imagination, might be encouraging.

There is a slightly different gesture in Collecting the Wounded (For Nelson Algren). It employs two army surplus stretchers--each embroidered with red text, nights without mercy and morning without tears . However, they are hung above each other on a wall like the abandoned medical appliances (crutches, etc.) at Lourdes. Perhaps these are testimonials, evidence of something overcome and never to be used again.  

An Edmonton artist Carolyn Campbell wrote in a recent artist statement about her "overly emphatic sense of identifying with characters in books." She goes on to discuss Jon Bowen's (writing for Salon.Com ) assessment of a phenomenon labeled "Call Me Ishmael," which describes the "tendency to internalize fiction." I've always said my work was informed by literature but it is more than that. It is, as Carolyn suggests, an unnatural and overly emphatic sense of connection--though, more often, I feel connected with the words themselves rather than the characters.  


Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm tells the story of Frankie Machine, a WW2 veteran, card dealer, drum player and morphine addict. The book describes Frankie's down and out friends, lovers and acquaintances--"a world of gamblers, junkies, alcoholics, prostitutes, thieves and degenerates"--the lurid back cover says. Most of my books are pristine, not even a pencil mark, but my copy of Golden Arm is filled with high-lighter marks, ball point pen notations and page headings. Post it notes, old ratty bookmarks and small shreds of paper drip out of every page from the many times I've read and reread this book. "Overly emphatic sense of identifying" does not begin to describe my relationship with this book--it is a fetish!

"Night of the All Nite restaurants, the yellow-windowed machine shop night where daylight was being prepared on lathes. Night of the thunderous anvils preparing the city's iron heart for tomorrow's traffic. Night of the city lovers, the Saturday Night till Sunday Morning lovers, making love on rented beds with the rent not due till Monday.

Night of iron and lover's laughter: night without mercy. Into a morning without tears" (from Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren).

I don't want to add much to this quote other than to say that "night with our mercy and morning with out tears" seemed to be what all of Algren's characters were seeking and, then again, aren't we all?


"Night with our mercy and morning with out tears." T hey are mutually exclusive terms like grace/guilt, sorry/Jesusfuckingchrist, etc. There is room for only one of these things in a man's heart (yes, men more than women). This is also what Algren's characters want most, what all men want (yes, men more than women, again), to go all night, to last all night, sex drugs and R n' R and get up, go to work the next morning and do the same the next night (toxic masculinity--indeed)" ( From his artist statement. )

Brennan's work has us keenly cognizant of the flesh and of text, desire and limitations, on one hand, and the possibility of magical endurance on the other. In one body, these may be incompatible, but artists like Yeats, Smith, Algren and possibly Brennan, live the dream of both possibilities--even if one is only in the realm of the imagination.

David Garneau 200


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David Garneau
Associate Professor at The University of Regina
Faculty of Fine Arts, Visual Arts Department.
RC 245 | (306) 585-5615 |