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Daring Confessions: Romance and the Modern-day Girl
I blushed more than once while walking through “Daring Confessions: Romance and the Modern-day Girl.” Tetyana Gershuni’s luscious painting of hypertrophic chicken parts arranged with robust gynecological intent did it. Calculating how often Risa Horowitz had bowel movements and orgasms during her thirtieth year also warmed my cheek.

Curated by Alexandra Stratulat for the Mendel Art Gallery (Sept. 12 to Nov. 16), “Daring Confessions” features work by Robin Arseneault, (Calgary), Lissa Robinson (Calgary), Tetyana Gershuni (Saskatoon/Kiev, Ukraine), Andrea Cooper (St. John’s), Risa Horowitz (Winnipeg), and Eliza Griffiths (Ottawa). All are women in their late twenties and thirties considering the place of romance in our feminist, and not, era. For every satirical jab at the absurdity of the social constructions of romance, there are heart-aching evocations of unrequited desire and passionate confusion.

Tetyana Gershuni’s “Delicatessen,” is a corpulent, seductive painting offering a queasy comparison between female genitalia and a grocery chicken. The deadpan joke sticks in the throat by concretizing the brutal synecdoche of a masculine imagination—the occasional look that serves to severe a body part from its attendant mind and personality. Designed to arouse and repel, “Delicatessen” publishes a mental habit that few men can avoid being implicated by.

The hyperbolic tendency continues in Andrea Cooper’s projected video, “Starring II ,” in which a giant glamour model strides through the streets of St. John’s. The incongruity, not only in scale, but in the juxtaposition of Hollywood stardom and St. John’s, Newfoundland, is comic. The disconnect between media scripts for women written in California and the lived reality on the ‘Rock’ could not be clearer. That this billboard come to life literally throws up the tools of her mediation, underlines the italics.

Lissa Robinson’s inflated sculpture, “Madame Pompadour,” is a huge, inverted ball gown that nearly hangs from floor to ceiling. It reels like a tornado and evokes a fleshy flower, and dizziness, perhaps love sickness. Given that Madame Pompadour had more power than most women of her time—though only so long as she pleased her master, Louis XV—the sculpture might suggest a self-contained woman spinning on her own axis. This gyre attracts but dissuades contact.

Eliza Griffiths’ “Serial Romance” paintings trope the covers of pulp romance fiction. However, with their blurred lipstick and beer bottles, these couples are less heroic and Romantic than the originals. They are people you know. but in their less than flattering moments. More unconscious ardour than passion anesthetized for the camera. But rather than simply present an ironic twist on the genre, Griffiths paints poignantly alienated women whose eyes seem to plead to the viewer to release them—often from the grip of a less-actualized member suburban studom.

Risa Horowitz’s accounting for every day of her thirtieth year is related to the work of artists like Mary Kelly, who, in the late 60s and 70s, appropriated the tools of science (especially statistics) to investigate neglected spheres of female experience. Horowitz uses icons to represent events like her consumption of coffee and cigarettes; when she thought about money or love; and to record her sexual experiences—times she had sex or masturbated, when she had an orgasm, or not. It is hard to tell if Horowitz is being ironic, ‘you can’t find the Self or love in measurements of the mundane habits of the body;’ or if she is being sincere, ‘here I am, depression, lust, greed and all’. In the first case, her display is a bold performance that suggests that because her Self is so other than these details, revealing them will have no impact on the integrity of her Being. In the second case, it reads like a self-assessment inventory meant to reveal unconscious patterns to prepare the way for renovation. In both cases, the work is bound to make anyone uncomfortable in just the right sorts of ways.

Robin Arseneault’s “Capsized” is a theatrical installation featuring ten lumpen cloth heads with ‘x’s for eyes. There are nine in the audience. The tenth wears a dunce cap on stage. A short script tells a tale that resembles the medieval morality poem, “Ship of Fools.” It seems to be about the inevitability of humiliation and loss, especially around issues of love. I want to read into this piece a theme that seems to extend throughout the show: ‘despite our best wishes and fine minds we are all made fools by our emotions, by others, and especially by our attachment to anything in the world’. It is interesting to note that none of the works in “Daring Confession” display the possibility positive and equitable relationships. Perhaps happiness makes for dull art.

David Garneau 2003


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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 |