MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
SEPTEMBER 7 – OCTOBER 6, 2001
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2001 AT 8 PM
ARTIST MEET AND GREET: SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2001 AT 2 PM
LOCATION – STRIDE GALLERY
722, 11 AVE S.W, CALGARY, ALBERTA
In LUBBERLAND Luanne Martineau will exhibit her latest work of large-scale, knitted sculptures. Using wool, synthetic yarn and mohair, Martineau has reproduced various plaid tartan patterns into the surface of these 7 cigar-shaped forms. This new work is based on Martineau’s Accumulation Sculptures, works that are developed from repetitive additions of small femo bits, resulting in organic forms of accumulation. Together in this installation, these works examine her ongoing investigation of R.F. Outcault’s comic panel of 1895-1898, The Yellow Kid. Martineau’s specific interest of this comic stems from the inherent blocks, disjunctions and malfunctions of the narrative, and the problems that arise form its contextual limits – when narrative rambles and text stops communicating in its intended manner.
LUANNE MARTINEAU is an artist based in Calgary, AB. She studied at the Alberta College of Art and Design and received her Masters of Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia. Martineau has shown extensively across Canada, including solo exhibitions at the Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, SK; Truck Gallery, Calgary, AB; Gallery 101, Ottawa, ON; Optica, Montreal, PQ; Mercer Union, Toronto, ON, among others. Martineau is currently employed as the Associate Curator of the Art Gallery of Calgary.
One day an Englishman, an American, and an Irishman walked into a pub together. They proceed to each buy a pint of beer. Just as they were about to enjoy their beverages, three flies landed in each of their glasses. The Englishman pushed his beer away from him in disgust. The American fished out the offending fly our of his beer and continued drinking it as if nothing happened. The Irishman picked the fly out of his drink and started shaking it over the pint, yelling “SPIT IT OUT, SPIT IT OUT!!!”
This joke is a descendent of the humour of R.F. Outcault’s The Yellow Kid which was based on racist representation of New York’s working class Irish immigrant ghetto of the early 19th century. I mention The Yellow Kid because Martineau’s work is ultimately rooted in this early American comic strip and an interest in regional jingoism and racial chauvinism. Lubberland reconfigures details from Outcault’s comic strips and recasts the antagonists between the poor and the rich – the uncultured and the cultured – in the form of a debate between social realist and abstract art.
In six consecutive panels titled “Origin of a New Species,” R.F. Outcault tells the story of a clown and his dog on a picnic; when the dog is devoured by a huge snake, the clown cuts holes in the snake’s belly for the dog’s legs to emerge then leads the hybrid creature away. Luanne Martineau has always had an affinity for strange hybrid creatures, and they appear in her work time and time again. This preoccupation with hybridity is especially present in this new body of work. Lubberland is the progeny of the Accumulation Sculpture series and Martineau’s earlier work Hypothetical Studies for Knitted Sculpture; it uses synthetic yarn and mohair to weave together crud tartan turds and amorphous shapes based on the plaid patterns that appear in The Yellow Kid. Produced with an antiquated knitting machine, the drooping mass forms of Lubberland are suggestive of modernist sculpture and are part of a new species on which Martineau has been working for the past 5 years. Luanne’s affinity for hybrids is a manifestation of her discomfort with purebreds and pedigrees and is why the humour of The Yellow Kid is so integral to her work. The roots of Lubberland can be found in Martineau’s drawings. The Factory Form and Knitted Accumulation Sculpture are drawn from earlier Spiritmaster drawings that are in turn reconfigurations of detritus from Martineau’s Panoramic Flood Landscapes. The Spiritmaster is a mimeograph machine that uses a carbon master to create copies. The copies degenerate with each successive printing. The result of the Spiritmaster’s technological limitations are finished images so unstable that they eventually fade completely. The obsolete Spiritmaster technology is used to intentionally obfuscate the references to Outcault’s original narratives. Any progress is made impossible because once the image disappears, we are, it seems, doomed to repeat it over again.
The dichotomy between realism is the sphere for social and political messages and abstraction as the sphere for purely aesthetic concerns laid the ground for a distinction drawn in postwar art criticism between political art and avant-garde art. Modernist art represented the most advanced aesthetic style resulting from a revolution against bourgeois academic traditions; but since abstract modernist art is now congealed as a bourgeois academic tradition – a tradition in which Martineau is extremely well-versed – citing modernism calls into question which is more important: for artists to wield their art as a political weapon of to preserve abstraction for apolitical explorations. Essentially, Martineau’s working approach throws into question the extent to which all aesthetic positions must necessarily have political implications.
Historically, in order for regional artists to address an international community, they had to embrace a progressive modernism; but modernism was considered a difficult visual language reserved for an elite educated class and inappropriate for reaching a mass audience. Lubberland emphasizes the formal aspects of abstraction and modernism but not at the expense of social/political content. Martineau challenges the alleged purity of modernism through her allusions to a social realist model, the fact that she borrows artistic styles from the past, and in depicting scenes in which everything is familiar to the viewer.
The standard definition of propaganda as an art devoted to political rather than artistic concerns, depends upon a clear distinction between politics and aesthetics. Common currency within the artistic world is an equation between modernist abstract art and values such as freedom and democracy (which are, interestingly, assumed to be apolitical). By manipulating the vocabulary of abstraction, by injecting it with explicitly historical and propagandistic references, Martineau harnesses liberal individualism (the promise of abstraction) to nationalistic/racist/xenophobic historical narratives. In effect, Martineau’s work steers a course midway between the direct engagement of social realism and the ivory tower of abstraction.