MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
JUNE 10 – JULY 9, 1994
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 1994 AT 8 PM
ARTIST TALK: SATURDAY, JUNE 11, 1994 AT 2 PM
LOCATION – STRIDE GALLERY
722, 11 AVE S.W, CALGARY, ALBERTA
TERRY EWASIUK was born in Vancouver in 1954 and graduated from the Vancouver School of Art in 1976 before receiving an MFA from Concordia University in 1978.
Terry Ewasiuk’s newest series of works are not so much about culmination as continuation – the continuation of images, ideas, materials and strategies that she has been exploring throughout the past decade. At the beginning of her career, during the 1970s, Ewasiuk’s influences ranged from Man Ray to Micheal Morris, from Julia Kristeva to Cindy Sherman, and from body art to film noir to Guido Molinari. At this point in her career, though, she has consolidated her eclectic sources and inspiration into a distinctive, pop-culture vision, seamlessly collaging oppositional schools of thought and process. Declaring herself both a formalist and a feminist, Ewasiuk is equally committed to the hard-edge geometrics of high modernism and the photo-conceptual practices of postmodernism.
Ewasiuk first came to critical notice in the early 1980s with a series of performance based photographs: Polaroid prints of her clothed body, writhing across grounds of primary colours, were arranged in tight grid formations. Upon the resulting designs of diamonds, chevrons or diagonal stripes, Ewasiuk became her own gestural element, an emotional mark upon an intellectual field of containment and control. From these self-portraits, she then moved to tableau-style portraiture of friends, whose poses, props, sets and costumes suggested a filmic or theatrical condition and accompanying narrative line. This photographic series, “Still Lives”, segued into the production of a 30-minute video, “As the Petals Fall,” which parodied television soap operas and revealed Ewasiuk’s significant and enduring fascination with popular culture.
Periodically, Ewasiuk has created large-scale, mock monolithic sculptures, including ‘Power, Authority and Mac Blo Tree,” in 1989, which examine capitalist-patriarchal power dynamics and the exclusion of feminist, environmental and aboriginal voices form the corporate realm. “Contained” and “Scarecease”, two recent, photo-sculptural works, employ architectural and figurative elements to broach issues of romance, sexuality and domestic violence. During her 1989-90 residency at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Ewasiuk exhibited a series of found photographs under the collective title of “Ruhleben”, meaning ‘the quiet life.’ The show manifested a contrary (an what German critics saw as quintessentially Canadian) sensibility – an investigation of notions of touristic authenticity/inauthenticity and a repudiation of the artist’s own picture-taking impulse through the appropriation of a collection of anonymous slides of German campers and vacationers. More closely related to the new work on view here, however, are three series of photo-collages Ewasiuk exhibited in Vancouver: “Receiver” (seen at the Front Gallery in 1987), “Whose Eros?” (1988), and “Lovebone” (1991).
“Receiver” was the first project in which Ewasiuk juxtaposed black and white photographs with mass-produced materials like wrapping paper and wallpaper, establishing correlations between “low art” design elements and “high art” figuration. Through these collages, she was beginning lo examine the intersection between artists’ representations of women and the cultural construction of gender and sexuality as manifest in even the most anonymous and banal social signifiers – like brocade wallpaper. This interest in the dialogue between pop pattern-making and fine art photography, and between the aesthetics of formalism and the politics of realism, prevails in her most recent work.
“Whose Eros?” was a controversial project that, like General Idea’s “File” Magazine (which Ewasiuk cites as an influence), dished up fetishism in hilarious and satirical fashion. Ewasiuk conjoined photo images, appropriated from vintage French pornographic post-cards, American “girlie” magazines and Royal Doulton figurines, with found and invented phrases like “clothing punishes guilty flesh” and “ a smooth body without orifices.” Through her insistence that there is no difference between the erotic and the pornographic, and her investigation of the historical connection between photography and pornography, Ewasiuk demonstrated how wobbly the boundaries are between “acceptable” and unacceptable” representations of the sexualized female figure. Her initial project of destabilization is further realized in her current work, as are the art historical and gender issues raised in “Lovebone.”
A number of pieces originally created for “Lovebone” are remounted in the current exhibition, including “Bustenhalter”, “Broyeuse de Chocolat”, “Girdle Murder”, “La Fontaine”, “Coal and Crucible”. Their formalist stripes and rectangles, cut out of plain and patterned MacTac, allude not only to the high modernist age in which Ewasiuk came to creative awareness, but to the patriarchal bias of the standard art histories, Subtexts to this work are the significant omissions concerning the contributions of women to modernism and the geometric inventiveness and abstract pattern-making found in marginalized “folk” and “domestic” arts created by women (such as Amish quilts and Ukrainian Easter eggs). Another strategy for reinserting a female presence in the history of modernism is seen in “Broyeuse de Chocolat”, which makes obvious visual reverence to Marcel Duchamp’s chocolate grinder in “The Great Glass”. In the original, the grinder functioned as a metaphor for mechanized sex and frustrated masculinized desire; Ewasiuk “feminizes” the image by reproducing it in lace-like MacTac, and in so doing, questions the dominant position assigned the men like Duchamp by controversial art histories. The materiality of the image is also inherently perverse: it seems to connote fetishism as well as gender inversion.
Through images of girdles and bras, adapted from 1930s German women’s magazines and cut out of black or “woodgrain” MacTac, Ewasiuk satirizes early modernism’s tendency to fetishize or sexualize the object, as well as that movement’s obsession with the female form. Her more recent use of a dressmaker’s dummy in “body Target”, is a direct allusion to Surrealism and its propensity for dismembering and objectifying the female body. The work provokes use to think about the misogynist violence inherent in such imager and the “targeting” of the female form by masculine fantasy, anxiety, fear and loathing. Again, Ewasiuk examines the mutable distinction between the erotic in modern high art (the aestheticizes mutilations of the Surrealists) and the pornographic in mass culture. Grossly unequal distributions of power are seen to be mediated through both ends of the visual-culture spectrum.
An aspect of the acceptable/unacceptable in sexual representation exists even within feminist art and criticism. Proscriptions exist, in some feminist theories, against the created or re-creation of images of women that might be subject to objectification or voyeuristic ownership by “the masculine gaze.” (The active-masculine and passive-feminine aspects of “the gaze” were first characterized as such my Laura Mulvey in her enormously influential 1975 “Screen” magazine essay, “visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”) For some artists and critics, a female presence in art can be established only through the use of text or surrogate imager. Although Ewasiuk does not subscribe to this school of though, which she sees as puritanical and self-obliterating, she is cynically fascinated by the vessel as an archetypal symbol of the feminine. In works like “la Fontaine” and “Crucible”, iconic images of vases, pitchers and candy dishes function in much the same way as the dressmaker’s dummy – as reductive female forms. Dismembered and beheaded, without voice or agency, they signify a state of passive receptivity. Their placement here is satirical, a critique of their traditional associations of mystery, elegance, allure and bountifulness.
Ewasiuk’s erotic-pornographic disruptions and art-historical realignments continue in her mos recent collages. Her photoraphs of copliant female models, in which are isolate elements like blond hair, bare backs, black brassiers, and lacy stockings, both mimc and critique the voyeryistic and fetishistic fantasies that pervade partriarcha visual culture. They also bring our attention to the onflicts and contradictions women experience in viewing such images of themselves. Whether in film, television, print media, or advertising, we are constantly exposed to objectified and commodofied representation of women and, irrespective of our gender or sexual orientation, are conditioned to sexualized images of the female body. (It’s become a truism that we can expect as much cleavage on the cover of “Cosmopolitan” or “Vanity Fair” as on the cover of “Playboy”.) in advertising, especially, women are invited to identify with the sexualized female body and the convert that identification to a desire to buy the thing advertised. Ewasiuk’s evolving photo-collages remind us that sexuality, just like the slices of modernist art history against which her photographic images are posed, is culturally constructed, and that the pleasure we all experience in looking – at art, movies or magazines – is conditioned by the dominant patriarchal order. Yet her position with respect to representation is not strictly doctrinaire: in includes curiosity, humor and enjoyment.
Ewasiuk creates subtle interventions, causing viewers to vacillate between desire and thwarting of desire, between identification and dis-identification. In “The Contortionist”, a model in a lacy black bra is bathed in seductive light, yet we see elements here we would never see in airbrushed advertisements, including the hairs on her arm and her vaccination scar. We also possess the knowledge that, much as she superficially resembles forms familiar to us through advertising, she has been posed in an extremely contorted and unnatural manner, arms pulled back, chest thrust out, stomach sucked in, with underarm hairs tucked out of sight. It’s a sign of our uncritical conditioning that we read her contorted pose as “natural”.
Far from actually embodying an idealized female form, the model in “The Contortionist” is the same as in “Masked”, where her chubby stomach, asymmetrical breasts, and unshaven armpits are not cosmetically altered. Besides the realistic imperfections in the model, Ewasiuk has exercised other kinds of interventions here, including out-of-focus photography and the wearing of a mask. The mask is a contradictory image and strategy: while contributing to a connotation of fetishism and sado-masochism (the mask parallels that seen in “Who’s Whipping Who?” – one of the appropriated pornographic postcard images in Ewasiuk’s “Whose Eros?” show; the pose suggests that model is hanging by her wrists), it also alludes to the psychoanalytic idea of the “masquerade” of femininity – the incorporation, into female subjectivity, of a set of behaviors and appearances created by masculine desire. Yet in “Masked”, both the mask and the fuzzy focus of the camera destabilize the notion of femininity, make it slippery and elusive, a difficult identity to nail down.
Ewasiuk identifies and reworks a number of sexual stereotypes, including the dumb, seductive blond. Yet she also examines why stereotypes like “dumb blondness” continue to exert psychological and material control over us, why the male-female power imbalance continues to manifest itself. The blond model in ‘The Fling” contributes to a verbal-visual pun: the titles connotes a short sexual affair and the tartan design connotes a “highland fling.” A black bra across the model’s breasts, however, suggests a band of censorship and social control. Concerns around the imposition of codes of sexual behavior for women are also raised in “Decency” and “Decorum’, with its modest, knee-length skirt and discreetly crossed legs.
Issues of social control are reiterated by the kind of material control inherent in the hard-edge painting to which these works are referenced. The bands, bars and rectangles of pure, flat colour remind us of hard-edge abstraction’s aspiration to a machine-like precision. Ewasiuk deconstructs that aspiration by taking it one step further, eliminating hand-applied paint altogether and replacing it with machine-made plastic material. (In so doing, she also repudiates patriarchal notions of master and authenticity, so implicit in the marketing of modern art.) Yet by interposing figurative, photographic elements over or beside the bars of flat colour, she defies an essential element of hard-edge orthodoxy, which was the elimination of pictorial space, the eradication of the figure-ground relationship. And she further confuses the “purity” of abstraction’s intent by using swatches of patterned MacTac and wallpaper, including florals and brocades that oddly mimic cloth and reiterate the “feminine” or sexual elements of the photographs. Ewasiuk’s current use of discontinued rolls of wall or shelf coverings calls up a history of taste, a re-examination of the social values inherent in discarded materials and patterns, and a further exploration of the culturally expressive possibilities of mass-produced design elements. As with Dada, the banality of Ewasiuk’s materials seems to constitute an anti-bourgeois/anti-commodity strategy, yet Ewasiuk herself is more interested in the social information MacTac conveys than its good-taste/bad-taste dichotomies.
“Coal” is one of the vew works in this exhibition that is directly reference to Ewasiuk’s residency in Berlin, a residency which coincided with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. (Others include “Bustenhalter” and “Broyeuse de Chocolat”. Which use the colours of the German flag as their formalist ground.) The title of the work alludes to the industrial pollution caused byt the burning of coal in the former East berlin, and the covering of buildings and monuments there with black soot. One of those buildings ins the Bodes Museum, whose photographic image Ewasiuk flips and double flips, then juxtaposes with bands of colour and non-colour. Although she was originally drawn to the formal qualities of the museum’s façade, and the imagistic parallels between its pillars and the hard-edge stripes, another meaning has emerged. As a repository of patriarchal and fetishistic objects otherwise shown here. It seems significant, in the context of the cultural construction of identity and desire, that this building has survived the collapse of ideologies and political unions only to witness the re-entrenchment of opposing ideologies and perhaps more hateful nationalisms – all firmly patriarchal.
The structure remains unchanged, this work seems to be saying, but its face is dirty. Very dirty.