MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
JUNE 5 – JUNE 27, 1998
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 1998 AT 8 PM
LOCATION – STRIDE GALLERY
722, 11 AVE S.W, CALGARY, ALBERTA
In WOODGOBLIN Susan Menzies investigates personal and geographic histories, language, and translation in her narrative works. During the exhibition and residency, Menzies will exhibit several paintings in the Main Gallery while she creates new work – inspired by the workd of a ficticious historical persona, Elisabete Krivonos – in the Project Room. During the course of her 3-week residency, Menzies will create an installation in the gallery’s Project Room, entitled “The One-and-a-Half-Eyed Archer”. The installation refers directly to various sources: Russian futurist poetry and non-conformist paintings, as well as the artist’s research into Canadian women artists of Russian origin.
SUSAN MENZIES is an Albertan artist who studied at the University of Alberta and NSCAD. Her paintings and installations have been shown nationally and internationally since 1981. Susan has taught at numerous Canadian universities and colleges, and is currently faculty at the Alberta College of Art + Design.
In the main gallery, Susan Menzies has installed Woodgoblin, a series of diptych paintings. The panels, each 24” square, are seamlessly crafted from Baltic birch plywood and veneer, which renders them simultaneously solid objects and skin-like surfaces supporting painted images. One panel in each pair consists of brushy matrix of grey-green strokes over which Russian words are lettered in opaque white. The expressive grounds resemble the tangle of hedgerows or the thick, matted fur of the beast. The other panel arranges fragments of naturalistic images and biomorphic abstract shapes in a tableau marked by the exposed wood grain of the support.
A knowing playfulness organizes individual couplings. Initial visual clues lie with the formal similarities between recognizable elements – meticulously rendered animal tails – and the more expressive and painterly grounds. For example, in one, a reddish fox-squirrel tail floats in isolation, the rush of fur relating visually to the rush of brushstrokes down the centre of the opposing panel. An energetic and randomly painted thatch is paired with an open composition in which a crooked weasel tail loops in from the left edge. This overlaps a faint oval stain, which, in turn, provides transition to a smaller oval painted to resemble birch bark and a skein of rope loosely wound into a figure 8. The openness is reiterated by circular craters literally eaten into the paint, which distort the figure and expose the ground beneath. The fragmented and dispersed images call to mind acts of conservation and restoration, in which portions of paintings emerge in sections from under grime and concealing layers as they are cleaned.
The inclusion of words in Russian, a language the artist neither reads nor speaks, complexifies the image-game with a linguistic element. The artist chose the words on the basis of their visual appeal rather than their meaning. They function as signs in that we understand them to be language, but we are unable to deploy them in a normal way. Our first entry into the language is again through design; the Cyrillic alphabet resembles but differs from the English. Thus we play the game of recognition/non-recognition and struggle to fit the letters into a recognizable pattern. We note the similarity between the open curve of the letter and the curve of a furry tail, or the shape enclosed by a letter is echoed by a thick impasto patch opposite. Like children first leaning to read, we project our own imaginary meanings onto the words and “read” the messages according to our hidden desires. When translation is given, the meanings cause us to modify our initial suppositions, as in the panel with the loosely articulated connections, labeled “misunderstanding”, whose anecdotal nature might be conducive to error or misinterpretation. We begin to construe Russianness in the birch supports, evocative surfaces and forest creatures familiar from Russian folk tales. The game of chance connections, fragmentary narratives and visual clues makes for an ongoing and imaginative engagement.
THE ONE AND A HALF-EYED ARCHER2
The One and a Half-Eyed Archer, installed in the Project Room, recalls a basement rec room in an older house. Menzies replicated an old linoleum pattern by patiently and laboriously hand-stenciling it onto the concrete floor. The vivid geometry, reminiscent of peasant or ethnic arts, provides a ‘ground’ for a dramatic gesture unfolding above it. A life-sized human eye painted onto a wall sternly contemplates a circular perforation opposite. Appearing black and desolate from a distance, this puncture accesses a blurred image of a storm-ravaged corpse. We are presented with an enigma: what quarry lurks in the forest out of reach? Will the archer let fly an arrow along the pathway marked by this spot? Have we inadvertently stumbled onto some family drama unfolding before our eyes? As in those cathartic moments in the clearing, we become aware of the elusive vixen only as she disappears from sight. [The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog…]
1The title derives from the poem “Vila and the Wood-goblin” by Velemir Khlebnikov, an extract of which, illustrated with lithographs by Nataliya Goncharova, was included in the Russian futurist publication Worldbackwards (Mirskontsa), 1912.
2The title of the installation is a reference to the poet Benedikt Livshits’ 1933 memoir, The One and a Half-Eyed Archer (Polutoraglazyi strelets), which documents the inception of Russian futurism around 1911-12.
AMY GOGARTY is a painter and writer who lives and works in Calgary, AB. She teaches Art History and Contemporary Theory at the Alberta College of Art & Design.