MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
NOVEMBER 4 – NOVEMBER 26, 1996
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 1994 AT 8 PM
LOCATION – STRIDE GALLERY
722, 11 AVE S.W, CALGARY, ALBERTA
AURORA LANDIN’s work ranges from drawing and painting to installation and traditional printmaking. She received a Diploma of Art and Design from Red Deer College (1985), a BFA from the University of Calgary (1988), and an MFA from Washington State University (1993).
Two weeks ago, Shelley Ouellet asked me if I would like to write an essay on the upcoming show at the Stride Gallery; Aurora Landin’s “…it was a Difficult Decision…”. I was not at all familiar with Landin or her work, but I jumped at the opportunity anyway. I was approaching land and her show as an uninformed viewer, and this fact was to put an interesting spin on the way o was to write about her show. Over the course of two weeks, I was able to become more familiar with aurora’s work as well as to watch the maquette from her studio evolve into a full-blown installation in the gallery.
It was difficult to decide what to discuss when dealing with Landin’s show, because even as I write this, the installation is changing and evolving. What becomes apparent through the way she addresses the gallery space is her thought processes and her connection with the work she is presenting. The initial reading of her work speaks to me as reactive and an extension of herself. As I looked at her work, I felt much like I was conversing directly with her. When I walk into the gallery, the first thing that catches my eye is the classical frieze made up of a photocopy of an historical image underlined by carbon paper. Presenting a “high art” image on cheap paper makes the piece disposable, or at least repeatable. I have to stifle a grin when I think about a “serious” viewer becoming indignant at seeing such a lack of respect for the work of a master. While she is taking the idea of the “heroic” artist down a peg or two, she is by no means trying to eliminate the individuality of the artist. In all her work, I can see the personal mature with which she addresses her practice. In “Art Slaves”, I can almost envision Landin toiling over the lithographic image, yearning to create a masterpiece, but reacting against what she perceived as an outmoded structure. Her method of reacting is by spray painting the mocking figure on top. I can no longer stifle the grin.
The longer I spend reading the work, the more I realize that the reactive form it takes is not simplistic in its nature. Landin is reacting to those structures and institutions she has found herself in over the years as an artist. But the idea extends deeper than that. Landin is questioning her surroundings and investigating her reactions. On a field of hand-printed money, in her piece “The Signature Collection”, we see an etching and silkscreen done in a tradition manner with her signature scrawled 9immodestly, I might add) inside the triangle below. Essentially, I see this piece as investigating who and what an artist is. Art institutions look towards tradition, while commercial galleries watch the bottom dollar, and collectors often collect names rather than specific artwork. Theses standards exist, buried within the structures they represent. But when they are separated and re-presented together, they become more of a hilarious grotesque. The images are presented so bluntly that I can’t help but read a fight between gaining acceptance within these guidelines and a desire to mock them. It seems to be the start of a discourse rather than a monologue on the subject.
The discourse continues in “Draw Binky” and “The Pirate”, but this time the iconography refers to mass culture and, more specifically, naïve culture. (For those of you who don’t know, the pirate and the bear images come from comic book and teen magazine ads.) These icons gave potential artists the opportunity to copy images and submit them for assessment by an art correspondence school. For many people, including Landin, this assessment was the first official acknowledgement of artistic merit. Thinking on that now, it may seem ridiculous. Yet when coupled with an understanding of how other institutions claim to know the work of an artist’s work, these images raise some interesting points. It almost seems that Landin is reaching into her past for a standard of merit, and juxtaposing it with those criteria that surround her today. By doing so, the hope is that what was not apparent will become so.
Even though I read Landin’s work in a specific manner, I feel that her work speaks on many different levels. For example, viewing the work and thinking about concerns and the positioning of gender, I found that I walked away with an entirely different reading. The carbon paper and the historical image read as a comment on the treatment of women in art institutions. The shelved art history texts extend this reading to discuss how women are portrayed in history. From that base, the rest of the pieces in the exhibition are affected to varying degrees. I don’t think that Landin is trying to lead the viewer down a path to a specific point, but is instead presenting signposts, which may direct you in on direction or many, if you are so inclined.
I think, because I am immersed in my own art institution, that my reading lends itself to the specific. But I can readily see the influence and “voices” seeping in from the culture surrounding Aurora Landin and informing her work. I feel this in the openness of her work and in the installation that becomes, for me, a reflection of not only art culture, but culture as a whole.