Everything we’ve ever seen

Confectionary tales in supernovas

Kendra Ballingall Staff

A popular unconscious is bubbling in the work of the 29 artists in supernovas, yet their work was made long after art popped. Unconcerned with long-standing art-world preoccupations of high versus low, these artists have spent entire childhoods fermenting in visual cultures. They are irreverent scavengers, technicians of everyday life who pay equally acute attention (for equally short spans) to mass media, art history, their own private universe, and the design of their next tattoo.

Processed with a certain sad sweetness, the works in supernovas are like hard candy. Some need to be savoured, tasted on one’s lips after they have dissolved; others may well be crunched into oblivion.

Pinned to the wall opposite the doors of the exhibition space, Jennie O’Keefe’s wide-eyed, soft-spoken dolls, dressed in well-tailored coats, suits and hats, are strategically positioned to command our attention. Whether holding on for dear life or pumpkin-headed, these tiny protagonists take their place in an established Winnipeg narrative that combines the gothic, the nostalgic, the surreal and the whimsical, serving well as a familiar introduction to an exhibition of new work by emerging artists.

Shawna McLeod’s mixed media series reveals detailed sketchbook pages torn from their rings. Their markings — sketchy self-portraits and tattoos amid intuitive doodles — turn into mistakes or regrettable confessions when covered with white out or cut from the page, as though the judgments of an imagined or actual audience had infiltrated and altered McLeod’s private creative process. As finished pieces, framed and mounted, the works sit uneasily between self-censorship and exhibitionism.

Beginning with pornographic representations of women, Liz Garlicki also feigns an exhibitionist agenda with her enormous paintings. Using vinyl paint, she transfers the images of the women in all of their nakedness onto 2.4 x 3 metre vinyl tarps, yet their large scale and graphic aesthetic — closer to print than painting — interfere with our viewing pleasure. Like an umbrella, each tarp prevents us from getting wet, or dares us not to.

Gender and sexuality take precedence in this room of the exhibition, from Erica Eyres’ ballpoint pen sketches of sexualized teenage girls, proportioned as though in their own distorted self-images, to Paul Robles’ precise masculine feminine paper-cuts.

Dolls have become a recurring object of Winnipeg art, and many of the exhibition’s themes (such as subjectivity — the divided or estranged self in the painting of Lisa Wood or photography of Meera Margaret Singh) and celebrity (as in the painting series by Adam Brooks) are skillfully and playfully addressed in Suzie Smith’s multiples.

In Smith’s Action Figures work, screen-printed, stuffed dolls of cultural icons — Nina Simone, Johnny Cash, Frida Khalo, Courtney Love — are suspended by string from the ceiling, each in bundles of 25. The proliferation of each hand-made doll-image defies the individuality of the icon it represents, and Smith effectively comments on, participates in and manipulates print media in its traditional, artistic and commercial contexts.

The works in supernovas are all the result of imaginative processes unique in terms of method, criteria and concern, yet it is their uncanny sameness that makes the exhibition so sensually cohesive. With an abundance of figurative work, curators Lorri Millan and Shawna Dempsey have stitched together an exhibition rich with multiple personae: it is an exquisitely sutured corpse (post-autopsy), a well-loved rag-doll, patched where necessary, and a seamless myth of Winnipeg, ready for export.

supernovas runs until May 14 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.