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Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Myfanwy MacLeod, "Stack," 18 screenprints on painted canvas, metal hardware, vinyl and wood, installation view, 2013.
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Courtesy of Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver.
Myfanwy MacLeod, "Ramble On," 1977 Camaro Rally Sport, steel stand, installation view, 2013.
MYFANWY MACLEOD: or There And Back Again
Vancouver Art Gallery
March 8, 2014 to June 8, 2014
By Michael Harris
Myfanwy MacLeod’s solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery is titled Myfanwy MacLeod or There And Back Again – which may be an explicit reference to the subtitle of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, but MacLeod (a subversive feminist, among other things) actually dislikes Tolkien’s book with all its male-dominated questing. The exhibition itself becomes a response to the hubris and presumption of male adventuring.
In the exhibition’s first room is a massive sculpture, Ramble On, which is the ruined and rusted casing of a 1977 Chevrolet Camaro, hung from a steel automotive rotisserie – the sort used by mechanics. The car’s gutted interior is mouldering, its days of doing doughnuts in suburban parking lots long gone.
This sets a tone that MacLeod masterfully plays with throughout the exhibition – a tone of frustrated, anxious, oily masculine bravado. And, at times, masculine violence. In the next room, Stack is a grid of identical black paintings, each bearing the silkscreen logo of the Marshall speaker, which imitates in two dimensions the stacked Marshall speakers that bands like Led Zeppelin have used to create walls of sound during arena concerts. MacLeod, an avid concertgoer, notes that bands still build these speaker stacks today to impress audiences, though changes to sound technology mean they aren’t really needed – the structures are hollow, fakes. That notion of show, of peacock display, is also toyed with throughout the exhibition.
Next, MacLeod turns her attention to the disturbing vagaries of the male gaze. A series of origami animal sculptures is made from pin-up posters featuring Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy darling murdered at age 20 by her estranged husband. Notably, MacLeod does not cut or destroy the image of Stratten, but folds it, perhaps an elaborate reference to the way teenaged boys (before iPhones) might keep a creased centrefold in their back pocket, both possessing and damaging the idealized representation.
MacLeod’s most recent work, Albert Walker, is a fantastic sculptural installation comprised of an oversized, frankly ugly cabinet (the sort your parents might have in the basement suite), which displays a series of gorgeous objets d’art: models of marijuana buds, 3D-printed by MacLeod and then coated multiple times in chameleon paint (the type used on cars) to produce a rich and nearly psychedelic effect.
Running alongside – and intermingling with – this exhibition is a second show called Cock and Bull, a selection of work from the gallery’s collection curated by MacLeod. Intermingling because MacLeod has brought other artists’ work into her solo show, and has placed some of her own pieces in Cock and Bull. Notably, all the artists MacLeod selected are male, which positions her work as a kind of cock-eyed inclusion in a male-dominated milieu. MacLeod makes herself, in a sense, the girl in the passenger seat of that ruined Camaro. She’s the wry observer, along for the ride, and just as invested in the glories and anxieties we might otherwise mistakenly ascribe to males alone.