Deirdre Logue, "Velvet Crease," 2012
three-channel video, 2:23 min. Photo by Jeremy Pavka
Immediately enveloping, Material Girls delivers on the curatorial claim that it’s like a teenaged girl’s bedroom. Polychrome walls and artist wallpapers frame several pieces, helping transform staid gallery to “hot mess.” This exhibition fills up and takes over Contemporary Calgary with work by 25 North American women artists, each making the decorative and not merely decorative.
Works like Deirdre Logue’s three-channel close-up video of glitter-encrusted pubic hair and vulva entice, fascinate and embarrass. Velvet Crease doesn’t immediately reveal its subject; it first draws viewers in with undulating and pulsating sparkle. Their interactions with the work are almost as fascinating as the work itself. The moment of recognition is palpable, revealing more of their relationship with the female body than is likely comfortable. For the artist, the work is Freud’s Id, Ego and Superego. For viewers, it’s Lacan’s mirror.
Rachel Ludlow, "Paper Doll #1 and Paper Doll #3," 2013
mixed media and collage on archival paper, 20" x 16" Photo by Jeremy Pavka
To stand in front of Rachel Ludlow’s nostalgia-stirring Paper Doll #1 and #3 and Amy Malbeuf’s delicate paired braids of caribou hair and her own hair in the eight-inch by nine-inch iamthecaribou/thecaribouisme one must almost take up space within Tricia Middleton’s expansive wax-coated sculptures of studio ephemera (Ladder Buddies, Coffee Cup Legs and Weeds/Feu de bois.) This placement highlights a balance the curators have found between the nearly demure subtlety of Ludlow’s and Malbeuf’s pieces or Christi Belcourt’s intricately painted “bead works” versus the pastel, glitter and confetti orgasms of works like Middleton’s or Raphaëlle de Groot’s Stock, where heaps of what seems to be remnants of carnival costumes are strung up and held in place by sandbags. Only shared tactile and decorative sumptuousness brings them all together.
Tricia Middleton, "Ladder Buddies, Coffee Cup Legs, Weeds / Feu de bois, Blanket and Smaller Friend," 2013-15
Raphaëlle de Groot, "Stock," 2013
The entire exhibition, organized by the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, plays with similar binaries – the space between subject and object, and between what women are as artists and what is expected of them in terms of gender. Like Madonna, these material girls capitalize on taking over the feminine, reworking it and turning it back on the viewer.
Although the exhibition highlights and introduces some wonderful works by great artists, I left the gallery with lingering questions about all-women group shows. These artists create interesting work independent of being women. Could not themes of decorative craft, subject/object, excess and relationship to the tactile stand independent of gender identity? Is this a gesture of equality and recognition that also ghettoizes? None of these quandaries takes away from the genuine pleasure of interacting with the work, but I wonder how radical it might be to have an exhibition by women artists on a topic other than women artists.