"The Martyrdom of Captain Canuck"
Diana Thorney, "The Martyrdom of Captain Canuck," 2005, digital inkjet print, 40" x 50".
DIANA THORNEYCROFT, The Canadiana Martyrdom Series
Skew Gallery, Calgary
Sept. 7 - Oct. 14, 2006
By Wes Lafortune
Winnipeg photographer Diana Thorneycroft has shifted her camera lens from depicting the barbaric torture of Christian martyrs to the martyrdom of distinctly secular Canadians. Her current subjects include Celine Dion bound and gagged at the Calgary Stampede and forced to walk over sharp metal spikes, and Wayne Gretzky, dressed in an Edmonton Oilers jersey, shackled to a tree with his arms splayed in a crucifixion pose. These two images, along with five others, are featured in Thorneycroft’s exhibition of 40 x 50-inch digital inkjet prints titled The Canadiana Martyrdom Series at Calgary’s Skew Gallery
“I did a series called Martyrs Murder,” explains Thorneycroft, “that mimicked the art-historical paintings of saints and their executioners illustrated in Torment in Art: Pain, Violence, and Martyrdom by Lionello Puppi.” Using the book as a template, Thorneycroft re-created those scenes of martyrdom in her studio using lifelike dolls.
After pointing her camera and keen imagination on religious figures, Thorneycroft is now taking on characters worshipped by popular culture, such as Saint Nicholas — and Canada’s own favourite icons. The representations of Dion and Gretzky are joined by Anne of Green Gables and Don Cherry in what could be described as an absurdist’s take on martyrdom. It’s all visual grist for the mill for this often controversial and always topical photographer.
“They are funny, but not everyone thinks that,” says Thorneycroft. “I’m targeting national icons.” And although Thorneycroft’s intention with these works is clearly to make fun of our collective Canadian identity, there is a distinctly serious message that is never far from today’s news broadcasts.
In the image, The Martyrdom of St. Anne, we see a smiling Anne of Green Gables walking in a lush mountain meadow with SCTV’s Bob and Doug McKenzie swilling beer in the background. Four moose look on as silent witnesses. Anne’s martyrdom is in the form of her severed breasts which she holds in front of her while blood dribbles down her pretty yellow dress.
“These are chronicled forms of torture,” says Thorneycroft. To truly understand the genesis of this work, it’s important to delve even further into Thorneycroft’s previous explorations of torture. In her disturbing 2000-2002 exhibition, The Body, she presented images that placed herself in situations depicting torture and immense physical pain through the application of medical devices.
“I’ve always been interested in it,” says Thorneycroft about the topic of pain. “I was hospitalized five times before I was one.” She says her imagery “references strong body memories of being hurt as a child. It’s behind me, but the residue of it is I’m still doing torture.”
Her next subjects for The Canadiana Martyrdom Series are Louis Riel and Sir John A. MacDonald.