Joan Bell-Irving, Julia Dahee Hong...
Blood Love Trouble
Joan Bell-Irving, Julia Dahee Hong, Vivienne Kubik, Katrina Niebergal, David Ostrem, Noboru Sawai, Pamela Speight, Marcia Wedeking and Casey Wei
Offsite exhibition at Burrard Arts Foundation, 108 East Broadway, Vancouver
The exhibition, Blood Love Trouble is programmed by the efforts of Malaspina Printmakers Society, the Burrard Arts Foundation and the City of Burnaby Permanent Art Collection, courtesy of the Burnaby Art Gallery. The exhibition will take place at the Burrard Arts Foundation in both halves of the gallery.
The words blood, love and trouble serendipitously share the same phonetic symbol, ʌ, when transcribed into the International Phonetic Alphabet— /blʌd/ , /lʌv/ , /ˈtrʌb əl/. In addition to their similar pronunciation, together the words create a palette of associative drama.
Blood, love and trouble at first sounded like a title for a romance novel, soap opera, a play. Specifically, it conjures up particular sentiments that I felt when watching director/co- writer Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (乱), which is an epic period piece adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear blended with the parable of Sengoku-era (aka the Age of Civil War 1467 – c. 1603) warlord Mori Montonori. This combination of words sounded like they were attenuating the tensions between familial bonds, the abdication of power, the testing of loyalty and the division of feudal land. The word ran in Chinese and Japanese also means ‘chaos, disturbed’— a still from the film comprises the backdrop of this exhibition’s press release image.
After the violence of the Sengoku-era of Ran came the Edo period—a time where art, theatre, popular culture and entertainment was cultivated, practiced and openly enjoyed. The imagery within ukiyo-e or ‘floating world’ prints mark the influence of leisurely activities such as grooming, eating, drinking and visiting red-light pleasure districts like the Yoshiwara, remembered for its population of sex trade workers. Bred under Japan’s strict isolationist policy, this era would end with the Meiji Restoration, a time where the country opened up its spheres of influence in order to match the modernity it had previously missed out on.
During this time, Taiso Yoshitoshi, a master of a genre of ukiyo-e called bijin-ga (meaning ‘beauty pictures), illustrated the changes in social etiquette through the image chosen in foreground of the press release image entitled Promenading (Society Wife). This print comes from Yoshitoshi’s renowned series Fuzoku Sanjuniso or 32 Aspects of Living (1888) where various geisha, courtesans, housewives, ‘society girls’, mistresses etc. enact various activities that mirror the attitudes and activities of their times. Promenading stood out to me in a way similar to the combination of words that comprise the exhibition’s title. Three distinct elements—the time period, the female subject and the Western style of her outfit came together to articulate a tectonic changing of societal attitudes and their adjacent political policies. Although womxn had been such a fixation during these past two time periods, the bijin-ga subjects modelled silent examples of an etiquette that served to illustrate the pleasures of a new cultural influx of commodity and lifestyle.
Drawing from the historical trajectory embedded in the film and the woodblock, the curatorial premise for this exhibition invited artists Julia Dahee Hong, Katrina Niebergal and Casey Wei to respond in a way that would give voice to the womxn in light of the staticness of this sort of depiction, especially during this nascently cross-cultural time. As a part of this response, prints from City of Burnaby Permanent Art Collection, courtesy of the Burnaby Art Gallery and Malaspina’s Print Consignment Collection by Joan Bell- Irving, Vivienne Kubik, David Ostrem, Noboru Sawai, Pamela Speight and Marcia Wedeking were chosen with the artists to investigate how these sentiments from the eras of the Yoshitoshi print and the Kurosawa film related to depictive strategies within print media based works from the past 30 years of Malaspina Printmakers Society. Alongside this collection, Hong, Niebergal and Wei have revisited and created new works that approach strategies of ritual, mourning and womxn’s subjectivities through various moments in history into our current climate of clamorous global relations.
— Gabi Dao, curator
Joan Bell-Irving (1923-2009) enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art after serving as a wireless operator in the Canadian Navy from 1943-1945. She studied under Jack Shadbolt, Scott Bert Benning and Gordon Smith for two years but then put her studies on hold in order to start a family. Regardless, she remained active in her studio practice, making many colourful, multi-layered serigraphs. She returned to the Vancouver School of Art in 1972 and graduated with honours. Many of her prints are within the Malaspina Printshop Archives collection as a part of the City of Burnaby Permanent Art Collection, courtesy of the Burnaby Art Gallery. In I Think I Can— I Knew I Could, two Sisyphus like characters scale and tumble off a mountain like structure with a single blossom resting at the peak.
Julia Dahee Hong has installed two inflatable chairs and two footrests to welcome viewers in a dark room to sit atop self contained units of air. Somewhat comfortably seated, one can watch two prominent categories of interleaved images in Let Me Tell You, They’re All So Sad: the climactic grieving of comrades and the gentle weeping of individuals. These internet stills, culled from various North Korean State television programs depicting the bereavement of Kim Jong Il and South Korean popular soap operas such as My Love From the Star, are converted to black and white, a gesture that situates their spectacularness both in dark humour. Albeit colour, this saturation of mourning (scripted or as ‘evidence’ of national sentiment) collects circumstances of seemingly emasculated Korean men embodying sentiments typically attributed to the opposite sex. As the ubiquitously sampled Clair de Lune plays softly in the background, camphor (antiseptic, insecticide, laxative) and frankincense (chronic anxiety, emotional support) essential oils waft in the adjacent wing of the east gallery. These permeating soothers seem to operate allegorically to a necessary criticality when regarding populist representations of equality from governing media productions.
Born in 1919 at the start of the depression in England and consequently living through war, Vivienne Kubik persisted in pursuing a creative career, difficult for her gender during that time. Eventually, she was able to find steady work in dress design, but moved to Canada in 1958. Here, she enrolled in the Vancouver School of Art in 1977 and graduated with honours in printmaking. In 2014, the Burnaby Art Gallery exhibited her work from the collection of the Malaspina Printshop Archives at the offsite McGill public library. Working mostly in etching, the influence of working with textiles is noticed with her cloaked, phantom like figures as seen in Phantom Lady and intricate cross-hatching work.
Four different locks have been installed by Katrina Niebergal alongside those already on the door of Burrard Arts Foundation as a part of the installation Card Carrying Saint. The sculptural precaution of the locks incites a nervous question regarding our trust in material—could protection really be the consequence of a few extra pieces of metal? Inquiries aside, loose teeth strewn across a table a few feet from the entrance lay askew on a small pine table. The separation of teeth from one’s mouth is wontedly unauspicious, interpreted in dreams as signs of radical change or the compromise of control. Pinned between the floor and the leg of the table is a photograph of a dancer positioned in the dance ‘Begin the Beguine’, written by Cole Porter while aboard an Anglo-American cruise ship through the South Pacific Ocean. Another photograph tucked behind the gallery’s structural piping depicts a mugshot of a holy beguine while a textile sculpture near an archway near the back of the gallery models her trademark cape of a homely colour and large hood. A thorny branch imbues this sculpture with narrative action as does a shedded pair of silk underwear on the floor of the gallery. The cultural exchange of the word ‘beguine’ between western europe, originally referring to unordained holy womxn, to its adaptation within creole languages in the caribbean to refer to caucasian womxn and finally a ballroom dance, highlights moments of colonial histories in the 1930s through the movement of womxn’s bodies.
Self described as a ‘symbolist and folk artist’, David Ostrem has produced paintings, prints, photographs and digital collages for decades. An American ex-pat from Portland, Oregon, Ostrem dodged the Vietnam war by moving to British Columbia, consequently becoming a student at the Vancouver School of Art in 1974. He continues to produce work that analyzes the socio-political tensions of various decades from the later half of the 20th century and onwards by making reference to certain art historical motifs, pop-culture knick-knacks, magazines, records, instructional drawing books and antiques. In this exhibition, one of Ostrem’s glossy serigraphs depicts its subject in contemplation, dressed in 70s attire and foregrounded in a living room clad with a large abstract-expressionist painting, highly hung pictures of buildings in a desert, a bookshelf with books on Dadaism, Lost Civilizations and red cursive text reiterating the title of the work Susan Remembers. A postmodern postcard of sorts, the image presents our protagonist’s process of commemoration within a domestic setting where herself and the viewer might contemplate both the construction of historical memory through the mediation of cultural vestiges.
Noboru Sawai (1931-2016) spent the majority of his printmaking career in the genre of ukiyo-e, called shunga, erotic imagery within woodblock printing that translates to ‘pictures of spring’. The woodcut and intaglio print Persimmons demonstrates Sawai’s interest in cross cultural art history through the combination of traditional Japanese woodcut techniques and western copper plate intaglio. An intimate rendering of female genitalia in the exhibited print floats in its own picture plane above an ornate table with six persimmons, a reference to the thoroughly controversial 13th century Chinese painting by the monk Mu Ch’i Fa-Ch’ang (牧谿法常), which now resides in a sub-temple in Kyoto, Japan as an act of preservation rather than for public viewing. Enshrined within the sub temple rather than in a museum collection, Sawai’s contemporary appropriation of the seminal zen painting in the context of the genre of shunga questions conventions around the types of institutions and bureaucratic avenues that frame representations of female sexuality. Born in Takamatsu, Japan, Sawai spent his teenage years working as a cook’s assistant at U.S military headquarters where he learned English from an American G.I. Consequently, Sawai relocated to Minnesota where he studied visual arts and then back to Japan to study traditional woodblock printing under the print master Toshi Yoshida. Coming back to North America, this time in Calgary, Sawai taught print media and drawing at the University of Calgary for 22 years. Post Calgary years, he continued to teach in Cape Dorset, Pangnirtung and Baker Lake and was an active member within Malaspina Printmakers Society.
Currently producing paintings and mixed media works while teaching at Vancouver Island University, many of Pamela Speight’s works within the City of Burnaby Permanent Art Collection, courtesy the Burnaby Art Gallery, are etchings. In this exhibition, Interplay depicts three figures in a row, each matching the other’s posture with each left hand gently grasping at something nondescript, sitting in a small pool of liquid. Looking at the etching like one would understand an animation, the multiple figures become one gesture within a sequence of movement. The nondescript object becomes smaller as the puddle gets bigger, presenting a curious physical logic that can elicit a double take. The aquatint treatment of the image gives the human figures the same surface treatment as the small, shrinking pools—a conversation that merges with Speight’s concern for cycles of growth and decay, extending itself to frame the pools as allegories for the motions of collective sentiment. Speight’s work belongs in collections such as the Canada Council Art Bank and the Richmond Gallery and has been exhibited in cities across North America.
Mourning the death of one’s favourite musician might involve a long, nostalgic reflection on their discography. An approach for coming to terms with an icon’s death, in this case, the late David Bowie, could involve a solo listening excursion to the acclaimed producer and performer’s entire collection of studio albums in one sitting. At first, it seems a daunting gesture to occupy one’s entire day with listening, but an analysis of 24 hours in the cycle of contemporary existence walks the line between forever and brief as observed in the work 69 Years in a Day. 24 hours of musical legacy at once seems banal yet perpetual as one observes Casey Wei scratching her head, cupping her face, crossing and uncrossing her legs on her couch in front of the camera with a clock and candle burning as evidence of her endeavour. Inquiries around time, death and posterity around a rockstar are humanized by Wei’s consecutive hours in the frame of the day long shoot, only leaving the frame to relieve herself. Similarly, Young Americans approaches the mortality of a cocksure rock’n’roll darling with the uncanny distortion of the karaoke chorus of the album steeped in what Bowie himself thought of as diluted appropriations of the R&B rhythms of Philadelphia Soul. The mixtape, consisting of the voices of ten participants singing along to the verses, are edited as one chorus. The tapes places commemoration within the actions of the listener and are complimentary for exhibition goers.
Marcia Wedeking’s lithographs Floating Pickles #3 and Japanese Pickles parallel the iconic Hokusai woodblock print The Great Wave Off Kanagawa 神奈川沖浪裏. Phallic at a glance, the pickles absurdly bob in the waves, evenly spaced out and occupying within the substrate of the paper akin to a pattern. Although the salt water of the ocean might provide an ideal environment for pickles, there’s a pictorial insinuation that the pickles are stuck at sea, perpetually crashing in an element that covers approximately 71% of the earth’s surface. The colour palette of the eggplant waves and fuchsia pickles in Floating Pickles #3 offer a psychedelic variation of Japanese Pickles, the gesture of variation speaking to processes within print media and also the vulnerability of icons and narrative within depictive imagery. These two lithographs are a part of Wedeking’s larger food series that include carrots and bacon. Wedeking’s work can also be found in the Simon Fraser University Art Collection. She is currently an active printer at the Malaspina studios and is focusing on abstract forms and compositions within her work.