Out of Repetition, Difference
Katherine Boyer, Hazel Meyer, Petrina Ng & Sona Safaei-Sooreh
Curated by Lauren Fournier
July 22 - August 19, 2017
Opening Reception: Friday, July 21, 6 - 8PM
“You say I’m free now the battle is over and feminism’s over and socialism’s over yeah say I can consume what I want now, consume what I want now.”
- Jenny Hval, “The Battle Is Over,” Apocalypse Girl (2015)
Out of Repetition, Difference is a group exhibition of emerging and mid-career women artists whose post-conceptual practices converge around themes of iteration and practice. Out of Repetition, Difference reflects on historicity and futurity in recent feminist practices through works that play with the lines dividing the conceptual, the technological, and the traditional. Converging as ritual objects, the works in this exhibition re-iterate and re-contextualize compulsive repetition: the repetition of mourning, of capital, of pageantry, of desire, of consumption, of craft, to new effects. The artists explore what it means to practice tradition and to practice ritual, to practice commodification and to practice critique. If “iteration” means that “out of repetition comes the possibility of difference,” these artists find space in repetition for transformation, redemption, and play. Through practices that are as material as they are conceptual, these artists’ works curiously refuse the status of fetish.
“Iterability” is the notion that repetition produces both sameness and difference: that the possibility of change and transformation comes with each repeated action. Each repetition introduces the risk that it will not be repeated “correctly,” a revelation that has been taken up by radical theorists in feminist, queer, and postcolonial traditions. Luce Irigaray uses the terms “reproductive” and “productive mimesis” to describe the capacity for feminist subversion that comes with mimetically reproducing the patriarchy’s terms, while Judith Butler upholds iterability in relation to queering one’s gender identity through performance. Using the term “iteration,” Derrida describes the discursive mechanism through which repetition gives way to difference, a notion that Judith Butler takes up in relation to gender performativity. Such “high theory,” a term Di Leo uses to describe poststructuralist theory in the 1970s (like Derrida’s), occupies an ambivalent space in both Hazel Meyer’s and Sona Safaei-Sooreh’s practices: both artists take up the simultaneous desire for, and wariness of, theory in contemporary art discourse.
Iranian-Canadian artist Sona Safaei-Sooreh foregrounds the “high theory” of contemporary discourse in playful ways, transforming the names of theorists who have informed her practice into brand name logos printed across materials. In this way, Safaei-Sooreh creates objects whose pricing is literally and conceptually influenced by trends of economic and cultural capital. Post-structuralist theorists from the West who influence contemporary art discourses, including Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Jean Baudrillard, and Nicholas Bourriaud, become corporate logos alongside cultural critics and, in the case of Andrea Fraser (the only woman whose name is included as a brand), artists whose practices function as institutional critique. This pattern that Safaei-Sooreh has created repeats across different conceptual works: as a press backdrop in Bibliography (2013), as an artist multiple coffee mug in V+1 (2014) and, in this exhibition, as a luxury handbag (Swift Memorial (2016)). Safaei-Sooreh’s handbags resemble the Louis Vuitton bags that were emblematic of socioeconomic cache in the mid-2000s: bags that themselves embody the contradictions of mimetic repetition in late capitalism.(1) Made familiar and then unfamiliar through the supplanting of LV logos with the name brands of theorists and artists who influence contemporary art discourse, Swift Memorial becomes a site to reflect on processes of valuation. As an object of exchange, Safaei-Sooreh’s bag embodies the tensions of the personal and the political in an age saturated by material culture and the late capitalist, neoliberal hegemony of the West: quite literally, the US sanctions on Iran have implications on the production of Safaei-Sooreh’s Swift Memorial bags, with the price of the bag changing depending on the buyer’s nationality.(2) Safaei-Sooreh’s recent conceptual work is invested in the politics of sourcing materials internationally, and her reflection on the politics of economic and cultural capital is grounded in her experiences both as Iranian and as someone who has studied contemporary art in North America. Safaei-Sooreh has directly experienced the consequences of the US’s actions on Iranian currency within her family and within her practice of artistic production, and works like Swift Memorial become conceptually resonant material objects through which to process tensions of economic, political, cultural, and aesthetic exchange in the globalized present.
As a mediator between personal content and cultural critique, commodification serves as a bridge between Sona Safaei-Sooreh’s Swift Memorial and Petrina Ng’s My Mother’s Hanlan’s Point. Safaei-Sooreh’s work explores the politics of economic and cultural capital between the East and the West, and the effects of American paternalism on the economic viability and national security of Iran. With Petrina Ng’s My Mother’s Hanlan’s Point, we find a reflection on the ways that even grief becomes commodified under capitalism: a reflection grounded both in the politics of representation in art history and in the life of the artist.
In My Mother’s Hanlan’s Point, Ng compulsively reproduces one of her mother’s paintings across different media and forms. The process of mimetic repetition that began in the 1970s when the artist’s mother Angela Yip embraced the white male-dominated aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism as a first generation immigrant from Hong Kong attending art school in Toronto, is extended by her daughter, who re-contextualizes the high modernist, masculine painting tradition as contemporary art with feminist resonances. That Petrina Ng’s process began while her mother was ill, and continues after her mother’s death, underscores the nature of this body of work as an accidental mourning ritual. In Ng’s installation for Out of Repetition, Difference, the gallery becomes populated by the traces of her grieving process— a soft sculpture or blanket, framed posters, drinking glasses, umbrellas, beach balls, all bearing the image that the artist’s mother originally painted. Just as Angela Yip embodied the male-authored forms of Modern Art, so too does Petrina Ng’s work nod to this history: the soft sculpture bears resemblance to Claes Oldenburg’s oversized soft sculpture or the Vancouver conceptual art collective N.E. Thing’s Bagged Landscape (1966), while the smaller works mimic the objects that commodify Art in postmodern art spaces, like the plethora of souvenirs found in museum and gallery gift shops today. The repetition of the image of Angela Yip’s painting demonstrates a compulsion that becomes imbricated in commodified modes of production: the melancholic repetition of the image takes on the status of a ritual object. The industrial processes of what Walter Benjamin theorized as “art in the age of mechanical reproduction” eases the artist’s capacity to work with deeply personal material in a conceptual way. With this ongoing body of work, Petrina Ng commemorates her mother as a mother and as an artist by displaying this image across contexts and forms, allowing the image to be disseminated widely.
The moon is a ripe symbol, having been invested with meaning in countless stories and narratives— from those of First Nations Elders to those of eco-feminist ancestors— and in Katherine Boyer’s work we encounter moons that resonate both with gendered and Indigenous histories. In The Invisible Tides of Day Moon (Waxing, Full, Waning, New), emerging Métis artist Katherine Boyer meticulously beads the image of the moon that is visible during the day, illustrating the cyclical change of the moon through four phases. As an artist and as a researcher, Boyer is deeply interested in the histories of Métis material culture and the Indigenous feminist politics of women’s invisible or invisibilized (3) labour, specifically the labour of craft. Drawing from Cree and other Indigenous stories of the moon, Boyer sees the moon as a grandmother figure— an influencing force and a guiding maternal presence in the world. Growing up in an urban prairie environment, Katherine Boyer often accesses traditional Métis teachings through the meditation of museums, libraries and other open-source archives, aware of the ways in which these are less traditionally “pure” than the oral storytelling of her ancestors. These layers of mediation make space both for the preservation of Indigenous traditions and the creation of new stories and mythologies as an artist working in the contemporary. As a story device, the moon becomes a symbol for Boyer to re-imagine the meanings of the natural world through a Métis perspective: the lack of stories on what she is calling the “day moon,” or the moon as it appears during the day, becomes a space for Boyer to fill through her own imagination, combining her practices in screen-printing, beadwork, and installation to re-animate Métis storytelling and material culture. With the New Moon work emerging horizontally from the wall, both sides of the material object become visible to the viewer through the unique framing: a single seed bead with a single thread materializes on the screen-printed chiffon, and we bear witness to the earliest moment of a cycle beginning again.
Repetition as a practice is foregrounded in the work of Hazel Meyer, an artist whose work is informed by working-class and queer positionings. During a conversation with the artist, Hazel Meyer cites Gertrude Stein’s claim that there is no repetition, only insistence— an utterance that Stein affirms over the course of her experimental literary practice. Whether it is the repetition of practicing her signature, a childhood coming-of-age rote ritual that is then transmuted as text-based contemporary art in Meyer’s oeuvre, or the thematic and formal use of iteration and citation to queer the world of sports, Hazel Meyer’s work engenders its own politics and aesthetics of repetition as a queer feminist ethic of celebratory failure. The performance detritus of her series Muscle Panic includes a jean jacket displaying a Wide World of Wholes logo, which mimetically reproduces ABC’s Wide World of Sports logo (1961-1998) and turns it into a queer feminist reclamation of the butthole. The repetition of this logo fleshes out the intersection of queer feminist/lesbian practice with gay male queer histories to engender something new. Wide World of Wholes is playfully polysemic, referencing “holes” in its anal imagery— two hand-drawn buttholes, one orange and one pink, scrawled in Meyer’s characteristic style — while at the same time refusing the psychoanalytic equation of (women’s) “holes” with “lack” by replacing holes with wholes. In Meyer’s work there is no repetition, only insistence: there is no repetition, only iteration. Installed as a constellation of repeating symbols, Meyer’s work in Out of Repetition, Difference stands as a material trace of themes that continually come out in her practice. “Lesbians invented the internet,” reads the text at the bottom of one of Meyer’s drawing— a pseudo-cryptic re-encoding of histories of technology, and a re-iteration of her partner and collaborator Cait McKinney’s research of a similar name. As the creator of No Theory No Cry, Meyer, like Safaei-Sooreh, is attuned to the ambivalences of theory in contemporary art discourse and the irresistible need to make space for the body, humour, and feeling in these spaces.
With practice and with repetition, we encounter a shuttling between the past and the future, between the conservative and the radical, between preserving (through repetition) and transforming (through repetition). Out of Repetition, Difference testifies to the rich potentiality of iteration and practice in emerging intersectional feminist practices across Canada. In this exhibition, the material and conceptual objects transcend their status as commodities to re-politicize the art object through frameworks of queer, working-class, Indigenous, and POC feminisms. The spectre of commodification looms over the exhibition: yet on closer reflection, we find the objects slip just out of reach— they exceed their status as object, holding within them reverberations of personal and political import.
- Lauren Fournier, guest curator