Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Liar, Liar at the Thunder Bay Historical Museum

A unique collaboration of two groups put their collective talents together to create a show beautifully showcased on the second floor of the Thunder Bay Historical Museum. Nine members of the visual art group, Northern Mosaic, worked with four authors of NOWW (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop). Chosen by a Workshop jury, the authors, Deborah deBakker, Marion Agnew, John Pringle, and Jack Shedden worked with artists John Books (sculptor), Leslie Shaw (painter), Cheryl Wilson-Smith (glass artist), Debbie Metzler (visual artist) and musician, Wayne Faulconer.
     Each artist had a challenge to create art based on the text with the generous theme of lying. From the info sheets, each artist describes the challenge creating imagery for the stories they selected.
     Cheryl Wilson-Smith had never collaborated in this way before. She found inspiration in the words themselves, transferring Debbie Metzler’s text to glass surfaces and employing other mixed media. A mirror with the words, Liar, Liar, etched directly on the glass becomes a kind of negative affirmation quote. Anyone looking into the mirror is immediately accused of being a liar. Simple and clever.
     John Books found the theme more bold and direct than what he usually envisions for his work. He rose to the occasion with several works. One, a cat sculpture, TOOTS, has a horn sticking out of his butt. All the better to toot with, which is intended to relate to the protagonist of the story Books cleverly illustrates in three dimensions.
     Debbie Metzler’s tall works are intended to confuse the viewer to mimic how lying might function visually by distorting perspective and character within the images. Ascribing falseness to distortion might insult cubists and their ilk, but contemporary artists often try to rip apart what we are accustomed to in order to reveal deeper truths. So Debbie is in vogue attempting to tell a truth about lying, and the beautiful presentation of the subject matter allows the viewer to take their time, to think upon the subjects.
     Leslie Shaw’s paintings similarly use distortion as a means of expressing falseness. The titles indicate the theme of fabrication rather than analysis, so maybe this is not all out lying, as we understand it, but how burying and obscuring is just as good, difficult to pull off using landscape and abstract imagery.
     Wayne Faulconer had a difficult task of relating sounds to lying, easy to accomplish with lyrics as lying is a common theme in popular songs written for jilted lovers. Again distortion is suggested rather than outright lying, as in the form of electric guitar sounds over the acoustic. Bob Dylan took criticism for using an electric guitar because it wasn’t a folk instrument, so he was accused of being a phony. Today, however, it’s a bit of stretch to suggest that the sounds of an electric guitar could be seen as a lie, but for musicians this resonates quite a bit. They get into big fights over this kind of thing.
     Abstracted images and non-objective works (unrecognizable subject matter) on their own are not immediately understood as lies, unless the artists want them to be. The theme is a bit problematic because it is such a wide topic. An illustrator or political cartoonist would portray the theme with obvious images of politicians, psychics, corporate public relations officers, advertisers, and so on. Lies and liars are everywhere. What’s great about this show is that the themes aren’t obvious, they’re tacit, subtle and the results are beautiful to look at, worth discussion and worth collecting.
     The opening reception at the Thunder Bay Historical Museum for Liar, Liar is this Sunday, April 21st at 2pm. The show runs till June 2nd.

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