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Family Matters - Installation Review

By Gil McElroy October 20, 2003

} Family Matters - Installation Review May 24-June 28, 2003 WKP Kennedy Gallery North Bay, Ontario Family Matters comprised a gathering of bookworks, textiles and photo-based pieces by Canadian artists Cheryl Pagurek, Judy Martin and Lisé Melhorn-Boe, all of which thematically addressed issues related to the realm of domestic life and the adaptations it has undergone through changing societal and cultural mores. Installation of the Family Matters exhibition Cheryl Pagurek's photo-based work is centered around the messy intrusions of the larger world into the otherwise tidy domestic sphere. In Pagurek's work, the home is no refuge of order and calm; geopolitics has both literal and metaphorical places at the table, as in Albanian Refugees Leave Kosovo (2000). Here, a photograph of an open car door is contextualized by a baby's diaper bag resting on the ground in front of it. This is no ordinary diaper bag, however, for Pagurek has literally wrapped the entire object in an image-itself a photograph-depicting a group of Balkan refugees walking along a road pushing and carrying their few belongings. And in Aftermath of a School Shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas (2000), the orderly world of an ordinary household kitchen is intruded upon by a milk carton constructed from an photograph depicting ambulance attendants pushing an emergency gurney across a parking lot in what we know must be the aftermath of the tragedy alluded to in the work's title. Between the leading note and the tonic Image courtesy of Judith Martin http://www.judithmartin.info/ Judy Martin works in the most traditional vein here, that of the pieced quilt. It's a medium that carries a heavy load of baggage, the bulk of it having to do with traditional expectations of a woman's societal place, so it's no real surprise that Martin's work goes directly to the heart of the matter. In When Asked: She Replied (1999), function and purpose are foregrounded issues as she redundantly uses a thick wool blanket as the actual backing for her quilt. Roughly outlined squares and rectangles each contain the simple shape of a heart, the bilateral symmetry of which is cleft by a row of buttons. Beneath it all is a textual element (a recurring motif in Martin's work) that reads "When asked how she managed to have children and make art .... she replied: 'What's the difference?'" In Between the Leading Note and the Tonic (1999), a quilt is gridded with the recurring image of a simple clapboard house. Images of trees with button leaves reiterate the suggestively cozy domesticity of the motif, and wavy lines of embroidery thread-perhaps the music alluded to in the work's title- emanating from each of the houses subtly underscore the idea of familial harmony within which quilts have long been culturally wrapped. Between the leading note and the tonic - detail Image courtesy of Judith Martin http://www.judithmartin.info/ Lisé Melhorn-Boe is known for her sculptural bookworks, the best of which cleverly satirize gender stereotyping in the mass media, especially the kind that appears in publications specifically marketed to women. The work she showed here, however, was of a more personal bent. A Sad Little Girl (1995) is one of a series of works in which Melhorn-Boe has borrowed autobiographical tales of growing up female from close personal friends. In this instance, it is the story of a little girl's self-loathing: "I desperately wanted to be a good girl and a popular girl and a pretty girl. Instead I felt that I was ugly and bad." The entire text of the story is written on a number of tiny, doll-like paper dresses that hang on miniature hangers within a handmade paper box that functions as a kind of portable wardrobe. The box opens to reveal a relief image of an infant girl on the interior cover directly opposite the hangers of paper dresses and their tale of despair. She seems a perfect fit for the both. With Those Damn Flies (2003), Melhorn-Boe works from personal family history to create an installational work in which she transposes the codex structure of her bookworks. The piece comprises a clothesline (which functions as a kind of book spine) from which hang eight large sleeveless t-shirts printed on both sides with text and images. Here, we encounter the story of her father, an immigrant who worked in the Canadian wilderness helping to "build powerlines through bush and swamp. Once he even paddled a canoe to a job where there was no road." On the surface it is the tale of her father's relationship with the indigenous mosquitoes, blackflies and horseflies-the bane of the Canadian woods- related in both factual form ("flying speed of mosquitoes: 5 km/h") and as personal anecdotes of a man whose own property in the woods was itself oddly devoid of the pests. But at the heart of it all, it is in fact a familial story of the relationship between a father and daughter. Aesthetically or otherwise, in the end, it seems, family cannot help but matter. This review originally appeared in Art Papers Magazine, September/ October 2003. ___________________________________________ Gil McElroy is a critic, independent curator, artist, and poet currently living in Colborne, Ontario. His latest books are Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art (Gaspereau Press), and a book of poetry, Dream Pool Essays (Talonbooks). View Gil's curriculum vitae.