Monday, August 16, 2010

Shary Boyle: If I Had One Wish

Some Context:


Why Feminist Art Still Matters | Hazlitt | Random House of Canada (Discussion with Shary Boyle, Vanessa Dunn, Aminah Sheikh)

Shary Boyle Represents Canada at 55th Venice Biennale

Everything under the Moon (with Christine Fellows) - A heartbreaking shadow play that achingly equates the show's illusory projections with vanishing peoples and species, the transitory symbols of art becoming the ghostly psychic debris of our terribly, evermore plausible extinction. And yet a children's story as well, a quest, a buddy movie, the story of friends around a campfire.

Canadian Artist Project (including commentary by Sholem Krishtalka).

New and Upcoming work.

Facebook (with art posts!).

One wishes, within the seemingly infinite crawl spaces and hobby-holes of the inter-web, that the site of a *lovvved* artist would represent all of their collected and studio work. The representative sample of Shary's work so inspires and gives voice to awkward, shapeless dodos of thought.

Below are a few of my own dodos.

- Sensitivity, skill in craft and imagination are pursued as peregrine themes in Shary Boyle's work. These three motivations are rarely pursued as separate from one another. Imagination is allowed a mischievous tentacle, transforming reality, not retreating from it.

- Sensitivity is sometimes a shying quality in the purveyor of commodities, as making commodities is a repetitive activity. In an artist, this often seems to lead to a heightened valuation of craft. The other route (not always exclusive, sometimes complimentary) is to become more machine-like. One could (arbitrarily) set up two default positions to illustrate the range of attitudes towards the art object and the commodity: the 19th Century Arts and Craft movement, at one pole, and Warhol, at the other.

- Shary's production schedule is regularly machine-like (Warhol). Each individual piece of work, however, has a great deal of particular patience and care put into it (Arts and Crafts).

- Art objects, knickknacks that demonstrate sensitivity in craft, now a rarer sight for a modern, resist the habitual quick scan of the senses. Such work is to involve one, imaginatively, sinuously, in the presented vignette. 

- Shary spends much effort digging up techniques of undervalued, outmoded (by the ever-efficient machines), excluded or forgotten artisanal practices. Among practices, thoughtfulness, sensibilities renewed in the twining, fluffy, shying-then-emboldening, leaky, leafy-lined aesthetic of Boyle's work is a generous array of stylistic preciousness.

- Here is a scrapbook note of what I imagine to be preciousness in her work: fairy tale or folklore sources; imaginative landscapes; animals and animal-people; fantastical flights of fancy; elfin and prepubescent bodies; daffy costumes; detailed depictions of cloth, material; gilt, decorative, flowery, ornate flourishes; a respect for field observation as in naturalism; brittle, dainty, breakable materials for the sculpture; delicate, complimentary colour palette for the paintings; drawer-ly pencil strokes and pencil textures for the drawings; arcane technologies (minded mostly in the service of creating wonder) for the projections (slide projectors, magic lanterns, manipulated, theatrically and moodily, in real time).

- The porcelain figurines also point to a further back historical source, in European rococo (I imagine the first originators of stylistic preciousness also sensed this continuity between the two practices, the delicate, aristocratically-refined rococo collectible on the one hand and the imaginative, industrial-democratic object of preciousness, on the other).

- No doubt the general dis-inclusion of preciousness from canonical museum art has--at least--socially patriarchal roots. Noting its remarkable influence on every nick and cranny of twentieth century creative output, glaring is the lopsided gender participation in either milieu's practitioners/members (museum=boys, preciousness=girls). Common from the Victorian era on, transmitted broadly via the pulp children's industries through the 20th then into our century, under Boyle's deft touch, preciousness has almost the appearance of a polemic; it also tests the redemptive quality of historically excluded material.

- I say "almost polemic" because so often the polemical tone in art leads to a certain brashness in presentation, broad strokes, blunted figurations, rhetorical outwardness. Again, sensitivity, the value which Boyle seems to place in preciousness, remains ice-cream-serene, supreme.

- However, Boyle's adoption of preciousness, is not in itself precious (if one is to mean by precious to be cloyingly taken with the sentimental, obsessively self-protected by the pretty and the quaint). Darkness, unsentimental frankness appears in this mythic retelling of the modern situation often, with a certain grounded literalness. And with humour.

- Darkness often comes in the form of a stylistic intrusion: the gothic, the grotesque, the violently flattened.

- Relatedly, despite the luster of pretty inherent in the materials and certain of the techniques (porcelain, ornament, floral patterning etc.), forms are often knotty, gnarled, organic in the way of old dead trees or mud.

- A lot of her illustrative qualities so reminiscent of children's picture story books, it is hard not to feel one is in the midst of a story. So, one makes up a story. Her figurines, also calling up qualities of toys (especially the off-limits-to-children toys of impeccable enchantment collected by grandparents) put one solidly over to a place of meaningful, fantastical, sentimental play.

- The stage is mythic, her girl children the heroes. Her girl children or also highly androgynous or effeminate boys; also near-hermaphrodites.

- Proportions or features of profiles, torsos, limbs, erogenous chassis, blemishes, blotches that lack ideal ratio or poise by corroboration of the beauty industries are studiously, lovingly attended to.

 - Departing from a gloomy Dickinsian suburbs of dingy interiors, looming, impersonal adults, coercive bullies, her heroes flee to take up residence in a savage and wonderful Never-Never Land. This land is frequently a woods or savanna-like. All of these locales possess an Edenic, private quality.

- Modern heroes, their adventures are complicated by embarrassment, awkwardness, genital compulsion, clumsiness.

- Heroes nonetheless, they are embarked upon a journey where they encounter as trials the strangeness of their bodies; evolving amorousness and/or self-pleasure; the compulsion of rituals; a battle with shyness and boldness before an implicit, all-present gaze (the gaze, in my mind, is a camera lens, the pose perhaps the remembered gesture of confinement during a vacation snapshot); a fight for equilibrium and fair footing within the catastrophes, excesses, self-sacrifice of desire; and the ever-present, lurking monsters of past trauma.

- Violence to the psyche is portrayed bodily (a severed head, a discombobulated anatomy).

- One suspects that the kaleidoscopes of fantasy start as nascent buds within the skin. Like leaves growing then falling from branches, these buds elaborate then self-shatter before the force and processes of the world. Responsible for these strange flowers and twirling vines, the literal crisis--its hard contours kept slightly off-frame-- is pictured in a transformed manner. The vignette is more bodily and remembered than based in the hard light of present perception.

 - Fate, the trans-formative point in stories, intervenes at moments of charged physicality, when a body seems in revolt against both environment and itself. The resulting, intimate metamorphoses convolute the flesh into endless, strange contusions and conjurations, often involving the return of spring-time or the appearance of animals. In these instances, the body can be like a disguise, an erratic shrub or sometimes a fountain.

- Otherworld Uprising (the title of Boyle's *really* good art book) is a designation which seems to refer to the condition of a literal spirit world. In the revolt, spirits, nature, body overlap one anothers' conventionally separate outlines.

- The just-below-the-surface, (half) presence of this Otherworld, its portals and rabbitholes located in bodily orifices, throws subjective turmoil and psychical discomfort in ribbons of stress against a semi-solid yet also fugitive, fleeing screen. This screen, made up of dreams and of shadows, often stands as a protective shield between two figures encountering one another, forestalling or warning off their first meeting. This outcome of these meetings is often either reconciliation/camaraderie or assault-dismemberment.

- I suspect the ectoplasm of this spirit world is made up of bodily juices.

- Poised together on a small pedestal of turf, possible murderers, potential companions, yet many times the figures stay half disinterested in one another, with the retiring tendency of shy but busily assessing, curious children.

- The contrast or collusion of gender roles (the same, different) is helpful in drawing out possible secretive meanings lodged in these frozen confrontations. Meaning plays out many ways: as fantasy fulfillment; as revenge; as appreciation and gauge of difference; as fetishistic worship; as friendship, fulfilling, joyful and intimate, but also brutal or conspiratorial; as wistful compensation; as jokey-making-fun; as critique; as ceremonial renewal; as violence. But, also, sometimes, inscrutably.

In the prolific stories of her art, Boyle seems attracted to rituals of visionary questing more usual to those swept aside, the misfits, the crackpots, the obsessive hobbyists, the shut ins (i.e. Blake, Darger). The import managed within each strange vacation slide or cameo often gives the sense of secrets within secrets, fleshed out in private and in locations of quiet, a remembrance of a remembrance (possibly dangerous), gaining not just velocity over time but also structure and a skeleton.

- Ever so often, with the kind of concentrated, slow pacing capable of affecting a shift in scene without hemorrhaging continuity or narrative sweep, Boyle's turbulent frame switches to almost-fulfillment and near-certitude in the sublime. The characters are alone, holding hands, with a planet to themselves, a planet worthy of the naturalistic raptures on the pages of a speculative edition of National Geographic. Within the context of Boyle's art, this is sublime in a heroic, personal sense, haunting one with the juxtaposition of the human with inhuman, and, in a sense, the unrepresentable landscape: Nature. It is not the sublime of the modern architect for whom the sublime is the habitat-equivalent of military shock and awe (Derived from Fredrick Jameson, the more habitual invocation of the word).

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