November 18, 2018

Winnipeg
-14° C, Overcast

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

Pretty/ugly

Remarkable exhibition at the School of Art gallery challenges us to rethink our notions of beauty

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/5/2013 (2005 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Attraction and repulsion can be powerful sensations, felt physically, bypassing critical reflection and even conscious thought. Hard-wired to some extent, these "instinctive" responses also reflect and are, in fact, inseparable from personal history and cultural conditioning. What's more, they carry over into our responses to other people, to what we find physically and morally "attractive" or "repulsive," manifesting most frequently (and most unfortunately) as a fear of and hostility toward difference.

Art provides us with a safe space to test boundaries and acclimatize to the unfamiliar. It allows us to not only expand our notions of what is "beautiful" or "grotesque" but to challenge the very distinction between the two. Perfect Imperfections, which opened at the University of Manitoba's School of Art Gallery last month, collects artistic responses to precisely these concerns, pairing the work of a French Surrealist working in the 1920s with that of four contemporary artists, each with ties to Winnipeg.

A group of eight captivating, historically significant self-portrait photographs by Claude Cahun (born Lucy Schwob in 1894) is the exhibition's starting point in terms of both chronology and sensibility. In the black-and-white images, we see Cahun, sporting a shaved head and her male pseudonym, openly rebel against received ideas of femininity and beauty, using costume and staging to create multiple, sexually-ambiguous personas. Though made around 1929, the photographs are strikingly contemporary in their treatment of gender as just one variety of performance. That Cahun didn't fully enter the canon of art history until her posthumous "rediscovery" in the 1980s is a testament to the groundbreaking nature of her practice and her identity itself.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 30 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 30 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/5/2013 (2005 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Attraction and repulsion can be powerful sensations, felt physically, bypassing critical reflection and even conscious thought. Hard-wired to some extent, these "instinctive" responses also reflect and are, in fact, inseparable from personal history and cultural conditioning. What's more, they carry over into our responses to other people, to what we find physically and morally "attractive" or "repulsive," manifesting most frequently (and most unfortunately) as a fear of and hostility toward difference.

 

Art provides us with a safe space to test boundaries and acclimatize to the unfamiliar. It allows us to not only expand our notions of what is "beautiful" or "grotesque" but to challenge the very distinction between the two. Perfect Imperfections, which opened at the University of Manitoba's School of Art Gallery last month, collects artistic responses to precisely these concerns, pairing the work of a French Surrealist working in the 1920s with that of four contemporary artists, each with ties to Winnipeg.

A group of eight captivating, historically significant self-portrait photographs by Claude Cahun (born Lucy Schwob in 1894) is the exhibition's starting point in terms of both chronology and sensibility. In the black-and-white images, we see Cahun, sporting a shaved head and her male pseudonym, openly rebel against received ideas of femininity and beauty, using costume and staging to create multiple, sexually-ambiguous personas. Though made around 1929, the photographs are strikingly contemporary in their treatment of gender as just one variety of performance. That Cahun didn't fully enter the canon of art history until her posthumous "rediscovery" in the 1980s is a testament to the groundbreaking nature of her practice and her identity itself.

Colin Campbell's 1977 video Hollywood and Vine picks up this thread. We watch as the artist methodically puts on makeup and a blond wig, assuming the persona of a wealthy, quietly deranged Los Angeles widow who recounts increasingly absurd stories before wandering off into the Mojave Desert in search of a pony skeleton (reassembling animal skeletons having been a hobby of her late husband's). Campbell's physical transformation provides the backdrop for his character's unhinged monologue, and the portrayal manages to be at once unsettling and empathetic.

Miss Lindsay Ladobruk courts dissonant responses of hunger, arousal, and revulsion (towards food, fat bodies, women's sexuality, etc.) in Strip Sandwich, a performance shown here as a looped video viewed through a peephole in a gallery door. Channeling Divine or Edith Massey in an earlier, trashier John Waters movie, Ladobruk performs a strange and sultry burlesque with a variety of sandwiches as props, daring us to sort out whatever feelings of attraction or repulsion the piece might inspire.

Attacking notions of beauty from a different angle, Janet Werner's bluntly handled paintings seek out ugliness (or at least awkwardness) in celebrities like Paris Hilton and Audrey Hepburn. Photographs from Dominique Rey's 2011 series Erlking (named for a forest-dwelling bogeyman of German literary folklore) reflect still another approach. Donning outlandish costumes fashioned from cheap, ubiquitous materials like pantyhose, balloons, and pillow stuffing, Rey transforms herself into post-apocalyptic craft-store mutants whose deformities are jarringly set against a backdrop of grimly lovely natural settings.

While the exhibition runs until June 14, for the full experience be sure to attend the reception on May 23, which features a screening of Campbell's The Woman from Malibu (of which Hollywood and Vine is the sixth and final part) and a live performance by Miss Lindsay.

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a visual artist, writer, and educator.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us