Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seeing More Than 'Stars' in Provocative Jennifer Mawby Exhibit at Vancouver's Grace Gallery

“Most simply, I am interested in how the contemporary and the personal collide with mythmaking. Ultimately I am questioning what and who we celebrate and why,” says visual artist Jennifer Mawby about her work.

When asked why, Mawby responds “Rather than who we celebrate, I am interested in what we celebrate. This is because when we chose to celebrate something like a luxury object or someone like a pop culture celebrity we are really elevating what it is that they represent to us.” Could that be the reason that so many people’s identities are wrapped up in what they possess or what they wear?

“Across the board we attach certain personal significance to the people and the things that we celebrate. This meaning is a personal interpretation and integration of cultural memes,” she says. In Mawby's opinion, these things that humanity sets as paragons or archetypes, in their essence, have been consistent throughout most cultures in human history and have typically been documented through mythology or through religious metaphor and parable.

Therefore, someone akin to Paris Hilton, for example, represents a “Persephone” figure, a character with meaning well beyond herself in terms of our culture. Mawby chooses to look at archetypes that span many global cultures in her work.

Jennifer Mawby’s latest solo project, which opened on September 9 at Vancouver’s Grace Gallery, is entitled “The Sun, The Moon & The Stars.” The show is part of The SWARM Festival, which is now in its eleventh year in Vancouver. The SWARM Festival is essentially a gallery hop for local artist-run centres and independent gallery spaces. According to the artist, her exhibit is “a cautionary tale about love, romance and conquest of all kinds.” The title refers to the cliché of giving someone all that they want-- “The Sun, The Moon & The Stars”-- and is a warning to both be cautious of someone who offers you these things and also to be wary of wanting these things as they are typically not the route to fulfillment we at first believe they are.

With technology leading the way in how people digest news and media, this year the Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres (PAARC) allowed participants to sign up for the event via Twitter, which basically became the event listing. The feed caught the attention of the mainstream media and gave the Festival and Mawby’s show a great deal more visibility than in the past.

In the first public viewing of the new direction her art has been taking, a year-and-a-half in the making, the exhibition features work that is representational, with multi-media elements incorporating painting, drawing, photography, installation, and animation. Overall, the body of work creates a narrative allegory around her larger themes of mytheopoesis, or storytelling as a myth-making device, and celebration.

Finding connection with her Anglo heritage, the work is very personal and is a collection of imagery collected through appropriation (mostly from the Web and print media) put together in bricolage style to create a narrative thread. “There is a cast of characters and a set of objects. The cast of characters are somehow in pursuit of a flag or pennant which represents the object of desire and obsession,” Mawby says.

There are also pop culture references thrown in for good measure, interspersed with references from European art history. For example, a painting called “The Flip Side,” which shows light passing through a prism and breaking into the full spectrum, represents the early scientific objects and experiments that were included in Wunderkammers, the precursors to what we now call museums. It also looks strikingly like a famous Pink Floyd album cover, and those who have that image in their library of visual culture are sure to notice, which is intentional on the part of the artist. Since many of the early Wunderkammers contained fakes or forgeries, Mawby, in her work has created homages to the known with a twist to suit her own needs. For instance, a Dutch master’s flower in still life form is combined with an incandescent light bulb lying on the table next to the floral arrangement. “The light bulb motif represents the dawning of a dying technology and therefore the passing of time and the folly of hanging on to the once ‘greatest’ thing,” she explains.

Mawby saw the work itself as a huge challenge, to test her artistic boundaries, especially where use of light was concerned. “All of the images and paintings have a strong element of light in them - the rendering and reproduction of light on canvas which I believe is one of the most difficult things to which a painter can aspire.”

“The Sun, The Moon & The Stars” is on view at Grace Gallery in Vancouver, B.C. through September 26th. The work will remain at the gallery and will be available for viewing both online and upon appointment. To learn more about artist Jennifer Mawby, visit the gallery web site at or

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