Chris Reid: Dazed & Amused

25 September–24 October in the Main Gallery

Artist Talk Friday 25 September, 7:00 PM
Opening Reception Friday 25 September, 8:00 PM
Bunny-Making Workshop Saturday 26 September, 1:00 PM

Dazed & Amused

Essay by Todd Janes

In her exhibition Dazed & Amused, Chris Reid breaks open her phantasmagorical world of bunnies, cats, planes, screaming toast and Baba Yaga houses on chicken legs. At first glance, you might think that this world of wackiness is all imagination, and perhaps a child’s dream world – and in some ways you might be correct. However, Chris Reid, like most of us, is a product of her own making, her own generation, and the world that surrounds her. To be honest, Chris Reid is one part genius, one part cultural sponge, and one part obsessive compulsive.

When you enter into the installation of Reid’s work you will be captivated by the intense (and often garish) colours and the seemingly odd mutations of characters – Reid creates a place where inanimate objects come alive and living things take on otherworldly and inanimate characteristics. Early incarnations of Reid’s work featured playful prototype bunnies that were scary and lovable at the same time. These bunnies were innocent and cute, except for their large, sharp-toothed mouths, complete with your crazy aunt’s lipstick. They exuded a ferocious nature that seemed steeped in early feminist rhetoric: the bunny, a symbol of fertility, finally gained a razor-sharp mouth, but still no apparent vocal chords.  The bunnies evoke the visual wit of Dorothy Parker without the punch line.  In short, they portrayed core strengths of Chris Reid—her humour and her strong feminist observations about being a woman in modern times—or the threads of the constructs of woman in post-modern times. She is a mother, a wife, an artist, a writer who tries to balance being the best of everything. These experiences are things that many of us – far too often – can relate to. We understand the overarching desires to be all to all. To excel, to be soft, to be vulnerable – but never weak.

While this work is diverse, it clearly involves what Reid is experiencing in her life. Life imitating art is something that is not new; Linda Montano has been writing and performing this for nearly 50 years. We are told to write what we know and Reid has embraced this. It is through this liberating action that I feel Reid has achieved an inner sense of peace and an outer sense of artistic success - we see the work - warts and all - yet it is this kitsch that we adore and feel an instant affinity towards.

Reid has stated that her art often manifests things that she is dealing with at home or through work. In Dazed & Amused, both the interiors and exteriors she portrays suggest the truth of this statement. Reid utilizes the buildings as metaphors for the fragility and stability of home and the need to strike a balance between family and work responsibilities; frustration and humour; ego and eros. The Baba Yaga houses are exemplify this kind of tension; they are beautiful, fantasy-filled structures with sexy chicken legs crafted from cut up vinyl shoes that could not even be sold for forty-five cents each. In the traditional European folk tale the Baba Yaga is witch-like, perhaps Reid’s is much nicer. From these unwanted discards, Reid has created improbable foundations for her structures that are named and hint towards a larger collected mythology. I wonder if the sexy chicken legs are references to Reid’s own Ukrainian heritage, to the ornate, beautiful eggs; called pysanky that are traditionally decorated at Easter.  The word “pysanky” comes from a Ukrainian verb pysaty, which means “to write,” so actually a pysanka is an egg that is written on. In these structures Reid writes in a visual form and there is a history to each Baba Yaga house, vessels of heritage and modern narratives of our Canadian mosaic and the constructed individual that each of us is, or will become.

As the body of work comprising Dazed & Amused developed, so did its unique, or signature components: boy with dog, crazy planes, baker’s daughter, the roadsters. These characters and their components are not only manifestations of Reid’s imagination, but they are also deeply grounded in the personal history of the artist’s life and the many hyphenated things that she embodies: worker, feminist, daughter, sister, mother of children of mixed descent, the teachings and heritage of her own ancestry and of religion. I would assert that these works are the stories of Chris Reid—and like her, a little out of place yet comforting at the same time. Reid references her work clearly through this quote: “My work is directed by the need to self-comfort. It is a metaphor for anxiety, obsessive thought and coping. It is about the desire to belong, the frustration and disappointment of having ideals mangled and the not-necessarily-logical need to meet family obligations and expectations. At the same time it is satirical and cynical it is playful, colourful and deceptively inviting.”is in this place of awkwardness that Reid finds solace in her creations because she recognizes that in this liminal space she is with kindred spirits. Creatures that embody not the best, not the worst, but honesty and truthful realism about what we all are. It is here that we can laugh, be in awe, and be shocked and yet not shocked at the same time. We are in an environment of comfort where we can just be—perhaps like what Alice was looking for and only momentarily found after falling through the rabbit hole. And while we may all have personal looking glasses that we might want to go through, Reid looks straight into her glass and laughs at what she sees.  She has created with a certain wisdom that is both empowering and comforting because she knows that she has arrived home.

Chris Reid

Chris Reid received her BFA from the University of Alberta in 1982 and her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1985. She has had solo exhibitions throughout Canada. Her participation in group shows has taken her work across North America and her work can be found in a variety of public collections. Chris Reid currently lives and works in Brandon, Manitoba.

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