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Megan Dickie: One Way or Another

Open Space Gallery
Victoria, BC, Canada
January 13 - Feb 18, 2017

By CHRISTINE WALDE, MAR. 2017

West coast Canadian artist Megan Dickie works in the mediums of sculpture, video and printmaking, focusing on the seductive tension that exists between reason and play. For the past ten years, she has explored this concept by subverting systems and structures with critically deployed humor, including wrestling motifs, masks, and equipment - to express the psychic and physical space between object and subject. Her most recent solo exhibition at Open Space, One Way or Another, uses video games as a platform to question the competitive structure of contemporary art and our enduring fascination with watching human struggle. 

Installation view, Megan Dickie, One Way or Another, Open Space, 2017. Background (L-R): One Way or Another – Spin Off; One Way or Another – Lighten Up; One Way or Another – Build It, all 2014, HD video animation. Foreground: Dumbbell, 2014, leather, vinyl inflatables, cardboard.

Upon entering the gallery, one is confronted by Le Louvre, an installation of angled aluminum shelves that advance away from the wall like a set of stairs, imprinted with a large vinyl spiral. There are gaps between the slats, however, making any movement of ascending or descending instantly treacherous: one can only fall through. There is no mistaking Dickie’s clever wordplay, since “louvre” functions as both a noun and proper noun, forging punny associations of blind-ness and the faulty sanctity of The Art Museum. The spiral simultaneously suggests a repetitive, static energy, and incurs a visual motif of spinning entropy that is repeated in other elements in the show, including the video work One Way or Another - Spin Off, which recalls the hypnotizing discs of Marcel Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs. 

 Installation view, Megan Dickie, One Way or Another, Open Space, 2017. Background: Le Louvre. Foreground: Loftylot, 2015-2016, acrylic coated organza, adhesive, steel, plastic, nylon cord.

Optical illusion, and the ploy of perception is a crucial element in this show. The giant Dumbbell positioned in the centre of the room may appear to be heavy, but the Flintstone-size inflatable is actually made of leather, vinyl, rope and cardboard that can be easily lifted in a single throw down. In a distinct nod to soft sculpture, Dickie’s D-I-Y approach to artmaking undercuts any traditional formalism with a gesture that is both triumphant and absurd, as evidenced by the show’s accompanying workshop with the West Coast League of Lady Wrestlers, co-hosted by the artist.  As always, humour is a defining characteristic of Dickie’s work, and she continues with this tradition in One Way or Another.

Ever-present as a performer in her own work, Dickie is not afraid to display herself or use her body as both an element and material in her artistic practice. The video work Choose A Character particularly evokes this, showcasing her as a revolving figure that is adorned in three distinct outfits. Recalling Dara Birnbaum’s Wonder Woman, Dickie endlessly revolves (like the action of the spiral) within an HD screen, morphing from one superhero outfit into another, sporting a Spring-2017-Versace-meets-Tron-meets-Super-Mario character. Adorned with silver spangles, polka dots or fluorescent neon stripes, her face remains hidden by a mask, though her arms rest at her sides, palms flattened outward, predicting some kind of lift-off into some unknown upper atmosphere.

Video still, Megan Dickie, One Way or Another. 2014, HD video animation.

These same RPG avatars make their appearance in the video works One Way or Another – Build It and One Way or Another – Lighten Up, negotiating different planes and levels (not unlike the tiered slats in Le Louvre) while resembling figures in a fairy-tale version of Donkey Kong. Accompanied by a soundtrack of a tinny, toy xylophone, we watch enraptured as Dickie’s little figure jumps up and down between precipices and over balls, tumbling and falling, dropping down into an empty black space where nothing lies below. With classic Sisyphean persistence, she gets back up again, over and over, repeating similar mistakes, meeting different ends, but always with the same failure, and the same resistance. 

Installation view, Megan Dickie, One Way or Another, Open Space, 2017. Loftylot, 2015-2016, acrylic coated organza, adhesive, steel, plastic, nylon cord.

Confronting physical and psychic realities continues with Try Again, a series of small, female brass figures hanging posed and suspended as if on high-tension see saw. Like paper dolls, each individual figure’s head and feet and hands are uniquely positioned and arranged in relation to each other, presenting an overall composition of infinite precision and expressivity. The attention to even the tiniest detail is evident here, and although the figures denote an athleticism and precision, they also express a heartbreaking futility, since it is not clear whether they are trying to pull themselves up or just let themselves go. Their frozen state hints not just at a strange helplessness, but at an abiding struggle, and a fierce resoluteness.

 Installation view, Megan Dickie, One Way or Another, Open Space, 2017. Background: Loftylot, 2015-2016, acrylic coated organza, adhesive, steel, plastic, nylon cord. Foreground: Try Again, 2016, brass, aluminum, lead, hydrocal.

Dickie makes optimal use of the space in the gallery, filling it up with three, large mattress-like sculptures fabricated of acrylic coated organza hung from the ceiling. Like false walls in a fun house, Loftylot playfully interrupt all sight lines, their mesh-y perforated textures providing a brilliant, lime-green backdrop, and adding to Dickie’s dynamic colour palette of black and white, hot pink, neon yellow, silver and gold.

Installation view, Megan Dickie, One Way or Another, Open Space, 2017. Le Louvre, 2014, aluminum and vinyl.

The title of the show, One Way or Another, makes reference to the 1978 Blondie tune, which Debbie Harry wrote about being stalked by an ex-boyfriend. While Dickie’s show is also about evasion and capture, it is also about the obsessive nature of artmaking, and the obstacle course of competition and failure in being an artist. Whatever her failings or successes, Dickie’s sculpture and media installations confront the multiple juxtapositons of physical, material and virtual realities with cunning and fearless provocation. WM


Christine Walde

Christine Walde is a poet, artist and librarian living in Victoria, BC, Canada.

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