Danica Lundy “The ghost I made you be” at C+N CANEPANERI, Milan
Curated by Stefano Castelli
C+N CANEPANERI gallery is pleased to announce ‘The ghost I made you be’, solo show by Canadian painter Danica Lundy (Salt Spring Island, 1991). The exhibition, Lundy’s debut in Italy, will include a significant selection of her most recent works, including some created for the event.
Living in New York, where she accomplished her studies and has exhibited her works several times, Danica Lundy is the author of a particular kind of painting which is quite difficult to define and to reconduct to a specific style or genre.
The expressiveness of her style is the main feature of her art. With a direct, unrefined and evocative artistic language, her paintings entice their observers into the depicted scene. The characters, quite bizarre and yet credible, move around in obscure and somewhat murky, almost post apocalyptic scenes. Their gestures seem playful and pleasure-seeking whilst the atmosphere alludes to a growing sensation of hidden violence, ready to explode.
But her paintings are not of a narrative nature. The apparent expressionism of her style and the unique cues observed in the scenes are tempered by a sort of detachment, like a veil which freezes the narration and, in fact, express the metaphoric nature of her artwork.
Painting and drawing constitute a parallel pathway for the artist. Her drawings, continuously and unceasingly performed are, in fact, at the root of her painting work (which, however, take on their own free and independent form). Without directly quoting their sources, Danica Lundy’s paintings draw on varied references and connections which serve as triggers for the imagination of the artist herself. Literature, history, fine arts and vernacular arts, counterculture and mass culture all come together and merge to form a metaphoric and ‘hallucinated’ imagery.
Also the title of the exhibition is a quote in itself. In the song ‘Treaty’, Leonard Cohen sings ‘The ghost I made you be/only one of us was real and that was me’. Such verses recall ‘the projection of oneself onto someone else, power structures built in the space between people, and the slow unfolding of oneself into another person’, as the artist herself explains.
In the end, the ‘ghosts’ depicted in Danica Lundy’s paintings represent all of us: uncertain and fluctuating identities suspended between amusement and latent violence, pleasure and abuses, freedom and surveillance, frustration and unexpected poetical impulses, individualism and communion.
“DANICA LUNDY – ALONE IN A CROWD”
text by Stefano Castelli
“It is only in a crowd that man can become free of the fear of being touched. That is the only situation in which the fear changes into its opposite”. In Elias Canetti’s striking dissertation at the beginning of ‘Crowds and Power’ we can perhaps find the key to interpret the scenes painted by Danica Lundy: those obscure places, strangely joyous and post-apocalyptic. They include groups of characters, paradoxical but nevertheless credible, who are in search of fun and enjoyment, though one cannot help but sense the presence of an underlying atmosphere of violence.
In these paintings, nearness is hypothetically useful to avoid the fear of others (of ‘being touched’) but, at the same time, a doubt is cast in our minds that we are not in front of a real, liberating nearness. We are witnessing a multitude of ‘dislocated individuals in a crowd’. A condition which is increasingly widespread and evident in today’s modern society.
These symbolic and imaginative scenes are not abstracted from reality. There is neither stylisation or idealisation, as for example in Dana Schutz’s work; hypothetical archetypes as seen in some Neo-Expressionism. The artist, in fact, works on an bottom-up approach, observing reality and places of congregation to then transform them into symbolic situations. The determining feature is ambiguity: liberating enthusiasm together with desolation, as does communitarianism and solitude. It is impossible to decide if we are confronted with liberating ‘Shortbus’-like scenes, or with today’s prevailing forced amusement. There is no wish for ecumenism: the artist’s chosen position is that of photographing the complexity between individual free initiative and the constraint of superstructures.
Certainly, the feeling to be ‘alone in a crowd’ and the rule of ‘amusement at any cost’ prevail here. The female protagonist in ‘Bar’ has turned away from the other customers, drowning her gaze in a glass (in front of her, an ashtray and other objects suggest the end of a party, remnants and dregs rather than present pleasure). In ‘Car Kiss’, the private sexual act is presented to the distracted and listless voyeurism of another driver – without malice, one could say, devoid of deliberate and conscious ‘débauche’ but instead with an indifferent and emotionless gesture. And in ‘Bonefire’, where to all appearances we observe partying and joyous revels, the scene’s atmosphere is full of disorientating and unsettling elements.
In ‘Fight Club’, the ‘all against all’ theme is explicit; Canetti would say it is the moment in which panic is triggered and the disintegration of the mass occurs: the beginning of its enslavement to a superior power, to a power that goes beyond individual relationships, even those based on oppression and abusive violence. It is however in the artist’s drawings explicit, more than in her paintings, that a real communion of characters is accomplished through a style and manner which evoke the fusion of the individual bodies into a being that goes beyond the single individual.
Aside from interpretation, and regarding the language of the paintings, it is worth noticing just how vast the range of themes from which the artist takes her ideas is: literature, music, fine arts, vernacular arts and counterculture merge to form an articulated mix. From these references, comes something unusual, neither attributable to anecdotes nor to a precise narrative, since the paintings take on a very much independent expressive manner. One can identify elements of parody, apologue and slapstick with sometimes a cinematographic or theatrical slant… the point is that these ‘genres’ coexist independently, opposite to in a postmodern ‘pastiche’. The specific language of the visual arts and in particular of paintings prevails in its consistency.
The roughness of language and the ‘pyrotechnics’ of scenes rich in contradictory perspectives are sustained by the solidity of the composition. Most surprising is the choice of the paintings’ colours which are contrasted and less vivacious than we would instinctively expect from such a style. Detachment is the principle feature, a masking which prevents the possibility of an effective narration.
Amongst vortices of rough pictorial strokes, areas of sharpness and precision, of brightness and relatively softer strokes stand out. Other elements which seem at first glance to be marginal become central to the painting: the sticking plaster and the can in the centre of the whirlwind in ‘Bonefire’, the fish’s eye in ‘Fishy’…
Framing plays a fundamental role in these paintings. The perspective chosen by the artist carefully selects areas of space in order to exclude other areas. Also in the en masse scenes, the depicted situation is never shown in its full entirety. As if within complex situations, it is the details that count: glances and gestures lateral and anarchical in respect to the direction that the whole painting seem to indicate. The partial and close-up view also adds to the sensual dimension. The bodies are ‘partial entities’, instruments and objects of possible enjoyment; the epidermis gets muddled up with the painting materials, giving the idea of an on-edge erotic sensitivity or something of a more macabre state of peeling skin.
Moreover, in ‘Car Kiss’, the general framing of the painting itself responds to a second framing within the painting, that of the window of the car where the two lovers are seated. Here, a particular ‘mise en abîme’ is created which evokes today’s supremacy of technological devices. The scopic impulse, a constituent element of artistic expression, is here doubled not only by the gaze of sexual voyeurism, in itself liberating, but also by the gaze of contemporary voyeurism – which makes the edges of a screen become a boundary, a limit which regiments people with a false sense of freedom. With both intelligence and irony, ‘Rotten Orange Reach-back’ (a spin-off of ‘Car Kiss’) excludes the most significant part of the scene: as if a zoom lens has been used, we can see only the arm of the person watching , and not the two lovers. At this point, the gaze of the voyeur, now sightless and only theoretical, coincides with the same gaze of the person observing the painting. ‘Slit Finder’, in turn, evokes an unsettling control from a distance, as if the sexual scene were to be perceived by someone from a safe position, almost virtual.
It is also worth pondering a moment on the title chosen by the artist for this exhibition, a phrase taken from Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Treaty’. “I’m sorry for the ghost I made you be/only one of us was real and that was me” are verses which, according to the artist, recalls “the projection of oneself onto someone else, power structures built in the space between people, and the slow unfolding of oneself into another person”. These are words that suggest the search for communitarianism. Without idealism, but with the consciousness of the hitches that we may have to face in an ideal progression; both those which are inevitable due to the complexity of the world and those incidental caused by the nature of our historical era. For a final analysis, it is evident that the characters in Danica Lundy’s paintings are actually us – ‘ghosts’ of changing identity that cannot disentangle themselves from contradictory elements: expressions of oneself and control, pleasure and violence, freedom and oppression, individualism to the bitter end and communitarianism, frustration together with poetic leaps.
at C+N CANEPANERI, Milan
until 6 April 2018