Critical Distance

MAN MADE: Evan Tapper
January 8 – February 6, 1999

a response to the exhibition by Jack Lauder

“Why me?” I cried, seeing my face in the mirror. One eye was swollen shut – my eyebrow had become part of my upper lip. What the hell happened yesterday? I remember an awful day spent dealing with inflexible people, then a pint or two, then Evan’s opening – I said I would write about the work. We’re supposed to meet this afternoon. I can’t – not today.

Turning the first corner on the right entrance side – yup, that’s a penis, all right – so erect it’s become vertebrate, rising from the pelvis and developing its own rib cage. A bespectacled satyr cowers behind it as a red-eyed stag looks on. A long haired man straightens his tie, a unicorn horn on his forehead. Babies, pierced with pacifiers.

Huge walls form an office space, covered, floor to ceiling, with rubber-stamped Post-Its, some marked “APPROVED”, some marked “CONFIDENTIAL”. A man sits at a desk – his face sculpted from blunted pencils, the back of his head made of erasers. He is posed as if straightening his tie. When you walk in front of him, his hands start moving ambiguously up and down. On the desk are an ashtray, a phone, a pencil sharpener and an empty turtle shell. A filing cabinet full of rocks sits beneath a closed venetian blind, a pile of salt, and a clock with no hands. I open the blind. There’s nothing out there.

My head feels like a furnace. A pounding rattles through the ducts. I recall leaving the gallery, going for more pints, then deciding to walk home. What was I thinking? Let the frost bite the beer out. That seemed funny at the time, so I did the Prairie Strut, chin to chest and walking fast. Somewhere near Balmoral and Sargent, I heard a woman say “Hey”. I looked up – two women: one white, one aboriginal. I don’t quite remember if she said “What the fuck are you looking at?” or if it was “Don’t fucking look at me”. Either way, it was some kind of Hopperism. I put my head back down and tried to keep walking.

At the rear centre of the gallery is a man, a golden macaroni man on crutches. His right leg, amputated at the knee, rests atop a pile of Funk & Wagnall’s encyclopedias. At the bottom of the stack is Jansen’s Story of Painting. The macaroni man watches television: clips from Hollywood movies dealing with male artists and their relationships with their female models – beauty and the need to possess – “Love is flesh” – Cut to a shot of the artist as model. He is being cast as the macaroni man on crutches. Cut back to Hollywood: “Tell me what you see.”

“Paint… immature…paint.”

Rapunzel cradles a corporate man. His body is a crumbling turret. One hand opens a vagina-like pea pod, revealing guts. A tattoo of a man wrestling snakes. A stag looks on, embracing a muscular, hairy chest.

I only managed a step or two before I got tackled from behind. I took a boot to the forehead and realized that they were serious. I started to get up. “Why are you doing this?” I got up just far enough to see that there were more sets of legs standing around me than there were originally. Why did I get up? It was like putting my head on a tee. The next kick hit me in the face with a follow-through that Tiger Woods would have been proud of. Then I remember the pavement and I remember it getting dim.

Front and centre of the gallery is a birdbath atop a pedestal. A voice from above tells a story about kids taking turns pissing in it. The one who won’t join the game has the birdbath thrown at him. Cruel young boys. Down through the stem of the birdbath is a video of the artist underwater. He surfaces, puts something in his mouth, then submerges. A story about pearls and how few oysters actually produce them. Irritants become covered in layers of secretion to form a gem.

The next thing I felt was someone prodding me, but not with their boots. “They’re gone”. “Get in the car, we’ll drive you home”. Angels. There are angels.

Two aboriginal men, driving past, saw someone being pummeled and stopped it from happening. They wouldn’t say who they were. I got in the back seat, blubbering like a baby.

A glass-headed boy sits on the edge of a bed covered with broken plates, little robots on the sheets. His shirt says, “Life begins at Hooters”. The top of his head is smashed open, full of light bulb. His hands are made of beaver jaws. “I have no strings to tie me down…” He is watching Pinocchio, a yardstick for a nose. A guy wire connects him to a helix-shaped pillar of salt boxes. Pinocchio is lying to the girl puppets, trying to impress, until a fairy godmother, with a wave of her wand, returns his nose to normal.

So that’s what happened; a set play. The women were out front, the guys were hiding around the corner. No – why do I assume that? I saw the two women, then I saw boots, then I saw more sets of boots. There’s nothing gender-specific about boots. There’s nothing gender-specific about the pain I’m in. There’s nothing gender-specific about the uncontrollable rage that’s out there in the world.

I’m left with a profound sense of gratitude that someone took such a huge risk to help me, and gratitude that I don’t live in a world full of artists. They’d be standing around considering the race and gender implications of the situation until well past the funeral.

I’m drawn again to the bird bath. The riddle of the sphinx. On four legs filled with lies. On two legs erasing the past. On one leg, an artist. Layers of secretion surrounding a grain of sand. Very few of the irritants that enter an oyster’s shell will become pearls.

The oyster is a creature that must transform the irritating rock that has invaded its body into a pearl. The artist, functioning in a diseased society, must do the same. In the creation of this installation, I searched for a story that would function as an allegory to my own questioning and processing of the misogyny that envelops me. Because this action is ultimately a course for self-evaluation and evolution, Oedipus Rex seemed an obvious choice. Based upon the Sphinx’s riddle, I created sculptures that represent myself at three stages. A boy sits up on his bed, his hands replaced by beaver skulls. The office worker sits, with two feet on the floor. The artist stands on one leg with crutches.

I end with this quote by Maud Lavin on the work of Hanna Hoch, as it is an equally appropriate description of the potential and the complexity of the art of Bonnie Marin.

notes:
1. Maud Lavin, Cut with the Kichen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hanna Hoch, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1993.