It could seem cliché to come across a pack of matches, a container of gasoline and a garbage can of half-burned bras as one enters a feminist artist-run centre. But Amy Lockhart’s recent work at Montreal’s La Centrale manages to sidestep worn-out stereotypes with inventive, handmade appropriations of common objects—here, she transforms the familiar into the strange and surreal. The artist’s solo show, “Give Up the Ghost,” is a survey of outsider art–inspired sculptures, which together construct “an absurd parallel universe” out of very simple materials: paper, glue, masking tape and colourful acrylic paint.
At the centre of the exhibition is Lockhart’s Self-Portrait as a Lady, an exaggerated sculptural bust equipped with a disarmingly realistic protruding tongue and a pair of eyes that seem to follow the viewer around the room. Much like a three-dimensional cartoon character, Lockhart’s inanimate alter ego presides over the artist’s other creations and provides a thematic link for this group of seemingly unrelated ephemeral objects. A single red, high-heeled pump labelled “Red Shoes of Human Rights” occupies the plinth next to the artist’s self-portrait, for instance. On the walls, painted images of flattened and distorted pin-up ladies share space with miniature reproductions of half-empty fridges and dusty workspaces. In Lockhart’s carefully staged papier-mâché world, ubiquitous media images and personal narratives are levelled by humble and whimsical modes of presentation, prompting eccentric new associations in the mind of the viewer.
That Lockhart is best known for her work as an animator and cartoonist comes as no surprise: her cut-out animation, The Collagist, produced in collaboration with artist Marc Bell, in many ways steals the show. The film, which depicts the hands of an unseen artist as they cut, paste and draw on a desktop, acts as commentary for the rest of Lockhart’s work. It also lends her unusual assemblages the air of stage sets and movie props. From this cinematic perspective, a bloodied animal trap, a hunting knife and a pipe hanging beneath a postcard that reads “Tell Mumsy I love her” all become highly charged symbols of an uneasy narrative that has transpired outside of the gallery space. Similarly, a recreation of the collagist’s working surface becomes a self-reflexive meditation on the creative process.
Though Lockhart’s objects refer back to familiar forms and tropes, her deft handling of materials and wry sense of humour ensure that “Give Up the Ghost” is more than mere appropriation. Instead, it offers a witty reflection on the often unnerving process of bringing objects to life. (4296 boul St-Laurent, Montreal QC)