I don’t know for certain if I’ve ever been this close to something that costs $160,000. But Cal Lane‘s Gutter Snipes is a pretty gosh darn impressive drainpipe. It’s part of the show Ammunition that was at Art Mûr earlier this month. Given that it was part of the show I initially thought that it was a Quonset hut that had been cut up, but according to the wall tag, she used a drain pipe. It appeared that all the rest of the pieces in her show had some connection to the military. Consisting of ammunition boxes that had been ajoured. Beyond being very pretty and making some awesome shadows, the pieces and the show raise a whole whack of interesting questions.
Back when I was a child, I used to haunt Army/Navy surplus stores. They always had ammunition boxes for sale. Since I was so young, and as a consequence hadn’t accumulated an awful lot of stuff, I never could quite figure out what to do with an old ammunition box from World War 2 or the Korean War. Now I wish I had bought a bunch. I have more junk and crap in my place that would be so much better served by being in a box or something than just being piled on my floor. But I digress…
Since war is fought very differently these days in comparison to 65 years ago, I strongly doubt that contemporary ammunition boxes look at all like the ones in the exhibition. Without doing any research, I kind of figure plastic and either much smaller, for the reduction in size of projectiles or larger, for the increase in size of the projectiles. But to be absolutely honest, now-a-days I do my darndest to stay as far away as possible from anything and everything that might possibly be connect to any military. So I honestly have no clue a to what a contemporary ammunition box looks like. But, I’m quite familiar with the old ones.
Basically two feet by three feet by four feet (or something like that) and made out of metal, they make for a fairly stable and regular object to have bits cut out by a welding torch – that’s the difference, filigree is made by twisting threads together, lace and hemstitch are done similarly – with ajoure you cut the bits out.
There are all sorts of things you can read into the use of ajoure on old ammunition boxes. If you need some help, a traditionally female type of work being used on a traditionally male piece of equipment. Military vs. Domestic, you get the idea. Let your imagination run wild. Then the final kick at the can, it wasn’t until I actually went to callane.com that I discovered in fact that Ms. Lane is in fact a Ms. Thereby adding even more fuel for the fire of your imagination.
The one thing I was particularly impressed with through, beyond the juxtapositioning of two seemingly incongruous ideas was her use of shadows and negative space. There was nothing particularly special about the lighting per se, but the shadows thrown off the objects were riveting. To the extent that it was extremely difficult to concentrate on the rather rough cut outs on the boxes. I’m fairly certain that if I had one of the boxes hanging across from my desk or bed or something, where I would have multiple opportunities to study it for an extended period of time I’d be able to create some sort of story or understand the things Ms. Lane has cut out in the boxes. As it is, the shadows function kind of like a veil, obscuring things just enough to make it extremely alluring.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I thought Gutter Snipes was a Quonset hut. I’m a tad disappointed that it wasn’t. Because it would have been in keeping with the whole whole military theme. But as an object, it is something spectacular. Unlike the other pieces, it’s lit from within, so the shadows fall out side of it on the wall and floor. While they do make pretty patterns they don’t interfere with the metalwork which enables you to actually see and concentrate on some of the motifs and patterns. In some ways this is a good thing, and in other ways it isn’t suck a good thing.
It’s not good, because you get to see up close how rough Ms. Lane’s work is. Not that there is anything wrong with rough work, it’s just that when your work gets compared to lace and filigree in an age when there is a techniques known as laser cutting and waterjet cutting. It becomes a case of not quite living up to expectations, especially when your eye switches from the ammunition boxes veiled in shadows. Then secondarily, I didn’t quite appreciate seeing that the individual parts were held together by wrapped wire. It gave a little bit too much of an air of being jury-rigged together or slapdash, and not well thought out.
On the other hand it is a good thing, because by being able to see what she has cut out, you can start to make up stories about what everyone is doing, and making up stories is a very very good thing. When I was there, I couldn’t make up my mind if the whole thing was supposed to be read left-to-right, top-to-bottom or right-to-left. I guess it kind of depends on what god you believe in. Going left-to-right there seem to be a bunch of angels, some with mohawks, along with industrial landscapes, some other animals and a lot of the pretty shapes she uses to keep everything attached. If you read top-to-bottom, there seem to be a a bunch of devas or dharmapalas, some with mohawks, along with industrial landscapes, some other animals and a lot of the pretty shapes she uses to keep everything attached. If you read right-to-left there seem to be a bunch of Garuda or malaikah, some with mohawks, along with industrial landscapes, some other animals and a lot of the pretty shapes she uses to keep everything attached. I wish I had the time to go over it more closely, and actually try to give you some idea of the story I would make up about what was happening, but unfortunately, as you can see, I’m desperately behind the times and as the show closed two weeks ago, it’s not exactly easy to go back and spend a day-and-a-half looking at. With a little luck Rhéal Olivier & François were able to sell it to someone or something that will allow it to be viewed by the public and you can see it and make up your own.
It was at this point that I was going to try and write about how Gutter Snipes also was some kind of half pipe and tie it into skater culture and then finish up with a paragraph or two on recycling and reusing. But the more I think about it, neither one really applies. While there are lots of similarities that can be made between Gutter Snipes and The Pipe specifically in the shape and the ornamentation, the more I think about it, the less it seems natural and organic. And yes, I could jam them together no matter what anyone else thinks, but if I had to add another 1,200 words to this, I’m not certain it would be the best use of my time (can you tell that I’m getting anxious about all the backlogged stuff I’ve got?) And then while the recycle and reuse is a much more graceful thing to posit (and probably would only require about 500 words) I find it equally awkward when the ammunition boxes are most likely from Army Surplus stores and were never intended to be thrown away.
But the whole Women’s art thing really can’t be avoided. Ms. Lane leans heavily on what has traditionally been the only type of art that the y-chromosome challenged folk have been allowed to do for something like the last couple of millennia, while at the same time using as her base material and (for lack of a better word) “brushes” things that are most typically associated with the more aggressive of the sexes. Kind of like flipping everything on its head, or at least twisting standard issue artistic practices inside out. This is a good thing. While, personally, I would prefer to call Ms. Lane “Caledonia” (if in fact that is her name) rather than the gender bending diminutive “Cal,” more, because I really don’t like surprises, and then secondarily, it makes that whole “in fact that Ms. Lane is in fact a Ms.” redundant and superfluous, which is what gender in art should be. It doesn’t matter whether it is made by a guy or a girl. Yes it is unfortunate and bad that the art world has been one of the more sexist and misogynistic places for thousands of years. but here in Quebec, despite a lapse for 1,032 days starting in 2006, things for the most part are better than equal.
Three out of the four big museums in town are run by women, most of the major art festivals are run by women, a large preponderance of the galleries (commercial, university and artist run) are run by women, and believe it or not the collections in the museums that have collections while not 50/50 are a darn site closer than probably any other museums in the world (if I remember correctly, when I tried to count, the MACM had about 35% of its collection made by women, and the MBAM something like 20%) and there are significant local collections that actually have more art made by women.
But it’s beginning to look like I am foaming at the mouth here. In short, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, it’s impossible to avoid gender issues in this exhibit by Ms. Lane. This is a good thing. Her art is also a good thing. And finally it’s a very good thing I got to see it. Next time you have a chance you should too.