curated by Alexander Rondeau

Exhibition essay

In tethers, Andrew Harding and Luke Maddaford take aesthetic and cultural signifiers of erasure as working points to self-reflexively re-frame queer and Métis masculinities against the backdrop of rurality. By re-appropriating signifiers and logics of falsely totalizing mythologies of national so-called ‘Canadian’ identity, the artists re-inscribe queer presence at the very point of erasure in these mythologies, effectively disarming their cultural purpose. Harding and Maddaford re-position themselves to consider how these images and mythologies are tethered to their own respective identities, and how these tethers might be unfurled through visual and contextual interventions.

Andrew Harding’s Urban Hide (2019), a re-worked ‘native-gas-station-T-shirt’ is suspended and re-animated as a floating sculpture taking the form of a tanned hide. These common shirts are not only appropriative, but also project a singular, flattened sense of Indigenous culture that exists uniquely as a souvenir, or otherwise forgotten. Marketed to summer family vacationers and tourists — industries rooted in the advancement of colonizing and entrenching settler whiteness into non-urban spaces — , ‘native-gas-station-T-shirts’ are collectable tokens of commodification, dispossession and erasure. Harding’s material intervention calls into question the plasticity of such paradoxical practices of memory-making by obfuscating authorship of the presented imagery.

Luke Maddaford’s I Haunt the Prairies, and They Haunt Me Back (2017), brings together a careful selection of objects and xerox images. Each intimately points towards Maddaford’s upbringing in rural Saskatchewan and troubles tensions between queerness, and the rural ‘Canadian’ imaginary. Notably, a xerox-printed photograph of an empty prairie field bears Maddaford’s handwritten inscription “still your fag”. ‘fag’, here, resiliently operates as Maddaford’s tether to rurality, rather than a driving force away from rurality. 

Both artists’ works are made from materials found in circulation (in libraries, gas stations, stores, etc.) that, when encountered, may initially be off-putting or even offensive: a t-shirt bearing stereotypical imagery, toxically masculine cowboy novels, etc. Though, these harmful imageries become transformative sites of reclamation as both Harding and Maddaford re-appropriate aesthetic mythologies that relate deeply to building a national ‘Canadian’ identity that is neither queer, nor Indigenous, but a hetero-colonialist characterization. The Canadian rural masculine identity is one that readily links the male body to labour and the land as evidenced in the exploitation of land for industrial agricultural ventures. The farmer — both in practice and as a metaphorical figure — re-inscribes settler masculinity as distinctly tethered to the land, continuing the project of dispossession. Between Pheasants Contemporary is located on a farm, surrounded by other farms on stolen land, which is past, present, and future home of Cree, Ojibway, and Algonquin peoples within Robinson-Huron treaty land. As the inaugural exhibition for Between Pheasants Contemporary, tethers reflects a critical reading of the regional cultural fabric in Kerns township, and the myriad other agricultural townships of the area. Reverberations of the aforementioned foundational, biopolitical formation of ‘Canadian’ masculinity and sexuality are still deeply felt in the rural North, and are a basis upon which colonialist metrics have be used to pathologize queer and non-settler sexualities. While all the materials in the exhibition were found in the artists’ respective communities, they are all also readily available in this area.

When paired together in tethers, Urban Hide and I Haunt the Prairies, and They Haunt Me Back question difficult vernacular imagery and how it might be destabilized to make place for queer and Métis narratives in rurality — narratives that find queerness not at odds, but rather as part of a rural cultural fabric. Harding’s cutting, stitching, upside-down mirroring, and installation approach of the t-shirt material is made to replicate a tanning hide and asserts cultural practice through form, re-claiming an agentic position vis-à-vis the material: what emerges, most dominantly, is the form and silhouette of the work. Similarly, Maddaford’s assembly of various images including buttons, a wheat decorated plate, and cowboy western novels are paired with queer and homo-erotic imagery, a suggestive belt buckle (insofar that it is removed of the presumed pants it is meant to hold-up), rope, and the inscription ‘fag’ to extrapolate and reinforce the homosocial underpinnings of rural masculinity and effectively locating an innate sense of queerness therein. The affective charge of both works melancholically posits resilience as a self-reflexive form of meaning making in and of itself. In troubling signifiers and their literal applications, the driving force of erasure is revealed; gas station shirts are in fact not to preserve but to erase, and you can take the fag out of the rural, but you can’t take rurality out of the fag. 

Between Pheasants Contemporary would like to thank OCAD University's Graduate Studies for their generous financial support in realizing this exhibition. 

Using Format