January 27, 2005

Lumpen works heave a sigh
Fast Forward Review: OIKOS, Luanne Martineau

by Mark Clintberg

Lumpen works heave a sigh
Luanne Martineau crosses art and craft divide in Oikos

Luanne Martineau
Runs until February 5
Trepanier Baer Gallery
(105 – 999 Eighth St. S.W.)

Given the recent crochet and knitting craze sweeping the chilly world of the hipster (homemade pirate-skull tuques come to mind), burgeoning debutantes would be well advised to take in Luanne Martineau’s Oikos at Trepanier Baer Gallery. Other art viewers will be equally enchanted – for entirely different reasons perhaps – by the artist’s exceptional showing of work.

Martineau’s works focus on anti-heroism and decrepitude. “Oikos” is a Greek word meaning “household management,” alluding in part, it seems, to the role of crafting and hobby activities in domestic economics and larger social practices.

Imagine a deflating, flaccid water heater with curling pipe-talons and you’ve got the centrepiece of the show: “Lubber.” Made of felted wool, its delicious, crisply constructed extensions reach perversely to the floor and out at the viewer. These appendages have been grafted on to the mass of the sculpture, which threatens to putter out a dim, shallow cloud of smoke and fog. The whole thing sits like a sucked-dead petrified skeleton. Thumbs up. It’s an animal/machine that groans, “I only want you to love me.”

A nearby table serves forth a mass of brightly coloured, knotted-up fibre suggestively titled Sweetie. The material collapses, tangles and protrudes like squid-y suction cups and – hold on, is that a nipple? This whole visceral, beautiful, fleshy, hairy, grotesque and seductive quality is carried on in Smoker, a woolly description of what might have resulted if one of Philip Guston’s paintings suffered a particularly violent cough.

Hanging from the wall and swagging onto the floor is Spaced: downright evocative, resembling a knotted-together-at-the-ankles pair of leggings with a very large orifice in them, bringing to mind a fragment of a Leigh Bowery costume.

Sprinkling the entire affair are drawings, which could be just as easily called “scrawlings.” They carry the quality of silent fixation in execution that so characterizes Martineau’s sculptural works. “Fountain” is one of the most successful, showing a lumpen, stalactite-extruding, severed torso – its title provoking a link to both Bruce Nauman and Marcel Duchamp’s works of the same name. “Anteater” is a messy and elegant thing embroidered on silk; definitely a drawing, definitely a Martineau.

Craft is back – or did it ever leave? Oikos suggests that the art/craft “struggle” that was so provocative, oh, 50 years ago or more and is still trying to hold on for dear life, might finally have come to rest – allowing more pressing and interesting debates to take the stage.

The artist, a former Calgary resident now living in British Columbia, teaches at the University of Victoria. Her work was recently shown at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver and Three Walls in Chicago.