Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Offhand Re-Marks - essay

War Stories, 2016. By Laurie Langford and Marshall Heaton

Offhand Re-Marks: Laurie Langford and Marshall Heaton
at ARTspace from February 17 - March 26, 2016

When two people communicate, there are bound to be some misunderstandings. Some of these misunderstandings are inevitable; some result from differences in language, others from cultural differences, generational gaps, social cue misunderstanding, hierarchical limitations, or even one’s own expectation, understanding or ability to converse. At times, two seemingly similar individuals can communicate with each other and yet have two very distinct understandings of the same conversation. 

In all cases, communication is a ‘call and response activity’ initiated by the one who most wishes to be understood and responded to by the one who most wishes to be heard.

Sometimes, people simply do not listen nor try to hear what the other person is saying – they only wait for their turn to retort. This can result in some truly unexpected juxtapositions – misunderstandings, lost opportunities, confusion, humour, and even insult.

Langford and Heaton have worked together casually for a number of years.  They collaborated on a print exhibition at ARTspace in 2011, entitled Bombs & Babes, which featured Heaton’s comment on war and the idealization of women. Where Langford works in a more traditionally feminine manner utilizing scissors and glue – her method, like a Victorian past-time, never diminishing her female sensitivity; Heaton works with physical force, power, and metal – his method, like Industry, solidifying his physical presence.

Although both, in their own way, comment on religion, war, and the role of women throughout time, neither ask for permission to express their thoughts or apologize for their options or interpretation. Both artists shamelessly hack symbols, text, and known visual cues to impose their will over the viewer.

Two decidedly hands-off artists have, in this exercise, challenged themselves to communicate with one another through art despite their differences in medium, and method.

Challenging the ‘do not touch the art’ safety net that has always protected their creations from others’ physical interference was a huge first step. The groundwork for trust and sharing had to be created – both artists needed to have equal opportunity to be the caller and responder – but their communication is marked by obvious signs of leading and framing and it becomes unclear who the caller and who the responder are at times. When balance has been obtained, we see two artists communicating – sometimes even asking for a response.

While it is clear that the ‘call and response’ between Langford and Heaton is fraught with misunderstanding – intentional or not – it is enjoyable to see the subversive humour of which the two artists are so fond, shining through in their exhibition, Offhand Re-Marks

Marshall Heaton received his Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Saskatchewan and currently resides in Leamington.


Laurie Langford received her B.A. in English Literature and Art History from the University of Toronto. She has been an exhibiting member of ARTspace since its inception, and currently resides in Chatham.