Basements to beaches

Sincere longing in Haight Gallery’s latest solo exhibition

Hannah Doerksen’s latest exhibition Another Year Another Banquet More Awards is rife with the proverbial and yet regrettable sense of life’s afterglow — the kind you’d find amongst dusty trophies in a middle-aged man’s basement. Elevated by a peculiar mixture of deadpan humour and heart-stopping poetry this seeming banality is transcended by a state of wonder and beauty which is a rapport perfectly suited to the garage-cum-art-venue of Haight Gallery.

Throughout the show Doerksen seems to be channelling a family member or friend someone well-known and loved who has hit the halfway point in life and is kind of stuck with that all-too-common feeling of looking back in disappointment. It’s like an accidental but apt personification of postmodernism and its logic of failure and finitude.

Concomitant with this embodiment of postmodernism are some of its stylistic tendencies which show up in the works: not hiding any of the process using discarded materials you found in the alley behind your studio roughing up expensive French papers ’cause you just don’t care etc. However here in a novel way imperfection is subsumed by romanticism. For instance the oil painting “Time to Leave” reveals a wet-on-wet execution à la Karen Kilimnik that indicates a hurried process where there is no time to wait for paint to dry before adding subsequent layers. But this disregard for the perfect illusion of in this case ocean swimmers waving at the camera exists at the behest of emotional urges. Symptomatic of today’s ever-dwindling leisure time the hurried gesture betrays conversely the strength of the painter’s need to memorialize the swimmers and the waning ocean sun. This awareness of time slipping away is abbreviated in ticking clock hands inserted into the corners of Doerksen’s three oil-painted canvases. In this context where painting from a snapshot used to be frowned upon for cheapness and cheating this gesture is loaded with earnestness and effort.

Culture theorist Steven Shaviro has said that the lyrical expression of Romanticism is made ineffective today by the mechanical hands of the “marketing mechanisms of informational capitalism for which image is everything.” As such a pre-ironic era of genuine belief is implausible today. In such a scenario time is directional and the destruction of naiveté and pre-industrial ideals can never be reversed. But implicit in this is an assumption of unchanging subjectivities that never cease desiring the new. In contrast Doerksen by proxy of her basement hero concerns herself with the hermetic universe of nostalgia-laden objects unshaken by exterior pressures to innovate. Using salvaged materials such as off-cut Styrofoam and old magazines her work “I resent the fun that you are having” in its scrawled ink concedes to other people having fun while resting decidedly in the realm of the onlooker.

Epitomizing the competitive nature of capitalist society and her position of recession from its race to win Doerksen’s altered trophies signify an accumulation of failures and misses rather than accomplishments evident in the self-deprecating captions of the etched placards and the slumped postures of the trophy figures at top. Each one is a humorous ode to the inevitably awkward mishaps that take place within this sports-like arena of cutthroat social interactions noticed on the minutest level.

The trophies as well as the video piece “Running Out” which fills the room with the exhausting looped audio of a jogger’s footsteps and breathing exude perpetual and unrewarded exertion. This implied failure is a general theme throughout the show. Equally a theme though is failure’s subversion (failed failure) into success one commanded by the ability to transform life’s daily fodder into personally meaningful works of art. Doerksen’s collage sculptures put forth a lyrical subjectivity that extends beyond the trap of a hyper-mediated society.