Mansongs

    Friday, September 9, 2011 to Saturday, October 15, 2011

    Opening
    • Friday, September 9, 2011 to Saturday, September 10, 2011
    Innocent bunnies, descriptive songs scores, and verdant landscapes are the backdrop of Chris Simonite’s animation work in which he sets himself up as foil. His work seriously tackles tropes and expectations of hyper-masculinity within western society using humor and irony. Gender expectations that aid in reinforcing power relations are usually invisible to members of any society that buy into and support these roles through choice and lifestyle. As gender is culturally constructed, the works aid in the process of deconstruction. The complexity of these relations are simplified, questioned, and challenged within Simonite’s work. Chris Simonite, Feminist Animator Chris Simonite is a charter member of what I’d call the “Winnipeg School of Abjection,” artists who revel in images of humiliation and marginalization. The painter Ivan Eyre has often depicted himself wrapped in bandages. The filmmaker Guy Maddin has subjected many of his male characters (see, for example The Saddest Music in the World and The Heart of the World) to humiliating contests staged to win the affection of powerful females. Daniel Barrow produces heart-breaking overhead projection stories about the trials of growing up gay. Sarah Anne Johnson’s recent series about her grandmother’s psychiatric journey and Erica Eyre’s drawings of twisted suburbanites are other examples of the abject in contemporary Winnipeg art. Chris Simonite is a male feminist who embodies all of the contradictory energies and conflicts that such a seemingly contradictory term implies. Part of his strategy is to make the subjection of women by men look ridiculous, and to send-up redneck culture. His reversals make the men who subject women to abuse look ridiculous, abject and marginal through satire. Simonite: “As a male growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, when feminist thought began to take hold in western culture, I was significantly impacted by feminist criticism of masculinity. From this experience, I have learned to use humour as a way of addressing and deflecting these difficult issues… I am interested in taking men to task for the absurdities of male privilege and power. I refuse to exclude myself from this criticism.” Simonite sings his country music songs with a southern accent, perhaps in order to focus on what he sees as the American sources of Canadian redneck culture. Of course, actual Canadian country music stars such as Shania Twain and many others modify their accents to fit a standard country music accent. One also thinks of English artists such as Josh Stone and Amy Winehouse, who sound like American blues artists, but whose work is nevertheless English and not American. However, one of Simonite’s recent animations, called State Gun (including a song of the same title), about a state adopting an official gun, makes reference to an actual recent decision by the state of Utah in a way that is explicitly American in its address. I wonder if Simonite means to imply that Canada’s sexist problems have their source in American culture? Simonite: “I feel that pop culture is culture in North America and while a uniquely Canadian version has existed, it seems like it is only one step away from its American cousin. We like to make fun of Americans and feel superior to them, but I question this. I truly believe that people are people. It’s too easy to judge.” Witness Simonite’s video A Promise of the Lord. This work is an animated music video in which Simonite sings an original country song that seemingly outlines the rules by which a conservative cowboy character (who has a startling resemblance to Simonite himself) treats his woman. Thing is, though, the oppression is illustrated by a set of symbols and images – a drawing of the cowboys of Brokeback Mountain, K.D. Laing, rainbow graphics, and an hilarious exercising duo, that depict Simonite’s macho cowboy subject as, well, secretly gay. The conflation of homosexuality and sexism here has, of course, its own problems, which perhaps Simonite’s self-portrait as misogynist cowboy is meant to negotiate. Simonite: “I can’t help but wonder when I see the ultra-macho gay-bashing, misogynist male if there isn’t just a little doubt about that person’s own sense of masculinity. It’s a cliché, and I know it, but it’s omnipresent. It always makes me wonder: ‘what they are so afraid of?’” Simonite’s undergraduate animations were equally fraught and funny as his more recent work. In one video entitled The Passion of the Last Temptation of the Whatsisface, he attempts to articulate what a real man is, with predictable results for the men. On his website, and in these videos, he almost revels in the title he gives himself as “the World’s Stupidist (sic)…Practitioner of Stupidism.” (You will note that Simonite’s manifesto is prominently linked on his website, but it is not actually available – is this perhaps deliberate?) Simonite: “I wrote a piece called the Stupidist Manifesto, in which I referred to myself as ‘The World’s Stupidist Artist.’ But then I thought why do I have to call myself an artist? ‘Why not just the Stupidist?’ Stupidist what? It doesn’t matter - a Stupidist practises Stupidism. I poke fun at myself while distancing myself from the grand narrative of male genius in art. And I think maybe knowing I’m the Stupidist is all anyone needs to know about me.” In his last year as an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba, Simonite produced a series of drawings of dogs that provided a clue and a kind of metaphorical distance on his sensibilities about men. These “frankendogs” are an extension of his video depictions of the clueless male, who, even if technically modified, can’t seem to think his/their way out of a dilemma of sexism and oppression. -Cliff Eyland Cliff Eyland is a Nova Scotian artist who has lived in Winnipeg since 1994.