Andrew Harwood

Prairy Style

July 15 - August 27, 2011

Mushroom Pyramid, For Will Munro (detail)
Prairy Style  2011  (installation view)
Installation view
Post Colonial Tableau
Installation view #2

Mushroom Pyramid, For Will Munro (detail)

Mushroom Pyramid, For Will Munro (detail), 2011
fifty found plaster plaques

Andrew Harwood on Prairy Style:


Prairy Style is an installation based on the fictitious character
of a 1970s gay interior decorator. The exhibition features a lot
of orange, brown, yellow and green, colours particularly popular in
the earlier part of that decade. This is the formalist structure of
the exhibition and features works that are specific to and talk
to the politics of the region such as the new series, "Winnipeg Stained
Glass" - both a nod to Arte Povera (a sampling of art from the
same era), but also to the actual poverty of the city: many abandoned
houses have particle board to cover smashed-in windows.

Three video works entitled Non-Event Horizon addressing the monotony
and beauty of the Prairie landscape, each features its own sound
track including pop, rock and country mixes. These videos are
exhibited on standard televisions - an attempt to contain or perhaps deal with
the enormity of such a giant and often overwhelming yet seemingly
vacant landscape.

A tribute to Will Munro, is a work called Mushroom Pyramid, using 50
found plaster plaques of florescent orange mushrooms sourced from the
former Winnipeg-based company Favor Ware - a decorative plaque company
that recently went out of business. There are lamps and other
interior objects based on the themes and colour ranges as well as a
handful of Op Art collages to playfully blur the notions of interior
design, craft and art. The Op Art collages are named after
counties and towns in Manitoba.

I made a sculptural work using the inserts from vintage
fake fire places to create warm toned light. This work is called
Prairy Fire. New sequin and glitter pieces entitled Prairy Fields
will reference aerial photography of the region as well as Colour
Field painting.


Andrew Harwood is a Winnipeg-based artist, curator and writer. He is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (1991). Harwood's gallery, Zsa Zsa, operated in Toronto from 1998 until 2005. He was also a founding member of the Toronto Alternative Art Fair International Collective. His work is held in the permanent collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, ON, the Bank of Montreal, Toronto and numerous private collections.



P R A I R Y S T Y L E : a user’s guide

In the late 1960s, as many sites for possible Utopias were being considered nationally, a new wave of archeological exploration was sweeping the prairies. In this frenzy, culturally sensitive hippie dirt ramblers stumbled across a geological marvel exclusive to ‘Prairy’ life.

Excavated on the farms surrounding Steinbach were dozens upon hundreds of specimens of petrified semen mesh. The Mennonites have always been an industrious, yet severely conservative, stock of people. Following The Great Depression, Mennonite grandmothers would scrounge and confiscate these cum rags of the colony’s young men and incorporate them into “primitive” textile design. Those scraps of old tea towels or washcloths, which were once squirreled away and kept hidden under mattresses or behind dressers … to be used in the mopping up of the night’s fervent emissions … were, at some point gathered in order to make what would later become highly collectable and sought-after hooked rugs.

This dearth of absorbent material left the farm boys to figure out a means of relieving their teenage tension while safely out of the inquisitive eye of their matriarchs. Thus, the wheat field circle jerks were born. Slowly, one at a time until the groups would count into nearly a dozen or more in any given area of this vast agricultural land, Southern Manitoba boys learned the thrills of communal cumming en plein air. At sunset, the skies amber with pink undertones, groups of teenagers would congregate for this knowledge-sharing: grunting in their native Low German or Cree (the Mennonite boys craved the beauty of the local Native boys), maneuvering their farmer seed from its stiff holding place out of their foreskins and covering the golden wheat in loose string-like formations so heavy as to weigh down the crop in an erotic precursor to UFO crop circles.

Inspired by this little known, and embarrassingly under-studied cultural phenomenon, Andrew Harwood has replicated these semen meshes. Consisting of dollar store glue, and adorned with dew-like shimmering ‘glass’ beads and sequins, what the artist has titled Prairy Colour Field Series opens up a world of the by-gone heart of mid-continent and postwar camp.

Circa 1971, this Prairy Style world began to produce ceramic molds of stylized fungi; craft paper with bold (yet still somehow understated) geometrical patterns; and plastic-flamed fireplaces void of actual heat. It was an all out antagonism-oriented faux love affair with the natural world that had bored its denizens for so long, but also reframed it, becoming something to tout proudly, like a cold sore transmitted from the hottest Prairy Bear. A plethora of middle-of-the-road interesting ceramic molds were manufactured and distributed by the company Favor Ware … among the first in a long, and unevenly illustrious, lineage of Winnipeg brands that began with earnest enough intentions only to be subsequently over-hyped then marketed to a US economy and drained of its flavour before ultimate bankruptcy in advance of the close of the last century.

In Harwood’s hands Favor Ware relics are revived into Mushroom Pyramid, an homage to zoned-out Prairy Style late nights fueled by psychotropic enhancements and the memory of a departed friend . On the chilly Manitoba nights, queers gather at private parties and imbibe customary shots of Prairy Fyre . If done properly, this local libation will likely lead to blackouts akin to religious mind travel into a world of polka dots and stripes that resemble a bird’s eye view of parceled farmland with winding murky waters.

In an attempt to transcribe these voyages, the artist has created the Manitoba County Series using commercially produced sheets of scrapbook paper. With alternating grids and patterns, these collages on Masonite refer to an imagined and archaic culture of the Manitoba countryside, conversely The Prairy Colour Field Series reveals a bird's eye view of the prairie landscape. Similarly, Non Event Horizon, a multi-channel video installation, further indulges the flatness of the land in Prairy Style trademark colour swatches of gold, green, and orange screen saturations. It also incorporates a ‘90s dance soundtrack as ardent as the roads are long. Barnett Newman, the American Abstract Expressionist and Anarchist, often found himself conflicted in his painting of vertical stripes and did come to the realization that the vertical was a subconscious agreement to the hegemonic equation of spirituality with above and below. Subsequently he began to paint horizon lines in a gesture of an earth-based understanding of love as on either side (or, all around). More than fifty years later that all encompassing horizon line love is taken to a backroom palace where visitors are gifted Prairy Bath House Kits, replete with poppers, lube, condom and a Regal catalogue bundled in, of course, Prairy colour hankies.

In Winnipeg, where the rent is cheap and the violence is free, windows have, in recent times, become a luxury. In cases where bedroom, kitchen or living room windows are shot out, or broken in other manners, particleboard (also known as chipboard) is commonly used to ensure the household is sheltered from the elements (both natural and social). Harwood genteelly refers to this bargain basement solution as Winnipeg Stained Glass. All the rage in the trendiest of low-income neighbourhoods, including the neighbourhood of Point Douglas where Harwood lives, Winnipeg Stained Glass represents an aura of life without the indulgence of peering outward; this is an existence of contemporaneity, of living in the moment; unconcerned with seeing what’s (or who’s) to come on the horizon.

A concluding point on materials: It must be noted that all materials integrated in Andrew Harwood's Prairy Style do share a common manufacturing philosophy. From the chipboard to the Masonite, from the cheap glue to the fake glass, all of his materials were introduced to the West as cost-saving measures during troubled times. Indeed, Pairy Style is a queer amalgam of industriousness, hard times and creativity. It is with this mindset that we can see Utopia not in the peripheries, but right in the centre with its long sunsets, especially while on our backs in an irrigation ditch.


- J.J. Kegan McFadden
July 2011


footnotes:

1. Founded in 1874 by German-speaking Mennonite settlers from Russia; over time Steinbach has grown in population to 13,500 people, with the main industry being the manufacturing of windows for commercial and domestic use.

2. Will Munro, 1975 ~ 2010.

3. Prairy Fyre: one shot of cheapest available Tequila, splash of Tabasco sauce, stir with freshly-pulled wheat sheath, served in a cracked Mason jar (preferably unwashed from the beer it previously held). If over-served, the only way to alleviate the special ailment of a Prairy Hangover is the Winnipeg Diet Drops. Available in ‘Assiniboine’ and ‘Red’ flavours, these unofficial samplings from where the rivers meet will flush all toxins (and most everything else) out of your system.

4. Established in 1928 as a wholesaler of greeting cards, Regal has become a powerhouse in what is referred to as Direct Selling, resulting in the current slogan: "There's no recession at Regal!" These catalogues, touting "As Seen on T.V." goods are often found in commercial retailer environments where the clientele is mixed and the hours between clean ups can be long.

After years in the Big Smoke, Andrew Harwood moved his craft shack to Winnipeg, where he had no other recourse than to complete this body of work. It was there, in a moment of sheer Prairy Style, amidst a breathtaking Malathion fog, that he met J.J. Kegan McFadden who has, on occasion, been known to pose as a cultural interpreter.


P R A I R Y S T Y L E : a user’s guide. is co-published in a limited edition of 250 by As We Try & Sleep Press (Winnipeg) and Paul Petro Contemporary Art (Toronto) in conjunction with the exhibition, Prairy Style by Andrew Harwood (15 July - 13 August, 2011).