Wylie: Art exposes our chaos/control alter egos

Amy Modahl explores our cultural obsession with imposed harmony and chaotic reality.

Amy Modahl: Where the Heart Is at the Kelowna Art Gallery through March 27.

Do you recall the scene with Stockard Channing in the film Six Degrees of Separation, in which she says as she flips their double-sided painting by Wassily Kandinsky that was geometric on one side and lyrically organic on the other, “chaos and control, chaos and control …”?

If so, it may come back to your mind when you visit the current solo exhibition of work by artist Amy Modahl at the Kelowna Art Gallery. For her installation she chose to explore our cultural obsession with harmonious home décor and design, especially with the ideal of neatness and sparseness as a goal. After all, there is an entire magazine called Simplicity, and we are encouraged at every turn to de-clutter, especially with the new spectre of being labeled as a hoarder if we don’t comply.

As visitors enter the small gallery space at the Kelowna Art Gallery they will see a tidy row of drawings of home interiors, rendered in a neutral manner (Modahl took some drafting courses in high school) and housed in identical neat white frames. Each one of these coloured drawings is inspired by a layout from a House Beautiful sort of magazine or book, and is titled with an inspiring and encouraging quotation gleaned from these publications, such as Make Your Home Show the Real You.

Many among us might very well cringe at this, fearing that our home, in fact, shows way too much of the real us, and not in any orderly or attractive manner. It is this gap between the ideal and the actual that Modahl wishes to address in her exhibition. So, on the other side of the space is a huge coloured drawing that she made directly on the wall that portrays a mass of dirty dishes. They are piled on the counter in a tilted cascade, and even the kitchen sink—complete with a limp dish rag hanging off the edge—is depicted. Chaos meets control.

Once visitors begin to think about Modahl’s theme, interesting avenues of thought open up. Who are we trying to kid with these unrealistic spartan home interiors? But as with the ubiquitous images of scrawny fashion models that make us feel fat, it has become hard to look around our homes and not see just the messes and imperfections. Our homes are supposed to be our nests, our dens, where we can relax and retreat from the fray of life, but now we hold them up to scrutiny, measured against impossible ideas all fueled by and feeding into consumerism (a new couch! some new curtains!).

Based in Salmon Arm, Modahl is originally from Duluth, Minnesota. She came to the Okanagan via Vancouver, where she did course work and taught at Emily Carr University. She received her MFA from the University of British Columbia Okanagan in 2013. Modahl has other aspects to her practice as an artist that are more performative-based, and make use of intervention and interaction with people. The current show at the Kelowna Art Gallery is traditional in contrast, but still thought provoking.

Amy Modahl: Where the Heart Is runs at the Kelowna Art Gallery until March 27.


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