Affectionate Objects
Brenda Petays
Sept 11 — Sept 29, 1990
Reception Sept 10

The Or Gallery is proud to present the first Vancouver exhibition of Brenda Petays. Petays is an emerging artist from Victoria. Her show, Affectionate Objects, consists of objects and paintings that explore issues of decoration and feminism.

Brochure essay by Donna Clark

Brenda Petays’ Affectionate Objects

Petays’ Affectionate Objects are made strange through excessive detail, exaggerated size and hybrid constructions which make apparent the repressed in Western culture’s psycho-social formations of fetishism.

Valentine is representative of Petays’ five works, which combine large-scale painting and sculpture. The painting yokes contradictory elements: An enlarged handpainted detail of a mechanically reproduced nineteenth-century wallpaper design. In this sense, the separation between private spheres (represented by the wallpaper) and public spheres (represented by mechanical reproduction) is imploded to form a utopian whole.* In addition, the wallpaper painting is of a familiar motif, roses and thorns in the shape of a heart. Yet, through the exaggerated size of these ghostly black-and-white roses covered by shellac, the work reveals a menacing side – sadomasochistic relationships – which a fixation on the surface of sentimentality of love often masks.

The sculptural component to Valentine, a found object and dysfunctional machine part or mechanical tool, embellished with handpainted or hand-dipped details, is placed as if on an altar before the painting. The seemingly detached mechanical neutrality of shiny steel on highly reflective black plinths is comprised through the addition of artisanal embellishments that suggest the domestic: The steel object as well as being suggestive of a shower hear or a “chocolate grinder,” appears as if it has been dipped by hand in a gooey yellow confection which has hardened like icing on a cake. Thus, although the machine part may evoke a late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century “bachelor machine,” its relationship to the feminine imagery of the wallpaper painting is insisted upon. Like the painting, such binary oppositions as private and public spheres, feminine and masculine, and the artisanal and mechanically reproduced, are imploded. For these reasons, this embellished and detached object appears strange or humorous, privileged as an enshrined fetish.

Both the painting and the sculptural components of each work are fetishes and hybrids that reveal repressed relationships between people, although when considered simultaneously they appear simply in a figure-and-ground relationship to one another: The figure is associated with a “masculine” body, which contrasts to the ground associated with a “feminine” body. However, they can easily be read as recursive,that is, the “feminine” ground of the paintings and the “masculine” figure of the objects may together form a hybrid body. The effects of all five works would then be to turn the gallery into a liminal space that allows the spectator a critical distance to the fetishized objects.

Donna Clark, September 1990.

Brenda Petays Born Moosmin, Saskatchewan, 1956. Lives and works in Victoria, M.F.A., University of Victoria, 1990. B.F.A., University of Alberta, 1987. B.A., University of Saskatchewan, 1979. Exhibitions: Affectionate Objects, McPherson Library Gallery, Victoria, 1990; Prints from the Snap Archives, University of Alberta, Edmonton, 1990; Imagemakers Underground, Edmonton LRT Station, Edmonton, 1988; Suspects Latitude 53, Edmonton, 1988; Medicine Hat Print Show, Medicine Hat, 1988; Technicalities. Technical Staff Exhibition, University of Alberta, Edmonton, 1987.

Donna Clark is an artist and writer who lives and works in Vancouver. She is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing and the Association for Non-Commercial Culture.

*Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s short, autobiographically based story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” written in 1892, describes her experience by inventing a female character who becomes sicker as a result of the rest “cure” prescribed by her doctor-husband. This “cure” often confined (mainly bourgeois) women to their beds for long periods of time. Barbara Johnson’s “Is the Female to male as Ground is to Figure?” (in Feminism and Psychoanalysis, eds. Richard Feldstein and Judith Roof, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1989) provides a redemptive addition to Gilman’s story: “Twenty years later Gilman published a sequel titled ‘Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper,’ which documents the therapeutic effects of the story on other women suffering from the rest cure, and concludes, ‘It was intended… to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.’” Also, Gilman was active in the women’s movement and eventually left her doctor-husband.

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