Number 504, Feb 19, 2004

Hey, Good Buddy

Your Masculinity Bedazzles

Andrew Harwood's sequined photos are dazzling camouflage.

There isn’t a lot of intersection between truckers and the gay community, so seeing a mobile of big rig silhouettes covered in blue and silver glitter is both a surprise and delight. This mobile, also known as Convoy, is one among many pieces in Toronto-based Andrew Harwood’s new solo exhibition, Trucker.

Trucker is the first body of work in Transit, a series “devoted to the aesthetics and identities of those making a living from transportation.” Aptly enough this work will make its way over to Serbia for a Young Artists’ Biennale later this year. Trucker stems from Harwood’s earlier work on his Canadiana Series; a set of three exhibitions that ended with Last Spike, an examination of Canada’s railroad. Through his work Harwood delves into the realm of identity and its construction using images from popular culture.

Part of Harwood’s attraction to working in serial format is the way his knowledge base on a topic grows as he creates; it spawns new ideas and tangents never anticipated. His work is a continual process of discovery. For example, who knew the world of trucking had its own codes the same way gay culture does? Trucker takes a look at a few CB radio codes and gayifies them by spelling out the words with sequins on denim. Believe it or not, the phrase “back door” refers to the last truck in a convoy.

Throughout Trucker one will see several found photographs shimmering with sequins. The arduous process of applying each one individually to a photograph results in a dazzling camouflage. The viewer sees the image through the sparkle and semi-transparency of the small plastic gems. It can take a bit of time to recognize the image, but that is part of what makes the work interesting. Through the sequins the viewer sees not only photographs of 18-wheelers, but also portraits of Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, and other icons of 1970’s masculinity.

Trucker reminisces about a time when working class men in both gay and popular culture were celebrated. A time when men with furry chests were revered rather than sold Nair. It was also when Harwood was growing up in Wiarton, Ontario trying to talk to truckers on his home CB, and watching Sam Peckinpah’s Convoy. Now he’s having another look at the culture and splicing scenes from Convoy with trucker-themed porn, bringing interpretations of gay sex and trucking into the open. When asked about his interest in fusing pornography and art Harwood says, “I don’t think anything cuts to the core like sex does.” And as common as porn in gay art may be, he does have a point. Not only does pornography talk about sex, but it also talks about the nature of class and identity.

In conversation Harwood makes continual reference to ideas of labour and commerce. While trucking conjures up images of the working class and poverty, sequins speak of high fashion and excess. Their meticulous application returns the conversation back to labour. Trucker brings style and labour together, and draws in dialogue about the nature of creating art. Harwood says, “It seems like such an extreme luxury to be able to make art.” It’s an unfortunate, but true fact. Having worked in the Toronto art scene for the last thirteen years he is grateful for having earned himself the privilege of production.

Part of Harwood’s intent with Trucker is to make pretty work, and he succeeds. He talks about the beauty of trucks saying they are like sculpture to him. Harwood, like a magpie, is attracted to shiny objects as evidenced by grocery bags full of glitter and sequins throughout his studio. When asked why he bothers to sequin something he already thinks is pretty he says, “in some ways it makes it prettier, it’s like gilding the lily.” But His interest in process is more complicated than that. Sequining popular images is a way of playfully subverting their authority. It is a disarming way of engaging the viewer into political dialogue without being hit-you-over-the-head didactic. Trucker is a reluctant tribute to a particular masculine culture. It mocks while it praises. After all, not many guys celebrate their masculinity with pounds of sequins and glitter.

Andrew Harwood

March 5-27, 2004

Paul Petro Contemporary Art
Wednesday - Saturday, 11 - 5pm

980 Queen St West, Toronto, ON M6J 1H1
416-979-7874 petro@interlog.com