While the rapidly globalizing art world seems to be inundated with ironic appropriations of mass media imagery, earnestness has become the new critical alternative for artists with an interest in the legacies of kitsch and popular culture. And nowhere is this zeitgeist of sincerity more keenly felt than in the work of the five artists featured in the Textile Museum of Canada’s current exhibition “Close to You.” Named after The Carpenters’ 1970 saccharine-sweet song of the same name, the show provides a survey of projects that translate pop culture icons into personalized and highly intimate craft objects in the domestic sphere. As curator Sarah Quinton observes in her catalogue essay, these artists “engage craft as a contemporary activity that can encapsulate personal, social and political spheres as a lens onto today’s world, communicating through a globally shared iconography based on real things.”
Emblematic of this zeal for referencing global touchstones are the collaged quilts of New York-based artist Ai Kijima. Using materials taken from sources as disparate as children’s bedding, Japanese kimonos and rock concert T-shirts, Kijima’s textile mash ups depict surreal and absurdist landscapes that remind us of the ways pop culture imagery infiltrates every aspect of our private lives: and that hint at the incredible amount of physical material that is manufactured and discarded so these images can circulate in the global economy.
Meanwhile, Michèle Provost’s installation of 44 framed embroideries featuring lyrics from pop songs examines how we find personal significance in even the most clichéd cultural references. Accompanied by an audio play list of the artist’s own “Top 40” pop songs, It’s only Rock and Roll combines recognizable lyrics from famous bands like The Rolling Stones and The Doors alongside songs by lesser-known groups such as the Boomtown Rats and Pulp. Provost’s selection of songs, along with the painstaking way each piece has been individualized with careful combinations of colours, patterns and fonts, give us insight into the cultural milieu that has informed her current practice as an artist. But even more revealing are her unintentional misinterpretations of lyrics–such as turning Bran Van 3000’s “Mamma don’t smoke that much dope” into “Mom, I don’t smoke that much dope”–which highlight the ways we often misunderstand mass media’s intended messages to make meaning of our own.
Also featuring craft-based projects on popular culture by Scott Kildall, Allyson Mitchell and Mark Newport, “Close to You” fulfills its promise to find the connecting thread between contemporary textiles, intimacy and popular culture. (55 Centre Ave, Toronto ON)