THE PAST IS NEVER OVER
A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION
NOVEMBER 2, 2017 - JANUARY 1, 2018
Libby Hague is one of Canada’s foremost print-based artists and her work is featured prominently in the AGM collection. the past is never over teases out themes from her decades-long practice, upends the traditional, chronological format of the retrospective exhibition, and explores the role of storytelling and narrative in contemporary exhibitions.
Libby Hague’s work examines human and complex social relationships in our precarious and interconnected world. Her curiosity and love of invention led her to a hybrid practice of printmaking and installation. Her solo exhibitions include Inventing Hope, Idea Exchange, Ontario; Walk With Me, Centre Clark, Montréal; Sympathetic Connections, Art Gallery of Ontario; Be Brave! We are in this together, YYZ Artists’ Outlet, Toronto; and One Step at a Time, Art Gallery of Mississauga. Group exhibitions include Habitat, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto and Kelowna Art Gallery; Build…Build Better, Zion Schoolhouse, Toronto; and All that glows, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax.
Libby Hague's work examines human and complex social relationships in our precarious and interconnected world. Her curiosity and love of invention led her to a hybrid practice of printmaking and installation. Her solo exhibitions include Inventing Hope, Idea Exchange, Cambridge; Walk With Me, Centre Clark, Montreal; Sympathetic Connections, Art Gallery of Ontario; Be Brave! We are in this together, YYZ Artists' Outlet, Toronto; and One Step at a Time, Art Gallery of Mississauga. Group exhibitions include Habitat, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto and Kelowna Art Gallery; Build.... Build Better, Zion Schoolhouse, Toronto; and All that glows, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax.
THE PAST IS NEVER OVER | A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION
"We tell stories in order to change, remaking the past in a constant and not always barren spirit d'escalier." - Barbara Hardyᴵ
The retrospective exhibition is a seemingly static genre within the art world. An artist's works are presented in a linear, chronological fashion, drawing the viewer on a journey from the outset of the artist's career, along a path of learning, experimentation, and growth to the presumable culmination in mastery of the chosen medium, and respect among peers and audiences alike. However, like any story we choose to tell, the narrative of an exhibition is an inherently constructed format. No artist's career, or indeed their approach to artistic practice is a purely linear, teleological journey. This is particularly true for Libby Hague.
Hague has worked in a variety of media over the course of her career, including painting, drawing, printmaking, video and installation, but the one constant has been a capacity to see any work, or body of work not so much as finished, but as merely a waypoint by current or past work, but for Hague, this process of creation and recreation takes a particularly rhizomatic form. Two dimensional print works are cut up and repurposed as components of sculptures or installations. Drawings become the backdrops for animated videos. All of these elements can be combined together to create chimeric installations that seem to grow organically, almost playfully of their own accord.
Creative play is a central component of Hague's practice, as well as something of a life philosophy. Hague characterizes her work as something through which she addresses the question of "how can we be good in the world?" and believes that the act of making things and taking joy in the creative process are redemptive. There is an immediately evident joy, an exuberance, to her work, and it seems only fitting to infuse this spirt of ebullience into the traditionally staid and rigid format of the retrospective. The exhibition is anchored, rather than by a sense of chronology, by two massive wall installations, one at each end of the gallery space. Hague jokingly referred to them as birth and death; birth as the end of the gallery space. Hague jokingly referred to them as birth and death, birth as the looser, more colourful, riotous space at the entrance to the gallery; death, the dark, dense and imposing tableaux at the end. In between these two points is the messy space we all inhabit, attempting to create our own moments of quiet and order in a chaotic world.
One of the main ways we create order in our world and in our lives is through narrative; the stories we tell to ourselves and to others. Hague, in her use of text and figure, references component parts of narrative, but never explicitly sets out to to tell a perspective story. Texts are poetic fragments, rife with associations, but open to interpretation. Figures seem to lead us through a visual landscape, but these playful characters may be protagonists or simply observers of the odysseys unfolding around them. Works jostle against each other, connected at times by geometric printed bands (suggestive perhaps of a timeline) and the paper chain (a chain of thought? Of associations?) that circumscribes the gallery; quality of the chronological exhibition can lock the viewer into a perspective way of looking and thinkingᴵᴵ, the absence of an immediately recognize conceptual structure within this exhibition opens up a space to free associate, to play. The traditional exhibition format is again subtly subverted through the replacement of standard gallery labels with Hague's hand-printed ones.
Through all the varied works included in this expansive exhibition, the narrative thread that is most prominent is that of the cyclical character of life, nature and history, embodied as it is in the title of the exhibition, and called out in many of the text fragments. Biological systems, negotiating narrow, meandering and organic paths between order and chaos, paths that are re-trodden in different variations over the course of millions of life cycles: the three Sunflower works at the entrance to the gallery, each flower captured at a different stage; the trio of Broken conga line, It isn't enough to be fast, and Martian Odyssey and their sense of playful, frantic and determined movement, call to mind journeys embarked upon at different points in our lives. The cycles of environment, visually intruding upon the urban imagery of print installation Everything needs everything, photo series 3 Ways Into Town, and Looming building print.
In breaking apart existing narratives, of the exhibition, of the artist's practice and creating new stories and connections. Hague creates a sense of precarity, but also one of chance and opportunity: the opportunity that comes with picking up an object, image, an idea, or a phrase, leaving its past behind and instead imagining what it could be.
Curator of Contemporary Art
ᴵBarbara Hardy, Towards a Poetics of Fiction
ᴵᴵ Steve Lubar, Timelines in Exhibitions
Banner image credit: Libby Hague, the past is never over (installation detail), 2017. Image courtesy of the artist.