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Lindsay Sorell
Hannah Doerksen at Five Art & Merchandise
August 30, 2017

Engaged in a comparison of morals with his innkeeper, John Wayne’s honourable, no-good, gun-slingin’ character J.B. Books says, “I don’t believe I ever killed a man who didn’t deserve it.” These words – from Wayne’s final Western, The Shootist – are printed on a pen designed by Hannah Doerksen as part of her solo exhibition Nothing Back Here Looks Alive at Five Art & Merchandise. One simple, pink-inked gesture, the pen epitomizes the entire show, and, like The Shootist, is preoccupied with both personal and Western dichotomies of integrity.

Hannah Doerksen, Nothing Back Here Looks Alive, 2017, installation view

Seafoam-green hotel curtains patterned with topographical waves serve as a cinematic backdrop for Doerksen’s characters. Three-dimensional replicas of houseplants and bouquets, resting on plinths or hanging from above, are made from magazine clippings that have been intricately folded, cut, and twisted with the intensity of ritual observance. Snow, forests, ferns, autumn colours, ocean vistas, and Western landscapes can be seen on the leaves, intermingling with porn: a pair of perky breasts here, a woman’s face in ecstasy there. Dated reflective surfaces allow you to catch yourself in the chaparral. Glossy white vases, bejewelled plant hangers, and glinting mirror plinths send your gaze back.

Two life-size plaster human figures act as awkward protagonists among the faux-foliage: one, a crouching and dejected male; the other, a crooked, big-breasted female with wings, genitals gently covered with drapery. The former, modelled after Edwin Roscoe’s marble sculpture of Cain (the first murderer) sits in a reflective puddle of mirror, while the woman, inspired by Fritz Lang’s Whore of Babylon in Metropolis, sprawls perched on a glass plinth. John Waynes in their own right, subjectively “lacking in character” as the innkeeper in The Shootist believes, they are no longer vilified among these other material rejects (forgotten pornos, old National Geographics). Rather, they are heroes.

Doerksen’s antagonists and protagonists share the same identity. I catch my own gaze in a reflective surface. Like Wayne seeing his final killers in the mirror, I don’t just see myself in the looking glass; I also see, subjectively, my antagonist. Nothing Back Here Looks Alive leads me to believe that everyone is both.

Five Art and Merchandise:
Hannah Doerksen: Nothing Back Here Looks Alive continues until September 10.

Lindsay Sorell is an artist and writer living in Calgary. She recently collaborated with the Advanced Toastmasters of Calgary for the IKG Live 1 performance festival and completed two solo exhibitions of new work: Exercises in Healing at Contemporary Calgary and Buddha, Why Am I Alone? at AVALANCHE! Institute of Contemporary Art. She is currently working on a large-scale watercolour painting of food and is the editor of Luma Quarterly.



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