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Toronto
Terence Dick
Dana Holst at Christopher Cutts Gallery
November 08, 2017

“Girls! Girls! Girls!” exclaims the sign outside the burlesque show. “Girls! Girls! Girls!” sings Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe. “Girls! Girls! Girls!” says the Elvis Presley movie poster. Each time it’s a call to attention and an emphatic, palilogic reminder of the object of that attention: the bodies of young women. Those four letters and one punctuation point repeated three times add up to a condensed equation for the male gaze, a shorthand expression for the ways in which women are objectified, sexualized, and simplified. However, like all reductive language, it is ripe for reclamation or, at least, recontextualization.



Dana Holst, The Watchers, 2017, oil on panel

The Girls! Girls! Girls! of Dana Holst’s exhibition at Christopher Cutts Gallery – the first at that venue for the Edmonton-based, mid-career painter – aren’t simple. Their bodies are on display, but not for easy consumption. They are precariously balanced and tensely contorted. Despite their frilly or feminine fashions, they twist and turn away from the viewer. Or, in the case of The Watchers, participate in a complex geometry of speculation that places the viewer’s stand-in hidden amongst the shadows and equally unstable in disposition. Those of us in the gallery are implicated at every turn and more than a few of the portraits stare right back. Sartre pointed out that we don’t like to be looked at when we’re looking. Our self-consciousness is the first step in our consciousness of self, which is enlightening as much as it is unsettling. Even if you aren’t there to objectify an Other, your complicity in a visual culture that has turned women into things for centuries is something that you might just have to mull over for a moment or three.



Dana Holst, installation view

How else is one to respond to Night Time is the Right Time where a faceless and presumably male nude figure leads a faceless female nude figure out of the light and into the bushes? The answer is in the angle of arms and shoulders, but the intent – be it gracious or malevolent – remains frustratingly ambivalent. Amidst all this regarding and returning of gazes, the insurmountable gap between you and everyone else is asserted again and again. Holst’s subjects are femme fatales in that they are seductive but resistant. They dare you to assume an understanding that will never be provided and in doing so remain perpetually intriguing. Arrayed salon style across three walls, her oil paintings on paper forgo the highly crafted realism of her colour works and use less labour intensive monochrome washes to multiply the variety of gestures, expressions, and characters. The result is an album of snapshots that suggests the triplet of the exhibition title, but makes it ring hollow when you see how inadequate a summation it actually provides.


Dana Holst: Girls! Girls! Girls! continues until November 18.
Christopher Cutts Gallery: http://www.cuttsgallery.com/
The gallery is accessible.


Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

 

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