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Leila Armstrong
Artist

Lethbridge
August 23, 2017

Leila Armstrong has an MA in Media Studies from Concordia University and is currently working on her PhD in Cultural, Social, and Political Thought at the University of Lethbridge. She works both independently and in collaboration with other artists such as Chai Duncan (in 12 Point Buck) and Darcy Logan, Maria Madacky, and Rick Gillis (in M.E.D.I.U.M.). Her most recent solo exhibition was Coyote, a body of work addressing the intersection of wildlife with rural, suburban, and urban spaces. Her interest in traditional natural history methodologies and their juncture with drawing and printmaking has led her to her current focus on those methods. Armstrong also curates biennial community-based exhibitions, titled Cabinet of Queeriosities, that celebrate LGBTQ history, identity, culture, and pride through a diverse range of subject matters and approaches. She just completed The Natural & The Manufactured residency at the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture with fellow artist Lisa Hirmer. Their exhibition Tall Tales for Short Nights and Warm Planets (curated by Marlaina Buch) is up at the ODD Gallery in Dawson City until September 23.

1. Coyotes


Leila Armstrong, Coyote (factory), 2014, mixed media

Coyotes can be both sneakily stealthy and boldly present. They can be residents of a particular landscape and we can know they’re around, but never see them. We can also be relatively sure they’re absent, and yet they reveal themselves. So, for me, a coyote sighting is always something special. Coyotes defy our vision of nature as passive and lacking agency, and reveal nature for what it is: a cultural construct. In defiance of human encroachment, coyotes have expanded their range and increased their population sizes. Indeed, they are the most effective, non-domesticated, mid-to-large sized animals to do so. They are master adaptors.

2. Taxidermy


Leila Armstrong, Hawk on Farmhouse, 2016, mixed media

Taxidermy has a fascinating history, serving as both as a means for conserving natural history specimens and for proudly displaying hunting trophies. Artists have used it to create intriguing and freakishly hybrid creatures. It also is a way of enjoying something wild and wooly (or furry or feathery) in a form that constantly reminds us we can never fully capture that which animates the form. We can never possess or ensnare the spirit of a living creature. I use taxidermy in my practice because, as Rachel Poliquin says, it embodies “an irresolvable tension” between the animal as a living being and as an object. It is a way of underlining that animals are part of our cultural imaginary, perpetually teetering between being majestic and stately, and being unpredictable and (often) uncontrollable.

3. Trail cameras


Leila Armstrong, Southside deer in yard, 2017, stealth cam

Trail cameras allow us to observe animals without disturbing their behavior. The animals are not responding to our presence or feeling threatened; they’re just going about their business. Right now, I’m using trail cameras to track and observe critters in backyards around Lethbridge. At the same time, I’m interviewing local residents about their perceptions of and opinions about the critters that the cameras reveal. Given that 81% of Canadians reside in urban centres (Statistics Canada, 2011), I think it’s important to understand how city dwellers define and interact with urban wildlife. (I’m also hoping this project will help convince people to stop eliminating skunks and instead adopt a “live and let live” attitude towards our fragrant and incredibly useful animal neighbours.)

4. Napping



I nap, therefore I am.

5. Lorraine Daston



I’ve been reading a lot of Lorraine Daston’s work recently (Objectivity, with Peter Galison, and Wonders and the Order of Nature, with Katharine Park) and it has greatly informed my thinking about…well…ways of thinking: 1) There can be considerable overlap between current and past styles of knowing (for example, truth-to-nature and mechanical objectivity can co-exist). 2) Contemporary representation can mean the making of the object itself – knowledge can be, and is, manufactured through representation. And finally, 3) a critical eye equals a critical mind: the making of a scientific image can be the same as creating a scientific self. In summary, images train viewers how to see, and ways of seeing become ways of knowing.

 

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