NICOLE KELLY WESTMAN & DEL HILLIER AT UNTITLED ART SOCIETY
May 26, 2016
Artists don’t really seem to adopt alter egos anymore. After the heyday of 1970s performance and mail art (shout out to Flakey Rosehip and The MacBooty Brothers), the practice has fallen away over the decades. This might be why Nicole Kelly Westman and Del Hillier’s collaborative exhibition at Untitled Art Society takes on a distinctly nostalgic air, as they inhabit two working class country music performers in Presenting Two Left Footed Loocee and Delvis Cache.
The exhibition is primarily a display of performance relics, or perhaps more accurately, props, that point to fictional characters based on the artists’ own experiences growing up in blue collar mining towns. Their 1970s-inflected costumes are displayed in two life-sized vitrines flanked by a rather over-lit video projection (almost invisible on the sunny day that I visited) and a behind-the-scenes area that looked like a mildly debauched dressing room. The installation draws you in, but, perhaps productively, its unabashedly theatrical (almost hammy) nature really just makes me want to see those costumes animated by live performance. There are a couple of attendant events that will scratch that itch, including the launch of a “cassette publication” Live from UAS with the Sled Island music festival. My sense is that the live events will complicate the lighthearted gallery installation – the props are just one piece of the puzzle of this ambitious multi-pronged project.
Westman and Hillier’s work certainly resonates with the city. The honky-tonk country western vibe might come off as ironic elsewhere, but in Calgary, where real cowboys walk around and nobody bats an eye at the ten-gallon hat sitting at the bar, this project has a surprising and refreshingly earnest quality to it. And, on one hand, it’s admirable that our ARCs support contextually appropriate projects and locally based artists rather than chase international names. However, this is the latest in a string of exhibitions at ARCs featuring the work of other Calgary ARC staffers (Nicole Kelly Westman is the director of Stride Gallery). While Westman and Hillier’s work is strong and no doubt worthy of an exhibition in this space, this recent micro-trend in programming leaves me hoping for fresh blood and new names in the season to come.
Untitled Art Society: http://www.uascalgary.org/
Nicole Kelly Westman and Del Hillier: Presenting Two Left Footed Loocee and Delvis Cache continues until July 2.
Sarah Todd is a curator currently based in Calgary. She has previously worked at Western Front, InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, XPACE Cultural Centre, and The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. She has also produced projects with a range of organizations including Vtape, Kunstverein München, The Goethe Institute, The Pacific Cinematheque, Glenbow Museum and The Illingworth Kerr Gallery. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Twitter@sarahannetodd.