Like many great stories, Lauchie Reid’s first solo exhibition That Hideous Strengthwonderfully reflected the parallels of the personal, the socio-historic, and the mythic traditions—co-joining similar tangents and facets of human nature within its layers. Inspired by a dirth of mythology, their commonalities, and their lack of prominence in contemporary culture today, Lauchie unearthed some of the deeper, weirder undercurrents of narrative to demonstrate his first artistic experience away from the Team Macho artist collective. At the same time, the show exhibits a celebration of the positive in groups that may have found themselves disenfranchised in one way or another; acknowledging that mythmaking and artistic function itself can provide a release from life’s external pressures.
After a successful opening night for his show, Lauchie sat down with us to discuss some of the overarching thematics to the That Hideous Strength, as well as where he sees himself in his hopes for the future.
Narwhal Art Projects: We started out a discussion earlier about the commonalities that most mythologies share. These are narrative threads that have figured into most major epics, and continue to resonance throughout the histories of literature and art, and how that was a point of interest in the development of “That Hideous Strength”. What I find interesting is that at the centre of the foundation of all myth is the role of the storyteller, which sort of reflects your position. You said Joseph Campbell had an impact during your painting for the show…
Lauchie Reid: Joseph Campbell’s “The Order of Myths” coalesced a lot of myths into common themes, and I found it really inspiring when I was working and attempting to tell a really mythological tale with this show, as a storyteller, I guess, and it was interesting to come up with these stories—they felt original to me—and then I noticed that they started lining up with these narratives that Joseph Campbell was outlining. I then realized that I am not original at all. It was actually kind of a comforting feeling to know that the things I was coming up with, unbeknownst to me, were a part of an inner sanctum of pre-existing mythological tales.
NP: Well, as your role as a storyteller, it’s interesting to note because some of these stories are fabricated, but for other aspects of these stories, these narratives are based on real events?
L: I was asked about my use of “semi-historical” to describe the show, and I have based some of the characters on real historical figures, but their roles in my narrative were completely fabricated. Using them for more of a folkloric status, I cast them for the archetype they tend to occupy, but I transposed that onto my narrative to communicate their certain roles and to humanize the people behind these archetypes.
NP: Well, the trio of gentlemen that open the show… what do they represent?
L: “The Gentlemen with the Mask”, “The Pale Man” and “The Man with Smoke Eyes—I had to give them form to fit the narrative of course, but they’re representative of some of the negative aspects of the human condition, if you wanted to put it that way… they each reflect the tendency of people to bottle things up and represent a face that does not necessarily reflect their true self.
NP: I thought it was interesting that your diptych was entitled “Cognitive Dissonance”, is that something that figures into the thematics of the show?
L: I guess in as much of what I know about it—I used the term to be specific to that situation, in the sense that, if we are now living in a world beyond myths, or, living in a world that doesn’t focus on them so much anymore, and that leather-faced man is a product of that environment. So, an interesting counter to that is native american culture, versus the incredible depth to their mythology. For them, there’s not a lot of mood disorders, or depression acknowledged in their cultures; mental illness was considered a strange blessing. And so I think the term of cognitive dissonance in that regard just reflects the two different ways of thinking and how our culture promotes a sense of illness when really what we’re lacking is something a little more fulfilling.
NP: Yeah, like a spiritual fulfillment.
L: Or our own place in the world of things. There is a vapidity to city life, to Western cultural life. When you consider the horrible things that have been done in the name of churches, it’s easy to lose faith. Or, not have a deeply internalized sense of spiritual being, because it’s so externalized—the whole system is predicated on venerating something being outside of the self—it therefore can leave one a little shaken when you consider how awful those institutions can be. They’re filled with bound conventions and externalizations of something going on outside of you, as opposed to emphasizing the sense of your place in it. So, these two adjacent spiritualities are trying to achieve the same ends, but are both going about it entirely differently. It’s a dissonance in two different ways of thinking.
NP: A quintessential example of dissonance is the Aesop fable of the fox and the grapes. The fox can see grapes hung high in a tree above his reach, and without means to reach them, he tells himself they must be sour. He’s able to overcome his dissonance or lack of satisfaction by justifying that they must therefore be undesirable.
L: It’s an interesting parallel. People tend to disregard native american traditions as being savage, or below that of Western cultures, and maybe it’s because we just don’t have access to what spawned their traditions; so it’s like, “Forget it, they must be invalid”. It’s pretty sad, actually. I grew up with a lot of entrenched native traditions growing up in Thunder Bay, and conversely it was something that seemed really accessible to me, and accessible to the public and easy for people to get involved in, and it although never caught on with me in a literal sense, it was just so positive just to see people get engaged.
NP: Well it seems as if you’re describing these oppressive ideas as bound to sort of a Western pretension.
L: Well, we’re all a product of that. It’s the world we’re living in.
NP: But I feel like your show as a whole is taking a big jab at that. These three menacing gentleman—these are three examples of what hides behind pretense. Three different instances where people have failed to rise to the occasion. I’m not sure if that’s clear, but three instances where people failed to exhibit courage.
L: Well, there are the people who do rise to the occasion, and there are people who don’t. And for those who don’t, it’s not necessarily their fault, but it just takes a certain type of person to willfully step outside their safety zone and attempt to rise to the occasion. As opposed to those who embrace their terrible qualities, and use them as the grounding for their decisions. It’s horrible, people who are mean or prejudiced—they come from these insecurities maybe, that are there in all of us, and if you want to lump us all in an overarching cultural tendency, there’s a lot of fear and alienation at the heart of Western culture that makes things more difficult than they should be.
NP: I guess it’s all a part of pretense.
L: I came across a quote from Cecil Beaton that said, ““Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrety of purpose & imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace the slaves of the ordinary.” And I would say that’s sort of a positive thesis to the show and what it celebrates. And I guess it’s fairly propagandist in that I’m taking a side in what I’m positing—but I can’t really help it, yknow?
NP: Well no… and it’s all sort of cognitive dissonance, now that I think about it.
L: Well yes, people see something doing something exciting, something different, something weird, and they want to do it too, but for some reason they have doubt and so they make it seem as if it has some unattractive quality. Like, “I can’t be a part of this, so therefore it must be bad”. And it’s not that they can’t in actuality, but they hold themselves back from being a part of things in the face of “common sense”, or common sensibilities. The poor bastards.
NP: Sour grapes.
L: Exactly, sour grapes.
NP: So, we have this pretense that is awful and that people sometimes hide behind, forming the basis for why people can adhere to really negative normative behaviour, and visually there are these masks that figure heavily in your show… is this an extended metaphor this? Is this the filter of this ideology that we look through?
L: Well the masks became a convenient way to not have to paint specific people, so that people could see or identify these characters with whoever they want to related them to. That way it wouldn’t matter who was a man, or a woman, or who was black, or who was white, or who had a mustache, or who didn’t—it added anonymity to the subject. People tend to react to faces, and there’s a psychology there. And so using masks was a strategy to remove that psychology. But it is a useful metaphor to highlighting different identities and certain roles, and it allows people to look through it and identify with the “face value” of the mask.
NP: In terms of identity, are all these things pretext for self-portraiture? How do you figure your role into the show as a whole?
L: These qualities, these archetypes are resident in everyone in different ways. I’ve thought a lot about what I think is right and wrong, and there’s definitely an element of that, but I hope that everyone could look at it and see these things for themselves. They’re portraits of human nature that I was highlighting as important. I wanted to provide a story for these undercultures: the weirdos, the freaks, the people who make these things happen for themselves are not that well-received, who are considered very threatening to people who don’t work towards developing solutions for themselves, and movetowards extinction by becoming these threats. I was concentrating on heroism and cowardice, ecstasy and anger—emotions that result when put under this strain. Some people resilient and coexist with life’s pressures, and others don’t.
NP: I was just thinking about how cool it is that Turing rises to the occasion in “Turing Takes the Day”. (Ed: The portrait is of Alan Turing, a long-distance runner and computer scientist, as the inventor of the Turing machine—a significant precursor to the modern-day computer. Turing was criminally prosecuted in 1952 for his homosexuality, which was deemed illegal at the time, and was sentenced to treatment of female hormone injections, and chemical castration as an alternative to prison. While unconfirmed, he died of a supposed self-administered cyanide poisoning two years later.)
L: Well, that’s the thing. I’ve always felt a tremendous amount of guilt for how things panned out for that man; his story is an atrocity, a complete lack of understanding among a group of people that I would hope could recognize that homosexuality is no reason to kill a hero. I mean, no one really knows if he committed suicide, but it was a sad story and so I tried to give it a happier ending.
NP: Speaking of which, maybe we should speak about “Arm Your Children”, because you said it was your favourite portrait in the show.
L: “Arm Your Children” is meant to be an affirmative image of how things inevitably tend to carry on from generation to generation. I guess there’s an overall air of melancholy in the show, because it’s about the dissolution of a group of people, but the aim of that piece is to provide a message of rebirth and the hope that what comes next into the world will be better equipped this go-around.
NP: So you’ve equipped him with a gun and a beard.
L: Well, it would be silly of me as not heavily coloured by how I tend to think of things, and I think a baby with a gun is high comedy. It’s an amazing idea. It’s basically a metaphor for being better armed and coping with those pressures. He’s carrying on willingly or not, with a tradition whether he likes it or not, and there’s a tradition to these things of the revolutionary, or the counter culture, and it mutates as it goes on, for better or worse, and some have futures and some don’t. It’s more of an assertion to be in the world, not of the world, you know?
NP: Well, it’s a good bookend to the show.
L: It is very metaphoric of Steve, Nick, Chris, Jacob and myself and the way we felt joining into this tradition of art and design. We were finding things we related to really well within it, and finding other things that we completely despised and still do, and, in one way or another, creating a viable existence with it, without necessarily being subject to those negative things.
NP: So—you are a baby with a gun.
L: Yes, exactly.