exhibition essay

"Progress" Edie Marshall/Terry Billings

artists by artists 

Mendel Art Gallery

March 17 to May 22, 2006


A lifetime's experience with her community and the land have led Edie Marshall to become concerned about both.  Although her experience with farm life brings this aspect most clearly into focus, she is concerned about a much larger global degradation of society and the environment through corporate colonization.  The recent birth of one  grandchild and anticipation of a second have fuelled her artistic enquiry into the future of the family farm and the world at large.  


Edie has found a voice for these concerns within her painting.  Her vocabulary is beholden to Saskatchewan landscape tradition including the work of Dorothy Knowles and David Alexander.  The mixture of her local rural landscape with ancient ruins is grounded in her experience of these ruins in a trip to Rome and Pompeii.  She found the ruins compelling as they spoke to her of a rise and fall from power and the disappearance of a way of life.  Moreover, she found many instances of this style or architecture with its embedded colonial attitudes resurrected within her own locality.  These colonial attitudes still shape many of the world's commercial endeavours including highly technological farming practices.  By vividly recreating this superimposition of architecture within the rural landscape in her paintings, Edie invokes past and present colonial attitudes.  


As well as invoking the past and present, the disintegration of the ruins speaks to a possible future wherein the society based on these colonial values has collapsed.  She has found resonance for these ideas in Ronald Wright's "A Short History of Progress". In this lecture series, Wright discusses how ruins are the "black boxes" of failed societies.  He recounts how these societies fell into "progress traps", where something harmless or even useful in small amounts became destructive in larger amounts.  He also describes how societies on a downward slide tended to increase their self-destructive behaviours, believing that these could save them.  In this way these societies sped up their own collapses. 


When I began working on this show with Edie, I was intrigued by the coincidence of imagery between her current work and past work I had made.  Both incorporate the superimposition of immediate environment with historical artefacts and ruins.  In both bodies of work, this superimposition evokes the persistence of colonialism, and a sense of loss.  


In Edie's paintings, however, the inherent ambiguity of the imagery allows for an alternative, more optimistic reading.  The disintegration of the ruins within all of the thriving growth can be read as a dissipation of colonail attitudes and the corporate methodologies engendered by them; this disintigration permits revitalization.  Edie's work suggests that we teeter on the brink of possible futures.  Which will come to pass?  


-Terry Billings