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Leanne L'Hirondelle | Utopia

Local artist Leanne L’Hirondelle has named her Gallery 1C03 exhibition Utopia with a sense of irony. At first glance, her oil and acrylic paintings might appear to be an homage to skyscrapers, stacked parking lots, and other elements of the urban landscape. Even the cheerful, sun-drenched colours of many of her works do not belie a more serious purpose or mood. Nonetheless, Utopia is actually a post-colonial critique of constructed spaces and the underlying forces which support them.

Through repetitive patterns of rigid linear forms, the artist suggests that our cities allow little room for diversity. People, animals, and other objects that we tend to personify are excluded to emphasize the sameness of the built environment and to reveal its unifying goals of control and consumption.

L’Hirondelle notes that animals, flora, fauna, and groups of people all feel the side effects of mass consumerism and globalization propelled by our urban surroundings. Those who do not fit the desired mold are left out and left without. As a Métis woman in Canada, this is a statement that rings true for the artist. "There is a feeling of displacement when you’re Métis," she comments. "You’re never really a part of mainstream society and you often don’t have the same privileges as others." L’Hirondelle is referring to her own experiences which include growing up in East Prairie Settlement, a primarily Métis community in northern Alberta where she and others lacked the basic amenities of running water, electricity, and telephone service. This is only one example of how our country’s economy is geared almost exclusively to urban centres and their (over)consumption.

Just as recurring forms in L’Hirondelle’s paintings evoke colonialist notions of conformity, the artist’s varied and inventive uses of perspective arouse discomfort. Some images portray close-up, sidelong views of concrete high-rises that leave us feeling unsteady on our feet. Other works feature dizzying aerial perspectives. Audiences might conclude that the artist is trying to provide us with a scientific and, therefore, relatively objective reflection of our surroundings. But L’Hirondelle admits that by rendering her landscapes with arm’s length views, she is able to express her own alienation with our urban environs. In choosing to portray unstable vantage points, she also urges us to question the places in which we live and work and to consider their psychological, environmental, and economic impacts.

Jennifer Gibson

For further information, please contact Curatorial Assistant Jennifer Gibson at 204-786-9253.

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