Victoria Ward: a little red

I like smart, sassy women with a wicked sense of humour and writer/painter Victoria Ward is certainly all that.

I first came across her online column, State of the Arts, in the Haliburton Highlander. What she wrote really made me prick up my ears, something along the lines of “We need to change our narrative and begin to believe that [artists] subsidize our communities, not the other way around.”

I wasn’t expecting to find political cogency, sharp-tongued reviews and amusing self-reflection in the land of ATV’s and wearisome wildlife painters. It was like coming across Dorothy Parker of the North. We became fast friends via Twitter soon after. The Highlander no longer carries her column but fortunately for us her blog (Freshly Pressed no less) lives on. Her peppery writing continues to amuse, inform and give me pause to reflect on my own internalized misconceptions about artists, the inner machinations of the art world and the challenges of a rural art practice. A Toronto transplant to Haliburton, Ward has been a playwright who worked with the likes of Thom Sokoloski, Buddies in Bad Times and Theatre Passe Muraille. But at present her focus has migrated to painting. “The most joyous, straight out-of-the-tube paintings of the year. Imagine a Pucci pantsuit crafted out of wood and metal by rural Ontario eco-activists and you’re halfway there,” wrote R. M. Vaughan for Eye Weekly about a two-man show by Ward and her partner, painter Gary Blundell. Her lyrical, unself-conscious watercolour of snow melting off the sodden field outside her window was one of my favourites of the 2012 Artspace 50/50 show.

So it’s not surprising to see her combine painting, text and politics in her latest show at Artspace, on from September 20-October 26, 2013.

a little red, a manifesto in fairy tale form was first read/performed at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, 2011 just as the Occupy movement took flight and was chosen by The Globe and Mail as one of the best bets for the night.


From “a little red” Photo courtesy Victoria Ward

If Karl Marx and the Brothers Grimm had collaborated on an installation project with a zine aesthetic steeped in a rural sensibility, you’d get a little red.

Today’s Little Red Riding Hood wears a hoodie and fights political injustice while she listens to Billy Bragg music. The work explores not just one theme, but several, drawing parallels of the dark forest of fairy tales with our current climate of political corruption, a rural life with the stigma of being a philosophical outsider, the predators of wealth distribution who exploit the poor through trickery and monetization, and the Occupy Movement with Red Riding Hood’s instinct for sharing, self-preservation and exposing disinformation. The installation includes a cartoony storyboard of wolf and Red Riding Hood encounters with accompanying captions, the stack of firewood that the proletariat was banned from using in Russia at the turn of the century, a picnic basket full of Monopoly money, some projected video of Marxist texts and Ward’s encounter with a statue of Marx, and an extensive board of clippings, mind maps and pop-culture references:  a photo of Louise Michel, doyen of the Communard; a Karl Marx garden gnome; paper stickers of grandma and the wolf, a vintage Viewmaster disk of Little Red Riding Hood, a page from the Occupied Wall Street Journal dated October 8th, 2011; a Carl Sandburg poem; the rules of the Monopoly game.

The book which accompanies the show was published in the fall of 2011 by Pointyhead Press. In Ward’s words, “the book is a faithful homage to the story Little Red Riding Hood with a polemic on class warfare. A timely account of fear and violence, this project is a response to the current climate of struggle.  Little red is the original occupier, a protestor willing to be eaten alive for her beliefs.

With its period typeface and letterpress aesthetic, it deliciously deconstructs the Red Riding Hood story with humour and astute commentary on the avarice of the capitalist system.

Who says art and politics shouldn’t mix? A little red shows us that they are inseparable. There is plenty to chew on in this unpretentious work which confronts our dark days with research, wit and a dab of theatre. I haven’t seen too many artists weigh in on the Occupy movement. Victoria Ward gives us a good place to start.

Website: a little red »

State of the Arts »

Hotspur Studio (Victoria Ward and Gary Blundell) »

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