Martha Griffith at Queen Gallery
As part of Scotia Bank’s Contact Photography Festival; Busby Barbie: an exhibition of photographs by Martha Griffith is on display at the Queen Gallery in downtown Toronto until May 23rd. The photographs in the exhibit document a series of “soft graffiti” installations integrated into the landscaping of our urban environment along waterways and green spaces.
Griffith has a created an array of kaleidoscope-like patterned artifacts that are visually inspired by the work of legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley. Berkeley’s work was showcased in a series of musicals starting in the nineteen thirties. His signature style revolved around the placing of hundreds of chorus girls into meticulous geometric sequences usually shot from a bird’s eye view. Women were used as props to supply eye candy for the people of the depression era. In Griffith’s work the real life girls have been replaced by America’s favorite doll Barbie. She is perfectly suited to be in the chorus line; actually she is the entire chorus line. Griffith picks up on the fact that Barbie never exists in isolation; ask any girl if they have only one Barbie and the answer is a resounding “no!” If placed head to toe beside one another, every Barbie doll (and friends) sold since her inception would circle the earth approximately seven times. Her patterned artifacts come in many forms including hand cut stencils, stickers, large plastic sails, woven strips of wood veneer and mirror like cut-outs.
The exhibition is accompanied with an example of one her large scale stickers. This gives a wonderful indication of her working process but it is the photographs themselves that command the space. Griffith has a wonderful sense of scale and colour. Many of the colours she uses come from the actual environment itself. Sprayed red clay pops on the background of a frozen creek, green moss acts as the pigment on an erased stencil piece, rubbed dandelions provide the colour for another and the light reflecting off a lyrical line created by a slow plotting snail all illustrate Griffith’s depth and variety with the handling of materials. The end results are both subtle and arresting. The photographs comment on the manipulation of our urban environment and surroundings as nature deals with our constant encroachment. This is especially evident in the work entitled Weave which shows a tree growing through a chain-link fence. The trunk has become distorted and woven into its surroundings. Griffith illustrates that nature can’t easily be contained or neatly manicured unlike our little plastic friend.