1 North Square, Cambridge, ON
Gareth Lichty’s work is predicated upon the obsessive repurposing of common materials. Range is an ongoing project that the artist has been working on since 2007 – a monumental sculpture made out of over 9 kilometers of hand-woven green garden hose. Reminiscent of a monstrously coiled serpent this gargantuan undulating sculpture is visually overwhelming, leaving the viewer with a profound sense of wonder and unease. Neatly combining the fine art of hand-weaving with the uncanny use of a common material, Lichty’s ambitious work leads us to consider the routine collision between urban sprawl and the natural landscape.
Gareth Lichty studied Fine Arts at York University in Toronto and Sculpture at Leeds University in England. He has exhibited internationally and nationally with exhibitions in Europe, New Zealand and Canada. Lichty has been a Director and the Chair of Programming for CAFKA (Contemporary Art Forum, Kitchener and Area) since 2005. He has received grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. Lichty lives and works in Kitchener, Ontario and is represented by Peak Gallery, Toronto.
by Ivan Jurakic, Curator, Queen's Square.
Gareth Lichty repurposes common materials to make artworks that address scale and materiality. “Range”, an ongoing project that the artist has been working on since 2007, is a monumental sculpture that has been assembled out of approximately three hundred lengths of commercial garden hose. Each one hundred foot length has been painstakingly hand-woven in a labour-intensive process, and over the last two years the piece has grown to an accumulated length of over nine kilometers.
The sculpture’s unlikely genesis began during an extended stay in New Zealand in 2005. Fascinated by indigenous Maori weaving, Lichty learned of master-weaver Simon Rutherford who lived in Christchurch. Their fortuitous introduction led to an intensive apprenticeship over several months. Upon returning to Canada, Lichty did not immediately apply these new skills to his artistic practice, instead he took the better part of two years to refine them and find the right material to work with. The decision to weave such an unwieldy material suggests an almost heroic level of dedication.
On its own the garden hose is an unassuming icon of suburbia. Gardening has become a privileged leisure activity making the garden hose a symbol of middle class prosperity. As a homeowner, going to the Home Depot or Rona to purchase a garden hose is practically a rite of passage. And if garden hoses are often playfully compared to snakes, then “Range” is reminiscent of a coiled serpent. This monstrously constricted form aptly suggests the mythic Jörmungandr, the World Serpent of Norse mythology. So enormous that it literally wrapped itself around the world, once awakened the serpent ushered in Ragnarök, the apocalyptic last stand of the Norse pantheon. 1
Analogous to the Ouroboros, a serpent depicted perpetually swallowing its own tail, the World Serpent continues to inspire retellings in music and popular fiction. It is a symbolic archetype that represents both the cyclicality of nature and the cycle of life and death. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung proposed that humans share a collective unconscious, and that certain archetypal patterns and images recur in our stories, rituals and myths. 2 The serpent is one such pattern that appears under many guises in different times and cultures. An avatar of deceit and destruction, importantly the serpent is also a symbol of transcendence that embodies a form of mediation between earth and heaven. 3 Lichty’s iteration suggests these aspects in the context of our current environment.
The visceral mass also brings to mind the work of renegade philosopher George Bataille, whose writings are heavily indebted to surrealism and psychoanalysis, and focus on our attraction to the abject. Bataille posited the erect body as an analog for rationality and humankind’s pretensions towards an elevated spiritual ideal. To counter this, he pointedly substituted horizontality as a symbolic negation of the rational, instead proposing lowness as the real source of libidinal energy and horizontality as the “mud of the real”. By transposing the rational vertical axis culminating in the eyes and mouth of the human head, with a biological axis that leads from the mouth to the anus, he proposed a means of unveiling this low or bestial nature. To Bataille, horizontality was a transgressive act that could be used as a way to upset rationality and reason. 4
Bataille’s proposal further foresees our problematic relationship to nature. If humankind celebrates verticality as the peak of achievement, from flagpoles to skyscrapers to rocketships, then we tend to impose rationality in the form of scientific order upon the world as a means of elevating ourselves above nature. But as the blight of deforestation, climate change, depletion of fossil fuels, and extinction of species threatens the globe, this split puts us in perpetual conflict. If the horizontal mass of Lichty’s sculpture recalls a distressed landscape, “Range” dramatically illustrates the terminal intersection between the urban and natural world.
Driving along Fountain Road in Cambridge recently, I noticed a new golf course expansion in the early stages of development along the Grand River basin. I couldn’t help but relate my personal ambivalence to the same sense of attraction and repulsion found in Lichty’s work. As fields, orchards, and untamed greenspaces give way to golf courses and housing subdivisions our experience of the natural world diminishes to the point where we commemorate the proliferation of urban sprawl by naming subdivisions in honour of what has been replaced; Deer Run Estates is a perfect local example. Through its counter-intuitive use of common garden hose, “Range” appropriates this convention to suggest a landscape that has not only been supplanted but consumed, or worse, transformed into a toxic dump. The unnatural green of the garden hose is a mockery of the suburban dream, a sprawling non-biodegradable mass that pointedly reminds us of what has been lost: range, prairie, forest, frontier, wilderness.
By combining the traditional art of hand-weaving with an uncanny use of common material, Lichty’s grand labour invites us to be conscious of this profound loss. “Range” weaves the conflict between man and nature into a serpentine form that collapses the mythic into the mundane.
1. H. R. Ellis Davidson, “Gods and Myths of Northern Europe”, Penguin Books Ltd., 1964, p. 138-139.
2. Carl G. Jung, “Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious”, from, “The Basic Writings of C. G. Jung”, Random House, New York, 1959. p. 358-407.
3. Joseph L. Henderson, “Ancient myths and modern man”, from, “Man and his Symbols”, edited by Carl J. Jung, Anchor Books, Doubleday, New York, 1964, p. 154.
4. Rosalind E. Krauss, “No More Play”, from “The Originality of the Avant Garde and Other Modernist Myths”, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1986, p. 80.
George Bataille’s writings on low or base materialism originally appear in “Le gros orteil”, published in “Documents”, no. 6, 1929. Rosalind Krauss revisits Bataille’s theories as a means of analyzing verticality in the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti.