Sadie Laska’s EREHWON is a spectacle of collaged and painted banners circling Canada’s project space. Try to remember a time when the display of flags was limited to post offices, parades, or the lawn of an ultra-patriotic neighbor. The meanings and uses of flags have, in recent times, grown ever more personalized and coded. Laska brings a poet’s sensibility to the form and clearly revels in breaking design rules and conventions; subverting flags and their martial and heraldic roots.
There is a transgressive quality to plastering scraps of fabric on the declarative space of a flag. Laska utilizes collage and the power of cut images to extend the emotional force and find wit in a normally sober totem. She starts by painting symbols or dots on muslin. The symbols narrate issues of class and power: a tv talking head, a golfer, a hillbilly, an executive, a skull, that she then recontextualizes by sewing them, like badges, onto banners. The immediacy of this punchy imagery is paired with song lyrics (you ain't got the do re mi-Woody Guthrie) or film dialogue ("I'll be your huckleberry” - Tombstone;) or slogans of her own invention (Dream Harder and Go Fund Yourself) that are scattered freely to activate a “power to the people-type energy. The show’s title EREHWON–an anagram of NOWHERE–nods to the 1872 novel by Samuel Butler. EREHWON implies self-exile or at least a desire for an alternative, utopian space beyond our materialist culture.
Laska works on ready-made, mass produced flags, and often chooses Earth flags as grounds on which to build her compositions. Designed by John McConnell in 1969, the Earth flag has an aspirational, globalist view of the world that eventually became the symbol for Earth Day. Our blue planet photographed from space and placed on a light blue ground is a science-based image that, over time, has become an overly simplistic cliche. Laska’s both resurrects and critiques her source material; partial to the message and strident presentation, while playfully poking fun at it.
The French group Situationist International is a touchstone for Laska’s work. The SI staged anti-authoritarian street protests in the 1960’s that were marked by absurdist humor and Dada art strategies. Laska creates a mini-demonstration through similar strategies, proposing a way out from the daily grind through “paintings” that are seriously unserious, full of lightness and pleasure. The mildly self-mocking quality of the work seems to be a form of inoculation against dogma. The simplicity to the work appeals: the tapestries are accessible and act as a soothing balm for a roiled world. You aren’t alone, these flags seem to suggest; there are others who care, and despite exasperation, aren’t giving up.
Sadie Laska (b. 1974, West Virginia) is a visual artist and musician living in Queens, New York. She received her MFA from Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 2014. Laska’s work has been shown internationally, with solo shows at Canada, New York; Office Baroque, Brussels; KS Art, New York; and Galerie Bernard Ceysson, in Paris, Saint Etienne, France; Luxembourg and Geneva. In 2017, she was the subject of a three-person exhibition at Newport Street Gallery, London, organized by Damien Hirst. That same year, Laska curated Animal Farm, a group exhibition at the Brant Foundation and Study Center in Greenwich, CT. Additionally, her work has been included in group exhibitions at Night Gallery, Los Angeles; Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, White Columns, Marlborough Gallery, James Fuentes Gallery, all in New York; among others. Laska’s band, I.U.D. has performed at venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, The Kitchen, ISSUE Project Room, Astrup Fearnley and the Kunsthalle Zürich.