Curatorial Statement

by Andrea Pepper

Cognitive Dissonance is an exhibition of paintings by Sylix and Lekwungen artist Cody Lecoy. Lecoy is an emerging artist who is dedicated to creating work that focuses on the connection we, as humans, have with the environment. He is particularly interested in the challenge of our reliance on fossil fuels, the inherent instability of the industry, and the race to reverse the damage that this industry has caused the environment. Lecoy primarily works with acrylic paint and employs a stylized, surrealist interpretation of Indigenous design principles of the Pacific Northwest. Born in 1989, his style has evolved with mentorship by artists such as Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Shawn Hunt, Richard Tetrault and Jerry Whitehead, who have aided his artistic development by offering conceptual and technique-based advice.

The title of the exhibition, Cognitive Dissonance, is drawn from psychologist Leon Festinger’s theory of the same name which, put simply, suggests that we have a tendency to seek harmony between our beliefs and behaviours. When this balance is disrupted we work to reduce or eliminate the dissonance. Lecoy uses this idea as a framework to explore our complicated, and often contradictory, relationship to the environment. Our methods of non-renewable energy extraction, production, and use continue to threaten the environment but we are slow to adapt to the realities of climate change. Lecoy’s recent paintings address the suspended state of cognitive dissonance we exist in because of our reliance on fossil fuels and our failure to adequately respond to the resulting environmental crisis.

Lecoy uses a combination of Northwest Coast formline (U, S, and ovoid shapes) and Coast Salish design principles (crescent, chevron, and trigons shapes) to create figures that occupy unnaturally colourful surroundings. In works like Trypophobia, the artist’s bright colours signal an environmental caution in much the same way that many poisonous plants and animals exhibit bright colours in nature. The painting’s horizontal composition is bisected by a dark fissure and pitted with holes, the source of the phobia from which the painting’s title is drawn. A central figure in this unusual landscape is an affable frog, sitting at the edge of the deep crevice, its brilliantly-coloured body practically aglow. The frog’s body is articulated by a combination of trigons and circles and its mismatched limbs are made up of disparate imagery including a one geometric leg resembling a matchstick, and another a salmon whose tail cleverly doubles as the frog’s toes. As the title suggests, this eccentric landscape is dotted with imagery of utmost discomfort for trypophobics; irregular holes and bumps abound. A barnacle covered rock, a polyp filled tree stump, a seed-encrusted strawberry on a short pedestal, and a spotted octopus tentacle are relentless repetitions of the unnerving circular shape.  What to some may appear to be a cheerful, if idiosyncratic, scene to a tryptophobic is a conglomeration of unpleasantness.  Lecoy’s creation speaks to the destructive impact humans have had on the environment through processes of natural resource extraction that puncture and abrade the landscape. While tryptophobia itself is an unusual condition, Lecoy suggests that we have a collective responsibility to seriously consider the unnatural holes and marks that we leave on the land, and further that we need to embrace our agency to find a way out of what may seem like a futile situation.

Lecoy’s work frequently explores the inherent connection that humans have with all other aspects of the natural world. Mycelium are the root-like part of fungus that can grow in expansive formations that resemble tree branches, or meandering river systems. He uses this apt metaphor to liken this natural phenomenon to human technological connectivity. In his characteristically vibrant palette, Lecoy depicts a rugged mountainscape in purplish hues that floats down to touch the horizon line. Gigantic, germinated spores create a visual relationship between the figures in the foreground to the expansive mountains in the distance. These animated forms traipse through the eerie landscape, the larger form reaching skyward toward equally massive jelly fish that defy gravity and swim through the air.  This imaginative setting is punctuated by two unseemly technological elements, the first of which is a wall socket into which a power cord leads ambiguously behind the trunk of a tree-like figure with branches that intertwine to form a humanoid head and neck. A twisting mass of root and branch-like forms conclude in mushroom caps at their tips, that in, turn echo the shape of the wafting jellyfish. One conspicuous limb stands apart in this otherwise organic proliferation of growth, brandishing the second technological anomaly at its tip. A single branch supports a small satellite dish, concave face tilted upward as if to receive an invisible message. In this work, Lecoy conflates mycelium networks with human-made networks, like the digital systems that allow for near-instantaneous access to events occurring around the globe. In exaggerating this parallel, Lecoy reminds us of the modesty of humankind within the larger natural order. Even in our greatest technological accomplishments we are only beginning to replicate the sophistication of the natural world.

We are asked to further consider notions of interconnectivity in the painting In Still Darkness which investigates the impact that humans have on animal habitats. Focusing on the decimation of habitat for the expansion of industrial growth, Lecoy visualizes a bleak reality associated with rapid industrialization. Four distant island-like masses span the width of this horizontal composition, suggesting a horizon line where water meets land in an otherwise ambiguously graduated background of sunset colours. Two of the islands support one smokestack each, puffing out long streams of emissions. Three aberrant creatures occupy the foreground of the painting. A bear’s head with almond-shaped hollows for eyes is carved out of a large rock formation that floats deceptively in the heavy purple miasma.  A stone pillar thrusts upward next to this monumental face and opens into a miniature forest of evergreens. The long, slim trunk of a pine tree begins outside of the pictorial space and cuts through the centre of the canvas, its needles converging with the other conifers. In this treetop setting, a white-faced barn owl with human-like legs and spindly toes dances through the sky. The third creature, a herring with exaggeratedly long legs and toes like human fingers marches toward the left edge of the canvas, its bent neck supporting yet another lush, needled tree. The animals Lecoy has chosen to depict in this work are reliant on the forests, though in this image they themselves are responsible for holding up the only vestiges of nature to be found in this toxic haze of industrial progress. Nature’s ability to perpetuate itself is at risk because of the advanced rate of destruction wrought by human activity.

Lecoy’s paintings present a fantastical world where animals, humans, technology, and industry meet in chromatically vivid, yet eerily vacuous landscapes. Formline and Coast Salish designs provide the foundation for compositions that draw our attention to the impact of our actions on the environment and remind us that we are only one small part of the web of existence. Though these works are concerned with the urgency of the environmental crisis that characterizes the present moment, they also recall the time of transformation when humans and animals shared fluid identities. Whether through modern science or deep, inherited knowledge, Lecoy’s recent paintings are a call to action. These works suggests that it is time now to align our beliefs and our behaviours, to stop ignoring what we know to be true, and to cease in the destruction of our only home.

 

 

Sonar, acrylic on canvas, 30″x40″

What I present here is a deconstruction of the Canadian Crest.  In my mind it has strong references to nobility, status, and wealth, in which the power over many is in the hands of a few.  This power imbalance has resulted in strain upon the environment and the excess of the status quo can’t be maintained. I have rooted this crest to Canada by featuring the Narwal, found in Northern Canada.  As oppose to the lion and unicorn which have distant ties to the land of Canada. “Sonar” is in reference to the underwater navigational abilities of marine mammals.  In the same way that boats and machinery disturb the echolocation of whales underwater the same dissonance occurs above land in which harmful resource extraction is disharmonious to a stable relationship to the natural environment.

In Still Darkness, acrylic on canvas, 3’x4′

This is a painting of transformation and of self renewal in which a deeper understanding  of self within allows for a change in perspective towards external surroundings.  Through confrontation of the “shadow self” ego limitations can be brought to light, analyzed and deconstructed.  I have referenced the BC forest fires of last summer in this painting,  a red flag and call for action within increasingly unstable environmental conditions.  A call to question ones own lifestyle.  To question, reject, and remove lifestyle choices that may contribute towards more instability.  The breakdown of old patterns allows for solutions to arise.  These animals presented here embody, for me, different characteristics involved in taking that first step.  Heron: stillness Owl: illumination Bear: introspection

Momentum, acrylic on canvas

I made painting to reference the energy unleashed upon the earth through fossil fuels.  A power that I’ve symbolized here with the lion.  An image of imperialist might.  The lion here also symbolizes the nobility and feudal times, where resource and power are in hands of the few.  This seemed a good analogy for the current energetic crisis.  The movement however in this painting is directed towards change and metamorphosis as symbolized by the frog

Messiah Complex, acrylic on board, 3’x3′

This is a painting of form and understanding.  The self portrait is an amalgamation of elemental organic forms.  Sedimentary rock, glacial ice sheets and wood grains are forms I have referenced that illustrate the passing of time as well as cyclical expansive patterns of growth.  Constant fluctuations of growth and decay pulsate throughout all life forms.  Within this web we exist.

With observation and immersion into the mysterious, creative, intricacies of the natural world I feel there is a chance for the recognition that these complexities are also within us.  In reference to the title of this painting “Messiah Complex”, I feel there is great delusion and egoistic grandiosity for the imposition of beliefs upon others, in a world of constant change.  Also, to follow blindly the thoughts and words and of others becomes self limiting, these ideas are hearsay, unless directly experienced.  Instead what I wish to portray in this painting is the participation with all that is, to experience form for oneself and make meaning.

Resonance, acrylic on board, 2’x4′

This painting depicts Snk’lip, the coyote trickster of the syilx people.  The stories of Syn’klip resonate within the traditional territories of the Syilx nation as well as within the Syilx people.  I have included a shadow figure in form of a dark bird to represent a veil cast over the land representing that traditional land practices and teachings have been obscured in modern times.

Mycelium, acrylic on canvas,3’x5′

In this painting I use the metaphor of mycelium to describe the growth of technology and more specifically social technology that mediates communication.  I feel our technological devices have become a prosthetic extension of the body, informing thought patterns, social behaviours and our connection to the natural environment.

Trypophobia, acrylic on canvas

Trypophobia is a proposed fear of “irregular patterns or clusters of small holes or bumps.” I noticed myself having a visceral reaction when seeing images of this nature. An explanation resonated with me stating this reaction could be a defence mechanism alerting to poisonous elements in the environment. Various poisonous plants, animals and food sources exist which have this patterning.

What I wish to bring to focus in this painting is the awareness of self destructive patterns of behaviour upon the environment. More specifically in regards to the fossil fuel industry.The elements of water air and earth are threatened in the process of fossil fuel extraction. Visible detrimental changes to the environment and health are evident. I feel there needs to be an energetic metamorphosis in order to ensure the well being of future generations and all living creatures.