Joyce Wieland’s O Canada: An Intersection of Pop Culture, Art, and Identity

Joyce Wieland’s O Canada: An Intersection of Pop Culture, Art, and Identity

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The twentieth century has witnessed many transformations in the ways we produce and respond to works of art. It has seen the rise of altogether new media, approaches, and a wealth of new interpretative frameworks. The emergence of manufactured goods, modernism, and a ubiquitous mass culture contribute to the upheaval, in the 1960’s and 70’s, of established art practices and approaches. Pop Art emerges as an important response to, extension of, or parody of what Clement Greenberg called “Ersatz culture” and “kitsch”, which, to paraphrase Greenberg, represent the omnipresent abominations of commercial and replicated art (Greenberg 9). This essay will observe and discuss the interaction of Canadian pop culture, art, and identity in Joyce Wieland’s “O Canada (Animation)”, and will underline how works of Pop Art serve to elevate kitsch into “a new state of aesthetic dignity” (Eco 228).

Made in 1970, the year of Wieland’s return to Canada, “O Canada (Animation)” is a large embroidery piece on fabric depicting a series of luscious, bright red lips mouthing the words to the Canadian anthem, ultimately a visual rendition of its lip-synching. (It also exists as lithographic prints, where the mouths are similar to lipstick). The mouths are analogous to those of pin up girls and advertisements; the piece hangs loosely like a banner or flag. Wieland has just spent several years living in New York City and is now delving into works dealing with Canadian nationalism and traditionally feminine handcrafts. “O Canada” would not become the official Canadian anthem until 1980, but already in 1966, Lester B. Pearson is placing motions so that the song may become the country’s anthem. Similarly, the maple leaf flag is first flown in 1965 – nationali...


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... New York: Schocken Books, 2007. pp 217-51

-Eco, Umberto, “Lowbrow Highbrow, Highbrow Lowbrow” in Pop Art: The Critical Dialogue, ed. Carol Anne Mashun (Ann Arbor & London: UMI Research Press, 1989)

-Fleming, Marie, excerpt from “Joyce Wieland: A Perspective,” Joyce Wieland (Tornto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1987), pp. 44-70

-Greenberg, Clement, “Avant-Garde & Kitsch” (first published 1939) Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1939) pp.3-21

-Hebdige, Dick, “In Poor Taste: Notes on Pop,” chapter in Modern Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Pop (New York: ICA & London: MIT Press, 1988) pp. 77-85

-McTavish, Lianne “Body Narratives in Canada, 1968-99: Sarah Maloney, Catherine Heard, and Kathleen Sellars” in Woman’s Art Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2 Fall 2000 - Winter 2001. pp. 5-20

-Wieland, Joyce, “O Canada (Animation)” Embroidery on cloth. 1970.

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