Jo-Anne Balcaen


TRUCK show explores rituals and trappings of rock music

Nicole Burisch
FFWD, Calgary's Entertainment and News Weekly, Vol. 12 #20: Thursday, April 26, 2007

Have you ever wanted to feel like a rock star? Or maybe just relive those days when “interior decorating” meant wallpapering your bedroom with posters of Corey Hart? Well now is your chance. Jo-Anne Balcaen’s exhibition C’mon C’mon at TRUCK Gallery uses familiar paraphernalia and iconographic imagery to examine the trappings and rituals of rock music. The show also investigates the peculiar relationships between the archetypical roles of rock gods and the screaming fans that love them.

The gallery is split into two sections, the first a kind of waiting room, covered floor to ceiling with a repeating pattern of gig posters. Except instead of band names, these posters are printed with supplications of “ohmygod, ohmygod” and “please, please, puh-lease.” The posters beg and clamour for attention like ecstatic fans whose cries can be read in several ways. Either the pleading posters are addressing the viewer, placing you in the role of adulated rock-star, or they mirror the awkward and desperate anticipation that we ourselves feel as fans. Or perhaps they represent the voice of the next up-and-coming act, eager to please a potential audience.

The mirror at the far end of the room reinforces this sentiment, either reflecting back anticipation as you enter the second half of the gallery, or giving you one last chance to check your hair before taking the stage.

In true rock show tradition, there are also posters for sale in the gallery’s foyer for those who would like a memento of the show. With the posters set alongside the TRUCK Gallery T-shirts, the display looks not unlike a merchandise table and suggests the equation of the gallery with a nightclub (and in turn a parallel between the art world and the music industry).

The second section contains the video work Screaming Girls, a slow-motion montage of hysterical female fans from ‘50s rock shows. As these now-clichéd representations of crazed fans play out in the almost-empty room, their accumulation soon takes on an eerie quality. Without sound or music to cue us into who is being cheered for, it begins to feel as though they might be cheering for you.

And why not? In an age where anyone with a webcam and a connection to the Internet can become an overnight sensation, it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine yourself in this position: indulging in fantasies of stardom that are less about making music and more about being adored. Therein lies the strength of the video – evoking a blend of empathy and ego that reflects the increasingly fuzzy distinction between fans and stars.

At the opposite end of the room is a small text piece that reads “Aw c’mon.” This inconspicuous work is made from mirrored letters cut into what can only be described as a heavy-metal font. Where normally this type of lettering and macho rock yell would be paired with fans of the head-banging variety, here it reflects back the video of screaming girls. This face-off between two very different sides of rock music reveals something essential about its evolution and history. While at one time rock ‘n’ roll was a force to be reckoned with –something that could inspire otherwise-composed women to cry and tear out their hair – it can now apparently be distilled into a font.

C’mon C’mon presents a reworked collection of all the familiar accoutrements of a hyped-up rock show – everything, that is, except the music and the musicians. Instead, the screaming fans, the gig posters, the stage, the anticipation and the signature style take their turns as the main attraction. Here we are able to question and rethink the constructs of celebrity idols, musical subcultures and rock mythologies.

© FFWD, Calgary’s Entertainment and News Weekly