Aimée Henny Brown – How The West Was Won

Aimée Henny Brown, Western Pulp

September 28–November 10 in the Main Space

Opening Reception and Artist Talk: Friday September 28 at 7:00 pm

Aimée Henny Brown explores tropes of the Wild West with an installation of combined multimedia and visual elements. Inspired by Western pulp fiction novels, Brown’s work replicates and deconstructs the images that dominate our perception of the old West.

Brown delves into the history of the settlement of the West and the cowboy myths that live on from the period. With a series of Western novel covers, Morse code messages, a video projection fed through a heliograph mirror, and a miniature landscape, Brown creates a multifaceted examination of representations of the West.

Born and raised in Western Canada, Aimée completed her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts at the University of Alberta. After moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2005, she obtained her Masters in Fine and Media Arts at NSCAD University in 2007. Aimée’s artistic practice engages archives and research to place historical content within contemporary performance and visual art. She has received several awards and grants, notably the Joseph Beuys Scholarship for Artistic Merit, a Canada Council Creation Grant, and an honourable mention at the 2011 Halifax Contemporary Visual Art Awards. Aimée has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, with group shows in Germany and Los Angeles, and has completed several artist residencies in North America, most recently a five-month residency with Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a year-long artist-in-residence program with Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia.

View posts about Aimée Henny Brown on the Latitude 53 Blog

Monograph Essay by P.J. Kachmar

Sprawling prairies and rocky mountains. Arid deserts and majestic canyons. Coyote bands and buffalo herds. Gun toting cowboys and savage natives. These are the images that shape the mythos of western North America.

While much of this historical narrative is rooted more in folklore than in fact, western lore still resonates in the collective consciousness of Americans and Canadians. A romanticized notion of frontier exploration and settlement shapes the way in which many North Americans conceptualize their own personal identity. How the West was Won explores the interplay between legend and reality in the west. Artist Aimée Henny Brown provides valuable insight into the imagined and the historical west and foreshadows the continued resonance of the frontier narrative. At a superficial level, the cowboy archetype manifests itself in rodeo culture, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Saddledome. However, at a deeper level, these myths have powerful political and sociological implications.

Frederick Jackson Turner, in his highly influential Frontier Thesis, argued that experiences on the western periphery of society facilitated a break from established societal norms and the emergence of new institutions and ideas. According to Turner, the frontier was more conducive to rugged individualism than to hierarchy. The cowboy seems to embody the “every man for himself” ethos prevalent in the early west. While the days of the lone rangers and cattle rustlers have past, qualities and characteristics borrowed from the cowboy archetype have withstood the tests of time. Individualism, pragmatism, expediency, and resource exploitation, hallmarks of western myth, each endure at the societal and individual level. Whether in the “with us or against us” mantra of George W. Bush or the populist libertarianism of Danielle Smith, western myth continues to shape political rhetoric and public policy.

Communication and geography both underlie the transformative influence of the frontier experience. Within the boundaries of a society, social innovation tends to occur slowly as prevailing norms are passed on from generation to generation. In the vast and sparsely populated 19th century North American west, communication was much more difficult than in the more densely populated east. While the heliograph and other forms of communication were moderately successful at connecting the frontier to established society, these inventions were insufficient to transfer societal values from metropolis to the hinterlands. As a result, frontier settlers were forced to cope with challenges on an ad hoc basis, rather than relying upon existing societal institutions for guidance and support. The rugged and often inhospitable landscape of western North America ensured that settlers would encounter plenty of difficulties. Together, geographic isolation and communication challenges facilitated the emergence of a distinctly western society.

Cowboys and lone rangers are, therefore, not the conquerors of the west, but creations of it. The interplay between the mythical and the historical shares the common thread of the tangible influence that the geographical west had upon its real and imagined settlers.

P.J. Kachmar recently completed his Fulbright Scholarship and MA in political science at the University of British Columbia. His research was focused on the common historical origins of the political cultures of Canada and the United States, with a particular emphasis on the frontier and the North American west. He currently resides in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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