Kyle Terrence | ’Berta Boys
April 19–June 8, 2019
Opening reception for members & guests: Friday, April 19 at 7 pm
Artist Talk | Saturday, May 11 at 2pm
’Berta Boys is a short film and exhibition that contemplates the teetering instability of Alberta’s hyper masculine identity. For artist Kyle Terrence, this exaggerated posturing has fused Alberta’s aesthetic and economic identities into a petrolphilic culture that is put on display via hyper-masculine regionalisms; roof-racks, lift-kits, oil-slogans and truck nuts, these are the accessories of the twenty-first century petrol cowboy. Driving forward with a self-assured camp, Berta Boys looks to open up this imagery by creating an isolated world where men turn their violent gaze on each other.
In ’Berta Boys, Terrence worked with collaborators Aaron Brown and Gabriel Esteban Molina, as co-writers and co-performers to develop characters and actions based in and critical of the cowboy mythology of Alberta, and its icons. In the gallery, the work takes the form of a short film as well as several sculptural installations that connect to scenes and images within it. In an effort to explore the masculine archetypes found within themselves, the trio meditate on the oscillation between the inherent absurdity and tragedy that coexists in their unrestricted behaviours.
’Berta Boys is funded in part by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Edmonton Arts Council and MacEwan University.
In the film and exhibition Berta Boys artist Kyle Terrence—alongside co-collaborators Aaron Brown and Gabriel Esteban Molina—inhabit a surreal world where men hunt bestial trucks whose veins course with oil and whose pendulous testicles are prized as game trophies. With the film as its centrepiece, this exhibition taps into anxiety surrounding the expectations and performance of a facet of Alberta’s regional masculinity, and its implicit link to Alberta’s landscape—literal, social, and economic alike. At its core, the work is ambivalent: funny, sad, vulnerable, violent, sensual, and offensive. The film itself is narrative, surreal, and tinged with hints of auto-biography. The artists, as performers in the work, make palpable a dissonance with regards to the oil-infused hypermasculinty Terrence struggles with as an artist, an Albertan, and a cisgender man.
The film follows three men—the titular Berta Boys—who could easily have walked out of any oilfield workcamp, lifted rig-rocket, or sprawling suburbia. They drive a large black pickup truck with an extended cab, and apparel themselves in the mix-and-match colours, patterns, and fabrics of hunting: neon orange, camouflage, and denim. If their clothes weren’t evidence enough of their intentions, the seven-foot-long rifle they pull from the truck makes it clear. Emblazoned with its own name like a mass produced weapon whose own mythos is whispered among enthusiasts and detractors alike, The Penetrator takes no fewer than two (preferably three) Berta Boys to ready, aim, and fire.
Their quarry makes itself known at first through the uncanny sounds it makes: a deep gutteral rumbling inflected with diesel and punctuated by bovine snorts and bellows. We see initially only fragmentary glimpses of its grill, its testicles, and a side window that shatters as the Boys fail to land a killing shot. Kicking up a spray of gravel, the Beast-Truck flees.
While in pursuit of their prey, each Boy in turn falls back, stops, and stares straight at the camera before a hard cut transports the viewer into privative and increasingly surreal monologue spaces. Brown, Terrence, and Esteban Molina narrate their respective characters’ inner monologues, offering glimpses of each Boy’s desires, ambitions, insecurities, and constitution.
Terrence’s vignette—the second of the film and situated just after its narrative midpoint—finds him at first in a bathroom flexing in front of a mirror, skin sheening with sweat, and wearing only a pair of camo overalls. He describes sculpting his body and hardening his will against the nebulous (but nevertheless looming) threat of masculine otherness. Violence and its trappings are the basis of his faith. His preening narcissism however belies that his dogma is rooted, not in the desire for domination over his masculine others, but rather in the fear of that same domination being delivered unto him. Like the film as a whole, Terrence’s character is hyperbolic to the point of satire, but he is nevertheless imbued with an undeniable earnestness. His devotion to, justification for, and implicit fear of violence evokes pity, awe, and bewilderment in equal measures.
During their respective voiceovers in their own vignettes, Brown and Esteban Molina describe their own relationships to other men. Brown, in a sparse but ostentatious looking house, adorns himself with jewelry as he gets dressed. Meanwhile, Esteban Molina wakes amongst the remnants of a houseparty, surrounded by empty liquor bottles and beer cans, as well as cannabis and perhaps other substances obliquely referred to as “powders”. Just as Terrence’s relationship to masculinity is mediated by physical strength and violence, Brown’s is mediated by the acquisition, accumulation, and leveraging of economic capital. And whereas Terrence and Brown have privileged access to the means by which masculinity is asserted, Esteban Molina is always already racialized as other. In consequence, he necessarily (and conflictedly) assimilates into a masculinity as projected by his peers, demonstrating his own ‘worth’ as someone capable of copious consumption.
Each vignette concludes with a jump-cut to a ritualistic scene where the respective characters are metaphorically subsumed by the aesthetics of their ambition, desire, or vice. Brown dons a glimmering mask, quivering with gold leaf which he presses into his own face like a second skin. Terrence confronts a plaster idol modelled from his own torso, capped off by the head of a bull with phalluses for horns: he strikes at it with a knife, chipping away at the effigy’s crumbling physique. And finally, Esteban Molina’s face stares out from an oily pool of black liquid, into which he is slowly submerged.
The climax of the film finds the Boys examining the carcass of the Beast-Truck, which they have finally managed to take down. As it lays on its side, oil gushes from a gun-inflicted wound and thick black smoke bellows from its underside. They caress it lovingly, almost sensually. Esteban Molina looks on as Brown cradles the hefty testicles allowing Terrence to hew them from the carcass with his knife. There are moments when, taken out of context, Terrence could just as easily be masturbating the behemoth as castrating it.
The Boys lift their trophy (now slick with sanguineous oil) above their heads with groping veneration. But quickly enough, camaraderie turns to conflict as Terrence and Esteban Molina struggle to take it as their own. Mirroring a story told in his own vignette, Terrence pummels Esteban Molina into the ground with his fists. Brown intercedes, and Terrence retreats to coddle his game trophy.
Meanwhile, viewers enter the adjacent gallery space by passing through the gate in a rustic wooden fence, above which is proudly and menacingly mounted The Penetrator. In this space, viewers find the walls adorned with objects pulled straight from the filmic world. On one wall, Terrence’s phallus-horned plaster bull head and Brown’s gilt face are mounted as trophies on wood plaques, surrounded by hunting arrows that penetrate the wall at haphazard angles. One such arrow pins to the wall the cap worn by Brown in the film, emblazoned with “OIL CASH” rendered in orange and gold embroidery. On another wall hang three framed drawings by Terrence’s own hand: one depicts a dopey (but nevertheless cute) bull with phallus horns and its tongue lulling playfully out, another the slain Beast-Truck, and finally the skull of a phallus-horned bull. Dominating this space though is an absurdly large game trophy. Mounted on an enormous wood plaque of its own (aspect ratio comically stretched in accommodation) is the tailgate and testicles of the Beast-Truck, presumably taxidermied back together post-castration for the purposes of opulent display. Subjugating the space and other objects within to its oppressive presence, it is a monument to extraction and excess.
Berta Boys wears its dissonance on its sleeve. Its satire is both biting and absurd, its tone solemn and silly. Like the men who inhabit its world, it is a product of—and produces—its own landscape. Wielding masculinity as a metonym of Alberta’s extraction- based petro-capitalism, Terrence articulates aptly the conflict he and many Albertans feel towards their regional identities. It is embedded in our sense of self, replete with the inherent aesthetics of domination, desire, pride, consumption, and violence, which it simultaneously generates and accrues.
Michael Woolley is a PhD student in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. He holds a Master of Arts from the University of Alberta, where he completed a research-creation master’s thesis project in the field of art history. Woolley’s research-creation practice revolves around questions of performance art and its documentation, as well as issues of queer embodiment and performativity. As an artist-researcher, Woolley takes up these problems by deploying his own body in conversation with documentary tools—including lens-based imaging, performative writing, and audio recording—in a performance art-based methodological framework. He continues to develop novel techniques and apparatuses that queer and decentre conventional notions of documentation, and the epistemological and phenomenological frameworks endemic to them.
Kyle Terrence is a visual artist and filmmaker from Alberta, Canada. His practice explores the discourses of ecology, masculinity and theology, with a particular interest in the violent crossovers between them. Terrence received a Master of Fine Arts in Intermedia from the University of Alberta in 2016, where he developed his thesis work “Pilgrimage: being in the End times.” Terrence’s newest work “Berta Boys” is concerned with the consequences of the aesthetic fusion of masculine and economic identities in the region of Alberta, which he explores through an overlapping range of media including video, performance, sculpture, drawing and writing. Terrence is based in Edmonton where he currently teaches a variety of studio courses at MacEwan University and the University of Alberta.
Aaron Brown is a multidisciplinary artist from Edmonton who holds a BA of philosophy from the University of Alberta. His practice utilizes a variety of mediums such as film production, performance and writing to engage with the intersections of transgression, desire and subjectivity. As a co-performer and co-writer of the Berta Boys project, his primary focus has been on how socio-economic class radically underpins hegemonic masculinity.
Gabriel Esteban Molina is a Canadian visual artist from Edmonton, Alberta who graduated from the University of Alberta in 2013 with a BFA in Fine Arts. In 2015, he completed his Masters of Art in Fine Art at the Chelsea College of Arts in London, United Kingdom. He has had numerous exhibitions in Edmonton including a recent solo at Parallel Space and a solo exhibition in 2017 at Yamamoto keiko Rochaix in London, United Kingdom. He recently completed the Emerging Artist 2018 Residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and will be undertaking a residency in Iceland in 2019.