John Armstrong

Libby Hague: A Step into Darkness
Art Gallery of Mississauga, Mississauga

One Step at a Time

Libby Hague’s print-and-video installation, One Step at a Time, productively engages the AGM’s tall, narrow, almost processional galleries. Her subject matter is a Girls’ Own journey into the dark heart of urban consumer culture. The immediacy and faux innocence of Hague’s manifold crinkly, two- and three-dimensional woodcut prints ominously overwhelms the gallery’s austere architecture.

Hague draws us to the gallery entrance with a projected video of a girl happily dancing to a boppy pop song. We later realise that we follow, or perhaps even become, this young protagonist as we proceed through the exhibition.

In the first gallery, we wade through printed cornstalks graphically suspended from the ceiling by yellow embroidery ribbon. We emerge and are, metaphorically, not in Kansas anymore. An entire wall is covered in a range of contradictory printed motifs: razor wire, chain-link fencing, depicted rainstorms, and billboards atop buildings ironically brandishing messages such as “I Love You” or “Believe.” The gallery’s tallish baseboards are covered in cardboard strips that sport a range of printed cutout urban flora and fauna: dandelions, racoons, recumbent deer, foxes, a pooping dog — all rendered in a storybook illustrative manner. There are cautionary signs on the baseboards: stacks of coins and twenty-dollar bills, quotes printed in illuminated-manuscript style. One such quote is borrowed from British poet Christopher Logue’s creative translation of the siege of Troy in Homer’s Iliad “HEROES, BEHOLD YOUR KING… BEHOLD HIS CAUSE: ME FIRST, ME SECOND — AND IF THERE IS ANY LEFT, ME THIRD.” Our parade through this Edenic-dystopic urban setting is fraught with solipsism and greed.

At the end of the second and larger gallery is a virtual mountain of accumulation in the form of stockpiled foodstuffs, real boxes that once held fruit, vegetables, olive oil, bottled water. Perched atop this ramshackle architecture and touching the ceiling is a printed bucket spewing ‘water’ made of long strips of frosted Mylar. The water becomes a waterfall tumbling over more printed items: boxes of Advil, bags of rice, tinned baked beans, cans of sardines, sides of beef, and, in a nod to a now-defunct local industry, bottles of St. Lawrence corn syrup. The illusionistic water cascades onto the floor and forms a considerable river populated with sundry printed effluvia: printed candy wrappers, crumpled-up prints, more boxes and stacks of money. And amidst all this is a monitor set in a cardboard box with a video of the young girl we met earlier. She's intently painting a watercolour of an unseen motif; it may be us she is recording.

Despite our young female protagonist’s industry and focus, all is not well in this place that is part Cold War fall-out shelter, part town dump. By contrast, there is great charm and ingenuity of Hague’s sculptural manipulation of print: many of her images are cut out by hand — actual paper chains hold up her theatrical flats of wall work, printed crystal chandeliers trail along the floor. But my delight in this cannot entirely offset the haunting experience of having just travelled along the so-familiar path of hoarded and discarded food and money. And I’m more than a bit worried about the girl.


During my visit to the gallery, an actual girl endlessly scurried between the monitor with the girl with the watercolour set and the waterfall. Her parents asked her what it was she found to be so captivating. She replied that the show combined her two favourite places, Niagara Falls and the grocery store.

“Libby Hague: A Step into Darkness.” Canadian Art Online: Review. 4 June 2009. <>.