Etobicana featuring Alanna Gilchrist
On view August 24 − September 17
Curated by Alvin Luong

Within millennial culture, there are certain visual signifiers that suggestively elude to larger social demographic tendencies. The iPhone signifies not only connection (and reliance) to the digital realm, but also ubiquitous conformity, and the hardline relationship between the importance of image production (such as selfie culture) to identify formation/masking. Alanna Gilchrist employs political signifiers from suburban white tween female-identity within satirical and critical artworks to investigate non-urban tweenhood culture.

Growing up in the suburb of Etobicoke, Gilchrist’s firsthand experience navigating the strange terrain of suburban tween-hood immersed her into a torrid whirlwind of commodity and sexual culture. Unfortunately, these elements are increasingly embedded in the overarching social environment for many girls aged 10-12; considered too old to be a child and too young to be a teenager. This liminal age spectrum is not only a crucial time for developing societal, emotional, and mental facilities, but also an extremely impressionable time period for maturing adolescents. Gilchrist offers the idea that tweenhood culture of suburban Ontario exists within a vacuum of over-obsessive image consumption, superficiality, and sexulization.

An endless sea of circular selfies/portraits populate Bunker 2, many of braces-wearing, smiling young women adorned in skin-tight TNA tights, couture fleece sweaters, and platinum blonde hairstyles. Others include non-posed moments of fun, girls comparing socks, beach photos, and inspirational quotes. Charged with so much nostalgia, these pictures signal a very specific girlhood age that very few individuals can identify with. The problem is the exclusivity that these images signify (belonging to affluent nuclear families whose daughters superficially embody the joy, excitement, within close-knit female friend groups) also exclude the majority of tween individuals who don’t, or can’t, identify within these demographics.

An exalted plaster-cast Ugg boots slowly rotates on a raised platform. In the past, the RAZR phone, FUBU Sweater, and Cadillac Escalade once embodied idealistic representations of millennial decadence and unique fashion objects. Ironically, they also operated as homogenizing agents to groups that owned them, being the standard that many needed in order to fit in. The Ugg boot represented/represents a certain wealth status, a comfortability combined with conformity. Throngs of tween girls marching down halls with with Uggs cemented their status symbol as the “it” footwear to own. The cultural icon of the boot therefore signifies the exclusivity of fashion and of tweenhood culture – either join them or be on the outside of the “norm”.

A platinum blonde wig hang around the space, alluding to long, blonde hairstyles of the Ford daughters who attended school with Gilchrist. However, these blonde wigs can also be viewed as the hyper-maturity that young women are both forced and encouraged to assume (often to disturbing extents) during tweenhood. Platinum blonde hair – a sex symbol initiated by Hollywood stars of yesteryear such as Marilyn Monroe and Bridgette Bardot – now transfers to 10 year old girls, as celebrity culture, media imagery, and selfie-generations exponentially accelerate the baseline acceptable age of being sexually mature.  The long reaching and disembodied arm hangs in the gallery pointing towards a mother’s guiding hand, a figure that influences and directs tweens growing up. Television shows such as “Toddlers and Tiaras” exemplify the grotesque sexualization of adolescence, coerced into fashions shows by their mothers at extremely young ages. These children are encouraged by their maternal figures to demonstrate and assume grown identities with sexually-laden personas and outfits aimed to highlight mature concepts not yet introduced properly into many young female lives.

Etobicana incorporates these identities as a way of critique and satire, showing us not only the ridiculousness but also the latent problems inherent with suburbian white tweenhood . Individuals who’ve experienced growing up as such either break out or continue participating and contributing as new mothers. Gilchrist’s art-biography exhibition mines deeper issues of adolescent sexuality, consumerism, and the danger of a generation obsessed with image-identity.   

Etobicana: the rise of 21st century tweenhood, by Matthew Kyba

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