May 22, 2019
Revealing and concealing: How objects define masculinity
The lone figure in beat-up cowboy boots. The tough guy peering out from under a Stetson. The Marlboro Man. Do these common portrayals of the cowboy reflect their reality or stereotypes about cowboy culture? In a new research and art project, Dr. Jean-René Leblanc, PhD, aims to find out.
“Masculinity has always been constructed as a single unified voice and this is something that we know is not true. There are many types of men and there are many types of women and we all perform both masculinity and femininity in very different ways,” says the associate professor of digital arts in the Faculty of Arts. “Cowboy culture has been stereotyped through the similar notion that cowboys perform masculinity in a very stereotypical way.”
With a SSHRC grant, Leblanc (above) is extending his research into masculinity and recruiting rodeo cowboys around Alberta to interview about their lives, work and objects, such as their cowboy boots, that are important to their identity.
“We want to ask many questions to learn more about how cowboy life and how cowboy culture is developed,” says Leblanc. “A huge emphasis is on the objects — clothing, the belt buckle — how are these objects defining ‘cowboy?’ How important are they? We’re interested in that kind of knowledge.”
Once the 20 or so interviews are complete and the data on the male and female cowboys analyzed, Leblanc will work with the cowboys to create art that features their objects and uncover more information about their lives. The artist will go back and forth with his subjects to ensure they “validate” the final work.
The dozens of pieces of visual art — photos and immersive environments — will be presented to the public through augmented and virtual reality. “You’ll download an app and point your phone or iPad to the image and you’ll see another layer of information,” says Leblanc. “That could be a 3D animation, it could be another video or sound. Through this technology we can reveal something that you would not see in a traditional photograph or even a sculpture. It’s playing with the idea of revealing and concealing.”
Leblanc and his team — Dr. Jennifer Eiserman, PhD (co-investigator) and collaborators Denis Gadbois (UCalgary), Dr. Brian Rusted, PhD (UCalgary) and Dr. Karine Côté, PhD (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi) — are beginning to recruit cowboys to take part in the project.
“We are going to be interviewing as many people as we can who are interested in participating in the general research. It’s a two-part project; there’s the interview aspect and then there’s the artistic aspect. Some cowboys might want to do both and some might want to separate the two parts.”
The project, Real-Life Cowboys: Representing New Male Subjectivities in 21st Century Cowboy Art Using Participatory Visual Methods and Research Creation, will be complete by 2022 and the art will be on display in multiple phases starting in 2020.
“In the last 100 years, cowboy culture has mostly been represented through the media, photography and art in its original stereotypical fashion,” says Leblanc. “My hypothesis is that this is not an accurate representation of cowboy culture and that there’s a need to create new forms of representation that are closer to the realities of cowboys in everyday life.”