April Hickox: Closer to Home
April Hickox, Icarus #2, 1991, gelatin silver print. Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre. Gift of Patrick Hinchey, 1997.
April Hickox: Closer to Home
At first glance it can be difficult to see the relationship between Dorothy Gale, windswept to Oz from dusty Kansas, and Icarus, son of Daedalus, prisoner on Crete. In April Hickox’s series Dorothy and Icarus, both 1991, these characters represent the drive to escape the commonplace and she grounds them within the tapestry of her own life on Ward’s Island and in downtown Toronto. Taken from Roses, Winds and Other Tales, a larger body of work contrasting several cinematic vignettes inspired by Wim Wender’s film Wings of Desire (1987), these two series contrast the impulse for flight against the familiar and affirm our everyday, quotidian experiences.
In Dorothy, scenes from The Wizard of Oz are captured on a vacuum tube television, complete with banding lines and rectilinear distortion, and presented alongside unsentimental views of the artist’s everyday life: dirty dishes on a checkered tablecloth, a photo of a sailor by a cracked window, a highway underpass taken from a moving car. If ever we were surprised by Dorothy’s decision to return to Kansas, in Hickox’s Dorothy Oz and Toronto are present as equivalents—Toronto as dream-like as Oz, and Oz as gritty as Toronto.
April Hickox’s presentation of Icarus is emphatically local as well. The Icarus presented in the second photograph of the series is Anthony van Dyck’s Daedalus and Icarus from the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. The final image in the series calls to mind the rowboats that dot the shorelines of Ward’s Island suggesting that it could be there, and not the Mediterranean Sea, that Icarus fell. If Dorothy is about the inadequacies of escapism, then Icarus is about its dangers.
In Wings of Desire, there is a reordering of the chromatic hierarchy of The Wizard of Oz, with the angels viewing the world in black-and-white and humans seeing it in rich, full colour. The angel Damiel, longing for the simple pleasures of a mortal life, muses: “Now, I don’t have to beget a child or plant a tree but it would be rather nice to come home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe. To have a fever, and blackened fingers from the newspaper.” In her writing about Roses, Winds and Other Stories, Hickox notes that she was giving glimpses into “passing moments, periods of change, confusion and growth.” In Wings of Desire, the outsider angels long for the ordinary; insider Hickox celebrates the same in Dorothy and Icarus, recognizing the magical in the mundane and challenging the escapist tendencies of her two prodigal protagonists.
April Hickox is a lens-based artist, teacher and independent curator. Her work encompasses photography, film, video and installation works. She was the founding director of Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, and a founding member of Tenth Muse Studio and Artscape. Recent exhibitions include those at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Tom Thompson Memorial Art Gallery and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. Her work is in the permanent collections of numerous public institutions, including the MacLaren Art Centre. She is an Associate Professor of Photography at OCADU in Toronto and is represented by Katzman Contemporary.