Keith Langergraber | The Society of Language is Matter


Keith Langergraber's current installation is something of a mid career reflection which explores the many themes, concerns and activities that have preoccupied him through much of his life and continue to influence his work. In a previous exhibition entitled Concrete Poetry, held at the Evergreen Cultural Center in 2007, Keith created a series of three concrete benches which were designed to invite the interaction and participation of the local skateboarding community. In a time when skateboarders are seen as a menace and their activities discouraged, Langergraber not only encourages but illuminates the ways in which they lay claim to the urban environment. In so doing he illustrates that as much as things have changed, they also remain the same.

In the early eighties after several years of creating graffiti in the streets of New York under the tag SAMO, the artist Jean-Michel Basquait gained notoriety in the main stream art world when he incorporated the low brow activity of graffiti into the Neo-expressionist style of painting. Meanwhile in California, punk music, skateboarding and zines were at their highest point of influence on that contemporary art scene. Punk rock zines played an important role in establishing the starting point for the many underground zines of this period as they chronicled the rise of a west coast punk subculture. Zines were quickly pasted together and xeroxed. They contained interviews, reviews, letters, manifestos and pronouncements as well as collages, montages and mass media images juxtaposed against taboo images. 

The 1990's saw the rise of a new group of young American artists who began to create a unique art that best reflected their life style. Strongly influenced by pop culture they took their inspiration from skateboarding, surfing, graffiti, street fashion and the burgeoning independent music scene. They were irreverent in their use of materials and pushed the limits often working in styles that were contrary to academic artistic trends including the incorporation of text. Letters and words, whether in cut-up collages, book art of graffiti, became one of the defining features of this contemporary art form. 

During this pre-internet era, a number of artists in the Okanagan also began to produce a series of zines as a way to quickly network and spread word of the underground skate culture throughout the valley. With names like Limbo Akimbo, Merzskate, Limozine, Cats and Rumours, and O.K.V., these zines provided a public forum for the dissemination of information and the gathering together of like minded individuals. The socialist nature of their production provided the ability to quickly galvanize the community and exchange information in street art, mail art, concrete poetry, zines, independent comic books and handmade music album, covers. As the world becomes increasingly impersonal, artists are pushing back by taking a renewed interest in the art of craft and the idea of the handmade object.

This reaction is not unlike that of the artists of the Arts and Crafts movement who at the dawn of the 20th century began to search for authentic and meaningful styles as a reaction to the "soulless: machine-made production aided by the Industrial Revolution. Considering the machine to be the root cause of all the repetitive and mundane evils, some of the protagonists of this movement turned entirely away from the use of machines and towards handcraft. Largely inspired by the writings of John Ruskin these artists undertook the romantic idealization of the craftsperson, taking pride in their personal handiwork. While the Arts and Crafts movement was in large part a reaction to industrialization, it was neither anti-industrial nor anti-modern. Some European factions believed that machines were in fact necessary, but they should also be affordable. The conflict between quality production and 'demo' design, and the attempt to reconcile the two, dominated design debate at the turn of the twentieth century. 

This re-engagement with the arts illustrates how important it is to slow down the constant barrage of information and reconnect and communicate on a more personal level. Artists are a good barometer with which to judge the state and health of a society. On the surface these artists seem to be disengaged from the mainstream of society and it is often easy to dismiss their work. However, by taking it off the streets and bringing it into the gallery, one is able to interpret the work in another context thereby inviting closer examination of the message. In doing so, one can see how things have once again come full circle. As much as society continues to evolve, the basic need for a more intimate and personal level communication and the desire for self expression remains the same. 

Born in 1973 in Trail, B.C. Keith Langergraber grew up in Kelowna receiving his BFA from the University of Victoria and his MFA from the University of British Columbia. On the leading edge of Canadian art, his art work grows from an interest in socials, cultural, and political change. Since 1995 he has exhibited extensively in solo and group shows in galleries across Canada, the United States and Asia and has received many grants and awards including a recent nomination for the prestigious Sobey award. Keith Langergraber also gives lectures and presentations related to his art work and research and currently teaches at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver.