Shelter vs Symbolism / The Tent Project at GPAG

“Housing is absolutely essential to human flourishing. Without stable shelter, it all falls apart.” (M. Desmond)

Almost ten years ago, a Quebec-based activist art group Folie/Culture were engaged in a project Nomadic Dwellings across Canada. When I experienced Dwellings out West, they’d been creating this work for about two years. It resonated in every city they visited, with rising rents, plummeting wages and precarious employment making the idea of having a safe roof over your head (let alone home ownership) a dream slipping away. The idea is as relevant now – more so, bluntly – as it was then. Nomadic Dwellings called on “architects / artists to conceive nomadic dwellings for itinerants. The shelters had to be designed for one person, with materials that were easily found in Canada, inexpensive, and recyclable if possible. They also had to be reusable and easy to set up by one person alone.”

Two ideas made this a worthy project. One was as an intervention intended to bring communities that perhaps don’t always “see” each other together. And that, for more than a decade previous, Folie/Culture had “facilitated contemporary art projects with a specific focus on awareness building in mental health. They encourage the work of artists who intervene in the field of social perceptions, engaging a public who may not otherwise encounter contemporary art.”

Even though it was long ago and far away, Dwellings came to mind at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery, among the various mixed media works by John Notten, all presented (sheltered, if you will) under the title of The Tent Project. His words: “A thin membrane of fabric is stretched over an armature; such is a tent. A simple yet ingenious architectural form, it appears across countless centuries and virtually every culture. It is an ancient shelter that has protected both royalty and the homeless.” Further: The Tent Project is described as “a body of work that explores the many personalities of a simple and familiar object.”

The GPAG is packed with various works, of various styles and sizes, united through the recurring tent “shape”: Flotsam and Jetsam is a massive interactive piece where you can make the tiny blue tents (reminiscent of Monopoly markers) undulate. Vault, with its stereotypical camping chair invites the viewer to sit under the ramshackle “tent” roof. Works are also two dimensional, and video works can be found along the back part of the gallery (Pop Up Tent City is one of these, but Notten melds and incorporates various media together under – pun intended – the idea of “tent”, as with Plan for Pop Up Tent City #1, which is collaged).

It’s a dense installation. However, I left feeling somewhat empty. Perhaps the reason I was also reminded of Nomadic Dwellings was because that was something that didn’t use “art” to sanitize a serious issue, nor did it neutralize a serious social issue through aesthetics. The reason many public art works fail, and why many have little time for art that cite social capital, is because it – to paraphrase Sontag – “tourists in someone’s reality”, using their lived experience, their genuine hardship, to not help the situation – or those within it – but instead references (perhaps exploits) their suffering for an artwork of arguable moral and ethically value. (like an online petition or “likes” on social media..)

When I attended part of Notten’s opening talk, I found that in speaking to several pieces the formal aesthetic – or the idea of “tent” – was the defining, perhaps dominating factor (one piece that incorporates an overhead shot of a tent city was talked about in aesthetic language, with no regard for what – and who – was being presented – or ignored).  Some of the pieces used “tent” more like a formal Modernist “shape” absent any clear acknowledgement of the people and concerns that so informed Folie/Culture’s work….

Notten has shown in Scotiabank Nuite Blanche: a valid critique of many NB artists has been that the works are variations on “plop art”, a term used for art parachuted into a public sphere and has no relation or respect for that community or that area. Alternately, a simplistic use of the idea of “tent” is aimed at a less discerning or critical audience, and a clearer message. I’ve commented in the past how GPAG is an uneven curatorial space (shows that featured Carl Beam, or Shelley Niro, or Tony Calzetta were all excellent, but GPAG is a community centred gallery, and I know many curators who talk about how public galleries have diverse – and often conflicting agendas around showing individuals in their community who may not be of the same quality, but that have great relevance to their public and regional stakeholders).

Occupy (detail), The Tent Project, John Notten Plan for Pop Up Tent City #2, John Notten  No Name (2017), The Tent Project, John NottenGo see The Tent Project, but consider artists who’ve worked with similar subject matter – and have not eliminated the people from the imagery or objects – like Karen Spencer with her project employing billboards and postcards sent to public figures, from journalists to politicians. Amusingly, Spencer and I disagreed greatly on her work, and how it related to the people she was dialoguing with / depicting (this was, I feel, her larger goal, as I suspect is the same with Notten). Perhaps, considering the current situation with “America”, tents are simply incapable of being simply forms, and are now too charged, too tainted, by our current world, to not illicit darker implications….

The Tent Project will be on display at the GPAG until August 12, 2018. All images are from the GPAG or the artist’s web site. Clockwise from left: Occupy (detail, 2017), Plan for Pop Up Tent City #2 (2017) and No Name (2017).

 

Posted in Politics, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We can do better, or why you shouldn’t support Canadian Art Magazine’s pleas for your cash

I recently had a conversation with local artist Bruce Thompson: we’re both in the downtown of STC often, but this time we were in his studio. This is one of the NAC spaces on St. Paul. We often have intense, and serious conversations about both the local art community and the wider national, or international one. Usually one of us is on their way somewhere else, and we have to cut the discussion (or debate, or argument – meant in the best way) short. So, Bruce told me to come by and we picked up a few conversational threads we’d had to let drop previously.

He made a point the other day, in response to a piece I shared from frieze magazine: a smart and critical article about “clean collections.” When I shared it on social media, I used it as an opportunity to again point out how Canadian Art Magazine is a shoddy screed of ill considered ideologies compared to texts like frieze, or e – texte, or Art In America. (In light of the “correcting” of the Emily Carr painting at the AGO, this is a very Canadian concern. Art is messy business.)

I decline to share anything here from CA- which repeatedly claims to be “Canada’s most widely read art magazine.” Crudely, if this is true (I’ll revisit that in a moment) its like dog faeces being the most widely encountered faeces. You still don’t want to step in it. Speaking to a number of recent BFA grads and emerging artists here, I suggested they avoid reading it at all, like avoiding anyone with a cold you don’t want to catch. This is a radical departure for me, as I’ve always been an advocate of Doris Lessing’s idea that you need to engage with writing you may disagree with, and not just dismiss it. But there’s a difference between contested narratives, and ignorant ones, to paraphrase the recently passed Harlan Ellison. 

This might seem extreme, but after reading a piece by one of their editors, which appears to endorse twitter mob censorship and making challenging artworks into “unart” while misrepresenting the situation in question (which is even more offensive and unprofessional in light of smarter pieces like this) it is time to ignore – and no longer support – such sophistry.

This is one of many reasons why I have contempt for CA. This has been, after all, the same year where they killed off a significant Indigenous artist, while resurrecting a gallery that hasn’t existed for nearly a decade. This was in their issue before last, with their insert advertorial about #YXE beginning with The Red Shift Gallery, which ceased operations quite some time ago…interesting that an Indigenous arts space is treated so shabbily, but we must consider the following: 

“My problem with Liberalism [as often manifest by CA’s board] is that it’s more concerned with policing people’s language and thoughts without requiring them to do anything to fix the problem. White liberal college students speak of “safe spaces”, “trigger words”, “micro aggressions” and “white privilege” while not having to do anything, or more importantly, give up anything.” (Phoebe Maltz Bovy)

Apparently one of the “dirty words” they were exploring, though not naming in the issue devoted to that theme, is “fact”, or “editorial rigour” or “accountability.”

A screen grab (July 3rd) from CA’s FB page.

But returning to the conversation that spurred this post. Thompson’s point was this, and it’s a good one: we, as Canadians – whatever that means and we should be open to that honest contested difference in definition – should not abdicate our critical discourse, our responsibility to be able to speak, write and thus think and question critically our cultural spheres and cultural productions. My response was that there’s many good writers out there: just avoid the horrid umbrellas of mediocrity and incompetence, the hideous spaces that are more concerned with parting you from your money than offering intelligent articles for your cash. Also, be aware that you don’t become a karaoke modernist, as I saw in Saskatoon and Regina, where “conversations” are deformed by regionalism and when your ideas – and artwork – is shown to fall short of the critical rigour demanded in other, sometimes international, spaces, take it as a challenge, not as an excuse to assert regionalist incest under the guise of “nationalism.” 

This is why it is disappointing to anyone who has some knowledge of stories covered by CA, which is happy to run articles and hypocrisy from individuals criticizing the galleries re: inclusiveness, while both are employees and loud advocates for one of the most institutionally racist universities in Western Canada. This isn’t just a problem with CA, but they’ve been getting cosy in groupthink with another online screed space that proclaims a “return to art criticism” while parachuting someone into a space where they know nothing of the history or the importance of what they’re covering, which is a more extensive or expensive version of just wasting your money – and once respected plaform – on paying for a friend’s cross country vacation, where they talk more about the farmer’s market than art. 

At a certain point, a critical reader stops engaging, as the work is shoddy, biased and plays fast and loose with facts. This is not a worthy endeavour to support, either with your intellectual energy or your cash.

I’m revisiting this poverty of thought because this latest plea for financial support from Canadian Art was just forwarded to me. Once my schadenfreude laughter dissipated I had to respond:

A”re you into what Canadian Art has been doing recently? Perhaps you never were before? The best way you can support us is with a print subscription, which is only $20 a year. The changes at the magazine over the last two years have shaken our foundation of legacy subscribers/donors; their voices are loud and influential (despite their opinion otherwise). If you believe in the changes we’ve begun, and are in a position to support us with a subscription, it would go such a long way to helping us to continue doing what we do. Thank you.”

I would advocate NOT subscribing or supporting Canadian Art Magazine in any way or form, or offering any financial support, until a clear and transparent house cleaning – an enema, if you will – occurs there. How can a magazine claim to be significant when it gives voices to some of the worst and most hypocritical institutional racists I interacted with, in the Canadian Art sphere?

Frankly, CA has engaged in some very questionable behaviour that is undeserving of financial support. This suggests instead that its symptoms of financial distress are correctly correlated to their lack of quality, oversight and ethically questionable positioning of themselves as advocates when they give voice to hypocrites.

Saying someone’s voice is important when you’re panhandling for their disposable income is akin to how, years ago, a University I worked at undermined digital media in every decision. But “suddenly” it was time for an external review – with power over financial support – which asked about changes and initiatives promised in digital / new media sphere. Suddenly I went from an exploited sessional who was told to make do with what shoddy equipment was provided by other areas, for digital imaging / video, to being a “valued member of the department.” Then the University of Saskatchewan Art Department got a middling evaluation in the review. Not enough to shake the calcified status quo but easy to ignore and be ignored (“we’re a good painting / school” asserted one tenured doorstop but as with CA’s words in their pleas for subscribers, saying it doesn’t make it so) and everything went back to “normal.”

Several years later, more digital media is taught in high schools there than at the Art Department, and they’ve lost ground to their primary regional competition, the University of Regina, that will never be regained.

A waste of money, a passel of expensive egos in a fetid recipe of incompetence and ignorance. That’s also Canadian Art: years ago I had to argue with a “fact checker” over Starlight Tours in Saskatchewan, for a review of Ruth Cuthand’s work. This is just another point of unprofessionalism and incompetence that is seen in the “death” of Pechawis or granting Marcus Miller, a loud and well paid advocate for one of the most institutionally racist art departments in Canada, a platform.

Unlike the editors at CA, I don’t advocate censoring them, or silencing their idiocy and incompetence. But there is far better art writing out there in unexpected places (the paper to which I contribute regularly, The Sound, devoted major resources and space to covering the issue of Rodman Hall and Brock University. But there are many better spaces out there providing considered and intelligent – and genuinely provocative – content that makes it very easy to eschew the juvenalia of CA.

We live in an time where the promise of more funding for the Canada Council seems to have stuttered, and where cultural workers are paid as poorly – or worse – than they were twenty years ago (another legacy of the Boomers, perhaps).

This is a time where it should be understood that choosing to not support an organization or a group that claims to value all opinions but disproves this quite fervently by their actions is the ethical choice. It is, in the end, no different than how we have to consider, as members of various degrees of activity in cultural communities in Canada, whether to support ARCs or not, gaging actions to intent, ideology to truth. I say this as I have been an active supporter of NAC since my arrival in St. Catharines, and an active supporter with time and money to a number of other cultural spaces. However, I advocate repeatedly for more rigorous oversight, as aka artist run has never acknowledged its abuse of governance, deliberate misleading of members at an AGM in suppressing facts, and having to be shamed into paying emerging artists – the latter should be an offense that results in a loss of funding. Why that didn’t happen is an example of the same institutional calcification and hypocrisy that defines the current version of Canadian Art.

Further, my own involvement with cultural spaces has been significant and varied: but it didn’t preclude that when those spaces become rancid, and boards and staff won’t address it, that I would blindly support them. BlackFlash Magazine was a publication I supported in many ways over a long period (helping to formalize the Editorial Committee, introducing image reproduction fees and guidelines to deal with Board / EC friction and conflict of interest as pertaining to contributors). I am a founding member of PAVED, and saw aka artist run through several bad spells of board incompetence and staff difficulty: ending my support of those groups was difficult, but when the institutions begin to rot and won’t change, washing one’s hands is the best approach (aka is an effective corollory to CA, as the director of said ARC responded to criticisms of how artists were unpaid, or members openly misled at AGMs, by accusing critics of “misogyny”). My contributions – whether in volunteer time or in financial terms – are better spent elsewhere, in spaces that merit them, and put them to good use that serves a larger community, not an exclusive clique.

Culture is important. Canadian art and artists are important. We deserve better, and must demand better, before we continue to support a failed institution that seems to brush off mistakes and decisions that not only invite criticism, but are inherently flawed (and clearly so to anyone outside the CA bubble). This is very possible (there are several examples of boards and directors being ousted by members, or being forced out due to their mismanagement, in the history of ARCs and other collectives, in Canada). It is also necessary, as throwing hard earned and sparse cultural funds at this rubbishy state of affairs will not improve the situation.

Giving money to Canadian Art Magazine is an endorsement of their failure, and that will only lead to worse, and more egregiously shoddy examples of their incompetence.

We need to do better, and we merit better. #DEFUNDCANADIANARTMAGAZINE

 

 

Posted in Politics, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writers’ Blocks: Sheldon Rooney’s visual library

Sheldon Rooney’s work is often derivative: I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner, but his work takes its inspiration, its genesis, from elsewhere. His ongoing series of album covers, for example, or works that reference musicians or actors, are illustrative interpretations of his musical and cultural interests. He was recently nominated in the Established Artist Category for the 2018 St. Catharines Arts Awards (sadly, he didn’t win, but this year saw a deep ocean of quality nominees. Buy one of his works to make it up to him, ahem, #buymoreart).

In the latest incarnation of Up Close and In Motion, the same wall that recently had Tobey C. Anderson’s work exploring his mortal illness, or that had Janet Jones’ abstracted suffusive paintings, is now filled with many small portraits of different writers of import to Rooney (these are delicate wood burnings where the lines and details so common in Rooney’s work seems to belie this process). Rooney’s playful humour is in the title: Writers’ Blocks is both the name of the series, and a literal description of the work, and also references the malady of the not quite same name.

An amusing side point, that also will hopefully inform your enjoyment / interaction with Rooney’s work at Rodman. I realized in thinking on this work that I rely greatly on literature, and in conversations for articles about artists like Melanie MacDonald or Clelia Scala, literature was a common point, that informed and deepend how I understood their practice, and what they were making.

So, in light of that visual “sampling” of Rooney’s reading, I offer a “review” that bookends: Rooney chooses writers to illustrate, to depict, and I have chosen images of these writers and will offer an excerpt of their writing, that is important to me. From words to images back to words: your intrepid #artcriticfromhell offers this non traditional response to Rooney’s work, furthering some of the ideas that curator Emma German has highlighted with her focus on Slow Art Day, but also with presenting artworks that demand visual attention, and considered looking. Writing about art has almost always been about literature, for me, too, and one of the authors Rooney offers as a portrait (Robertson Davies) was an early influence in this area.

“So, let us go then, you and I” (T.S. Eliot, whom I don’t remember seeing among the faces Rooney rendered here), and here’s my selected “biography” of the authors Rooney has “sampled” for us. Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell suggests you seek these authors out, and read them yourself, and see why the artist consideres them worthy, and why I find such joy in his “library.”

Timothy Findley: “Literature was intended to be dangerous. Art was meant to be dangerous. Ideas were nothing if they were not dangerous.”

Timothy Findley

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anaïs Nin: “Worlds self made are so full of monsters and demons.”

Anais Nin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irvine Welsh: “Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a fuckin couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth; choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.”

Irvine Welsh

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack Kerouac: “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

Jack Kerouac

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sir Salman Rushdie: “A poet’s work … to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.”

Salman Rushdie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walt Whitman: “Some people are so much sunlight to the square inch. I am still bathing in the cheer he radiated.”

Walt Whitman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “Les grandes personnes ne comprennent jamais rien toutes seules, et c’est fatigant, pour les enfants, de toujours et toujours leur donner des explications. / Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

Antoine St. Exupery

 

 

 

 

 

 

W. Somerset Maugham: “People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.”

Somerset Maugham

 

 

 

 

 

 

ee cummings:

“i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones,and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz
of your electric furr,and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh….And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new”

ee cummings

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Orwell: “I tell you Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.”

George Orwell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheldon Rooney’s many “portraits” that make up his piece Writers’ Blocks is on display at Rodman Hall, as part of the most recent version of Up Close and In Motion, right now. This exhibition shifts often, so go soon, and go often.

You can see the entire series here, along with other work by Rooney.

Posted in Artist Features, Politics, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell shows his credentials for Haldimand Art Works

I’m very pleased to be speaking at this event for Haldimand Art Works and what I’ve put together below is a bit of an introduction.

Years ago I was asked to speak to the Master of Fine Arts Critical Studies Group at the University of Saskatchewan, where I had taught for 14 years, before the usual university cabal – overpaid administrators and incompetent tenured faculty only concerned with their own salaries – embraced “austerity” and let many of us go. I mention this as being invited back, four years or so later to talk to their MFA / MA students, in my very public role as an arts writer in Saskatoon, was amusing, because I had a reputation – well deserved – for saying what I thought, and being liberal in my criticisms of my former employer. This was often like shooting fish in a barrel, but when most of your faculty hadn’t exhibited artwork in more than a decade, nor shown in a faculty show for longer, it is good to not “shoot the messenger” but perhaps consider the facts of the situation. Amusingly, a piece I wrote used that title, when I was responding to an artist run centre that had to be shamed (by myself, and others) into paying artists, and an attempt to smear me backfired.

I mention these for several reasons: the latter situation with a horrid artist run centre illustrates what I often see as the necessity of art, and art writing, mattering to the community, and not being caught up in esoteric, or more airy, issues (I’ve often been accused of being “too political” or “too historical”, to which I usually said perhaps the problem was that they were “too ignorant” – or that if you criticise art for being “too political” what you might mean is that it’s not “your politics”).

I also cite the MFA class as the piece I wrote for them, before I spoke to them, was called “Who Cares, Why Bother: the existential crisis of writing art criticism in a small community.” Amusingly, this has, after much arguing, struggle and alcohol (on my part, I won’t presume to speak for the main editor) become a chapter in Art From The Margins: Visual Culture in Saskatchewan. More relevantly, when I spoke to that class, I selected three articles I thought important, that I’d written, and we talked about them and the ideas around them. I’ve done a similar thing here, so you’ll have an idea of who I am, how I write, and how I approach the useless yet sometimes groundbreaking exercise in egotism that is too often art criticism / art writing.

Lacie made me laugh when I saw that she used my somewhat tongue in cheek sobriquet of #artcriticfromhell. That was originally thrown at me, as an insult, by someone who felt I was too flippant, not academic enough, not formal enough – essentially, as I said to them, not enough like what they THOUGHT art criticism should be, in their narrow expectations and views.

I’ve also been called by another artist / arts administrator the “most subjective” critic they know, and another said I was the “most direct” (trust me, the way she said it, it was an insult, too). I accept all these, and another artist once called me a Strelnikov (from Dr. Zhivago) as he said I expected too much of art, and was too demanding, and was too critical when “art” (my quotes, not his) didn’t live up to this. This is also true, in part.

What I’ve linked out to, here, are all articles that are important not just in seeing how I approach what I do, and my rules for doing it, but also one of the most important aspects of what I do: my connection to community.

My biography is here, and I’ve worn many hats, and done many things, within cultural spaces. Volunteering is very important to me: and this link, from my time with CFCR 90.5 FM illustrates that, with some fun links.

But some of the pieces that I’ll be happy to reference or talk about when I meet with you all are below. However, one of the hats I wear right now is facilitator for the Rodman Hall 5 x 2 Image Maker Conversations, and I enjoy that greatly as its a very open, inclusive dialogue about making images, and images themselves, and I’m happy to talk about larger issues that inform writing about art, and the ideas – and sometimes idiocy, ahem – behind it.

My agenda as an arts writer has often been informed by a desire to foster conversations about art in spaces and with people that don’t always feel they’re invited to be part of this discussion, and to offer the idea that art writing, like art itself, can be enjoyed by many diverse and different groups, in different ways.

This is just a selection, and much of my writing is online, and easily found with a web search.

Lure of the Local, Material Girls (The Sound), Philia (The Sound, and I have many pieces at The Sound, and you can follow the “ART” drop down menu for them), A Confluence Field Trips (HAL), Every Prophet In Their House (HAL), Patrick Traer (Galleries West), Modern Women at Magenta Magazine (more articles by me are here) and two pieces I wrote for Canadian Art.

This is a downloadable PDF of a longer piece I wrote for FUSE Magazine: I regard it as an important piece as issues of audience, and who is being served, or not being served, in gallery and cultural spaces, was a topic I focused upon.

I wrote for Planet S for nearly a decade, but their archive is not well designed. Here’s the last piece I wrote for them, before I left Saskatoon, and it’s a fun piece for many reasons.

Posted in Politics, Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Goodbye Rubberhead / Geography, Memory and Canadiana at Rodman Hall

When I was a child, one of the albums that was played over and over again was Stompin’ Tom Connors at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. It featured a few other singers, but it was a double record, live, and only years later did I learn that there is, in fact, a film of it (that I watched this in Saskatchewan – roll on, roll on, Skatchwan – was fitting. I was sick with a fever, so there’s a filmy dream quality to that memory).

Now, at the risk of having my Canadian citizenship revoked, I generally can take or leave a lot of Connors‘ music, and the songs I enjoy tend to be the less popular ones. There’s points where nostalgia overrides quality, of course, and if I still had a band we’d still do Sudbury Saturday Night and I can sing all the words to Goodbye Rubberhead. (“..that woman of mine will be in a box of pine before I hock my old guitar….” Okay, that one hasn’t aged very well, ahem, sorry.)

Songs like Movin’ In (From Montreal by Train) and Tilsonburg are the spiritual ancestors of The Tragically Hip’s Bobcaygeon or Wheat Kings (perhaps my favourite Hip song, and definitely because of having lived in the “Paris of the Prairies”). Perhaps that’s the endurance of Connors: stories about the places we live in, our stories, are important. I made a similar observation years ago, for a show that Elwood Jimmy curated of Indigenous artists and artists of colour who worked in video, as the documentary tradition was one that was to be respected, and employed, to tell your own story.

But here’s the thing: in seeing John Boyle’s Yankee Go Home – Stompin’ Tom, in the latest iteration of Up Close and In Motion at Rodman Hall,  this evocation of “CanCon” was not only brought back to me, but had a new layer added to it. Another sheen of regionalism, or perhaps another aspect of the history that informs contemporary culture (The Rheostatics, whom made In The Soil 2017 so wonderful, make no bones of their debt to Connor). Further, Connors was often uncompromising in his Canadian nationalism, willing to publicly criticise artists and funders whom he felt were too sycophantic to America, or too focused on America, over Canadian audiences or stories.

This painting is by John Boyle, whom like many of the current artists on display in the Hansen space (Greg Curnoe among them, of the same era and political positioning as Boyle), has had a strong hand in not only the history of art in the Niagara and Southern Ontario region, but is a name that came up repeatedly years ago when I was working at the Art Gallery of Windsor. I was one of several researchers for Bob McKaskell’s exhibition Making It New! (the big sixties show!) (I was engaged with this endeavour in the mid 1990s, and this show later travelled to a few different locales). This period – the 1960s – was significant to Canadian art: artist run centres – like Niagara Artist Centre (NAC) (founded in 1969) – were established, and some of the same breaking of barriers and heirarchy that we saw in other social spaces also took place in the Canadian art world. Spaces exclusively for, and about, female artists came into being. Artists of colour, of Indigenous heritage, as well as queer or social activistist oriented, moved into the mainstream, no longer willing to be ignored or marginalized (though there’s much work still to be done there. Too many instances of ghettoization and exploitation of said artists to “secure” funding still happens, and it is still disrespectful exploitation…looking at you, Gordon Snelgrove).

The “novel” idea that artists must be paid for their work (though some places, and some people, still seem to need reminding of this – still looking at you, Saskatoon) was just one way the landscape shifted tectonically. Boyle was a player in that, both as an artist but also in a seminal case regarding artist fees in public galleries. CARFAC was founded in this period (1968, in London, and Greg Curnoe was one of the original board members). Their most recent campaign – Has the Artist been paid? – indicates how this battle, that Boyle, along with many like minded artists and activists started – indicates that this battle is far from settled…and Connors also must be mentioned, in terms of his starting a record label and supporting Canadian musicians, and how that ground has continued to be built upon.

Ideas of Canadian content have been besmirched by people like Bryan Adams (“Now, now, the Canadian Government has apologised for Bryan Adams on several occasions”) and it can be as much of a bane as a boon (my own experience of karaoke Mmodernism™ on the prairies echoed that). But what’s also engaging about Boyle’s Yankee Go Home – Stompin’ Tom (made in 1974) is how it fits within the current 24 hour news cycle jabber emanating from America, how we may be engaged in a trade war that can only escalate, and how American POTUS ignorance is combining with somewhat typical American cowardly deference (whether GOP spinelessness or the American unwillingness to genuinely criticise and hold to account their president, too blinded by their “faith” in their “exceptionalism”).

In Boyle’s painting, Tom smiles back at us, as St. Paul Street stretches in the background. Tom, in fact, stands at the point on Ontario and St. Paul where Boyle’s studio used to be, and Boyle’s work was (like Greg Curnoe, who has a piece to the right of Boyle in the Hansen Gallery) always informed by his immediate surroundings, his lived experience, and his community. St. Paul, as painted here, is an historic, not contemporary (not even to 1974, when Boyle painted this. One of the ways in which I enjoy social media is that when I posted something about this painting, it turned into a discussion – with images provided by the participants – of St. Paul from previous eras): Connors’ shirt and side burns are flamboyantly from the 1970s and the colours owe more to fantasy than realism.

Perhaps that’s also a nod to the idealism that informed that 1960s into arly 1970s period, especially in terms of telling – and valuing – Canadian stories. Perhaps its also a good reminder of how cities and neighbourhoods are shaped as much by ideals as business, as much by people as by anything else. In a long ranging conversation that was inspired by this work, I told local artist / educator Arnold McBay that art cannot change the world, but it can change people, and then its up to us to do something with that.

 

This latest version of Up Close and In Motion is on display until the end of June, but new and different works will be on display until January 2019. 

 

Posted in Politics, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment