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Terence Dick
April 26, 2007

A couple weeks ago, I sat down for coffee with Rirkrit Tiravanija. He was in Toronto to open his debut solo exhibition at OCAD’s new Professional Gallery space. He’d been in town for a while, dropping in on classes and doing student studio visits in his role as the school’s “nomadic resident.” Arguably one of OCAD’s highest profile alumni, he was a smart choice to kick off the gallery’s programming. Too bad he blew it.

Being the anti-social sceptic that I am, I was always suspicious of Tiravanija’s post-Fluxus, neo-utopian cooking shows and institutional inversions. However, having only ever read about them, I felt like I couldn’t make any final judgement. The point was to be there.  Unfortunately, even when he does a retrospective, there’s no there anymore. Just stories. So I figured talking to him might provide some insight. He hangs in the upper echelons of the art world with a crew of oblique brainiacs like Liam Gillick, Douglas Gordon, and Philippe Parreno. He must talk a good game.

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s installation at OCAD’s Professional Gallery

But rather than being confused, I was disappointed. First I saw his exhibition: he’d had the entrances to the gallery bricked up. Great. A reminder for all the art students of how hard it would be to get their work exhibited in the future. One wall had a Situationist slogan painted on it. At least that was an opportunity for a history lesson. And Tiravanija was nice to talk to, but he was just too easy-going. He stiffened up when I pointed out that Santiago Sierra had once walled up his gallery. Then I asked about British art critic Claire Bishop’s article on relational aesthetics from a while back, the one that dissed Tiravanija and Gillick and gave props to Sierra and Thomas Hirshhorn. Suddenly he was a bit more engaged as he politely but firmly explained his dislike of Sierra’s “antagonistic” work.

As spring gets underway, the local arts activity calendar is quickly filling up with a bounty of events. I was bummed to have missed last week’s lecture by Harrell Fletcher due to circumstances beyond my control. I hope someone went to see it; he’s low on the radar but has built his career on a wide range of collaborative projects that put him in the same phylum, if not genus, as someone like Jeremy Deller. I did manage to see Stan Douglas’s lecture in conjunction with the opening of Barbara Fischer’s massive Projections exhibition at all the University of Toronto galleries (four, count them, four locations). Douglas focussed his talk on what he referred to as his “21st Century works.” Possibly the most organized artist I’ve ever come in contact with, he zipped through half a dozen works accompanied by a custom DVD that included animated graphics illustrating his recombinant film systems.

Stéphane Gilot, Cineplastic Station

Projections (which I’ll have to deal with in a future report) was included in the Images Festival Off Screen program. The Festival is now over, but some of these installations still remain. Paul Petro’s contribution, Stéphane Gilot’s Cineplastic Station goes to show that models of immersive environments aren’t as fun as the immersive environments themselves. Still, the sci-fi nerd in me gets a kick out of Gilot’s proposals.

Shona Illingworth, The Watch Man

Over at InterAccess, British artist Shona Illingworth is exhibiting an example of what I like to think of as “cinema plus!” (i.e., the attempt to extend the evocative power of film with site-specific bells and whistles). She has built up the floor in the gallery, placing speakers beneath it so that as you watch the images projected on a circular screen floating in the distance, a specially designed soundtrack sends vibrations up into your body through your feet. This rumble is meant to suggest the repressed trauma of the old man on the screen, a veteran recounting his memories of the Second World War.

Isabelle Hayeur and Éric Raymond, Tunnel Vision

At Trinity Square Video, Isabelle Hayeur and Éric Raymond have installed an existential theme park ride that has the viewer wandering the non-descript halls of 401 Richmond only to be told at the end that the end is you. It’s kind of goofy, but worth a visit nonetheless. Chantal DuPont’s video at Vtape isn’t worth a visit. I found the duality between her images of Bali and the inside of her brain slightly…How do you say it? Problematic?

Finally, over at Wynick/Tuck, there are two videos of things falling. Stephen J. Shanabrook drops torn-up photographs, while Adam Chapman dribbles amorphous shades that ever so often resolve themselves into birds. Not the most demanding work, but a nice way to focus the eyes and settle the brain after so much looking.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, and The Globe and Mail. He is the media columnist for This Magazine, music editor at Broken Pencil and editor of Akimblog.

OCAD Professional Gallery:
Rirkrit Tiravanija continues until September 9.

Paul Petro Contemporary Art:
Stéphane Gilot: Cineplastic Station continues until May 6.

Shona Illingworth: The Watch Man continues until May 12.

Trinity Square Video:
Isabelle Hayeur and Éric Raymond: Tunnel Vision continues until April 28.

Chantal DuPont: Pemesu continues until May 19.

Wynick/Tuck Gallery:
Exhibitions continue until April 28.



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Posted by Alexandra, on 2007-04-26 08:27:59
"Problematic" is the competent critic's catch-all word for work that for whatever reason fails to hang together; most frequently it refers to work that is ethically naive. This is a term that could easily be applied to Tiravanija's OCAD installation as well. // Having studied with Matthew Poole at the University of Essex (the same institution that trained Claire Bishop), I cannot claim neutrality when it comes to the 1990s phenomenon of "relational art", but Terence Dick's assessment that there is no "there" anymore, "just stories" seems perfectly accurate. While Tiravanija attempted institutional transformation through his participatory quasi-environments, the institutional critique of the 60s and 70s became, somehow, too easy and too amusing. The loss of specificity of place in his recent work is not adequately compensated for by claims to ad-hoc utopianism (a loss which is highlighted, not countered by Nicolas Bourriaud's incoherent attempt at a manifesto). The "stories" here are about art-fair circuit celebrity and not about social transformation through the aesthetic.