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Terence Dick
July 08, 2009

My regular Tuesday gallery jaunt was delayed this week as I was trapped in front of the computer entranced by the spectacle that was Michael Jackson’s funeral. Initially, I was going to skip it, but then the fear of missing out on such a globally inclusive event got the better of me. It truly was a historical ceremony/performance/ritual/whatever that had to be seen, and the celebration of his life was great to hear, but the more I think of it, the denial of Jackson’s eccentricities seems like a sad case of historical revision. Despite the Reverend Al Sharpton’s dismissal of the gloved one’s “strangeness”, he was an oddball and that was part of what made him unique and what (despite some claims that the tabloid fodder will be forgotten and only the music and dance moves will remain) we’ll remember of him. And that’s not so bad! In fact, it’s essential to the myth (and the truth) of the artist/genius. We don’t forget that Van Gogh cut off his ear or that Howard Hughes wore Kleenex boxes as footware and we won’t forget that Michael lived in Neverland because we like our artists larger than life and out of the norm. Or, at least, I do.

Michael Jackson’s coffin (from CNN)

The other fascinating/repulsive (funny how those two often come together) thing about the funeral was the real time, worldwide community experience of the event. There weren’t the expected throngs a hundred thousand strong surrounding the Staples Centre in LA because everyone was at home (or at work) watching it online. And you really got a sense of it when you read the CNN Facebook feed that scrolled incessantly beside the simulcast footage. Sure, it was like being stuck in a massive peanut gallery and many of the comments were in bad taste, but reading responses from Haiti and India and South Africa and Toronto and all over the States had me realizing that an era of mass communication where the masses are not simply recipients but providers is now fully upon us (a front page spread of Twitter-sourced images in the Globe that day only confirmed this). The question that stands out, however, is how to make sense of this onslaught. A Canadian initiative called offers one solution to the deluge of online video on sites such as YouTube by inviting individuals (as yet, writers, artists, filmmakers) to “curate” videos and accompany their selections with short essays. There are many familiar names on the list of contributors (Mike Hoolboom, Chris Gehman, Sheila Heti, to name three) and some have taken this as an opportunity to engage in the “sense-making” of visual culture that art is best suited for.

Michelle Gay, Untitled, 2009, graphite and gouache on ledger paper

A different sort of new media curation is happening currently at Birch Libralato with their response to the traditional summer group show. Instead of simply installing an everyday selection of their artists’ work, the gallery has been set up like a model condo suit with artworks by Michelle Gay, Cathy Daley, and James Nizam (among others) surrounding a typical dining and living room arrangement. Artist Sylvie Belanger is responsible for this strategy and she includes a couple wall-mounted video screens that offer a range of options for visual accompaniment. Recontextualizing the work by pretending to take it out of the white box, Belanger sheds some new light on the possibility of objects.

Seth Scriver and Shayne Ehman, Asphalt Watches, 2006-ongoing

A couple of the artists in the group show Pulp Fiction at MOCCA take the possibility of objects into the realm of obsessive compulsive reworkings that fall into the genre I like to call “fake outsider art.” I first coined this term while perusing an exhibition of the Royal Art Lodge and that’s the first aesthetic connection you’ll inevitably make while perusing this show. The artists are of the same generation and emerged from the same confluence of indie rock, indie comics, zine culture and art school socializing. Some like Jason MacLean have pushed hard into the gallery system, but the most intriguing work are the animated films, particularly the hurly burly narratives of Seth Scriver and Shayne Ehman. Their ongoing Asphalt Watches epic follows the misadventures of two hitchhikers and the strangers they meet on their way across Canada. It’s a mash-up of Jack Kerouac, Goin' Down the Road, hip-hop, and the Residents and it should be a Saturday morning cartoon. Call the NFB, I’ve found the next Log Driver’s Waltz!

Instant Coffee, Disco Fallout Shelter, 2009

Further on the retro-tip, Instant Coffee’s Disco Fallout Shelter has taken up residence in the Toronto Sculpture Garden. It makes for a bright and colourful rupture in the urban decorum of lunching business dudes and encroaching condo-nistas. The video feed that purportedly monitors the goings-on of the IC crew as they wait, safe from harm, inside and underground is a nice touch, but I’m not sure if the references (disco, fallout shelter) are as pertinent as they once were. Both seem a bit anachronistic and I could easily imagine this being done by some pretenders to General Idea’s throne in the eighties. Still, the discoball-spackled satellite dish brings me back to Michael Jackson’s glittering glove and his golden casket and I realize that this too is a coffin, yet another tomb for the twentieth century.

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 editor of Akimblog.

Birch Libralato:
Sylvie Belanger: Des Fleurs Pour Decorer continues until July 25.

Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art:
Pulp Fiction continues until August 23.

Toronto Sculpture Garden:
Instant Coffee: Disco Fallout Shelter continues until September 15.




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Posted by A, on 2009-07-09 13:37:18
Apparently the blog doesn't like accents. Belanger.

Posted by A, on 2009-07-09 13:34:46
Sylvie Bélanger's artwork at Birch Libralato is not a strategy to spice up a group summer exhibition by the gallery. Des Fleurs Pour Decorer is not a group show, but it is a solo exhibition by the Bélanger as a gallery artist, in which she curated a few of the gallery artists into her exhibition. This was done with great purpose to the conceptual structure of the installation. Sylvie Bélanger created the video and several works of art in the second room of the installation.

more information about the work can be found here: