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Winnipeg
Noni Brynjolson
A Total Spectacle at Atomic Centre
May 21, 2013

On opening night of A Total Spectacle at the Atomic Centre in Winnipeg, the tone for the exhibition was set by Toronto-based performance artist Istvan Kantor. His three person act was filled with violence, nudity, real blood, fake blood, fake cum, fire, smashing of filing cabinets, and pounding techno-industrial beats. Kantor, who won the Governor General's Award in 2004, did his best to shock and disturb the audience. It was definitely a spectacular sort of protest, but it was unclear against whom, or what, it was directed. This performance mostly made me think about the relationship between performers and viewers during such events. Audiences have become somewhat inured to spectacle, which is hardly surprising considering the landscape of consumer objects, advertising, and mediated imagery that surrounds us.



The remains of Istvan Kantor's performance

After the smoke cleared and the beet juice was washed away, I looked at several collections of branded merchandise that were displayed on black plinths: a Tim Horton's t-shirt, glittery stick-on nails, a board game called Acquire, a TY beanie baby released by McDonald's named Righty the Elephant. These displays of consumerism sit amongst the other works that make up A Total Spectacle, curated by (sometime Akimblog writer) Milena Placentile and featuring seven local, national, and international artists.

Glen Johnson's videos are mock-commercials for Tim Horton's that feature iconic images from Canadian history. They made me think of the huge amount of money the Harper government has spent on advertising, self-promotion, and spectacular events like the War of 1812 reenactment. Praba Pilar created a confessionary booth of sorts, which provides absolutions for the activist-sinner who dares to protest against oil sands, sweatshops, or other pillars propping up the neoliberal nation-state. Two works by Scott Sørli show photos of police kettling protesters during the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010; their formation represents the most efficient strategy for squashing democratic resistance on the streets. Most people associate spectacular power with fascism or communism, but in these images it is here in our own backyard.

An exhibition with such a broad theme – spectacle and consumer culture – inevitably risks making generalizations. A Total Spectacle manages to avoid this, for the most part, by showing the extent to which spectacle pervades our everyday lives: from our streets to our screens to our Justin Bieber puzzles.


Atomic Centre: http://www.atomiccentre.net/
A Total Spectacle continues until June 9.


Noni Brynjolson is a writer and curator from Winnipeg whose work has been published in journals, exhibition catalogues, blogs, and zines. She is a recent graduate of the Master's program in Art History at Concordia University in Montreal and currently works as the Distribution Coordinator at the Winnipeg Film Group. She is Akimblog's Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @NoniBrynjolson on Twitter.

 

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