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Steven Leyden Cochrane
Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow (or, A Brick is a Tool) at Plug In ICA, Winnipeg
February 17, 2015

A few brief visits to Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow (or, A Brick Is a Tool) can hardly be expected to give a complete picture of Canadian artist-run publishing in the 1990s. Despite superficial resemblance to a historical survey, this isn’t quite what the exhibition aims to offer, either. Curator Kegan McFadden produces or reproduces documents, ephemera, and in some cases the entire print run of five defunct artist magazines: Vancouver-based Boo, Toronto’s Flower, CUBE from Montreal, Texts, a production of The New Gallery in Calgary, and The Harold, exhibition host Plug In ICA’s abortive “experiment in publishing.” Original, restaged, and new works by some of the magazines’ artist contributors further expand the record, but McFadden seems more concerned with creating an index than delving into specific contents, less concerned with writing an overlooked history than with creating space for new discussion.

Framed correspondence from Plug In’s The Harold

Laid out under glass or pinned to the walls up to ceiling height, the magazines themselves are hard enough to read that one has to suspect this isn’t the point (a stack of saddle-stitched facsimiles could have been produced just as easily). Preserved correspondence dwells on mundane budgetary issues, albeit with frequent, fascinating throwbacks to the Culture Wars.

Understandably, the artworks represent a hodgepodge of what had been saved and what could be remade, but certain patterns do take shape. Much of the work displays an irreverent queer streak (GB Jones’s gender-swapped Tom of Finland homages, a characteristically deranged sketch by Shary Boyle), and not surprisingly some of the most effective works are text-based. Exhibition highlights include a skewered memo by Geoffrey Farmer and Annie Martin’s incomprehensible translation of Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse into period-perfect Zapf Dingbats (the coded passage is reproduced as a street-facing window graphic).

Annie Martin, Bonjour Madam Sagan

McFadden frames the exhibition as a presentation of ongoing research, but in the context of an exhibition that research seems oriented more toward aesthetic production than the production of knowledge as such. The show is propelled by an affection (even a fetish) for the material properties of vernacular print and a Millennial nostalgia for nineties DIY culture, and it carries an implied critique of the current state of artist-generated publishing. The magazines become literal wallpaper and window dressing, but the frustrating experience of trying to engage with them mirrors the frustrating dearth of contemporary analogues.

The glimpses we get in Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow make a strong argument for the magazine form’s continued relevance and utility. McFadden lays out past examples as provocative proofs of concept, then he opens up the floor. The show runs through May, allowing much-needed time for closer reading, but it will also act as a venue and forum for a raft of artist talks and lectures (both “performative” and regular), a poetry reading, and a two-day zine making workshop with Winnipeg’s Sappho Collective. Those conversations – and whatever might arise from them – will likely prove to be the main event.

Plug In ICA:
Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow (or, A Brick Is a Tool) continues until May 24.

Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.



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