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Anthony Kiendl

November 24, 2009

Anthony Kiendl is Director of Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, and winner of the 2009 Hnatyshyn Foundation Visual Arts Award for Curatorial Excellence in Contemporary Art. In 2007 he was Leverhulme Visiting Research Fellow at School of Arts, Middlesex University, London. He was the Director of Visual Arts, Walter Phillips Gallery and the Banff International Curatorial Institute at The Banff Centre in Alberta from 2002 until 2006. In 2002, he served as Acting Director of the Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina Public Library in Saskatchewan where he was Curator since 1997. He is currently the instructor of a graduate theory seminar in the Architecture Department at the University of Manitoba.

Kiendl has lectured internationally and has been instrumental in the delivery of several symposia including those for Tate Modern, The Banff Centre and Plug In ICA. His most recent curatorial project was the creation and direction of Summer School 2009 (Plug In ICA), an inter-disciplinary alternative art school/residency program for professional artists and curators.

1. 460 Portage Avenue

At the corner of Portage Avenue and Colony Street and Memorial Boulevard (the connotations of these names encapsulate the aura of this site), Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art is building it’s new home. The building, designed by architects Neil Minuk (DIN Projects), David Penner and Peter Sampson (collectively known as the DPA+PSA+DIN Collective), will be the most significant cultural infrastructure project in Winnipeg in several years. It is a great design, favouring transgressive pedestrian patterns, accentuated by numerous and carefully planned “cuts” throughout the building, exemplified most viscerally by a three-story tall “crack” that is only six feet wide bisecting the building. Plug In will share the building with the University of Winnipeg, which has experienced a renewal under the leadership of President and Vice-Chancellor Lloyd Axworthy, who states, “Where we want to put our emphasis, because of our location and history and tradition, is on access and opening it up for a lot of people who wouldn't otherwise think of university: new immigrants, the aboriginal community, adult learners.” This has been reflected in a number of great new programs.

Visiting Winnipeg a couple of years ago, before the site and partnership with the U of W had been determined, AA Bronson called me and said that Plug In should move to 460 Portage, the home of the former Army Surplus store. He felt a spiritual power emanating from this location. As it in fact subsequently became the focus of our planning, Bronson, along with artist Peter Hobbs, was brought back to Winnipeg to do a performance with no audience at the site in November last year. Bronson and Hobbs describe the project as follows:

“The city has attracted a broad range of cultures: substantial populations of Métis, Scottish, French, German, Ukrainian, Icelandic, Jewish, Filipino, Ojibway, Cree, Inuktitut and Micmac peoples have contributed to its unique character. As the original communist intellectual center for Canada and the site of the labour riots of 1919, Winnipeg gave birth to the North American Labour Movement. In the 1960s, Winnipeg’s radical rabbis were key in redefining contemporary culture, not only at home, but also across Canada and the US. And during the same time Winnipeg became a major Canadian relay in the international network of underground papers and “alternative culture.

"The city is also a key spiritual portal. Heralded as ‘The Ectoplasm Capital of the World,’ Winnipeg has witnessed a rich history of the paranormal. When we started researching this project we were happily overwhelmed by a wave of Winnipeg ghost stories. While we were somewhat aware that Winnipeg was a hotspot for the Spiritual Movement of the 19th Century, we didn’t know the rich details of weekly séances and table tilting sessions, the documentation of numerous appearances of apparitions, and the ongoing cataloguing of psychic photographs. Much of this documentation is housed in the Hamilton Family Collection at the University of Manitoba.

"Haunted landmarks like the Fort Garry Hotel and former Masonic Temple, along with an assortment of abandoned historic buildings that make up the city’s downtown, have contributed to a ghostly architectonics. It is this prevalent sense of the city being haunted – prime real estate for the supernatural – that makes Winnipeg an ideal site for our project.

"Located at the junction of Portage and Memorial for some 50 years, the United Army Surplus Store similarly constitutes a geographic and psychic node. Anchoring one end of Memorial Blvd., which was built in 1923 to honor Winnipeg soldiers killed in WWI, the store faces the old Hudson’s Bay Company: Winnipeg was the original portal from which the Bay’s vast trading territory emptied back into the ‘civilized’ world. During the 1960s, the Army Surplus was loaded with heaps of enormous Bison coats once worn by the Mounties, along with piles of patterned ‘Indian’ blankets. It is this rich layering of geography, history, material culture, and spiritualism that we call upon in our project. 

"‘Invocation of the Queer Spirits’ will at once ‘christen’ the now abandoned United Army Surplus as a new home for learning and art, while evoking the spirits of the marginalized populations that have played a formative role in shaping Winnipeg’s culture. The event marks the site as a place of future creativity, while infusing it with a sense of the city’s ghostly past.”

2. Handpresso

There are some things I do to maintain balance in my life and two espressos a day is one of them, almost no matter where I am or what I am doing. This has become easier since I found the Handpresso. It is a non-electric coffee press that you pump up by hand like a bicycle tire. All you need is boiled water and then the coffee is extracted through easily found espresso pods in every roast you can imagine. I ordered a grab bag of samples from, and every day have a different shot.

3. Bicycles

Speaking of bicycles, I was reminded again this year how wonderful they are. For one thing, it is November 21 in Winnipeg and we are still riding our bikes in warm weather! I recently attended a reading in Ottawa by David Byrne promoting his new book Bicycle Diaries. Plug In’s curator-in-residence Jenny Western and I took a break from the Aboriginal Curatorial Camp to attend this event in a de-sanctified church near the Byward Market. The church’s boiler had just failed, so we sat in our coats with about three hundred cyclists and Talking Heads fans on a rainy night. It was a memorable and unexpected event as Byrne showed slides of his travels by bicycle around the world. Jenny is herself a cycling fan, and curated a great show called Do Not Park Bicycles at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.

My current fascination is the versatile and interesting folding bike concept. I got an old Dahon on eBay for $100 and it’s probably the best bike I have ever had. Even if your bicycle does not fold up, it’s still the most efficient (energy spent versus motion created) machine ever invented.

4. Ginsberg & Gysin

This summer I read one of Allen Ginsberg’s biographies, I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg by Bill Morgan, and much of the American poet’s Collected Poems 1947-1997, and another book on the Beat Hotel in Paris. Most of his work is still really fresh. I took away from these works an appreciation of Ginsberg’s profound commitment to freedom and his empathic interest in people. Ginsberg is a fascinating connector of people and history from the 1940s until his death in 1997, from the Beats to the Hippies to Punk Rock, arguably playing an equally relevant role with each generation.  

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
- from “America”

William Burroughs died just weeks after Ginsberg. While I can appreciate some of his work intellectually, Burroughs was too misanthropic for me to be really passionate about. Burroughs apparently only ever respected one person (his words): Brion Gysin.

Gysin is the Canadian artist who developed the cut-up method of writing with Burroughs at the Beat Hotel, as well the Dream Machine, a kaledeiscopic flicker light-apparatus that triggered visions (“the first artwork to be experienced with the eyes closed”; it inspired the famous light sequence in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). (Interestingly, research around such hallucinogenic experiences, only with LSD, were undertaken by another British-Canadian resident, Humphrey Osmond, a doctor who practiced in the early socialist experiment of Saskatchewan’s progressive healthcare infrastructure). Bruce Grenville curated a great retrospective of Gysin that I saw at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon years ago. There is talk that New York’s New Museum is planning a Gysin show. Perhaps this will further his deserved recognition as one of Canada’s great under-appreciated art historical figures.

5. Charities

It is probably too simplistic and obvious to say that charities are good. But really, they could play a more prominent role in society if we had a change in priorities. What if we channeled all the emotion and energy of consumer society into giving instead of consuming? What if instead of accumulating goods, we accumulated acts of gifting, and we came to see charitable donations as more satisfying than consuming the latest product? What if we had “charity boutiques” that showed all the wares of the hundreds of charities in Canada and all the good work they are doing? What if we spent our spare time with friends and families contemplating new schools, shelters, animal rights, medical care, and art galleries that we could contribute to? “Life-style choices” could be customized with charities dictating “style” based on the charity’s mandate. Let’s give it a try.



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