One of the reasons I choose to pursue a graduate degree right now is to catch up to what the current thinking is about many of the things I have been interested and involved with in the last 20 years. Communications, new media and art are the three big ones. Some of you hear “animated ad banners on a blog” when I say that, but really I am interested in what we think we are doing in these areas and where this thinking comes from.
I remember, I really do, looking at my young classmates and thinking “Great, this is a no-brainer, we can stop this bad behaviour”.
Well, maybe not those exact words but that is a honest paraphrase of my assumptions in during my early public school years. For me, I did not know what racism, environmentalism, sexism or even classism was. I only learned about these “ism’s” when a special adult visitor would present to us the definition and told us about these issues and we can grow up in a world without these problems.
Sure! Sign me up! Where do I vote?
Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one left from those years who holds onto these early directives. You see, Rob Ford is of my generation and he’s an asshole. Stephen Harper is in my generation and he’s an asshole. Danielle Smith? Asshole. Rona Ambrose? Asshole. Hell, Vladimir Putin is of my generation and he’s most definitely an asshole. It’s not that these people are assholes per se that alarms me, but they are the tip of the iceberg for the asshole generation my Kindergarten class turned into.
We see my generation reflected in the urban sprawl, the environmental death by a thousand paper cuts, the derision of students who demand affordable tuition, by any concept that does not somehow sound like an economic formula. We see it in hating second-class people who get health care or the hatred for homosexual love. More than ever, as a whole, we have slid back into a dark and selfish place where extreme hatred, conservatism and short-sighted gain are the only currency.
Fuck you my Kindergarten class. You had a chance to stop this madness before it go this bad and you fucked it up. You know that mean, stinky neighbour who would scowl at us whenever we were having too much fun too close by? You are worse than that adult now. You will be the generation that is remembered that way forever or at least for however long we have left on this planet. You became a larger and scarier version of your parents.
I should not have said that about the planet. I now realize concepts like “planet” are too large for my Kindergarten classmates to grasp and provides the dismissive point they need to escape from my entire argument. I need to keep my arguments within the confines of the local mall, soccer field and vague economic platitudes.
Sometimes, when I think back to those adults educating us about social issues, I wonder if this had the opposite effect of imposing these negative attitudes onto us. I did not realize my friend was a visible minority until it was pointed out me and that we should not pick on my friend. So, of course, we did. Look at the amount of propaganda we suffered at the hands of the dairy industry about “the four food groups”. That was a chart for life long health problems.
I am much more hopeful about the millennial generation. They have access to ideas outside of the confines of their households and remote education industry bureaucracies. They see more of the material effects of the previous generations on the world around them and the world everywhere. They understand there is a world because there was instant news of the world as they grew up. Best of all, they treat things I say and things anyone from my generation says with innate scepticism and doubt.
Yes! These are the tools I was missing from my early school years. This is why, despite all the doom and gloom I’ve mentioned above, I am certain that we are living in conservatism’s last grand gasp. Though through my entire lifetime I will be squirming under the thumb of assholes I now know this is likely the strength of a death’s grip. It is already fading because the forces of progression, smashed into a million pieces by corporate hammers, are quietly still working away and changing that one thing that defies all right wing philosophy: culture.
I thought of this while listening to a Pete Seger interview on the radio.
This post is a school assignment for my class “New Media Studio” (hey everyone). As I understand this exercise, we are to post 10 photos that we’ve taken. Next week we are presenting another photo assignment of 10 works from around our neighbourhood.
Since quite a large part of my photographic practice is specifically about where I live, so I’ve decided to present 10 works that outside of this part of my work. I’ll save the local stuff and its sordid back-story for that next assignment.
This was a difficult but a very valuable endeavour. The tight constraint of choosing 10 interesting photo works over a scope of over three years was challenging but rewarding.
For example, after reviewing so much of my work as chronical narrative, I am starting to believe my relationship with photography is as activity, performance on par with gratifications of memory and communication. Perhaps it was not an approach to create an object so much as a record of meaningful work.
I am pretty much a painter and drawer, even with a camera. Everything I do is composition and conceptual based and sacrifices any notion of being a window or representation in order to try to be interesting.
I don’t know how to use even use a proper camera and I look forward to picking up those technical skills and the chance to work with DSLRs. In the meantime, I’ve been working with my cell phones and whatever software I could hack or was free. Welcome to my digital image revolution.
I scanned the well worn path up the side of a mountain in Mexico with the panorama function of the iPhone 4s, happily stressing both its purpose and ability to render seamlessly. It is important to me at this point that my work is entirely captured, rendered and output through a mobile device and on location during one session.
For me, there are several classical and contemporary themes in the work, such as: the supernatural; a formal approach to landscape; a questioning of political / social issues involving digital topographical mapping; a spiritual journey reflecting on death. There are many other contemplations that are evoked for me when I engage the work, and hopefully there will be for the viewer as well.
I enjoy the compositions of the shadows and the rocks, as well as the idea of a digital shadow cast on real objects through a challenging process of documentation for both the tools and the artist. The stresses of this effort on the image and the human traces archived in the process are a very interesting for me.
As you can see in the previous work, I seem to like taking things apart and reassembling them in different presentations. Including landscapes and the idea of collage led to this kind of work of pulling stills from video I would take on trips and presenting them one by one. More maps of time and space. The below video is from a bus trip many would be familiar with between Hamilton and Toronto, and right through Ford Nation territory. As such, I named it “A Nation’s Official Landscape”. I like the blury smears of colour and the wiry trees and bleakness. It reflects my astonishment of the landscape of southern Ontario consisting almost entirely of suburban sprawl and highways. This is our shared ceremonial landscape and I understand if you grew up in a populous region such as this it is not unusual. But it is for me and this is my way of showing you that, I think.
Here’s another selfie. I like messing around with as many image capture and rendering apps as I can, so I tried to capture my head with a 3D object app. The result is simply simulacrum. I really want to do a whole series of this, whole bodies in groups. Somehow so each part is something you can turn and play with.
Again, I love the idea of imperfect transportation into the digital realm. Perhaps I have Tron envy.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading the post and thanks to my classmates and Professor for being my captive audience for this artist talk. I’ll take it when I can get it.
This is the best single example of this relationship so far. From my slide deck presentation for Communications Research Methodology on Chapman & Sawchuk’s “creation research” (Canadian Journal of Communications) and *unexpectedly* put together for me by Google+ during automatic archiving from my phone.
Happy 2014 everyone! Make art not oil.
Don’t you think this is the most important skill that is not a skill? I do.
Sometimes I wonder if there is a correlation between being a “good shipper” and artistic success. Obviously, this is true for online art sales. My point is you probably are held back if you can’t pack it or rack it efficiently.
Don’t look at me. I suck at that and, frankly, am intimidated by the whole process. When I actually get around to packing something its never that bad. But its definitely not great either.
I have some artist friends who are fanatical about packing. They’ll build a crate for a week. They are such nice crates one keeps the crate forever. Me, I just started to use paper and work with digital prints more.
Even just the act of postcards or stuffing envelopes and actually going to the post office is simply not to be underestimated. International? You are at the mercy of a series of several shipping challenges which are so little appreciated and understood by me that they are impossible to describe here.
Speaking for myself, I think having a personal delivery drone would help. Then I could tell it to deliver hand written exhibition invitations so I would not have to ship work.
A cool idea might be to turn a drone into an actual gallery. It flies around at art festivals holding a work, for example. I would have to pack it in carefully constructed crates in order to send it to galleries and festivals around the world. Ah, forget it.
I wish I was better at shipping and receiving.
I’ve been captivated by the 10,000 rule since hearing about it a few years ago. Simply put, if you put 10,000 hours into something you’ll become an expert on it.
Well, since I’ve been launched Art PR Wire (4,732) and Art Listings Professional (7,245) since 2009, I have posted over 10,000 posts. I’ve been aiming for this metric consciously and now must decide what to do next.
Are the suburbs the worst place in the world? Very possibly as they seem to be incubators for the worst people I have ever witnessed.
As I witness the Rob Ford theatre of the absurd playing out before us, I am keenly aware of the power of the sprawl of subdivisions that occupy between my current Hamilton outpost and urban Toronto. This area is very possibly is worthy of the greatest contempt and scrutiny we can muster for it’s deleterious effects, both physically and morally, on the rest of the Canadian landscape. By extension this phenomenon may very well be the harbinger of doom globally, undergirded (word usage inspired by Hume; see next paragraph) by the collective suburban consciousness’ inability to meaningfully self-reflect upon itself and the consequences of its own actions. I truly believe that left unchecked our entire continent will be someday be entirely and evenly blanketed by subdivision houses and shopping malls. Even more disturbingly, many if not most of our population would not see this a horrifying possible future.
Why am I harshing on the suburbs? The Star’s Christopher Hume has summed up the characteristics that offend me in his article here. In particular, this paragraph describes accurately the motivations of the class of people who hold our future in their hands: “Like Ford, they see little value in the city, prefer Tim Hortons and choose to drive everywhere. Their interest in civic issues goes no further than how much they pay in taxes, noisy neighbours and the state of the roads they depend on to get around. Like him, they want subways not because they will use them, but because they will replace the streetcars that would otherwise slow them down.”
I can already hear the protests and howls. I have read it in replies to his article from indignant suburbanites. I know there are “good people” in the suburbs. Maybe I am just a city snob out of touch with the reality of our society but the truth is I grew up in suburbs. To say I and others are unqualified or in an illegitimate position to meaningfully critique suburban culture is like saying someone who just finished twelve years of the public school system is not informed about how the public school system works. Conversely, I can say with confidence that those who grew up and remain in the suburbs are ill-suited to judge the merits of the urban core or, equally as distant, undeveloped natural environment. These people’s entire world is the suburbs and that perspective of reality is not to be underestimated – it’s powerful and palatable and always reinforced by a sense of being under siege by those who don’t have their lifestyles (read: from people who are envious of their material goods, because what else exists in this world?). The Fords understand this and deftly manipulate this insecurity to their political advantage.
It is an interesting characteristic of people who live in the GTA, that I and others have noticed when moving here, that most of these people have never traveled anywhere. They don’t actually know anything about the rest of the world. They may of taken an all-inclusive vacation to the Dominican Republic or maybe have engaged in cross-border shopping but that’s it. This produces the effect of resisting change in attitudes or approaches to problems because they are willfully ignorant of how other communities of the world may of dealt with similar issues. This also, curiously, produces a somewhat counter-intuitive approach that the world and it’s resources are limitless – so what harm is one more subdivision going to cause? Why is one more car a problem? This isn’t Europe – we have more than enough space to spare. It occurs to me that these people share much with young earth creationists. They may intuitively believe that the earth was created 5,000 years ago and on the eighth day Jesus drove out of the ocean in a SUV and decreed it is a divine right that everyone should have a parking spot.
I am writing this post as a way of making sense of how this person could be elected, supported and then defended. Some revelations have occurred to me during this time, such as when the Fords and their apologists are addressing the media they are not actually talking to their critics – they are bypassing the rest of us and feeding their army of suburban supporters with talking points and cliches to fall back on. That’s why their dialogue appears so childishly naive and ridiculous to everyone else i.e. “stopping the gravy train”, “war on the car” and “I’ll just drink at home from now on”. As they saying goes, never argue with an idiot because they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. The Fords depend on this as the more you patiently try to explain the flaws in their arguments, the more you are losing the war of attrition with their army of hollow men.
For example, it is very interesting to watch the rats scurry from the sinking ship of Mayor Rob Ford’s regime. But why now? Why not six months ago? Why not a year ago? Because it only took a massive police investigation, international media covereage and undeniable candid video footage for any of those in the Ford camp to admit that anything may be amiss. Does this stubbornness and tunnel vision sound like an ideal state of politics and good governance to you? This smacks of fanaticism, of a kind of shallow consumer fundamentalist whose very nature precludes meaningful debate or compromise. In short, Ford Nation is a tribe of bullies and the man they elected is a perfect representative of their values and motivations. Those only now quitting his team or proclaiming their sincere concern for his well being are deserving of our greatest scorn.
Unbelievably to the reasonable person, there are those still defending Ford on the basis of his “good fiscal management”. Ok, seriously, what the fuck kind of reason is that for supporting a lying, crack smoking elected official? This is another pitfall of arguing with idiots because what is “good fiscal management” is actually a very fuzzy set of priorities based on your philosophical (or lack thereof) outlook on life. I’ve heard these people on the radio, and they claim that his private life and public life ought to be kept separated. Ok… so this sentiment does not apply to celebrities? Or how about to priests? Or to the person who manages your child’s daycare? How about to the surgeon who is about to operate on your parent? Or to the teller at your bank? Or the airplane mechanic? Are these areas of responsibility more grave than that the Mayor of Toronto?
What is really going on with this rationale is something I heard about a little while ago that makes sense to me – the absence of morals when making decisions in a marketplace environment. Do people sell and buy stocks based on ethical decisions? No. For example, you might of mutual funds but you don’t know exactly with what companies because you don’t care – this is a matter of money! Most people still buy clothes from sweat shops in third worlds because of the savings. Most of us will eat chickens that are raised in cruel conditions because of the convenience and savings within our marketplace. This same effortless self-entitlement is now applied to our politicians and is the basis for the appeal of modern day conservatism in general.
So, it’s ok for the Mayor to be a crack-smoker and liar – as long as he is saving us money. Putting aside the very valid arguments that he is not actually saving money, and that conservative governments in general are the worst possible approach to the economy, let’s assume it is ok for Rob Ford to be the way he is because of his fiscal management. Is it ok if he does cocaine too? How about crystal meth? How about acid? How about opium? What does it matter if he does all of them? What if he enjoys watching dog fights? What about porn? What about snuff films? Why does that matter anymore? If a certain style of fiscal management is desirable, then can we replace him with a robot? Why not? Why does it matter anymore if someone is human, or has certain values?
This line of logic pretty much lays bare that those who support someone like Ford have only self-interest as a guide to society. They have no understanding of history or much of a care for the future beyond their own life. They don’t care if the world is burning beyond the horizon because their world, their real world, is inside whatever routines they have carved out inside the noise and stink of your average suburb that you can find anywhere. And Ford nation gets to drive around it for $60 a year cheaper than if they elected another Mayor.
I have categorized my observations of the worst, most destructive inhabitants of the suburbs into four thematic categories I call…
The four horsemen of the suburban apocalypse
1) The taxpayer:
What a great tool for dividing our communities into quarrelling factions! If you pay more income tax than me, or own property and thus pay property taxes then you should have more influence in a democracy. When a politician refers to a serving taxpayers, they are creating a class based society and removing morals and values from the conceptual equation of who to vote for. Don’t worry about doing the right thing – just worry about your entitled position in this pyramid scheme.
Society is all business right? Of course, this rhetoric is complete bullshit. We all pay taxes in one form or another. I remember former Toronto Mayor David Miller warning about the dangers of segregating society in such a way and he urged people to think of “citizens” as opposed to “taxpayers”.
I am a citizen and I have a responsibility to the world around me. A “taxpayer” is someone who sees the world as having a responsibility to them.
2) The Stooge:
Remember “Dave from Toronto“? This is typical of our society and happens all the time. More than you think, probably. I’ve seen this at a community meeting I attended to plead for the preservation of a heritage building. We were essentially shouted down by employees of the elected official we were pleading to.
It’s a normalized practice in Canadian municipal politics to cherry pick the community members you consult with. There is a such a disconnect with politics that the majority of people don’t vote – so only those with an immediate vested interest or beliefs approaching the fanatical are the majority who vote. If I am a politician, I will tailor my campaign to appeal to the 10% of the population who actually vote and not to represent the interest of 100% of my community because they don’t all vote.
I will hire communication professionals to mediate with the media to create a perception that my campaign represents the democratic majority. Thus the rise of the Stooge as the most powerful incarnation of politics today because things in Canada are getting downright tribal – what or why is not important anymore as who.
3) Mall security:
Malls are the cultural centres of the suburbs. They are the mass-produced, big boxed heart and soul of these communities and yet they remain private property. If you are not there to shop then you have no business being there and can be legally barred from the premises.
How do they know if you are not there to shop? If you act different or look different, then you will be singled out. This is true for all of the suburbs – the police, for example, would have no problems stopping someone wearing a top hat and toga and walking backwards on a sidewalk. They are not breaking any laws, but they are acting “suspicious”. You, as a tax-paying property owner residing in the suburbs would have no problems with police stopping and investigating this oddly behaving individual. You would not consider the intagible implications to our individual rights or our democratic freedoms – because you don’t care about the past or future or they way things work elsewhere. What you don’t understand you loathe and Mall security feels the same way you do because Mall security works for you.
By contrast, someone wearing a toga and top hat and walking backwards through a large urban core would tend to be tolerated much more.
4) The friendly mafia:
When I think of mafia, I think of back room deals, winks, nudges and financial transactions within closed systems that ought to be open. I think of an agreement to gang up and punish those who get in the way of conducting business.
Well, this is the way the people typically involved in Canadian municipal politics operate. To me, it is very arrogant and naive to believe some of the revelations of corruption in the City of Montreal and Laval are not present in the GTA or Hamilton. In fact, it is probably much worse precisely because it has not been remarked upon.
I call this “the friendly mafia” because those who sit as trustees and on city councils typically have deep connections business wise to the community. Contracts and policies that lead to contracts tend to happen to the benefit of these public officials and their buddies in the community. For example, a quaint lakeside town not far from Hamilton recently compromised its scenic appeal by allowing a monstrous condominium to be built on the beach front. Though this may have detrimental effects on the local economy, in the short term the council member who owns a duct installation company and subsequently got the contract for this condo building benefitted greatly. He’s a business and community leader. Gosh, a really nice guy and even volunteers with XYZ Charity once a month.
He has also helped unleash the pattern of suburban sprawling development onto his community. Nothing can or will be done because his is part of the local friendly mafia – everyone knows each other and dissenting views bring repercussions unto themselves. This is the marketplace and ethics have no place here. Besides, if he didn’t benefit from it the next guy would of.
Everything I have written here is from a weak position because the greatest weapon in the Ford Nation arsenal is the fact they just don’t care. You can be right, clearly and unequivocally, but it does not matter to these people. That is their source of strength and pride.
We can trace the problems to amalgamation of cities, giving councillors from surrounding suburbs the advantage of numerical supremacy to downtown councilors and thus power over the budget and lives of citizens living in the urban core. I must point out the decision to amalgamate was a budgetary one by a conservative government and this sensibility has led to the depraved and hypercritical stance of Ford Nation supporting a drugged out Mayor who appeals to them because he lives in house like them and drives to work like them. There is nothing redeeming or noble here.
I know I am a better person than most of these people because I can and will admit my faults and hypocrisies. Unfortunately, this kind of honesty is a detriment when engaging Ford suburbanites in a similar way as it must of been to admit you are a sinful person to the Spanish Inquisition.
Economy, jobs and good fiscal management they refer to would be easier for me to accept if it was actually a responsible and sustainable model for prosperity – but sadly it’s not. But that is another post for another time. For now, I suppose my post can be dismissed as an argument against society in general and these values are the way it is so I better stop complaining and get a real job. I better stop considering the past and stop hoping for a better future and get as much as I can right here and right now while I still can. Someone like Ford can make that quest a little easier for me.
I forgot about this video! One of my first “art documentaries” – it gets funnier but not easier. Description below:
Two goofballs from Toronto decide to travel to Montreal and keep a video diary of their exploration of Nuit Blanche 2010, following the “Art Souterrain” route of contemporary art in the subway tunnels and public halls underneath Montreal.
There are a lot of artists out there. Some people say anyone can be an artist – all you have to do is try hard enough. Other people say whatever you happen to be doing can be art, if you do it well enough. Artists without art school say labour is the defining element of being an artist, and artists with degrees and diplomas will lament all of the above and write about it as their differential. People with little or no empathy for the arts will simply shrug and mumble something about the free market dictating who are artists.
They’ll probably also complain that no one paints like the old masters anymore.
Reminds me of when internets was taking over during the 90′s and Architects and Engineers where shocked – SHOCKED – that their professional designation was being co-opted by fly by night IT school. Instead of taking 6 years to become an Architect, you could become an “Information Architect” or “Software Engineer” in six months. You still can, but becoming an artist is even easier and more exploited (Hello sandwich artists).
So being an artist is simply not enough to distinguish the top of the industry anymore. The industry as we fantasize about it is gone (if it really ever existed at all), and all that is left is a series of merchants selling marketing to this dream of a profession – and that’s fine. I waive my claim of being an artist and leave the fields of this empire of
dirt burnt sienna to the political and social mob that chases wall space, status and art supplies with fervor and passion.
I abandon this title of being an artist because I want to be more – I want to evolve to the next stage of being an artist: media.
Media artists is not a new concept and most of you will be familiar with it. However, I am not talking about being a media artist, which is still bound to place and time but rather becoming Media.
Ai Wei Wei has done it. So has Damien Hirst and Banksy. All of their work, and the artists themselves, could disappear tomorrow and it would not affect their influence for most of us. They transcend place and time and manipulate our very mediums of communication with whatever art in whatever way they wish.
That’s pretty bad ass and just obtuse, obscurantist enough and without immediate practical merit (“How do I buy and sell this?”) that it should work as a mechanism to keep the art barbarians outside the gate and provide a historical measurable to strive for.
I want to become media.
This post is follow up to two previous musings about media and artists: Great art is 1% substance and 99% media ~and~ Reject being called an artist – when making art, be a somebody
This is the 3rd performance intervention at the arts festival in Hamilton, Ontario and perhaps my last here.
My recurring character for these enactments is the Consultant persona – a outside critical eye from an outside theoretical framework, and not always welcome. This series of my work is not meant to settle as part of a landscape (the Consultant may describe the same concern as “becoming a monument”) but a slight affront to it, and three times in the same context is probably approaching a demystified state of local cultural interpretation.
The first intervention was a interpretation of the local concerns of gentrification of an area, and took the form of evaluating the worth of gallery spaces, but outside of considering the cultural worth but the physical shape and other detached values. The second was in collaboration with a poet and performance artists and we adopted a social theory induction approach that was more aloof of our immediate surroundings, but drawing our “data” from it.
This, the third time, was based on my earlier concerns about the presentation of the role of the visual arts as a brief form of entertainment in a carnival context that would lead to expectations of public art’s function as almost purely theatrical. I reject the notion that art is entertainment, and worry about the political economy interpretations of art as function for entertainment. This is the crux of the criticism.
To enact this, I designed the performance to skirt around the edges, the fringes, of the festival as a sort of walking “Salon des Refusés” of the curatorial process for these kind of brief public constructions of precious arts funding. Being a closed ecosystem for artists outside of property owners and the jury, all others participation of serious contemporary creation are, by definition, an intervention.
I’ve been interested and incorporating elements of popular myths into my performance interventions for well over a decade now, starting with UFO mythology as embraced in the group performances of The UFO Research Group collection (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto). The Consultant incorporates common reports of behaviour and situation as reported in Sasquatch reports.
Specifically, some of the elements I am researching through this practice are:
1. Just outside of civilization (the border of the art festival).
2. An aloofness; a sense of purpose, value and priorities unknown and unknowable to the observer (projection my own “art” onto objects that do not normally warrant close or equal scrutiny).
3. A reaction of confrontation, hiding, and moving away into darkness, i.e the bush (hiding in doorways, behind signs).
4. A reliance, a faith in, a tertiary media (social media, photos, oral retelling and interpretation) to substantiate the documentation of the event.
I am happy to report it worked – someone told me of the “creepy guy” they saw. What a great opportunity to find out why! I learned from him it was my “odd” behaviour and the confusing costume (he couldn’t see “where the face was supposed to be”) that prevented meaningful interpretations based on the immediate cultural / ceremonial context.
In other words, I was out of place and not cooperating by providing instant meaning in an entertaining, accessible way. I was creepy. Most people keep their distance. I’ve had groups follow me for awhile, almost as if they are waiting for something to happen. Sometimes I get trapped by a group of people circling around. Believe it or not, sometimes people get really mad and confrontational when I don’t acknowledge or interact with them. You’ll see an example of this in the video below.
This time, I incorporated a catcher’s mask with an iphone displaying an animated swirl (as did my papered (bureaucratic) costume). These are “null” symbols – the swirl is universal enough to be without any set cultural meaning other than usually meaning something. They broadcast an intent, but not my meaning. They aren’t meant to as tools to decode, but to establish questions in a public sphere.
I had a second iphone mounted on the frame in front of my face, but this one was with the camera facing outwards and recording whatever I was looking at. It was very shaky and poor quality – perfect media for an imperfect experience. I wanted to document the experience of being … different in a crowd. The quality of alientation and intrusion are very present, I think. I’ve included a three minute clip. It’s very shaky, grainy, inconclusive and heavily processed with anti-shake and anti-wobble algorithms – just like a number of media fragments surround the Sasquatch mythology. Thanks to my support team, Jen and Cedric.
I went to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the AGO this weekend and came away with a new perspective and some re-enforced old perspectives.
You may remember I covered the 1001 Chairs artist protest in Toronto a bit when he was detained by Chinese authorities for being right about the Chinese authorities being typical authoritarian dicks.
I’ve become even more aware of his work since – count me in as a fan. However, I was not a fan of how this exhibit was put together by the AGO.
As my friend remarked, it looked like some sort of “sampler pack” and left us slightly … unsatisfied. They seem to have taken a bit of as many different series of his work as they could and crammed it into as few rooms as they could. If any art deserves lots of white cube space, it’s his work. Weiwei often works on an industrial scale and the AGO reduced his art series to a sort of token participation.
He is one of the giants of our age and will be a central figure of contemporary art history. If the AGO was ever going to clear as much as possible for an artist, then this was it – but they blew it. They did however have $25 dollar tickets for two hours of viewing, so that part of their machinery is well oiled. Oh, and the Ai Weiwei gift shop in the middle of the exhibit took up probably at least 15% of the total space…really?
One cannot help but think if his passport was not currently revoked, then he would of been able to be here to ensure they curated the work better than this. Then I kinda of realized that for me and many a retrospective at the AGO would be the height of professional achievement, but internationally maybe it’s more a provincial gallery.
My pique aside, I was sincerely moved – almost to tears at one point – by his work to acknowledge child victims of the 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan province. The underlying political and social critique of labour, economy + government ambition that feeds into corruption in the construction industry strikes a cord that transcends borders. Montreal is dealing with a corruption probe and there has long been the stink of such practices where I live as well. And probably across Canada.
What really moved me was the rebar that he collected from the disaster scene and then painstakingly straightened. Holy fuck. The poetry of this is reverberated in my brain pan and my eyes started to mist up. I’ve seen a lot of art in my time and I’m a bit jaded and desensitized at this point but this cut right through all that. The material, the process and the presentation are inseparable from it’s content and concept – and it’s simple. This guy is the real deal.
Another revelation for me occurred at this point: As an activist and artist, I understand that an incredible and obvious amount of labour is a way to communicate a powerful message a government authority. It becomes undeniable and that at the end of the day is perhaps the most powerful tool available to a contemporary artist in this day and age.
I also understand that the media is the art and my posts of my own work online is powerful and significant and valid. For Ai Weiwei’s, his social media presence acts as a herald for his work and bridges his universal themes into real spaces around the world. Again, his process and presentation is inseparable from his concept and contains an resolvable tension both conceptually and formally i.e. his studies in perspective. For me as an artist, this validates my own concepts and practice.
A few more photos of the exhibit are posted below – that the public is allowed to take photos at this exhibit is a rarity for the Art Gallery of Ontario and I think is due to the influence of the artist. He understands the power of media more then most artists and galleries.
As I attended my grad program’s orientation session, the Department Chair informed the room full of new students and new Hamilton residents of this news. To be fair, he was hesitant about it’s validity because it does seems ridiculous – and it is ridiculous because it’s actually a superb piece of parody news originating from this city’s version of The Onion – Hammer In The News.
OMG. I laughed and still chuckle thinking about it.
Luckily, I clarified that this was spoof news (which is very relevant to my communications program) and encouraged my fellow students to attend the event on James Street North in Hamilton – it’s not moving anywhere. I also found out later a couple of last year’s students have installation work happening that night and I am really excited to go see it. Hopefully no one will show up in Ancaster looking for Supercrawl, and hopefully the organizers of this event have learned a lesson about marketing and publicity.
For example, one small signal that they have become more sophisticated is that little old me has finally received a press release for the event after three silent years since asking to help promote it through some of my art news websites. Their previous approach reflected the insular and political nature that plagues much of Canadian arts marketing practices by keeping it in within the community of arts professionals and out of the larger discourse of the public realm. This is akin to a siege mentality which is of course ultimately self-defeating. It is getting better simply because it has to get better to try to keep up with the rest of the world – but this is a whole other post to composed soon.
The lessons here are three brave new forms of media born of digital culture that are crucial for art industry to embrace.
This local parody news website has tremendous value in earned media and shared media because it focuses on very relevant local attitudes and politics. Earned media because people are talking about this spoof news of their own volition – it’s what happened in my above example of a the department chair discussing this of his own volition with the new students. Shared media is passing a brand’s marketing campaign through social media and other channels – it’s what I’ve done by posting Supercrawl’s press release, which goes straight to my wordpress, facebook, tumblr and twitter accounts. Think of it as a net being cast out and capturing more relevant eyeballs, as opposed to keeping inside a sort of walled garden of content where only the same community of people are subjected to the same message over and over.
The third media form I wanted to point out is News Jacking – which Hammer In The News engages in and what I have done with this post. Simply, by posting your own relevant content that mentions, links and relates to large events before or as they happen will result in increased organic search engine results. When someone searches for Super Crawl, or about the rumour that Super Crawl is moving to Ancaster, then this blog post may very well appear. For an artist, you can post about Art Toronto a couple of weeks before it happens and include a photo of your own work. Chances are you’ll get increased traffic to your website as people search for news about Art Toronto as the date closes in, and these people will see your work when they are in a mindset to see the best in world class contemporary art. Best of all for the arts, it’s a free strategy.
Hammer In The News has caused disruption media for Supercrawl’s brand message, and I think this ultimately of great value to the festival though I hear the organizers are somewhat exasperated with the popularity of this parody news and the catalyst it provided for some negative feedback of the festival’s direction.
Speaking of negative feedback, I delivered some in an earlier post about Art Crawl and Supercrawl that I’ll again clarify, as my criticism reflects some of my points above.
First, I only am commenting on the visual arts approach of the events and is not relevant or pertinent at all to other elements present such as music, performance, food, activism, etc. Only the effect on the public’s relation to the visual arts and the compromises that the artists themselves make to their art to accommodate the nature of the festival. It is not a criticism of the artists or even their art – it is a criticism that work, even the “best” work by the “best” artists in the world, are compromised when placed in such a short, temporary location and subjected to thousand’s people shuffling by briefly. It pulls fine art out of it’s purpose of contemplation, challenge and questioning into the realm of entertainment. Fine art is not entertainment, but becomes such when competing with the overwhelming sensory experience that is the entertainment of this kind of festival. This is different than Burning Man which runs for a week and allows for time and space that is not cluttered, or Art Toronto which is only three days but the art is not competing with entertainment or performing arts.
Secondly, these concerns about such festivals are not original or new. It is simply a concern that local visual artists are there to be called upon by a tourism department to “celebrate the vibrancy” of a city’s cultural scene at such brief events and then are dismissed back into a state of toiling and scrounging in relative obscurity. There has always been a bias that visual artists need to volunteer their time and comply with presenting temporary art that is “appropriate” – which means safe, temporary, non-offensive and generally entertaining. This is not a sincere reflection of a serious contemporary artist’s motivations, in my view. My concern is this approach is putting the cart before the horse. A festival like art crawl did and should continue to be the child of a sustained contemporary art scene and not be confused as the end motivation. People should be coming to downtown Hamilton any day of the month because of the visual art, and not associating it with a once a month party.
Thirdly, it’s about ownership and control. By limiting the exposure to Hamilton’s art scene to a handful of a single location specific festivals, we are ceding ownership of our work to a select group of interests who have now taken control of who can show and how – the roots of the scene were firmly placed in a more open environment for artists and this was the engine of its initial popularity. Extended, this is the crucial problem with Toronto’s Nuit Blanche – it’s an onerous application process to be included and is virtually inaccessible by a since art-loving community as it now largely an outdoor drunk fest filled with yahoos and absolutely packed with crowds. It’s turned into a corporate advertising opportunity tightly controlled by a select group of interests. This is not about the sustained development of excellent studio work by a community of contemporary artists. It had the promise of that, but isn’t and should *not* be the measurement of the local art scene. It should be one of many supporting apparatuses of such a scene.
Fourthly, my view of the problem of juries selecting art comes into play here – any jury selecting any work of any medium tends to eliminate the best and the worst applications and you are left with a slate of programming that represents the average of the submissions. Thus, a prestigious festival such as Nuit Blanche attracts some of the best artists from around the world, and you’ll get a high caliber of art but it is still the average of the range of submissions considered. Masterwork, by definition, is the unexpected, unconsidered and unexplored that confronts and challenges us and this is what confuses a jury of experts whose job it is to compromise and select work that is recognizable as acceptable by other experts. This is not a specific criticism of any artist or curator but it is simply an observation of human behaviour and group dynamics, and I am sorry if I offended anyone by applying this concern to Supercrawl. In my opinion, the only way to truly embrace the avant garde, the experimental, the truly best of contemporary art is to open up meaningful participation beyond the specific time, location and control. In this way an art festival can grow and become remarkable and the remarkable becomes the new normal.
Fifth, to be fair, I am not a hypocrite and I do participate with my own work in both Art Crawl and Super Crawl. I have not applied to be part of Super Crawl, and I do believe there is a place for excellent and sincere contemporary visual and performance art in such a setting. Having thousands of people and open streets to work with is a fantastic opportunity, but I will not cede my own standards of a progressive contemporary art scene to a small group of community festival organizers. Myself and other artists will take part but in a real sense the participation will be intrusive, disruptive and guerrilla in nature. I won’t be measuring the success of contemporary art work by how entertaining it is or by how many people walk by it. I won’t judge a work by being on one part of the street rather than a few blocks away . This is a dangerous path to limited arts funding because corporations and local government who will put more of this precious limited funding into a two day event rather than other overall sustained efforts that are ultimately more beneficial to the creative economy. Politicians love a chance for one-off, symbolic support with high media visibility that will carry over to the next election and corporations are the same as they want to appeal to the broadest demographic, and not necessarily the worthiest.
I am concerned that, typical of Hamilton and many other smaller cities, that Supercrawl will become a white elephant project of sorts to the detriment of the health of the larger arts community and to the benefit a few business owners and the careers of a couple of curators.
I understand that the counter-argument will be that such a festival attracts interest in the arts and enhances the health and thus overall funding. I hope this is the case, but my criticism was a challenge to do better, do more and do it all the time. Galleries sit largely empty on James Street North between the art crawls – this is the crux of the problem. If you let them, those who control and dole out art funding will pay themselves to throw a big party with all the money and starve the event workers for the rest of the rest of year.
Does open public debate about these kind of issues have a place in Hamilton, or should I have submitted it to a committee first?
- What the idea looks like in your mind.
- What you tell you other people what it looks like.
- What it looks like after it is created.
- What it looks like in a space.
- What it looks like as described by other people.
- What is looks like as media.
- What it looks like when other artists re-create it.
It seems once a year Shutterfly has a promotion for free 4″x6″ photo prints. In my practice, I’ve always liked the idea of working with a very common, consumer oriented medium and trying to make it something … “more” than it was intended for. By signing and numbering the prints as editions, am I somehow magically turning these into art with the stroke of pen? Yes, and so can you.
Anyways, with the Shutterfly email promotions, sometimes I manage to work with some books or prints – I would like to do more but it seems pretty pricey at normal prices.
Last year, I left a series of prints at Hamilton’s Supercrawl to be found. It was a series of three and I left them on garbage cans, curbs, window sills, hidden in brochures at the tourism office, inside gallery comment books, in cafe bathrooms, etc. I don’t know if anyone managed to collect all three, though I did leave complete sets at Hamilton Artists Inc.
This year is a bit different though. I’m in a decidedly “Salon des Refusés” mood about all things art in Hamilton these days – let’s just say there are way too many one-way streets here and not enough two way streets. I know now I am leaving here in just over a year. To where is not quite certain – certainly internationally is captivating me and the job opportunities for me are very lucrative. I know now I need a more “vibrant” urban core to work with, and even moving back to Toronto is real second option. This is because I know I’ll be working with the contemporary art and social media for the rest of my life, and if you are serious you generally have to leave Canada for greener grasses (or at least a bigger city in Canada). I think I have a lot to contribute to organizations as online communications professional, and I have a lot to contribute as an artist and general artsy smartass. Sometimes if the local scene is not getting this, you gotta shake things up and find somewhere where you can be who you know are. It’s about fatigue and both myself and other people taking things for granted. It’s also very exciting.
I’ll miss many people here and hope to continue life long friendships with them – and so this year’s print give away is not random, but I am giving some certain special people a set of prints that were part of but not displayed at my Uranus of Hamilton exhibit. Usually with a rather sappy and badly handwritten letter. Most of these are non-artist friends and I am not sure if they really like or “get” the work, but that’s ok, because it’s a sincere gesture. That, as an artist and a human being, is all I can do and what I try to do.
And one normal one.
Was in Buffalo for the first time in my life and my partner and I loved it. The downtown architecture and neighborhoods were fascinating, dense and historic. Compared with the terrible state of the ravaged City of Hamilton it was truly a vision of what a community in a former rustbelt city could be – especially as a place allowing and encouraging the arts to flourish. If it made sense at this point in our lives my partner and I would live there in a heartbeat. That’s the power of preserving a city’s built heritage and making a downtown community livable.
One of the highlights of our visit was a visit to the Albright-Knox Gallery of Art. Finally, I was at this gallery I kept hearing about – and now I know why. It kinda was exactly the gallery you wanted it to be – not too big, not too small and full of famous art and unknown (to me) masterpieces.
Below are some of the photos they allowed us take – Jen sitting on these crazy ass stairs that my phone had trouble with. I think it’s the straight hard edge colour contrasts that defy media reproducibility – and I loved it.
I had the honour and pleasure of interviewing Silver Jubilee Medal recipient Graham Crawford at his HIStory & HERitage Museum storefront space. Crawford is a hero to some and a thorn in the side to others with his outspoken views on city business and priorities. Retired from a very successful run in the corporate world, he perhaps is the best example of the methodical and intelligent activist who vexes the myth of the malcontent and uninformed activist that seemingly is applied to anyone who speaks out in this community.
When I first moved to Hamilton, Ontario three years ago, Graham’s storefront window full of “culture jamming” images and commentary was an intriguing and accessible point of entry to learn about this city in transition. During this interview, I try to get an overview from Crawford on what makes Hamilton architecture so special, some of the current problems with the political leadership and where Hamilton is going next.
The interview goes for an hour and a half, and could of gone on for another hour and a half. I hope you enjoy.
(Bonus: Fellow Silver Jubilee Recipient Matt Jelly art included below)
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion played a concert here in Hamilton, Ontario on Friday and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended in all of my life.
I saw these guys at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto and it was good, but not like this – they were giving the S’aint crowd something special that night. It was crazy. They didn’t stop playing at all, they just kept going. So much so the crowd had waves of people seeking some relief on the patio from the heat and sheer volume, and then coming back for more.
So why is this concert review on an art blog? Because this music legend mentioned Hamilton’s monthly “Art Crawl” taking place that same night on James Street North, right beside the concert venue. And he told the Hamilton arts community exactly what they needed to hear.
“I took a little walk through your art festival tonight – is it every Friday?” He rasped into the microphone as the band played in a holding pattern, “Well, I took a walk there around the corner and saw all the art and your stuff for sale – and it’s shitty. Fuck your little art festival, I’m from New York, baby! The center of the fucking art universe!” And then they launched back into music awesomeness.
Oh my god, I laughed and clapped. Not because I think he’s completely right, but mostly because this is rock’n'roll and this “Fuck you and whatever you do” attitude is part of the real deal.
But I also think he is right in that we needed to hear this – this art community needs to know they have a long way to go, and are not there yet. And, perhaps most profoundly at all, we need to recognize that attracting a bunch of suburbanites into the core of Hamilton for one night is not artistic success – it’s simply pandering to people who are too chicken shit to think outside their subdivision boxes otherwise. Art Crawl is like a mediocre themepark where a couple of thousand people may shuffle by some work and judge it in 1.3 seconds based on it’s mass entertainment appeal. Some buy things. Small businesses and other areas benefit.
That’s great, but at the end of the day we are still left with a shitty little art festival for a bunch of local Canadian suburbanites who don’t really give a shit about the arts (as is the way with Canadian culture. Almost the worst in the world this way).
We have long, long way to go to truly impress anybody beyond our borders, much less New York. I don’t think we ever will here as this festival is headed firmly in another direction at this point, as is the glossy brochure version of the festival “Super Crawl” which is really just a bunch of corporate sponsors, bands and average art installations*. We’ve traded that for some sort of bullshit “vibrant” metric that funding agencies like to see written about this kind of stuff.
Nope, this is not the place anymore for serious artists and serious works. Art Crawl is now just background noise for contemporary art as the gentrification cycle is now in full swing and developers are loading their families into the minivan and scouting out the area. Perhaps while enjoying an ice cream and noticing a few paintings that look like the group of seven.
Thanks for speaking the truth, Jon Spencer. It *is* a shitty little art festival in many ways. It needs to keep growing, to spill out of James Street North and for their to be a genuine art scene based on ideas and talent and hard work – not a package to sell like some t-shirt to tourists. It needs wow. It needs to leave no doubt as to it’s high caliber and it needs to be so awesome it doesn’t give a shit if you show up or not. We need to do better. The arts is not a gift shop, and I am concerned that the overwhelmingly dominant “We love art crawl don’t you?” crowd is ensuring the demise of Art Crawl before it ever truly got a chance to be something more…
…We need more art explosions, baby! And all the other kinds of art money won’t buy. That’s why many serious artists moved to Hamilton in the first place.
*I believe any programming by committee will be result in an average selection – the best and the worst submission tend to be eliminated through this process. Like Toronto’s Nuit Blanche official programming, having an curated art project aspect to Super Crawl and not a completely open arts festival component that is still listed is criticized by some.
I was at a cottage in the Gatineau Hills last week. Surprisingly cool and misty weather, so I decided to “pop” into Montreal for a few days and check in on some of my favourite galleries and artists. I was sure glad I did, not only to be able to hang out with my friend, artist Andreanne Hudon but got to meet and eat Taiwanese food with artist and curator Edwin Janzen. I also happened upon many exhibits for the “Extreme Painting Festival 2” – during my time at CA I discovered this school of work and saw some amazingly lush and layered surfaces. This stuff was a bit more street art styles I think, more figurative in a way. See what you think below.
Well, that was the big art day in Montreal. Was it worth the almost 2,000 kilometers and 20 hours of driving? Absolutely. It’s Montreal. I can’t think of many people who have lived there and wouldn’t want to again. Many of the artists are very inspiring and I really lucked out seeing much of the extreme painting festival. When I am able to paint again in the studio for a sustained period, I know this trip will affect my work.
You listen to the Audio Only Podcast or watch the video below:
Raw audio + finished video from a 20 minute interview on June 29th, 2013 of Christopher Healey. Conducted by Hamilton Artists Inc’s Curatorial Assistant Caitlin Sutherland, and Gallery Assistant Samantha Roketta, about my exhibit Mexico ii featuring paintings by my mother Beverly Healey and digital collages by me.
I’m the first artist for this video interview series for the Inc, and was glad to help out this way. I really appreciated being able to articulate more of about the show and the process, and yet still feel like I forgot to mention a couple of key points – of course. That is, essentially, my work is about death and the “thinness” of our existence – which is one of the reasons I used the sunlight and the materials I did, such as the skull and white plastic. My Mom’s oil painting portrait work is about life, and the richness of an individual’s character and immortalizing it.
More information at my original post about the show here: http://chrishealey.me/2013/05/26/mexico-ii-an-exhibit-of-paintings-digital-collages/
One of great things I enjoy about the culture of the Inc is involvement with some young graffiti artists – one in particular has been very involved. He got very excited telling me about the impression my Mom’s work made on him during the member’s exhibit “Oh my god it was so good – no offence, but it was the best work in the gallery… it’s like a 17th century painting by on old master… no one else came close to it – no offence to your work or anything – it was totally sick. If she gave me her one of her paintings, I would walk out of the gallery and never do graffiti art again.. I’m serious!..”
This was awesome feedback for my Mom Especially since we live in an age where street artists usually end up as the new art stars.
I’ll update this post when the video is available. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures of the exhibit below:
Open Book Group Exhibit at 21 Rebecca Street.
Hamilton purportedly has a DIY culture and attitude and that reputation has attracted many arty types like myself to this quirky rust belt city. Sometimes, the perception is not really the reality and many of us have been yearning for empty buildings downtown to be bought and turned into impromptu exhibit spaces – and only three years later, have I finally seen this happen the way many of us have been daydreaming it should happen.
Welcome to the neighbourhood, Book Club Gallery.
Located on Rebecca, just off of James Street North and in the shadow of the Jackson Square monstrosity, the Book Club Gallery was never a Book Store. It was a wool broker office, and a print shop, and a hair salon – it is currently a pleasant austere space with art by some of Hamilton’s best artists. At least for the next few weeks – who knows what the owner, Cameron, will do with the space next but having a pop-up exhibit is such a great way to fill the space in the meantime. There are a lot of empty storefronts in Hamilton, and their owners could learn a thing or two about fostering community from people like Cameron.
(Unfortunately, Hamilton has many empty storefronts because of their owners are slumlords who don’t want the “expense” of the space being used for anything. They just want to flip the property at some point in the future after people like us creative class types put in all the hard work to improve the community and thus the real estate value. The City councilors here are, in turn, kinda meta-slum lords because the home crowd in this small city all know each other and look out for their “buddies”. But things are changing because there are so many new people arriving , and we’ve see that things are better elsewhere and so things will change here. This is a kind of hostile cultural takeover. But enough of this issue at the moment..)
Back to the show – the participating artists in this exhibit, one of the best so far of 2013, are Donna Akrey, Sarah Beattie, Andrea Carvalho, Margaret Flood and Svava Thordis Juliusson.
There was a small amount of people who attended the opening, but it’s slightly off the Art Crawl beaten path. A couple of sandwich boards would address this problem nicely. Such a good show – Cameron, please consider keeping it open for the next art crawl!
If you think about some of your favourite art you then you might note that you have probably actually never seen the work in person.
Take the DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, for example. You know what this painting is, I know what this painting is and we can discuss this painting with a reasonable amount of familiarity – but chances are, like me, you’ve never seen the actual, physical painting.
In a more contemporary timeline, think about Damien Hirst’s Dead Shark or even his Spot Paintings. Love them or hate them, these works transcend their physical location through the media’s reproduction of them. They are well know outside of contemporary art circles now and they will be part of art history classes for many generations to come. Am I saying that controversial work is media friendly? Not exactly, because no one would of cared about these controversial art works if they were not intrinsically “media friendly” already.
This is not an aspect of great art that is isolated in the last century – it is an enduring characteristic of art history for all peoples since the very beginning of time. Cave paintings were seen and reproduced by different artists of that era. Manuscripts and their illustrations were hand-copied by monks throughout many centuries. That Mona Lisa painting was copied by artists as a drawings, prints & paintings so patrons in many cities throughout Europe could view the work without having to travel. Damien Hirst’s Dead Shark appeared in hundreds of magazine and newspapers, and countless websites and blogs.
A work that is easy to reproduce does not become great work because of this characteristic, but it is an essential ingredient for whatever elusive formula for greatness is out there. A work can be a masterpiece, a subtle and delicate work that defies proper documentation or description (and isn’t that the point of art, many would argue) but if it’s not easily reproducible as a quick sketch then it won’t be immortalized by media. It’s stays mostly substance and less media. In this sense society’s most common experience of art history is essentially that of a collection of rock stars who appeal directly the masses both commercially and aesthetically.
This has led me to wonder if when we see and identify with a reproduction of a work of art, if in fact we are mislabeling our experience of what we are seeing – this reproduction is no longer a reproduction but a stand alone work of art on it’s own. There is not one Mona Lisa or Dead Shark – there are millions of them.
Side note: This insight was supposed to be a blog post four years ago, but I didn’t have a blog. So I started this blog and decided I needed a few other posts to put this into context – and now here we are.
paintings, March 8 – April 7
330 James Street North, Hamilton, Ont
Maureen eats, sleeps and produces entire series of masterful paintings – or at least it seems like it. You can read a better review of her work here.
Continuum & Subtle Technologies are partnering and both have in common a keen interest in smart people doing smart but unexpected things resulting from cross-discipline collaborations. The resulting project is called “collide” and some of the most interesting people from across Canada are participating in it – and many of these individuals were in attendance at a fundraising party at Gallery 345 in my old haunt of Parkdale Village.
Being manned here in the art outpost of central Hamilton, I promised myself I would make it to more events in Toronto and I was glad to make it to this – especially since Subtle Technologies’ Jim Ruxton has moved into my neighbourhood and I am presenting hounding him for a podcast interview.
Finally, I managed to see inside the space at 345 Sorauren Avenue I was also very happy to run into Jack Butler, and Susana & Claire from Circuit Gallery, among others.
Below are some photos & a video clip of a performance that evening: Percussionist Ryan Scott performing Erik Griswold’s “Spill.
Look forward to seeing the results of this project!
Make sure you check out this exhibit at Hamilton Artists Inc before it’s over March 13th, 2013. Some remarkable work by these two artists from western Canada.
(I like taking photos of artists and their work. I think I’ll do more)
While I was staying in a village called Ajijic, in the mountains of central west Mexico, I talked to an artist whose free spirit led to a commitment to living and working in this artist community for the last 21 years.
Pat Apt’s artist website is patapt.artspan.com
Most creatives reading this understand that title. Below are some actual quotes from family, friends and strangers offering me unsolicited advice and insights. Some of them are actually nice, others …. part of the job I suppose.
- “I’ve never seen anyone work so hard in order not to work”
- “What are you going to be when you grow up?”
- “If it’s important to you then it’s worth it.”
- “Must be nice.”
- “Do you sell your stuff online?”
- “Do you want to go to [some event] with me instead? I have an extra ticket.”
- “Can I stop by? I need to talk to you.”
- “What kind of art do you do?”
- “Let me tell you about the kind of art I like / don’t like.”
- “My [somebody] was a really good artist. You must of heard of [whoever]? No!? Hmmm.”
- “That’s super.”
- “Is there an admission fee to your show?”
- “You should sell calendars of your work.”
- “I like everything up to the Impressionists.”
- “Do you actually sell your work?”
- “Call me if you do anything in blue.”
- “I can draw a horse.”
- “Maybe you can get a job teaching art.”
- “We should have a party in your space.”
- “You know, painting celebrity heads on funny bodies would sell really well.”
- “You’re very lucky. Most people can’t afford to be an artist.”
- “I know a really talented artist. She’s also a Bio-Engineer Scientist, scratch golfer and Rhodes Scholar.”
- “There’s already too many artists.”
- “You went to school for that?”
- “I’m a photographer.”
- “Did you hear about that painting in the news that sold for [lots of money]?”
- “I believe art should look like something.”
- “I have an idea for a children’s book, and need an illustrator….”
- “Ever design a logo?”
- “What is art?”
- “Did you see that [huge exhibit] at the [huge museum] last year?”
- “I like your earlier work.”
- “I have a painting at home that I don’t know who did it”
It’s close to four years since I launched artprwire.com and artlistpro.com.
Both were projects to research the growing online presence for contemporary arts. I am very proud that I was one of the first to explore social media as a platform for curating contemporary art stream , and I have learned a great deal that has influenced my career and my life – namely through the people and art I have connected with as a result.
At the heart of these two websites was my desire to re-invigorate my passion for contemporary art both locally and internationally. I wanted to expose myself as much as possible to current and past exhibits and see as much as work as possible from my limited geographical footprint. I ended up curating a “daily dose of contemporary art” on ALP to the tune of almost 7,000 posts so far. That number is the tip of the iceberg for how many posts, websites and submissions I considered over the years. At some points I can truly say, with pride, that I was totally sick of looking at art!
Also, with pride, I am very happy with the online audience I have built for both sites. They extend beyond the local and even national to a community without borders but unified by a love of looking at good work everyday. Like me. As an artist, I wanted to build a context to release my own work online and feel like I have managed to do that – as well I have become a fan of several artists and online curators I would never of known about otherwise.
But life changes all plans, as my success online has translated into career opportunities elsewhere. Below are some announcements for both sites.
ART PR WIRE
I started this free service as a basic art list that artists and galleries that lacked a marketing budget could utilize to make sure their invite info could be found online. It was and still is a problem for many to be able to effectively send out a press release that is fairly considered for it’s merit and not necessarily for the paid service it is using. In Canada especially, the arts scene is dominated by a commercial monopoly that has limited room and frankly a limited scope – a classic arts administrator mindset of marketing to each other instead of marketing to a wider audience. More about that below.
I actually used to phone up galleries and museums and invite them to submit PR to my website. I was met with a great deal of suspicion and derision, to say the least, and it was a little surprising. I stopped being so proactive and handed out cards at some art galleries and fairs, and as social media evolved beyond doubt then the arts started … later than almost every other industry… to accept that this was a valuable tool. Now I have international exhibits from a wide variety of professional venues and many of the PR submissions I post “go viral” – they get tens of thousands of views I get very good feedback from the galleries participating. This kind of international popularity is, in my view, a very valuable service and a unique channel for local Canadian artists and organizations.
Did I mention it was free? I may develop a paid component for some extra services but I am after the huge market of galleries that don’t engage paid services. The value is the audience data I collect, and the industry expertise I have in publishing such a service. I get gigs now with art magazines and galleries, and that’s what I wanted.
I have decided to abandon completely efforts to include local arts organizations. For example, I have lived in Hamilton, Ontario for almost three years and have, on numerous occasions, approached some local public arts organizations and galleries. As I do, I asked to be put on on their media list for PR and opportunities to cover events on my blog. To date, I have received absolutely nothing of the kind from these places. I also cannot access the usual media opportunities to cover these events for my blog and websites. I am invited to many large scale media events in Toronto, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles (for example) but not in Hamilton, Ontario.
I think it’s fair and fine to not utilize a service, but these organizations actually receive public money to operate and to not bother simply adding an email to your email list raises a lot of questions for me. I think what bothers me the most is the disservice this does for the artists involved.
Anyways, my new policy on this is that I will not cover local publicly-funded events unless I am invited as media – though I may still attend. I hope that sounds fair.
I am moving away from Tumblr as my primary platform for Art PR Wire and have switched to WordPress to host my content (check out artprweb.com). The reason is that Tumblr took down a post because of a DMCA complaint – one that was so blatantly frivolous and baseless I was shocked. They don’t have their communities interest at heart and I don’t trust them anymore with my content. It took a team of lawyers to get them to re-post the censored content, with an apology to me, and the associated image with that photo format post was forever lost due their actions. Pretty disappointing and frightening that an intellectual copyright mark against me goes on a permanent record so easily and quickly . There is an opportunity to file a counter-notice against such a malicious complaint, but Tumblr demanded my personal address and full name so they could send it to this weird person harassing me. VERY disturbing and potentially dangerous for someone with a stalker or abusive ex, for example.
Though I strip the hyperlink in email addresses as a courtesy, my policy now is that what you email me is what I post on the website. I don’t have time to edit or format submissions. If you don’t want your phone number on a website, please do not include it in your submission.
Art Listings Professional
I have enjoyed being an editor and publisher of a pioneering social media powered magazine about contemporary art. Somedays, I have posted as much as 20 works as a considered group in a curated stream. But now I feel ready to concentrate on my own studio work and consolidate my reviews, interviews and art postings onto my wordpress blog here at chrishealey.me. I am closing down ArtListPro as it currently functions and merging it with Art PR Wire. I believe this enhances the value for artists and galleries posted about on this network – but my giant online curated art stream project is coming to an end. It’s no longer as fun as it was and for the reasons mentioned above I am now deeply mistrustful of Tumblr’s ability to protect it’s community members and their legitimate content.
I will have other projects online, but ALP was special and I want to thank my fans and subscribers over the last few years for their encouragement and feedback. I hope you enjoy the format change to the best submissions of current art exhibits and events from around the world.
I love glitch art and even dabbled in it many years ago, though at the time I did not know what glitch art was, and I don’t think the term existed yet though I am sure many artists were creating glitch art way before it became a “thing” in the art world.
Anyways, here I am in Mexico visiting my parents. A treat for me is the fact they have a television here, and it’s satellite no less. Well, I’ve been here two weeks and it has yet to work properly – not that I really care, it’s all crap anyways, but it did provide some stunning visuals. So last night I went through the channels and took pictures of some choice fucked up signals. I am currently fantasizing about making these into a series of paintings. Enjoy!
Like many, I was inspired to read Allan Gregg’s speech “The Assault on Reason” that outlined and warned us of the similarities to our present day conservative government and the world in George Orwell’s book 1984. This argument was remarkable, not because of what it said but who said – Gregg is a well known conservative. It is not exactly a secret in Canada that science, the environment and social compassion are under a sustained and deliberate assault from a really mean group of bullies who are self-absorbed, entitled and placing their interests above all else, even to the point that they inevitably will do more harm to our world than good.
This very much reminded me of your typical artist.
Have you ever heard the sentiment “Inside every artist is a dictator”?
Ok, I know, artists are typically left leaning intellectual types who fight for free speech, social justice and all kinds of good things. That can certainly be true but as I’ve pointed out before, there are very scary people in involved in arts administration, and throughout the non-profit and charitable sector. A dictator can come from the left, right or centre – that is essential, in my opinion, to understanding the Orwellian potential in our selves and those around us. Perhaps with the best of intentions, sincere efforts to improve the world is what leads to a world like 1984 – it is our conviction that we are fighting the good fight that blinds us to this fact. I think Gregg made this point, among many good points, and I totally agree – and this very much reminds me of the mindset of artists.
Local artists would, if they could, be the headlining part of all group exhibits and occupy all of the wall space in every coffee shop and restaurant they are aware of. They would be granted a solo exhibit at every gallery in their home town every year forever and be courted by other galleries near and far.
If they could, they would crush their critics and see galleries who have turned them down wither and die in humiliation. They would, if they could, get all of the public funds for all the public projects.
Local artists ostracize competing local artists – they will not mention, recommend or promote you. Local artists would if they could control this information.
They don’t share money – or proceeds from sales. You can help get them an exhibit, but they won’t help you.
They’ll sit on every gallery committee they can if they that got them exhibits.
They are also above deadlines and all that hubbub – they will bring in the work to a group exhibit whenever it damn well suits them. And they’ll take their work back whenever they damn well please.
They won’t volunteer to help with events – but they contribute meaningfully by criticizing anything they don’t immediately like.
In short, they would re-write art history. And god help you if you misspell their name on anything.
Also Orwellian of all is when a blogger, critic or journalist writes something about their work that they don’t agree with – or worse they write nothing at all. They want to change this, and perhaps this fuels their need to control a world that comes in variety of standard canvas sizes.
And the most controlling, Orwellian aspect of local artists – DO NOT TAKE A PHOTO OF THEIR WORK UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Their work is so original, and so special, the internets will steal it and sweat shops in third world countries will reproduce it and various copies will appear in gallery gift shops in famous galleries and museums around the world, and the local artist will got none of the credit and profits they deserve.
Of course, the only thing more fearsome and controlling than a local artist is a regional curator. But that’s another post…
Podcast #6 (also on iTunes)
Jack Butler is one of the first friends I made when I moved to Hamilton, Ontario 2 years ago – and he also happens to be a significant figure in art history. Not only in Canada throughout his 61 years of exhibiting but also internationally as demonstrated by being the first Canadian artist included in the seminal Jansen’s History of Art. His accomplishments include being a founding member of the Sanavik Cooperative in Baker Lake, Nunavut and being a pioneer in bridging art and science as medical model builder for over thirty years.
For me, this is perhaps one of the most important interviews I have approached, and this is evident by my taking almost 6 months to edit and finish the video and podcast. I struggled to keep up with his keen insight and vast experience both in my familiar area of art knowledge and my unfamiliar area of medical research methodology and culture. I hope I brought a bit of what makes Jack Butler special forward into this three-part conversation.
The first part is discussing a particular experience for Butler as he conquered a phobia induced by a footbridge in Toronto, Canada. The second is a walk through of his studio where we examine some of his current work and research, and the third is an audio only recording delving in his past – including formative moments in his development as an artist. For the video version, I have overlain photographs of his studio, the footbridge and work documented on his website.
Jack has two major exhibits coming up in 2013 – one opens Jan 10th at Hamilton Artists Inc. in Hamilton, Ontario ( http://theinc.ca/2012/12/06/storybones-jack-butler/ ) and the other opens Jan 2nd at Red Head Gallery in Toronto, Ontario ( http://tinyurl.com/ccltzpe )
You can also hear Jack talk more about specific projects at his website below:
I had a Jon Stewart type “moment of Zen” last night at the special community meeting organized to discuss the looming demolition of the 1932 Sanford Avenue School. Actually, I had several and perhaps that’s the best way to report back on what happened. I felt in danger last night of spontaneously turning into a giant insect – or at the very least, that I was viewed as one by many of the Cathy Wever School posse that composed the majority of the over 90 people in the room.
This Parking Lot brought to you by 1984
I’ll start with the moment that stands out for me and will probably haunt me for the rest of my life: A staff member of the Cathy Wever School actually stood up and passionately - emotionally even – defended keeping the east end of the parking lot as her friends “drive to work everyday. Where are they going to park!?!”. She was offended and angry at my idea of putting the proposed soccer field there *instead of* demolishing a perfectly good heritage building.
My mind unpleasantly expanded then contracted in that instant. Here was a public school staff member advocating tearing down a historically significant piece of architecture in favour of parking. Maybe the bureaucracy of a school board taking that posistion is not a surprise, but one tends to hold a romantic idea that individual people in the public education industry would see the intrinsic value in a historic building of world-class design as an ideal environment for young minds – for now and future generations in the community. But she doesn’t think that way. She wants to see it leveled as soon as possible, erased from the landscape of the neighbourhood and the community’s memory. If you wonder where the problem with kids being disengaged from the value of academics comes from, then the culture of the adults working with them in the public school system is probably as good a place as any to look at. Actions like this is how attitudes become ingrained in children.
Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy works in Ward 3
The next moment of Zen for me was suddenly feeling like I understood Barack Obama’s flustered frustrations in debating Mitt Romney’s overly simplistic and misleading “I’ll give you all jobs” mantra. Last night, simply take out “jobs” and drop in “parks for the kids” and you have the position of the School Board staff, City officials and parents in the face of overwhelming evidence that demolishing Sanford School was not desirable or necessary in order for the kids to have parks and a soccer field on that site.
We tried to point out that there is no approved funding for replacing Sanford School with anything but an empty lot. We pointed out that a mere 40 parking spots could be moved to get that park, that soccer pitch there. We proved there were parties with the expertise and means to turn the empty school into a vibrant community fixture. We proclaimed our support for everything the parents wanted for their children – but none of this reality seemed to matter. It fell on deaf ears. It truly was a moment where any meaningful discussion was simply not possible in the face of what bizarrely could be called “park propaganda”. Effectively, all they did was help ensure local kids will likely grow up with another giant, empty lot that acts as another barrier to this area’s chances of economic recovery. Has anyone actually calculated the loss of tax revenue for the City of Hamilton in allowing a development friendly building to be demolished?
One developer told me property taxes would be “about $150,000 a year”. Imagine what that kind of injection could do this for this community. I keep thinking that is one expensive parking lot.
A warbling, sentimental speech about how kids love parks
This was the first moment where many of us looked at each other with incredulity. The chair and trustee of the school board read off a rambling speech about how he grew up in a more affluent area of town where there were parks for the kids. As a kid, he loved parks. His kids love parks. Kids love parks. Parks are important for kids. Kids here should have parks. Parks for kids is what the kids want. Parents want their kids to be in parks.
This turned out to be perhaps the most strategically clever moment of the entire night – he set the divisive tone to set the two groups against each other . The Cathy Wever School crowd clung to this “all or nothing / with us or against us / you’re for the kids or against the kids” politics that reminded me of the playbook of Vic Toews. They opted for passion over reason, and framed those of us trying to participate in this process as the agents of passion over reason. A neat trick.
Another deft result this long winded prepared speech had was to eat up valuable time, as the meeting had an expiration date of two hours. Two hours to somehow fight through the noise, and several times our Trustee and Councilor dismissed presented options because they were not “concrete enough”. It was impossible to present what they claimed was needed to earn a reprieve in the demolition of Sanford. This was crazy. Some might call it a sham.
It must also be pointed out that the childhood neighbourhood Tim Simmons waxed sentimental about is Westdale – an area that was allowed to keep their heritage school building. They have green space and bike paths. They have two way streets, with parking spots on them, in lieu of the vast parking lots that are central to the Sanford School debate. Westdale is an area of town that is one of the best places to live in Hamilton, with a very high quality of life.
Uncovering a conspiracy of lazy neighbours and developers
“You’re lying” one parent outright accused us, in response to our claim that our neighbours and ourselves were not provided an opportunity to participate in the consultation process. This ugly acccusation was the tone for the pro-demolotion group of school staff and parents in dismissing our concerns, and was dramatically presented enough to warrant being repeated in some news reports of this meeting.
If we think about this for moment, it makes no sense that we are lying about not knowing. I’ve probably put in more than a hundred hours over the last ten days to this decisision, and there are my neighbours and development professionals in the community all expressing alarm at being caught off guard. Almost ninety people showed up to this meeting precisely because of this public consultation process being flawed from the outset. I, and almost certainly the rest of the citizens protesting this process, would rather have had a chance to attend a more civil, constructive and publicly announced community meeting *before* this decision was made. Claiming we knew this was going to happen all along, and that we knew there was a meeting and simply were too lazy to attend and do anything about it until a Herculean last ditch effort is ridiculous.
But this meeting was not about thinking this through. This meeting was about stirring up emotions and hurling accusations at a community that does not happen to be part of the Cathy Wever School. These are classic political strategies for dividing a community, isolating the group that disagrees with you and then conquering your opposition.
Why did the chicken cross the road? For every other reason but to get to a park.
The same parent then described how one of her children got hit by a car crossing the street to the extremely close Woodlands Park. This was to demonstrate that there needed to be a park beside the school.
Remember when I mentioned earlier that no one is arguing against having a park or soccer field at Cathy Wever School? Any reasonable position that was not pro-demolition got swept aside by dramatics and emotional statements. The councilor, school trustree and city officials in attendance did nothing to record the conversation so as to dissuade this sort of distraction.
The vast majority of these parents and children have to cross these dangerous streets twice a day to get to the school and then return home. Many of them cross the vast soccer field at Woodlands Park to get to the school, which is about a one minute walk away.
This also, astonishingly, did not spark the notion for this group that the neighbourhood would be better served by safer streets, including segregated bike lanes. It further eroded the validity of my side’s position - we were forced to somehow try to justify small children getting hit by cars or do crazy things to the streets that these people did not care about at all. Most of the staff and decision makers drive in and out of this community to arrive at an area with an excess of parking. Why would they care about that extraneous, unrealistic solutions we were putting forward? This is, of course, more absurdity. This emphasis on driving on dangerous, huge streets that are virtual highways in this community is what put this parent’s child in danger in the first place, and is directly correlated to the view point that Sanford School needs to be demolished to make a park that is safer for the kids to get to.
No one mentioned the crossing guards who attend the intersection to and from Woodlands Park before and after school. In retrospect, I don’t feel like pointing that out would make any difference at all.
Back to the Future … of Parking
I need to make clear here, as I tried to make clear over and over to the crowd last night, that the core issue here is the city planners not considering shifting 40 parking spots to somewhere else. They could move the spots to the street, which is huge and under utilized. They could have the staff and employees of Cathy Wever School and the Norman “Pinky” Lewis Recreation Centre park at one of numerous empty lots close by and save the remainder of spots for clients and parents. Who has not had to walk a block to work or home after parking? Apparently, the staff of Cathy Wever School find this concept unthinkable. In turn, I find this deeply disturbing and frankly irresponsible.
Did this proposed solution gain any traction? None at all. Did any other option proposed get considered? Nope.
Seems like what we needed was a community developer with a proven track record to show up and present another option that would benefit the community by keeping and developing the school, and with some frank professional criticisms of the current plan that some of the parents and staff may be unaware of. Michael Clarke, a local lawyer and developer who was involved in key parts of the success of James Street North, did just that.
He was dismissed immediately by the Trustee for his “sales pitch”. Yet, his was the message that the school board and councilor claimed was absent that led to the decision to demolish Sanford School. The only thing he could have done that might of immediatly changed some minds was show up with a giant pile of money and perhaps NickelBack to play a pro-Sanford concert on the gymnasium stage while tossing out free bottles of vodka and soccer balls to the assembled crowd.
Clarke was asking for some time to be able to propose a plan – something that was impossible to do given he has had only 10 days to prepare and further hindered by the fact demolition can start next month
I have to list these other obvious questions that were not addressed last night:
Why is the rec centre expansion not incorporated into the Sanford School building?
Why was the Cathy Wever School building not incorporated into the Sanford School building?
If parking is and will be such a large problem, then why are solutions such as a underground parking and / or a parking structure not considered?
Would the millions of dollars saved by not demolishing Sanford and by utilizing it as part of the Cathy Wever School / Norman “Pinky” Lewis centre instead of re-building a structure from scratch be better used for a parking structure?
A passionate plea for our insurance and bureaucracy heritage.
More existential angst inducing moments have to be credited to the various public officials who offered helpful insights as to the impossibility of simple actions like fixing the broken boilers at Sanford School or spending any of the millions of dollars supposedly earmarked for demolition and expansion on any other option. If it’s not insurance issues, well then it’s an issue with the Ministry. Or the bureaucracy is “too big a machine” to change direction on – and the trustee and the councilor could not change anything because there were other people involved. People who were not there last night and will only hear our side of the debate via the councilor and the trustee. And there is absolutely no way to consider moving parking spaces.
You would think the common threads of elected officials and our tax money might be more important to finding a better solution than not trying at all – but you would be mistaken in this case.
Crouching community, Hidden agenda
To me the most terrible aspect of this sordid affair was the manufactured nature of the community consent for demolishing Sanford. When the City and School Board “consulted” the community, they only consulted stakeholders inside the Norman “Pinky” Lewis and Cathy Wever School organizations and not any of the residents who are not part of these organizations. They are of course supposed to, and there is a mention of a public information meeting in 2010, on paper, but there was no notice posted outside the school and no notices distributed to the community. Not to my house, and not to my neighbours.
Other disturbing facts about this process is that Sanford was declared “surplus” 10 years ago – meaning no developer or organization was even allowed to present any other option for the building. And now, incredibly, the school trustee and councilor claim that there was no interest in it so they had no choice. It is a fact organizations and developers did approach the school board about Sanford – and they are lining up now to take a shot at acquiring it – but were rebuffed because it was unavailable. One organization was told “the city has plans for it, so we can’t accept any other interest in it”.
A few more of my hairs went grey just typing that, and I think I’m developing an eye tick.
One of the victims of this boondoggle is the Cathy Wever Hub – a service provider for this area that wants expanded green space, more basketball courts and more facilities for the kids. They did not advocate destroying our built heritage but sort of got blamed for it by the politics of the situation – the city, the school board and the Cathy Wever School group all point to them as a “community” that were consulted. The Hub called this special meeting last night to correct this assumption and bring the community – my neighbours and myself – together to talk to the real forces behind these decisions. When I first spoke, I tried to help clarify this as well by citing Hamilton Community Foundation policy that Hubs are not neighbourhood associations (and neither are school or recreation staff, for that matter). I think that was a tactical mistake on my part – the Hub people thought I was attacking them and the parents / school staff thought I was undermining their place in the debate. It was ridiculous.
To me, the real victims last night are the duped parents and kids of Cathy Wever School who unfortunately think they are getting green space anytime soon. If it happens, and that’s a big if, then it would be earliest at 2016 and may take to 2022 or even later. To me, some of the worst culprits in this misinformation are those who happen not to be elected, or at all accountable to the larger community but exert great influence over the thinking of the parents and kids in attendance last night – the staff of Cathy Wever School. The feedback of the staff at Cathy Wever School, while important, is not a community consultation. There was no proper community consultation or public notifications. This is kinda indisputable at this point but, in another moment of zen, appears to simply not matter. The rules of process do not matter here. This is not democracy – this is my local public school.
An apology from the worst culprit of all
That would be me, because last night I allowed the emotion and passion of the immediate situation to affect me. I sneered, I snorted and I quipped out of turn – it was very rude of me and I apologize to everyone there. It did not reflect well on the point my neighbours and I were trying to make, and played into the perception that we were being unreasonable. There is a saying that you should never argue with an idiot because they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. I was beat by engaging on a gut reaction emotional level and that compromises any future dialogues with the same groups of people. Though those who were there from start to finish can attest to the many triggers that led to such emotion, I can only imagine what those arriving half way through must have thought.
A tool for preserving our democratic heritage emerges from the rubble
Incredible. Out of the blue and without any knowledge of the Sanford School situation, a Toronto based architect phoned me today to help him build a special website. He is concerned because he is going to help with a new development in a small city and wants to make sure there is communication with the community, and an online forum for tracking feedback on the proposed public project. Citing problems with public meetings where a few aggressive people can dominate any conversation, he thinks together we can help define a template for developers and a community to engage meaningfully over the course of “at least two years” before the project is started.
Compared to what has been happening here, I almost cried. There are people out there who want the same things, there is hope. Together, we are going to build this tool which may help prevent what culminated in the frustrations of last night.
Perhaps the best part of all is that I am going to name this content management tool for developers “Sanford”. This beautiful building may become an empty lot, but the lessons learned here may help other communities. In this way, I will help preserve some of our built heritage the best way I can.
I’ve been on the phone and computer waaay too much this week so decided to take a long walk – which turned out to be a very short walk as I found myself back at the Sanford Avenue School site. I ended up spending hours in the area talking with some very interesting people who had very interesting things to say about this heritage building.
When I approached the Sanford building I noticed, lo and behold – the side door was open!!! This would be my big chance to take a peek inside, so we can see what’s what in there.
But alas, I noticed a HWDSB van in front of it with someone inside of it, who was obviously fitting the door with a new lock. I asked if I could take a peek but he said “no” – and then kept a steely eye on me as I took the above picture. I’m sure people suddenly rushing through an open door into an empty building in front of the landlord’s employee has happened before. No seriously, after being in Hamilton for two years I am not surprised by much anymore.
So, on a whim, I decided to pop into Mission Services, kiddy parking lot corner to Sanford Avenue School. There is an 85 year old building there (1927) they renovated back into shape as a community services centre for their clients. Barry, the Director of Community Relations, was kind enough to receive my unannounced visit and discuss Sanford Avenue School. I learned they were originally interested in Sanford because there is actually an underground tunnel from their building to the historic school, as the basement of Sanford is also connect to the Norman “Pinky” Lewis Recreation Centre. They thought it would be great to have a senior’s residence there as the residents would be able to go back and forth without having to go outside during the winter months, but when they inquired about the building’s availability they were told by the HWDSB it was unavailable.
Yep, that’s a central issue here. The school has been unavailable for other options – but that’s not to say Mission Services could take it over as they’ve spent a lot on renovations on the former Mohawk College chair storage facility. But he was happy to give me a tour of their building, both the renovated and yet-to-be-renovated parts of the building as an example of what can be done with these kind of buildings when loved by a community. These pictures are the closest thing we have right now to assess what the inside of Sanford Avenue School looks like – and what it could look it.
(if anyone can get me into Sanford Avenue School so I can take some interior photos, please contact me at muskoxen at g mail d ot com)
The A word: Asbestos. Valid reason to demolish?
I did not think about it, but after chatting with a couple of Rec centre employees it was pointed out to me that the school is “full of asbestos”. They also thought the building was so run down that they were not in favour of saving it. They were very focused on “more green space for the kids”. Also, it was pointed out to me that there used to be a big beautiful track and park until the Cathy Wever School expanded.
These are, on the surface, very good reasons for proceeding with plans to demolish Sanford Avenue School and create parkland, a soccer pitch and expanding the recreation centre without kids having to endure a leaky, broken asbestos filled gymnasium that are essentially underground bunkers. Or is it really that simple? I list my counter-arguments below:
Hey ho, asbestos has got to go: can’t argue for asbestos but two things come to mind: 1) *every building* in our city before a certain date has or had removed asbestos. That is part of our reality here, and is unfair to Sanford to single it out for execution for having the same condition of buildings that we decide to keep – regardless of asbestos needing to be removed. If a developer was going to take it over then cleaning that up would have to be part of the deal. 2) They were using the building as recently as two years ago – with asbestos in it as common knowledge!?!? If this is serious enough of a case for tearing it down, then what the heck where they thinking using it at all? This asbestos bugaboo is a distraction from the real issue here, IMHO.
It’s for the kids – don’t you want to help the kids? I actually hate children. Of course, I am kidding. But political rhetoric and lobbying efforts, which dominates what passes as public discourse these days, is very divisive and “think of the children” has been a trojan horse for a variety of questionable motions and now is a rallying cry for tearing down Sanford Avenue School. The problem is none of the funding for these great new developments for the Wever Hub is a done deal. We are in very real danger of spending money on tearing down a development-friendly heritage building and replacing it with nothing. This is another Hamilton story my partner and I have heard about many times. I suppose it could be worse – Jackson Square II could be erected there.
The other counter to this black & white argument of “kids or heritage” is that incorporating the building into the new park and pitch plans has never, ever been explored. In fact, I think the money would be better used on making a better Pinky Lewis Recreation centre. There is lots of room to expand / move it so you could fit a soccer game or two in there. You know, for the childrens. Don’t you care about the childrens?
A school under siege by a premeditated illusion of not having a choice. The Sanford Avenue School is run down and in disrepair. The boilers are broken inside and the basement leaks. You can easily see broken and open windows and rusting grates on the exterior – and no one is raising a finger to prevent further damage to the structure. If there was a way for a property manager to build consensus that a building was undesirable, this sort of “demolition by neglect” would be the best way to go about it. I say property manager in this case because it is actually a public building – you and I already own it through our taxes – but the HWDSB are the caretakers we’ve entrusted with this responsibility.
It’s perfectly natural to want to get a run down building out of your community landscape. What is not natural is allowing a building to fall into this state of disgrace through what appears to be a deliberate campaign of non-action combined with making the building unavailable for any other party to get involved. This has created an environment where, by looking at the surface of the present and not the past or future, a local politician or school official as well as many local residents can claim “Look, that building is falling apart and no one is interested in taking it over. For the sake of the children, we need to demolish it.”
Unfortunately for them, it’s one hell of a building and is not falling apart because it is very well made and once was loved by the community and the school board. It is in great shape for development, and would be for a very long time I suspect. Do you think a new building would be so well made?
A community association of straw men. I kept hearing about how community groups were consulted and this is what they want. In particular, it was pointed out to me this was the Wever Community Hub – which is responsible for many of the great developments in my area over the last dozen years. The reality is they did not get involved in any direct decision to tear down this heritage building, and partly because they are NOT a community association – they are are service provider. They want more and better facilities and I support this, but they were not “the neighbourhood residents who want this building gone” that I keep being told they are.
Strange. Things are not quite what they seem here and I hope, dear reader, you are coming to the same conclusion at this point. But I’m not done yet – I was very curious as to who exactly is this “local community group” that was consulted (BTW, I must point out that even if there was such a group then the fact the building has not been for sale for over 10 years and therefore no options were presented or opinions solicited during that unreasonably long period renders this fundamentally problematic).
The short answer is there is no real community association group in my area. The only semblance of this is, as I’ve been told, is a informal group that meets infrequently called the “Gibson-Landsdowne Association”. I cannot find any information about them, nor has my public call for contact with these people resulted in any leads. Imagine being a resident here who was not working in such a sustained and public manner as I am trying to find this information.
So, in conclusion and in so far as my perspective and personal opinion on this situation goes: The reasons and consensus for demolishing Sanford School are shadows, paper ghosts, good intentioned efforts that have been co-opted by agendas and forces operating outside of meaningful community concerns. As a resident in Barton Village in ward 3 I have no community association to represent my concerns, as I don’t have a Councillor or trustee who live in the ward and I don’t have a BIA led by someone who lives in my ward either. This is why my area is vulnerable to slum lords and bad decisions – those who make the bed here don’t have to sleep in it.
This is a phone interview with Hamilton, Ontario’s school board chair and my local Trustee Tim Simmons, who was gracious enough to give his full attention to a blogger wearing a citizen journalist hat. I was impressed with his willingness to confront the issues and to attend the community meeting next week.
Podcast #5 is available here and on iTunes. This episode is 31 min 45s.
I voice concerns and ask Mr.Simmons questions about the decisions and process that has led to the likely imminent demolition of Sanford Avenue School – a beautiful 1932 historic building in my neighbourhood. Apologies for the poor quality of the phone recording – we do the best we can with what we have. There is nothing scandalous here, but lots of revealing insight into the process and even a sense of hope and common ground, I believe.
Buildings like these are an artist live / work loft dream come true, and many other people find this structure equally as appealing for many other uses – including developers who have not had a chance to propose a plan to save the building and incorporate local community goals.
You can find out more about the state of crisis of this structure on my original blog post here.
If you are reading this before Dec 4th, 2012 and you live in Hamilton, particularly Ward 3, then please consider attending the Wever Hub special community meeting that day at 6pm at Cathy Wever School to voice your opinion. It’s important, especially for future generations in the community.
We were feeling helpless and exasperated at news that the local school board had slipped through a demolition order request to level a heritage building – and this gets processed within 10 days! Apparently the obliteration can begin in January, 2013.
Ward 3′s Wever Hub community meeting called for Tuesday, 6m at Cathy Wever School! Chance to clarify, discuss Sanford Avenue School and show Tim Simmons and Bernie Morelli how the Ward 3 neighbourhood really feels. Please attend!
Please, especially Ward 3 residents, contact Tim Simmons, HWDSB Chair at 905-308-6832 to voice your concerns. Please do it now!
There is no or little chance of fighting it this at this point. But what we can do is document the moment by complaining on a cold, overcast and very windy day as we walk around the school. We can let everyone know, especially future generations, what happened here and who was involved in these decisions. We can present more viable options to demolishing heritage buildings – such as a senior home, artist live-work spaces or even condos. We also talked about related issues such as bicycle infrastructure and the onus of meaningful community consultation on our elected officials.
In Hamilton Ontario where we live many beautiful buildings get torn down and now one of the most historically significant landmarks of built heritage in the city core is to be quickly demolished and replaced with a soccer field with plenty of free parking. Sanford School was opened in 1932 and is the first 100% Canadian steel framed building.
Production Note: Apologies for wind noise in microphone. So cold my iphone kept failing and Jen’s is a lower quality device, so the editing got quick and choppy, with a lot of noise. We felt it was important to be on site to talk about this, and within the limited window for meaningful public discourse on this, we are working with the footage we obtained in these less than ideal conditions. It was also important to us to limit the entire production cycle to one day. Much of what we said was cut because of the wind noise but added back in as captions. Much was also cut because we said some inappropriate things or bickered about the cold.
It is meant to have a sense of humour thoughout, so we hope you found parts of it funny – though it’s mostly just sad.
The building is located at 149 Sanford Avenue North, Hamilton, ON
Here are the links to our sources for our rant and more about Sanford “School-Gate”, our Councilor Bernie Morelli, the HWDSB and the general history and current state of our neighbourhood called Barton Village.
How to reach Bernie
Councillor, Ward 3
Hamilton City Hall | Second Floor, 71 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario L8P 4Y5
This interview is from 2009 during a studio complex open house in Toronto, Canada.
Podcast is here and the original video is below.
I have been informed that Mr. Myers passed away in 2010 by someone who found it on my YouTube channel:
“Can you comment further on the 2009 ArtScape open studio event in which you interviewed UK artist Michael Myers? Any establishing shots or any of Myers? He died in 2010, and you may have some of the last video of him and/or his work. In the snooker world, his art became pretty well known.”
He was a very gracious and engaging man when I very briefly met him through a studio tour visit and conducted this quick, informal interview. It was one of my first and I have since done many more because meeting artists and discovering work like Myers is very rewarding. I am glad I had the chance to contribute some documentation about this artist.
These links were sent to me about Myers:
I talk with Margie Kelk about her use of social media and how she finds it useful, as an artist and administrator of The Red Head Gallery, 401 Richmond, Toronto.
Originally recorded July 13th, 2012.
With a sympathy for proximity, artist Brian Kelly talks process and considerations for his sculpture exhibit “Not as big as I remembered it.” in Hamilton, Ontario. This was a good talk – thanks Brian.
11 minutes. (Podcast)
For me, this was the first try in capturing audio, pictures and uploading straight to YouTube – and I think it would of worked except for a technical step I missed earlier. It will work for the next attempt I am sure, and then I will be truly 100% production via mobile.
Another lesson I learned is to take more pictures – lots and lots of pictures – as I took too few this time, I think.
Show ends Dec 4th (2012)
330 James Street North
I was taught in my studio program at Concordia University, a “dumb artist” avoided all formal knowledge, academic history or current trends in art making. Their work was the supposedly unbiased and untainted from this oppressive preconceptions and something genuine and pure was created from this isolation.
Though this definition and examples of it are surprisingly hard to find via Google, it has always nonetheless been a fascination for myself as an approach and years later when I started to do my video and blog reviews of exhibits and trends, I decided I would invent the approach of the “Dumb Critic”.
Specifically, this is a deliberate method of engaging an exhibition (and /or interview with an artist) without any research or familiarity at all. The review must be conducted as soon as possible upon arrival of the Dumb Critic.
I believe this is extremely valuable as feedback to the artist or gallery, as their work has an unfettered connection through immediate impression and without defined preconceptions, such as statements of work or curatorial essays, suggesting an interpretation for the audience. It is more firmly relevant to our time in art history to operate critically within the same context as most art work is viewed by the general public – a sudden confrontation defined by a short amount of time to articulate an overall impression and then broadcasting it to the world.
This approach is tied in to my philosophy of rejecting high production standards if those standards delay or prevent contributions of art documentation / art practice to the general public, for the greater good. It is a rejection of high production standards and design as substitution for meaningful and substantive content. It is a question of the problem of the public and it’s relationship to the visual arts, and vice-versa – there is almost a fear, a intimidation, a judgment of whether the visitor to a community gallery space understands the work, and by understanding you have read the texts associated with the exhibit and previous aspects of contemporary art history. That there is a right and a wrong answer.
So arriving in a gallery and being confronted by an exhibit that is strange and bewildering in it’s unfamiliarity and presence outside any expectations is a valuable and savoury experience for me, and I believe is a way of approaching art that relates most directly with the majority. The majority does not mean it is the right or only way to engage something, but in a cultural communications approach it is a valuable insight to have.
So this concept, this rationalization of being a Dumb Critic frees me to see more exhibits and meet more artists and other arts professionals, and in turn allows me to offer this experience to my audience. I ask dumb questions fearlessly, and propose interpretations that are completely off-the-wall compared to what was clearly written in the catalog or press release. This is a resistance to bowing to the pre-conceived notions of the artist, the curator and the space and trying to see the work as it is, truly alone and without pomp, even if it is only for a little while. Most artists tend to appreciate this very much – at least the ones who are interested in research and truth and play.
Then there are the rigid, formulaic ones who are career ladder climbers and don’t like a lateral turns of thinking of how to approach things in their industry. An example is when I attended an art and technology conference recently and made sure I read nothing about most of the lectures I attended (and live-tweeted about) – including one called “laser-based collaborative space”. I was dreading this was going to be project management software or something but it was, awesomely, actually, about actual lasers and hacker collectives. When I jokingly mentioned that to another artist, he sniffed “you didn’t read anything about the lectures? that’s novel.”
I enjoy reading, listening and researching (duh), but it is just as valuable sometimes to do this afterwards. Here was an artist who is confined by his preconceptions, perhaps unaware of his insecurity to approach the strange and fantastic for the sake of it being strange and fantastic. His rigidity and his literalness, for me, define much of this industry and it’s barriers for a wider participation.
For me, the rejection of the Dumb Critic is related to the rejection of blogs or tweeting over a paper catalog or commissioned academic essay. One is to satisfy funding requirements, establish credibility among peers and create professional opportunities within a set of expectations – the other is a way to dialogue about seeing and experiencing art without worrying about all that other stuff.
I guess that is novel.
One of my favourite works in this year’s Member Exhibition. It is wind-powered and has a proximity sensor, so it reacts to your presence. This tone it emits sorta has an arthouse movie soundtrack quality to it. Or this is music robots make when all the humans are dead. Or perhaps it is a foil for our organic based assumptions of music. Looks like a moonshine still too. Or at least what I imagine one might look like, which is entirely derived from watching Dukes of Hazard when I was 7.
After a lecture and workshop on BioArt at Centre 3′s Function Keys Conference, Dr. Willet discusses with host Christopher Healey a bit about the history and future of this misunderstood and emerging art practice.
Near the end of the interview, I thought I was asking a clever question but Dr. Willet threw me for a loop with her answer about the evolving relationship between Bio Art and Media. I am already doing some work into this area and will post my work from this bioart workshop and some other new work soon.
Dr. Willet and her student / assistant Kacie Auffret are featured in the first of some photos I added to the movie. This interview is also available as my first foray into podcasting.
Dr. Willet is the director of Incubator: Hybrid Laboratory at the Intersection of Art, Ecology and Sciencei at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
I recently attended the “Function Keys: Conference of New Technology & Digital Culture” conference here in Hamilton, Ontario. Lots of great lectures over the four days, and I was not going to miss this unique opportunity in this town to see as much as I could and help encourage it to happen again (you can see my live tweet stream here). This was right after Art Toronto for me, so I have a lot of catching up to do with posts from both events – and both have affected my areas of research and practice.
Back to Dan … sometimes nobody knows you are famous. This is true for the art world but “double true” for the digital world. We are talking about an industry that has severe short term memory – for example, a browser can change drastically how we view the web, but we quickly forget what it used to be like. Do you pine for a website that does not exist anymore? Do you wax nostalgic for the apps of the first iphone? Do you look at your computer mouse and think about the hero who forged this plastic hammer from the fires of creation? No, you don’t.
But some of us do. Like me. So, Dan Zen has been around for awhile as a pioneer of the future of human interaction with technology. An affable and friendly person, Dan chatted with us a bit before and after his lecture and I learned he originally put up web art as a interactive website using Macromedia Shockwave in 1995. 199 freaking 5! I started working with Amiga computers in 1995, but only got my first (and non-interactive) web art stuff up in 1997. I did manage to be one of the first people ever to work with the first computer based video editing environment (the “Video Toaster”) and even taught one of the first net art classes for artists in 2002/3. Zen, however, meanwhile, was making robots that draw, video loopbacks, programming custom gesture interactions and collecting awards for his multi media classes since 2001. Dan Zen is the real thing and has literally been “first on base” on many fronts, and unless you are into the art history of the digital avant-garde you’ve probably never heard of him. His influence and influences very significantly are involved in the history of computer gaming. Digital legacies are built on sand. But, like many genuises, his place in this history is assured at this point but at the present many might simply see him as a goofy guy in the room who is misusing an ipad by hanging it around his neck.
So be it.
Speaking of that thing hanging around his neck, that’s another simple adjustment that speaks volumes to the value of original thinking that shirks the illusion of choice that most people conform to when thinking about their relationship to their personal technology. Dan added a string to his ipad … and developed a wearable app for personal expression called “Hangy“. He re-adjusts the technology around him in ways that push the envelope, then uses the technology to enhance the story of being human. It’s that simple but easy to dismiss in this slick, packaged and inwardly consumer age we live in because people see a dude with a screen hanging on his chest and stripped pants. Like many of his fans, friends and students, we see the past, present and future of digital mediated reality in front of us … with a friendly smile.
Below are some snapshots of Dan Zen and his Hangy app in action. I will try this app as well. I am literally afraid of going through his stuff too closely because I could get lost for years in it’s awesomeness, it’s mad computer scientist experiments.
Thanks Scott Simmons for that interview, it was nice to experience that and get to talk a bit about some of this stuff. Scott’s being doing video interviews for awhile as well, about 700 of them actually, and it’s neat to see some of the differences in style i.e. the camera angle and the sountrack added. Our similarities included a sense of humour, a passion for new media and communications – and also share being forgotten to be invited to the VIP opening night party.
I actually did not realize there was video being shot during this interview until near the end … probably for the best. Apologies for duplicate jokes. And I’m not sure why I said “essay-based blog”. Must be listening to Q too much.
There was a national magazine writer at our table who expressed dismay at how expensive and difficult it is to do video for the web. She excused herself and left before we started the video interview, as she did not look enthused about “blogging”. I think this is really interesting how some publishing cultures clash with the production capabilities available and this results in a self-fulfilling high production and cost barrier for web video. Though there are some simple adjustments that could be made in shooting this video if you wanted it to be a little more slick, Scott essentially puts on a clinic for media concerned with how to do this properly and cost effectively – just do it and post the best. Repeat.
Mark and I talk about his remarkable painting and some of the thought behind his work, glitch and his unique place in history straddling the digital generation divide. Near the end of the interview my iphone actually ran out of memory so I apologize for the rough cut at that spot.
Correction: Mark was, but is not, a contestant in the RBC Painting Competition. Current and previous artists who participated had this label beside their names at the fair.
Sexy presentation of unsexy subject matter and materials.
This animation project with plates at TIAF this year was really well done. An entrance work for visitors to the fair as well as part of this year’s theme “Focus Asia”.
I was listening to Q this morning and Jian Ghomeshi had trouble with pronouncing a guest’s last name because – as he put it – he got “intimidated” by the spelling as the interview started even though he had prepared by practicing the name. That made me feel better as I have done this many times, often with familiar names. It’s the part of the interview that I dread the most.
Not only is Dimitri gracious, but this became a topic of the interview for the first 10 minutes and somehow, oddly, tied in rather logically with our respective painting / media practice.
Also – I committed a gaff: I used the term “Westernize” when discussing the history of immigrants to Canada changing their family names. Not the right term, especially when referring to Greece as something other than being part of western civilization.
The video with all that sheen reflecting does not do these paintings justice, but Dimitri talking about his classical painting technique of glazing with oils, combined with his architect’s thinking about how we inhabit space, casts some additional light on these subtle works.
A very enjoyable conversation between two artists more than an interview, but that’s what I hope for now as I’ve evolved as an art blogger over the last three years. Love to have Dimitri co-hosting on some video reviews- as a matter of fact he offered to turn the camera on me for an interview and I was shocked. First time in 100′s of interviews someone offered to do that! Ha!
via Elan Fine Art
On Friday I posted a rather quick critical, dismissive iphone review on ALP of Joshua’s work -(you can see it here http://tinyurl.com/9hmvah3 ). Later that evening I received a polite and inquisitive email from the artist himself, wanting more feeback and clarification. The following video is the interview that resulted when we met at his art work “Glory Hole” the next day.
the original rant is here - Gallery space: the final frontier of not being the centre of attention in our society « Christopher Healey »
I think that explains a lot about the views most people have about contemporary art practice […]
Salt Dragon: What an infuriating piece. Certainly artists and the people who present their work have no obligation to entertain a general public, but to shift the responsibility of engaging with art and learning to speak the visual language of the contemporary Art World entirely onto that public is ridiculous. If people have been taught to speak one language, i.e. that of entertainment and viewer-centric experience, it is beholden on artists and curators to at least speak in a dialect inflected with that language if they desire to engage that audience. This is not to say speak to the lowest common denominator, but avoid esotericism. When you blame people for not speaking the same visual language as you, or more nebulously a society which acculturates individuals to expect attention and entertainment directed at them – without criticizing the Art World’s modern tendency towards hermeticism – you are engaging in an incredibly exasperating elitism that works to maintain a separation between the Art World and the wider world. The final line “[t]hey do not understand the dynamics of looking into art that is a mirror,  especially if they are not front and centre in the reflection” is particularly irritating. This dynamic is apparent to anyone who speaks the visual language of the Art World, but to someone from outside, how can one expect the work of contemporary art to function as a mirror, or as any number of other functions it might assume, for that matter? It’s like expecting the lay person to read the Epic of Gilgamesh from the original cuneiform tablets. If you want people to learn your language, don’t expect them to take the initiative. Reach out, speak their language. Maybe you can teach them your language as well. The process requires effort from both sides.
I think everything in your response is the dominate viewpoint and the change in trends you are talking about are happening i.e. appealing to an audience’s “dialect” and not expecting instant art world nuanced discourse. I don’t think that is a bad thing either, as many people like me have little patience for verbose academic rhetoric, but many also don’t feel that way. But that’s not really what my post was about.
A gallery space does not have to be elitist or not elitist enough to have a serious disconnect with a community. My views are particular to Canada as other places have much different gallery / community relationships, though I do think that there are attitudes contained that are reflected in many cities and situations. I would argue that a lack of comfort for contemporary art discourse is the fault of our public education system but I also think that’s not the problem or solution anymore. In fact, I think there is a greater enlightenment of artists and art than ever before, but that is because of the sharing power of the internet. So we have more art and artists than ever before, and great spaces are opening in opportunistic locations as collectives, but these spaces are impermanent at best, and are still subject to all my concerns of people avoiding local gallery spaces.
I was thinking local, independent gallery spaces suffer from the most from our entertainment-centric attitudes – the art landcape is largely defined by the enduring presence of academic and large public art galleries, which i think is your focus of the disconnect. I think that both yours and my criticisms can be addressed by more people making a habit of visiting their local gallery spaces.
There has been discussion in my city of the artists role, centered on this thoughtful article of what a city’s “arts vibrancy” really means. Events that draw tourists are a big part of this fuzzy formula so there are incentives to local artists to contrive appealing installations and performances in a broad, safe and entertaining manner outside of the gallery space. I think this is ok with most people for the same reasons as are in your response. Thus, the gallery space can be a frontier for most people expectations of how, why and where they should view art.
Part of this formula for people is whether the experience is social and entertaining enough. However, I think this is a low point for the health of community gallery spaces in Canada – kids these days are much more art savvy than my gen Xers or those baby boomer brats.
This notion occurred to me suddenly the other day as I was looking at my TV-less living room. Setting up a room with a TV is easy – you stick the box where a window won’t wash out the screen, and place chairs, couch and coffee table around it.
Then I thought about Target stores and retail chains like them who seriously, hard-core study the shit out of how best to maximize space and opportunity centered around the movement and product focus of shoppers. This experience is centered around the desire and ambitions of the shopper – obstacles and distractions are minimized.
In fact, almost all of our shared public experience is based on us, as individuals, and we have come to expect it. Other obvious examples of our public space expectations can be found in movie theatres where every step is a measured science; or the airport – where people are managed very closely, as we all know; casinos are carefully set up to avoid being able to see out a window, as our attention is drawn to the games and lights. Highways are centered around your individual need to drive and even schools are built specifically to manage your studies, your leisure time and every other facet of your behaviour in that space. The point is, almost everything in our society is a science of space that centres around you, most often for entertainment, shopping or work. This is the normal we subconsciously register to evaluate whether a space, i.e. a company or organization, is worthy of our participation in it.
Except for many contemporary art galleries that is, as they are not typically spaces designed for entertainment and the visitor is *not* the most important presence in the room.
I think that explains a lot about the views most people have about contemporary art practice.
You see, most people avoid most galleries like the plague. Many times I have heard about people not “knowing enough about art” or “feeling stupid” by visiting a gallery. They feel awkward, even exposed as their footsteps echo faintly in a white cube with some inexplicable object that continues to mystify long after the befuddled visitor in question has left. This fight-or-flight feeling they have is a result not being in a space designed around “the consumer experience” people are used to – this is a space designed around something else and not them. Simply put, they are not the most important thing in the room, and most people instinctively hate this because it goes against everything they have been raised and taught to expect. They are *entitled* to be entertained, and anything else in a stage like context that fails to effortlessly amuse like the punch-line of a a knock-knock joke is a failure of the creator.
You and I realize of course this basic kind of uncomfortableness and confrontation through contemplation is a rare and precious gift preserved from the history of art and museums (though mainly the ones that do not contain dinosaur bones or kid edutainment zones). Most people, unfortunately, cannot separate entertainment from art. They are very, very different things but this line has also blurred, as evidenced by the behaviour of large museums and galleries.
Places like the Art Gallery of Ontario are about entertainment more than the kind of smaller, public art spaces I am talking about. “block buster” shows such as King Tut, Picasso and other very recognizable household names bring out the masses that would not set foot in anything smaller, less advertised or with any less unpredictability (i.e. newer) of what they are going to see. Most people will prefer to pay the $17 to get in, after being in a line-up and coat-check and then jostle shoulder to shoulder to see a work for 8 seconds – the man objective int his kind of situation is to see all the rooms before you leave so you get good value for the price of admission.
This process is entertainment and is safe because it is familiar. I am convinced an art experience for most people involves the validation of a crowd and an admission charge because this puts the individual back into a familiar process that centres around them, and is validated by a large community of regular, middle-class folk just like you who are also paying money and lining up. To me, this explains the appeal of Art Crawls, Nuit Blanche and art-in-the-park type of events – there is a safety in numbers and participating artists often put great effort into performances and displays that do entertain briefly as clutches of gawking families shuffle by.
Contrast this with a smaller independent or public gallery that has no admission charge and is mostly empty should somebody visit it. Maybe this is not good art because you don’t recognize it, so you have no pre-conceived notions to understand it immediately. Imagine it’s just you and a stranger in a room with a work of art and the stranger knows you are stupid, unsophisticated and always will be because of the wrong way you are standing or looking at things because there is no obvious consumer process to engage in. If you paid, then you can act anyway you want because the customer is always right.
Also, incredibly, many many people don’t know that almost no gallery actually charges admission – a symptom of the conditioning of big entertainment in our society.
The woes of the public art world would be solved if most people went to their local gallery once every couple of months. Unfortunately people have an assumption that good art, like entertainment, is a window into another world. They simply do not understand the dynamics of looking into art that is a mirror, and especially if they are not front and centre in the reflection.
Publishers and editors hate being corrected by artists – trust me on this one.
Carol Wainio, the artist and professor based in Ottawa, has forced to the light a serious issue in our country simply by observing the truth that a columnist for the Globe & Mail, Margaret Wente, has committed plagiarism . She has also, to me, revealed some of the deep seeded problems with most industries in our country – namely that each sector is so small that inside politics essentially negates a merit-based system and duplicates behaviours that others may call corruption. Entitlement, protection, unaccountability, job opportunities for collaborators and exile for critics – this creates a closed community and defensive organizational behaviour that is currently on display with the Globe & Mail.
I don’t like how Wente and The Globe & Mail have treated this so far. In particular, the dismissive tone of the editorial staff and the passive-aggressive non-apology from Wente focusing on disparaging the efforts of an “anonymous blogger” bothers me. She uses words in this context such as “self-styled”, “obsessive” and “publicly complaining”. And for the rest of us sharing this developing story via social media, she says “were retweeted by a number of people who didn’t bother to think twice – or ask for a response – before helping her to smear my reputation”. So in other words it’s unfair and unreasonable because of the public, and presents a dim view of “the blogger”. A relatively closed organization culture is hinted at here, as the reprimand and results of the Public Editor’s investigation are being kept confidential with Wente presently looking like she gets to keep her job.
You see, these people all know each other. Most of them are friends. They have drinks together, dinner and give each awards. If you were to be critical of a colleague, boss or owner – especially publicly - you will almost certainly face career-affecting ramifications for the rest of your life. Conversely, if you play your political and social cards right you will get fantastic opportunities that others deserve more – I have also seen this happen. This is not a conspiracy or specific to any one industry or sector, it’s simply a logical result, a matter of scale as the reality of being Canada is a norm of small and largely centralized industries that are or share a monopoly. Well, the news media industry used to be similar to a monopoly but not really anymore thanks to social media. Perhaps the relationship between these two entities can be better understood if we think of social media as a multi-national corporate entity and major player on the scene, as they have almost no overhead and an army of 5 million interns with no editorial bottleneck.
Oh how the publishing industry in particular disdains bloggers, google and social media in general. To label many news media old guard as unimaginative slow adopters might be an understatement. Often I had to fight tooth and nail to get a media organization to even consider a Twitter account.
Also, to me, it is not a surprise to see that an artist has brought about this public discussion. Artists are, can be, outside of and included in every social class. Most successful artists are generally very methodical and focused on tasks, which Wainio certainly is. Slandering contemporary artists historically has limited success by virtue of the fact they are at least romanticized for quixotic efforts and alternative opinions. It can argued that is their job. Demeaning the artist blogger did not work for the Chinese government in regards to Ai WeiWei, so I’m not sure why the Globe & Mail and Margaret Wente thought the same approach to dismiss an outspoken artist blogger would work. The fact Wainio is protected in an academic setting and safely able to publicly list problems with a large and powerful public record is part of what being in a university is supposed to be all about – though I am sure the same could not be said for, say in this particular Wentegate issue, an economics, journalism or business program. Fine art in higher education still has a position of relative intellectual freedom because, I think, it is largely ignored in importance to the corporate and political influence over our higher education (I wish the same could be said for the art sector in general…).
So in steps the crowd, that unruly mob, the chattering classes, the chorus that can insist on accountability and answers (I am referring to those who read as well as write, as well as back up arguments with facts and references. sorry right wingers yelling at people in comment sections does not make you justified). A public editor, or even ombudsman and certainly most “customer complaint departments” is simply not good enough anymore to be trusted because when the top of the heirachry is rotten, it affects the rest of the culture of the organization.
So established Canadian media organizations, you close your eyes and ears to bloggers and social media at your peril. You are not too big to fail and as many downsized organizations have found out the online community tends to create elsewhere what is missing in your product. I’ve seen this happen as well.