This past week I wrapped up a 10 day long project at the Visual Fringe (Festival) in Toronto. That was never in doubt. However, the evolvement of the space towards an eruption of collaborative work and the resulting potential for social / civic research was quite … unpredictable.
So, Dawn Buie and I decided to put up our own work in half the tent and that was that. I was super happy to be asked to participate and really had not been exhibiting much outside group shows and curating things.The price was right for the tent below, but then I learned a few months ago that we had to take down and pack away our stuff everynight – and to be prepared to have to move from tent to tent.
So that kinda nixed my idea to show some of my digital prints – not the right venue both practically and conceptually for this aspect of my studio work. But this was the Fringe Festival and, to my delight, I also learned that the “artist alley” was in the bar area and that lots of people come through.
What began as an idea for a couple of artists sharing a tent became The Volcano Research Station – a pollster / lobby effort to bring a volcano to Toronto. It was a performance and installation collaboration based on volcano imagery, reacting and changing to interactions and answers to our survey question “what area of Toronto do you think would benefit from having a volcano?”. We promised to send out results of our research when we “collated the answers”.
Dawn had been working with the concept of volcanoes, and I had a series of ongoing work on drawing images onto discarded paintings and prints. I remember, when we were talking about the tent, I suddenly envisioned a series of bucolic landscapes with volcanoes in the background. The VRS collaboration was born.
However, our description for our initial idea had already gone to print – but we were undaunted in our ongoing process of making this up as we along.
I have a bit of improv and theatre, and have been an active performance artist over my career, so building a pro-volcano character to dialogue with the public was a perfect fit to the project. My corporate, right wing “volcanoes bring jobs” alter ego (who is very reminiscent of my consultant work) emerged over the course of the festival. The degree of that really depended on the people we talked to.
We started offering tours of the VRS, and we made up stuff and/or borrowed and adapted each other’s stories. People would offer their own interpretations of the “volcano research” and share stories of volcanoes they saw or even climbed on. We used those too in our continued educational talks with the fringe public.
Dawn had a different approach so I don’t want to represent her work on this post (but you should check out our facebook for more of her documentation) but it was great to work with and off of someone who thinks so deeply and clearly – and was evolving her own character at the same time that was so good she ended up garnering real interest from some of the performance folk around.
For me, the volcano is a metaphor for industry. It represents the absurdity we condition ourselves to live with – constantly evolving conditions in our environment are quickly normalized by the society we live in. A hundred years ago, it would be absurd to propose that soon Lake Ontario would be polluted all to hell, or that cars would be everywhere, or that the night sky was rarely visible for most people. I feel like urban sprawl is probably something equally as horrifying, if we weren’t so adaptable as humans. It’s always been like this – except it hasn’t but no one remembers that.
Kinda like volcanoes. They are both new and sudden, or ancient and measurable but living with one is absurd to me – but not to the people who do live with volcanoes.
People know volcanoes and have an opinion of them even if they have never seen one. What most people have not thought about was having a volcano in Toronto and that question alone made this project very interesting – people thought about their community differently, even if for a minute. Some wanted to obliterate a section of the city they did not like and many suggested city hall as a location, as well as sacrificing the Mayor. Most wanted the volcano to be active.
Others were more practical and less like a vindictive god – suggesting the harbour or Toronto Island as a “safe” area and optimal for viewing. Still a few were outright horrified at the suggestion and saw no safe way to accommodate such a mega-project, even though I constantly reminded them that this would be “good for the economy”.
All very interesting.
I must add this was outdoors during a heat wave that turned into a drought – and still is – for our area of the world. Plus the commute into town from Hamilton, hanging and tearing down all the work everytime … I am happy I did not suffer heat stroke in the 40c weather. But I was very happy, once again, that we were inside the beer tent zone. It was like a week long vernissage.
In short, the harbourfront was the most popular choice for the volcano and for it to be active.
This project is ongoing.