New series of prints for some special people

014It 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.

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Who watches the opacity? Art & activism in the shadow of big industry

I thought I was alone these last couple of years watching in awe the monstrous, billowing, sky creatures of Hamilton’s industrial sector.

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Oh, I know Hamilton is and has long been an area of fascination for artists both casual and professional. Most of what I’ve seen (and much of my own work) is based on the ground up i.e structures and landscapes. But just above that is another landscape entirely – and I’ve been referring to the airspace above the industrial sector as “landscape” because what is going on up there is far too solid and far too much a permanent fixture to be called anything else.

I look for the flames when I cross into Hamilton from work, and I’ll always glance to the air above the architecture to see what is billowing where … and just marvel at how large and, literally, “opaque” these are. Night and day, though wind and rain, I would explore vantage points and study these shapes. I started to take pictures, then time lapse pictures, then movies, then collages… and now, thousands of photos later my first exhibit with this series of work opens tomorrow at 173 James Street North. Both formal and a flight of fancy influenced by a healthy dose of local activism and politics, I started to anthropomorphise the emissions as kind of creatures of mythology. (Is “anthropomorphise” the right word? I’m not sure as technically I am ascribing qualities of non-humans, greek gods, to non-human emissions… )

The relationship, for me, drew similarities to what I assume living among titans and gods would of been like. Huge and obvious, dominating and affecting the landscape yet uncaring and oblivious to gnats like me frittering away at the edges. Sure, I can indirectly communicate with the people operating this machinery, but that is also a claim of priests and oracles at any temple. There are always prophecies of doom and of hope flying about in classical mythology, as there are in Hamilton council and on the local chorus – twitter. I could go on, but that’s basically how my mind always keeps connecting things on me and then I tend to go “deep into the rabbit hole” with work and research. And that’s how I arrived at this collection of digital prints, my first solo exhibit in many years. It’s called “Uranus of Hamilton” – and yes, I know. The name has a few different stories to it, though it is the correct name as this 7 work exhibit refers to the creation mythology of Ancient Greece.

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Anyways, so I thought I was alone out there watching for industrial emissions because of their visual qualities. But I was not alone – here’s a recent CBC Hamilton news article about Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, who was out there around the same period “documenting and photographing the emissions for months”.  I didn’t know there were laws on the opacity of industrial emissions, and it’s neat to think that what I saw as formally fascinating yet rationally horrifying was kinda validated by this unfolding environmental story.

I am very impressed with Lukasik and local residents for their work on this, and very grateful. It’s a real effort, I think, to break out of our accustomed blind-spots that build up over time and prevent us from seeing some of the absurdity right in front of our eyes. These titans of industry are no slouches – they know what they are doing and they know how to minimize the perception of their presence. For example, I can’t get anywhere inside the industrial sector – I once got in trouble by three security guards for standing on patch of corporate lawn to take a picture of a statue. Public parking is also non-existent in that area and they spend a lot of time and money doing marketing and PR based on charities and the arts.

As thick and opaque as Dafasco’s industrial emissions, this kind of practice shields their activities from most citizens by associating what we are seeing with warm and fuzzy feelings about community and jobs and things like that. Adding insult to injury is the fact that they are spending millions on marketing while receiving millions to keep the plants open. They are also not spending the millions government is spending to clean up toxic areas such as Randal’s Reef.

This asymmetrical scale of priorities and responsibilities is a neat trick of smoke and mirrors. I learned it takes full time dedication from patient and perceptive locals to see through it and be able to change the titan’s behaviour. I, on the other hand, was only observing the titan behaviour.

Some more work from that series is in this post, but not of the works in the exhibit though. You’ll have to show up sometime with April 12th to May 6th to see those.


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Bonus: I’ve included a sort of “hidden” work in the gallery that is based on the below raw footage of Tartarus.