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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Public Perusal

Bart Gazzola
Published Wednesday October 15, 06:33 pm
A pair of outdoor exhibits both aim for “mass” appeal

Remember the round dance flash mob at Midtown Plaza, during the early days of Idle No More? That got stifled faster than the Ghost Dance, but with typically Canadian passive-aggressive appeals to “order” instead of artillery (in theoryspeak it’s called Ideological State Apparatus instead of Repressive State Apparatus: softer, subversive measures are used instead of an obvious act of violence to silence dissent). Perhaps you’re following how the “God Loves Gay” billboards are being declined by corporations like Reagan Outdoor Advertising and YESCO, to avoid “controversy”: I hope they apply this policy equally to all provocative content.

It’s reminiscent of an exhibition curated by Robin Metcalfe for the Art Gallery of Windsor, when it resided in the Devonshire Mall. Named PUBLIC ORDER, it deconstructed those loaded terms deftly. All animals are equal but some are more equal than others, as some citizens are only citizens if they are consumers. Many public spaces are no longer public, but “pay as you go,” you might say. And before we don the artistic cloak o’ righteousness, let me paraphrase Indigo, an artist in Street Meet 2014, that art spaces are as classist and exclusionary as any other. Or, to channel my sporadic Marxist: “law and order are always and everywhere the law and order which protect the established hierarchy” (Marcuse).

David LaRiviere, the curator of the Anti Advertising Billboard project, employs a critical approach to the media landscape on a local and national level. The billboard on 20thStreet has seen its successes (Cathy Busby’s “Budget Cuts”) and its failures (Hadley and Maxwell) and it’s often dependent on whether the artist(s) in question understand the billboard as a unique space separate and different from a gallery wall, with a diverse audience that’s both unique and challenging.

In the words of one of the artists, Scott Massey, commercial billboards are “uncontested in the public sphere… a puzzling phenomenon when contrasted with the outspoken criticisms and laments from the public over some public art installations… visual advertising clutter are rarely discussed critically.”

Massey’s Outstanding Outdooremploys brevity and conciseness in his bastardizing — or correcting — of the well-known logo of Pattison (the prominent billboard rental company) to “Pollution.” It’s superficially crass and a bit insulting, but like any good “advertisement,” you’ll take it away to think about later. Insidious, those things that don’t just invade our public spaces, but also our mental ones! I’m unsure if this is moving into dangerous legal territory, though. The ideas of fair use and satire have been repeatedly attacked, and cowards who think “going along to get along” doesn’t mean irrelevance and failure define too many Artist Run Collectives.

 

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A completely different take upon public spaces, and distinct communities interacting therein, can be seen in the War of 1812 monument, Spirit of Alliance(River Landing).

We’re all (especially in cultural spaces) familiar with the revisioning of Canadian history that has marked the regime of The Harper Government. I attended a southern Ontario high school named after Laura Secord, and am familiar with Isaac Brock University — but to presume that 1812 has contemporary relevance in Treaty 6 territory is the kind of willful ignorance that builds a “human rights” museum on the Red River but denies “clearing the plains” with genteel and bureaucratic genocides. So, I expected a joke of a monument as shallow as our local federal political hucksters.

It’s good to be proven completely wrong in this work, realized by Adrian Stimson, Hap Grove and J.S. Gauthier.

Saskatchewan artists and curators have demonstrated deftness in taking ideologies imposed from other places and reconfiguring them to a local and national relevance — sometimes, as I think could be said with Spirit, in a manner that the PMO did not intend, or even desire. Some words from the plethora of media around this: “While Western Canada is unconnected to the War of 1812 through place, it is significant to the history of Western Canada because of the contribution of its people. The history of the War of 1812 is just as much about building what would later become the nation of Canada as it is about the solidifying of Canadian identity. The contribution of the multicultural allies remains a significant — and un-commemorated — part of this story… History has not properly recognized the contribution of individuals whose descendants now reside in Western Canada…First Nations such as the Dakota, Métis, Francophone and Anglophone Canadians, Ukrainians, German, and the British, among others.”

The figures depicted are Chief Wabasha, Ista Totowin / Helen Dickson and Col. Robert Dickson (Ista holds the hand of one of their children), all within the tepee, with implications of openness, exchange and respect of difference but acknowledgement of commonalities. Four interpretative panels encircle the scene, varying between a description, listing allies and descendants, petroglyphic decoding and Oyate history circa 1812, and also elaborating on alliances, treaties and failures therein.

I don’t want to say too much about the piece itself, but instead suggest you experience it yourself. Whenever I’ve been to see it there’s been a diverse mix of people interacting with it, and considering Massey’s aforementioned “criticisms and laments,” Spiritsucceeds in attaining that rarefied artistic air, but more importantly resonates when encountered by various citizens from multiple “spaces.”

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