07w11:1 The Fantastics

by timothy. 11 Comments


The Fantastics of Ignorance

This Goodreads is in part of confession of ignorance, and how wonderful things can be when you don’t have the full picture. Which is to say, they’re fantastic when not dulled by the acquired cynicism of ‘an inside story’. And perhaps it is by coming to the experience initially ignorant, having that wonderful first impression, that the further nuance associated with it doesn’t diminish its glow.

Two of the items discussed here refer to art exhibitions on in Toronto presently, which is to encourage any of you for whom it is possible to visit them.

These four fantastics are presented in the order in which I experienced them.

I. Fantastic One | Darren O’Donnell at CCL1

Darren O’Donnell’s work over the past couple of years has been fantastic. His Suicide Site Guide to the City wowed me when I saw it in 2005, and apparently this was because of the ignorance mentioned above, as Kamal Al-Solaylee wrote in his review at the time ‘…only audiences who haven’t been to the theatre in say, a few decades, are expected to be dazzled by the presentation’. I admitted in my review that I was one of such an audience. Yet, how could we not appreciate Haircuts by Children or Ballroom Dancing for Nuit Blanche?

In an arts scene riven by competition and jealousies, Darren’s work is something that we all seem to appreciate without such pettiness. I recently attended the latest production from his theatre company, Diplomatic Immunities: THE END and was genuinely touched: Ulysses Castellanos singing Queen’s `We are the Champions` at the end of the show almost made me cry. This was the song voted on by children at a local school to be that which they wanted to hear at the End of the World. (My vote at the present time is either The Beatles’ `Tomorrow Never Knows` or `Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)` and as I listen to them nowadays I imagine it playing over the footage of this video.)

But what is it about Darren’s work along these lines that is so generally fantastic? For me it highlights what is perhaps a greater shift in our culture, which is a movement toward an interest in ‘real life’ (and to that end, reality-tv represents this transition, by using non-actors but still tying them to some sort of narrative structure). The work of Darren’s theatre troupe, Mammalian Diving Reflex, forgoes an explicit narrative structure and seemingly let’s that emerge on it’s own.

Here, I’m most inspired by a snippet of dialogue from a Star Trek show. In the Enterprise episode ‘Dear Doctor’ which first aired in January 2002, there’s a scene depicting movie-night on the starship; while watching ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ a 1943 film being shown in that time-frame of 209 years from its creation, the character Ensign Cutler asks the alien Doctor Phlox, ‘They don’t have movies where you come from do they?’ He replied, ‘We had something similar a few hundred years ago, but they lost their appeal when people discovered their real lives were more interesting’.

Now, imagine living on Phlox’s planet during that time of transition, when people were discovering their own lives were more interesting. Wouldn’t that time resemble our own, with diminishing box office returns, reality-tv programing undermining celebrity culture, a global communications network allowing for unedited dialogue within varying degrees of privacy, and the rise of the documentary genre in popularity?

This statement was typed out initially by a scriptwriter in Los Angeles at the beginning of this decade and perhaps was meant both as an inside joke to Star Trek‘s fanbase (Shatner’s ‘Get a Life‘ skit from his 1986 appearance on Saturday Night Live) and reflecting the concern of Hollywood that they would lose their market. Three years later, Enterprise was cancelled, the only franchise since its resurrection twenty years ago to not last through seven seasons.

Leaving DI: The End four weeks ago I was convinced that our own lives were definitely more interesting. The performance incorporated an element of chance in its selection of two audience members during the course of the evening for interviews by the cast and attendees; on the night I was there, I was stunned by the answers given by the second girl chosen, who told us of saving the life of one of her friends during a climbing accident years before. Also, when asked a question along the lines of ‘why are we here’ she gave such an unexpectedly Buddhist/Eastern Tradition answer that I found myself saying ‘wow’.

The point made for me was that this girl, who had simply been someone sitting in the aisle in front of me, had a much more dramatic world inside her than anything I’m ever offered by fictional constructions, and I took this knowledge onto the street, walking with my companion who was someone new in my life and hence still full of mystery, and saw everyone around me with a new appreciation for our variety, our potential, and of the unknown masterpieces of real life.

This past Thursday, I attended Darren’s opening at The Centre of Leisure and Culture No. 1, Video Show for the People of Pakistan and India which consists of an approximately twenty-minute video and chapbooks of the blog Darren kept while on tour in Pakistan and India late last year. I’ve prompted Darren to place this video online eventually, and if and when that happens I’ll follow through with the link.

At the time of Darren’s trip, I was moved to contact CBC’s The Current because I’d recently heard an interview (begins at 7:45min) with the 24 year old Afghani woman Mehria Azizi who was doing a tour through Canada showing a documentary she’d made about women’s lives in her homeland. This had been one of the more insightful things I’d been exposed to with regard to this part of the world. I imagined Anna Maria Tremonti asking Darren about his conversation with Mike the soldier on the plane, or asking for stories from Darren’s experience with the humanity of these people. I figured it would have fit into The Current’s mandate as I understood it: to educate, to inform, to bring us perspective. Darren’s work deserved this national audience. There was a bit of a followup from someone who was going to forward the info to a producer but in the end nothing came of it. Meanwhile, due to the unreliableness of the CBC’s internet stream, and what I see as too much focus on Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan, I’ve avoided listening to The Current at work for the past couple of months, preferring instead France Culture or the BBC. I did catch the broadcast the other day of their self-flagellation on under and mis-reporting the story of Global Warming. Anna Maria was somewhat bothered by a statement of one of the scientists: ‘never underestimate the illiteracy of reporters’.

The following morning, (that of March 9th) the CBC included in its news roundup the visit by Canada’s Governor General to the troops in Afghanistan, and there was something said about ‘putting a human face’ on the story (mov and realmedia). What’s unfortunate is that Michaëlle Jean, who in the past has seemed an intelligent, well informed woman, was responsible for the stupidest statements in the report. ‘There’s no future without women …’. No shit. But perhaps the real fault lies with the editors of the video, or the fact that she used to be a reporter.

The evening before I’d been to Darren’s show to see the Pakistan video, the talk of putting a human face struck me as more this meaningless political rhetoric. Why are all these human faces those from Canada? Where do we ever see the human faces of the people we’re supposedly helping? How is their humanity ever brought to our attention? The fact that Darren could undermine the agenda of Canada’s national broadcaster with a 20 minute video perhaps suggests just how under-served we are by photo-ops, predictable rhetoric, focus on soldiers, and all the other regular bullshit. My understanding of the situation and of the people involved has been greatly enhanced by Darren’s first-person and personal reporting and the fact that the CBC found him fit only for their hipster-oriented Definitely Not the Opera kind of suggests how little they take his work seriously … something silly for the kids right?

II. Fantastic Two | Monks in the lab

I watched/listened to this video on Friday at work, and it was fantastic. I especially liked the idea that the effect of mediation was to practice (and thus grow new neurons) paying attention to autonomic processes, which allows us to have greater awareness of our emotions and perceptions, so that we do not need to find ourselves ‘out of control’ or ‘swept away’ by strong impulses. In my dream of the future, I want children to be taught meditation in kindergarten, as an essential life skill, just as much as doing your physical exercises and learning your maths.

Monks in the Lab | Buddhist Media.com

( Real Player Broadband Link)
( Real Player Narrowband Link)
( Windows Media Player)

III. Fantastic Three | Zin Taylor at YYZ

As I’ve noted about Darren’s work, that it seems to miraculously inspire more admiration than jealousy, the work of Zin Taylor could be accused of inspiring more jealousy than admiration. Consider the facts as they appear: part of the Guelph university educated elite clique, he gets to be in show after show in prestigious galleries with work that is sometimes weak (the piece at The Power Plant in 2005 for example) and Taylor’s continual presence in the Toronto art scene PR seems to be attempting to break the record established by Derek Sullivan. Both artists appear to have been elevated to that collection of what seems like the less than ten artists who are overexposed in Toronto and who are continually asked to ‘represent’ this city of millions to others and to itself.

And so it was with ambivalence that I went down to the YYZ opening on Friday night; a chance to drink beer, be social, see some people I like to talk to and consider friends, and be ignored by those who used to say hi to me but now just think I’m an asshole or something. I wasn’t at all expecting Taylor’s video to win me over as it did, and it is now on my highly recommended list.

And yet, my appreciation for this work was based on my ignorance of its subject matter. I recall seeing years ago the call for submissions from the Yukon asking for artists to come on up and be inspired. I also recall hearing that Allyson and Zin, two artists I’d recently met through a friend, had been chosen to go. And so I knew over the past few years that Allyson and Zin had a connection to the Yukon and that they were making work about it.

With Put your eye in your mouth (which a friend suggested meant ‘digest what you see’) Zin has made a sort of fake documentary on a fake thing: Martin Kippenberger’s metro-net station in Dawson City. Now, my ignorance here was based on being familiar with Kippenberger’s name but not his work, so when watching the video, I thought Zin had seen this structure and made up an elaborate history for it, tying it to some art-star’s name in order to get in the trendy props to the masters. Turns out the Metro-Net was legit (also here), and yet this only diminishes by a bit the overall video, which is still fantastic. It is this type of elaborated imagination that I want to experience with art, and in as much that conceptual art usually goes for obscure one-liner cleverness, I hate it for its denial of the imagination. Now, considering Taylor’s background from Canada’s new conceptual It-School, I suppose I can say he’s showing that you can be both conceptual and imaginative, and the product is better for it.

IV. Fantastic Four | Kuchma’s Thrush Holmes reviews

The suspicions I had of Zin Taylor’s elaborate imagining of what could have been ‘the mine-shaft entrance’ follows on January’s suspicions that the opening of Thrush Holmes Empire was part of an elaborate joke.

There’s been talk in the scene of it being some kind of hoax, and personally I thought this was the case. I was trying to keep my mouth shut about it all, not wanting to ruin it, but now that I’ve been assured that this is not a masterpiece-parody on the art world constructed by Jade Rude and Andrew Harwood (the co-directors of the Empire space) (‘they’re not that clever’ I was told), I guess I share my disappointment that this really is the work of a presumptuous and pretentious young man who makes terrible work. As I said at the opening in January, ‘if this work is a parody, it’s a masterpiece, but if it’s legit I feel sorry for the guy’. In other words, in my ignorance, I imagined a fantastic scenario in which Jade and Andrew had collaborated on making quick, easy, and lazy work to fill up wall space in time for the opening, and hired an actor to play Thrush Holmes (which plays too close to the great 90’s indie-rock band Thrush Hermit). No mother names their son Thrush, so whoever this guy is, his wallet certainly doesn’t contain ID linking him closely with Joel Plaskett’s 90s project.

(A Thrush Hermit Aside

Seeing Ian McGettigan cover The Wire’s ‘I am the Fly’ in 1999 was part of the reason I gave up watching live music once I moved to Toronto – nothing would ever top that, and I prefer to have my indie-music memories packaged around my experience in Halifax rather than have continued on with the ringing ears of today’s stuff. Even though that meant I missed out on seeing the shit like this live).

The only person who seems to be addressing this Thrush Holmes issue is Michael Kuchma.

As I mentioned in the last Goodreads, I was part of a panel discussion at Toronto’s Gallery 1313 on art criticism. I had a good time and it was well attended despite being both a Monday and the weather being less than conducive to a social gathering. (The event was recorded and will potentially be made available as a podcast, and if/when that happens I’ll send out a link). During the Q&A, I was asked a question from a fellow in the audience who later identified himself via a comment on the BlogTo blurb writen by fellow panelist Carrie Young the day after.

Michael Kuchma is trying to write some thoughtful criticism about the Toronto scene and I glad that I was able to learn about it through these circumstances. I appreciate his take not only on the Thrush Holmes stuff but also on the Toronto scene in general, and I also appreciate seeing the influence of the panel talk in his writing: I guess it was worth something in in the end.

In the second link (‘why we Should…’) make note of point number 3:

Perhaps some fear that Holmes is orchestrating a brilliant art-stunt, and that passing judgment right now puts one in the vulnerable position of looking stoooopid and hasty on the day when Holmes comes clean with his Machiavellian master plan.

This is pretty much why I’ve kept quiet for this long, not wanting to ruin for everybody, and wanting to see Garry Michael Dault embarrassed for ‘falling for it’ as he had a positive review in the Globe & Mail on the day after the opening. (Why would I like to see Dault with egg on his face? Because Dault’s work as a critic is worthless – his reviews are almost always positive, unless he dares insinuate that someone has skills, at which point they are dismissed as being ‘illustrative’). A hoax or not, Kuchma’s thoughts on the whole matter are the most substantial I’ve come across and I’m glad he’s putting them out there.

Seenster | Michael Kuchma

Thrush Homes Walks a Razor Thin Line | Michael Kuchma (Feb 28 2007)

Why we SHOULD talk about Thrust Holmes | Michael Kuchma (March 7 2007)

Long links made short by using Shorty (http://get-shorty.com)
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11 Responses to 07w11:1 The Fantastics

  1. Timothy says:

    Partial Comment Received by Email 1:

    […] Funny that you mentioned the Thrush Holmes gallery. I actually finally
    popped in to check it out for the first time yesterday on a gallery
    stroll. I’m glad I saw it before reading your thoughts on it, because I
    agree with you 100%. It’s complete shite. The space and concept are both
    terrific, but the work is insipid luke warm bath water that would have
    found a better home in Yorkville. In fact, most of the art I saw yesterday
    along Queen W -(my hood)- had that well-polished but completely unengaging
    living room illustration quality that rich dum people like Marla whatever
    (pink toy purse dog TV show host, wife of the Corel owner) would buy.
    Anytime I see the shit they show in most of the galleries around Toronto,
    it always reminds me of a certain aspect of what I don’t like about this
    city, country, etc… but then again, it’s the law of averages, NYC has
    even more polished shit per capita, but more than their share of the best
    of the best. […]

    Love the Enterprise reference. I liked that show a lot, especially the
    third season… the fourth had some good stuff too, but they knew they
    were getting the axe, so the stories starting reflecting an urgency at
    wrapping things up and connecting to ideas in the future timeline series.

    As for the Sgt. Peppers reprise/outro … I like that tune as well-
    doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the intro. The only thing is that
    you’d need a medley of tunes to go with that meteor video since the song
    is only, like 2 minutes. Personally, I would find, as I always do- the
    hushed, rushed voice of a Japanese woman speaking in her native tongue
    reassuring on its own,, but that’s just me. Just as long as I don’t have
    to listen to some friggin radio DJ play REM in our last moments. You know
    the song.

  2. Timothy says:

    Partial Comment Received by Email 3:

    i thought i was the only one who has CBC cutting out on me. it’s ridiculous – why can’t they get a webstream that works. fucking ckln can!!

    and, yeah, the dnto thing was stupid.

  3. Timothy says:

    Comment Received by Email 4:

    Dear Timothy

    I really enjoyed this issue, and I’ll make a point of getting to see
    Zin’s work …

    For me, this piece below crystalizes a sense of what Toronto is right
    now than any other writing I’ve come across this new year.
    [I’ve begun to notice] that folks really want to talk about Toronto
    in no uncertain terms. Themselves. Those near them. I find it truly
    exciting. Kelly Mark and David Liss got into a heated argument at
    an event I saw, about how Toronto fits into a Canadian art context.
    I wonder if this isn’t a move to pin our complex character down as
    an art scene. To commit to something in some way.
    I’ve been wondering a lot lately, is there a Toronto School? Who is
    part of it? Who is writing about it?

    In any case, thanks for framing the scene in the city right now. I
    really enjoy your perspective and think you’re right on the money.

  4. Darren O'Donnell says:

    Hey Tim,

    Thanks for the wonderful coverage. You’re the greatest. And to your 3rd emailer above: yeah, the segment was a little silly, but I’ll take fully responsibility for that. They asked me to do something, I did my Out of My League piece, thinking that we would talk about some of the broader implications and tie it into my wider practice and thinking on the idea of Beautiful Civic Engagement but – as is the case in the real world – time is short and depth is lacking. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never listened to DNTO, it’s too chipper for me but, if i had – and i should have – i would have understood what they do and maybe been better able to respond. As such, I walked right into being a sort of novelty act. live and learn.

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