Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oslo Terrorist is a Freemason

The suspected Oslo terrorist - Anders Behring Breivik - is currently depicted by the mainstream news as a "Christian Fundamentalist." While this may, or may not, be true (more probably not) some new information is currently surfacing about the man. This picture to the right depicts Breivik wearing the traditional Masonic apron of the Norwegian Order of Freemasons. You can read more about this Masonic order HERE.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fashion’s here but where’s the art? The AGO’s Massive Party, Toronto

If last night’s sold-out Massive Party, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s annual fundraiser, is anything to go by, fashion is most definitely the new art.

The Marchesa. Image:

A Massive Party-goer. Image: VoCA

This year’s theme was the slightly obscure Marchesa Luisa Casati, the celebrated Italian arts patron of the early 20th century. And at one point in the evening, she and her impressively costumed entourage did make an appearance in Walker Court. But theme aside, this year artistic director Bruno Billio fumbled.

In contrast to his enormous success last year, where he brought out plenty of fantastic and (importantly) surprising artworks and performances, - read my blog coverage of that event HERE - this year they were tepid at best. The only one worth noting was a fun photo-booth piece by art duo Camilla Singh and Walter Willems.

Walter and Camilla’s Maharaja Photo Booth. All images: VoCA

Artists Camilla Singh and Walter Willems.

If the point of Massive Party is to attract new audiences (which they did big-time this year, through Twitter, apparently) it seems a shame not to offer them a major art experience takeaway. So that was a bit of a let down.

Not that anyone else seemed to mind. People were having a grand time, and the fashion on display almost made up for the lack of artworks. This fearless fashion reflects a change on the Toronto art scene since even two years ago. My theory is that the condos going up downtown are supercharging the city with and exuberant new crowd, looking to party. Downtown is buzzing and young patron groups have sprung up at major arts institutions to court them. It seems to be working.

The ‘Marchesa’ and entourage makes her way through the crowd. It was a moment.

I remember how depressed it was to see girls in prom dresses at Massive Party even two years ago. This year, any such dresses were decidedly ironic. The crowd was a sea of hats, masks, heels and sparkles – a wonderful display of sartorial creativity.

Massive Party guests.

Call it the Tommy Ton effect. In any case, it’s just in time for a fashion moment, with McQueen’s artful fashions on view at the Met, and what’s sure to be the film of the summer, a doc on New York style-snapper Bill Cunningham, out soon.

Visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, HERE.

Where is Ai Weiwei?

It’s been over one week since Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested by the Chinese government at Beijing airport. He has not been heard from since and the government is accusing him of ‘economic crimes’.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Image:

Where is he? And why aren’t Canadians demanding to know?

Ai Weiwei is best known for his installation Sunflower Seeds, currently on view at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Each porcelain seed was made and hand painted by Chinese specialists working in Jingdezhen, emphasizing the labour that has gone into the project. As someone suggested to me recently, seeds are about potential growth. So you can imagine the impact of a hundred million seeds carpeting the Turbine Hall.

Ai Weiwei, from his Study of Perspective series. Image:

In 2007, he mounted Fairytale, an online campaign-slash-artwork that sent 1,001 Chinese to Documenta in Kassel, Germany that year. The piece that most displeased Chinese officials, however, was his installation (Untitled, 2011) and sound-based work (Remembrance, 2010) that commemorated the children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when their shoddily built schools collapsed. When Mr. Ai had visited Sichuan after this earthquake he was roughed up by police so terribly that he needed cranial surgery for his injuries.

Ai Weiwei’s detaiment is easy to ignore, of course. It doesn’t impact any of us on a daily basis here in Canada. But when you think about it, for an artist to be denied freedom of expression is an awful thing.

Sunflower Seeds at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall. Image:

Art is a language that opens minds. It pushes society forward. If it wasn’t for artists exploring and enriching the world through their art, whether dance, theatre, literature, architecture, visual arts, even fashion and cuisine, where would we be? Without the likes of boundary-pushing artists Robert LePage, DBC Pierre, Alexander McQueen, Ferran Adria, Olafur Eliasson to name only a few.

I would argue that the best art pushes boundaries the farthest.

So how can we, as Canadians sit by and ignore what is happening to Ai Weiwei?

Canada’s government - or at least the country’s cultural institutions - must come together to make a statement in protest.

Daina Augaitis, chief curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, was the first in Canada to denounce Ai Weiwei’s detention. I agree with Augaitis, who says that Canada needs to join the growing international movement calling on the Chinese government to release Mr. Ai.

Now there is a movement in the works in Toronto. STAY TUNED FOR MORE ON THIS.

And if you haven’t seen it, please watch his TED talk, HERE. There’s a good article that I recommend in the Independent, HERE.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thomas Hirschorn: Information Overload at the Power Plant

My experience with Thomas Hirschorn’s work is that it’s often about overkill. And It calls attention to the fake-ness of things, as if to suggest that what we assume is solid isn’t in fact all that stable. It’s just held together with tape, or made from cardboard.

Thomas Hirschorn, Das Auge, at the Vienna Secession, 2008. Images:

Thomas Hirschorn, Das Auge, at the Power Plant, Toronto 2011. Images:

He has said, “I’m interested in the ‘too much,’ doing too much, giving too much, putting too much of an effort into something. Wastefulness as a tool or weapon.”

I would describe his installation, Das Auge at Toronto’s Power Plant, as altogether too much. It seems as if Hirschorn is trying to incite the feeling one gets of being bombarded by too many advertisements, protests, commodities, soundbites, messages etc.

My favorite part of the installation, which occupies the entire large gallery space at the Power Plant, was the viewing platform, from which viewers can overlook the whole bloody mess, which takes as its main theme the seal hunt and the protesters who so vehemently rally against it.

He’s going for a kind of emptiness. He wants the viewer to feel the void within all the cacophony. And, to a certain extent we do. But it must be hard, as an artist, to balance that without actually making artwork that is empty and tiresome.

Hirschhorn was quoted in Frieze magazine as saying “Art doesn’t give satisfaction. Art poses problems. Art gives questions. Art inflicts sadness.”

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, The Phantom Truck, 2007. Image:

Whether Hirschorn makes the balance work is a moot point, though when you consider the entire exhibition, whose most interesting gesture was by curator Gregory Burke in pairing Hirschorn’s installation with a video and sculpture by Chicago-based Spanish artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, at the other side of the gallery.

In the front room was Always After (The Glass House), a video of broken glass accumulated after the windows of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Illinois Institute of Technology’s Crown Hall were smashed. The glass is being swept up by someone with a broom. In the back room, in almost total darkness was Phantom Truck (2007), an enormous, full-scale model of a truck, imagined by the artist as one that was carrying the elusive ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as described by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Visitors are invited to circle the entire truck touching it, even using it as a guide in the darkness. The work engages the imagination in a way that is unusual for contemporary art, aided by the sense of touch and the potency of the video of shattered glass.

Together with Das Auge, it neatly presented two perspectives on today: Information overload and lack of information.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Slutwalk Toronto & the Third Wave

I was fascinated by yesterday’s Slutwalk that took place in Toronto, and sorry that I wasn’t able to attend.

Slutwalk in Toronto yesterday. Image:

The walk attracted around 1,000 people and was arranged in part as a protest against comments by police Constable Michael Sanguninetti who, while speaking to students at York Unviersity, said “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

Women were outraged, and rightly so. It is an outrageous suggestion that women should bear the full responsibility in a case where sexual assault occurs. Even if she is dressing ‘like a slut’, surely the man must take responsibility for his own actions. I mean it’s hard to believe that Sanguinetti was actually serious.

With women brandishing placards that read ‘Slut Pride’ among other things, Slutwalk also has a refreshing third-wave feminist ring to it. Third wave feminism, comes after first and second wave, and is more focused on expression and acceptance of cultural, ethnic and sexual orientation than the previous two. At the same time, the third wave seems to have less of the defiance, the passion, the causes that first and second wave feminists stood for.

Les Fermieres Obsedees in performance. Image:

So Slutwalk was a great expression of passion by the women who took part. And it seems to be talking off, with upcoming Slutwalks across Canada in Sackville, Yellowknife, Ottawa, Vancouver and Hamilton. And in the States in Boston and Dallas.

I wonder if the organizers could harness the power of Slutwalk to generate some fire under women’s issues in the current Canadian federal election? I bet Michael Ignatieff would take some time to listen…

Speaking of feminism, one of my recent discoveries is the Quebec collective Les Fermieres Obsedees, a Quebec art collective made up of two artists, Annie Baillargeon and Eugenie Cliché.

Les Fermieres Obsedees in performance. Image:

They seek to create, in their um, unconventional performances, an effect that speaks to the mass standardization and lethargy of contemporary society. The group, always in uniform - but never pretty - create cross-disciplinary performances that are a clash of dance, theatre, music and visual art.

I hope they come to Toronto soon….

ATTN: Historical & Critical Studies Students. View on Canadian Art is recruiting contributors

Historical and Critical Studies was interested in getting the following distributed to NSCAD students. Below is a copy of the original email:

I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce myself - I'm a Toronto-based art writer and publisher of View on Canadian Art (VoCA), a blog on contemporary art in Canada.

I am presently in the process of expanding VoCA into an in-depth, cross-Canada online magazine on the visual arts.

VoCA will be recruiting regular contributors from cities across Canada, and I’d like to know whom to speak with about about the possibility of involving students at NSCAD.

In return for contributing to VoCA, students will receive a by-line, online bio and significant national and international exposure. Additionally, VoCA will archive articles indefinitely online.

Writing on contemporary art gives students a chance to broaden their outlook, develop a critical mindset vis a vis their own work (and that of others) and to become immersed in their local art community.

Please see for more information. The full VoCA website is presently in beta – it should be up and running in the next few months.


Andrea Carson
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