Monday, October 31, 2005

Cultural Engagement

Originally uploaded by Man_Overboard.
So, I've had a few days in Toronto and, as is my habit, I traversed the streets looking for scenes of cultural activity, like art galleries, bookshops, cinemas and libraries. In my walking about, I think I found some "art" that completely transcends anything I have seen before in terms of fatuousness. I found myself, after a long walk, on the waterfront (of Lake Ontario), outside Harbourfront - which bills itself as "Canada's foremost centre for contemporary culture". Admittedly, they were running the rather splendid International Festival of Authors - with three authors who were recently longlisted for the Booker (Julian Barnes and both Zadie and Ali Smith) along with other authors I'd have loved to see, had I been better organised - Jonathan Safran Foer, John Irving and Rick Moody.

Poking my nose in the door, I was convinced that this bastion of modern culture must be closed - in one room, I could see absolutely nothing at all, just bare space. In another, there was a pile of old furniture - great for if you wanted to start a cafe with a bunch of odd tables and chairs, all wooden, all fairly old so (my prejudices tell me) well made. But no art, at least as far as I could see.

Luckily, a fellow came to the door to enlighten me. The empty room was the work of a Belgian artist, Joëlle Tuerlinckx. If I'd read the website before going, I might have been warned:
In her Toronto exhibition, Tuerlinckx will show a number of interrelated works, among them a large inventory of ephemera from the artist’s previous exhibitions whose rigorous cataloguing and minute description belie the fact the actual ‘objects’ can be inconsequential scraps—invitation cards from the gallery’s other exhibitions for example--or things that are simply not there at all.
As it happens, she was concentrating on the latter category: as the fellow who opened the door for me said, "she didn't bring much, well anything, with her, she just papered the wall [with plain white paper]". Now I see that that paper will be taken down and made into an "atlas" - which she says is a record of the "crust" of the exhibition space.

As for the piled up used furniture, well that was Geoffrey Farmer's work, called "A Pale Fire" - my informative friend told me that the artist had brought it all over from Vancouver, and would be burning the occasional item. As the website says (after saying that the exhibition was a commentary on Nabakov's Pale Fire in that it was not, because it was really about the work of a French writer (Xavier Veilhan's Le Feu):
The furniture is amassed in an installation that is slowly transformed through the progressive dismantling and combustion of its individual pieces. Each day these pieces of furniture are set alight using a broadsheet with politically related texts and manifestos.
I thought I was remarkably restrained in not deploying one of my current favourite words - bollocks - although I could not prevent myself from laughing at the balderdash I was being fed. I do suspect that the fellow sensed my disbelief, because he did tell me of a third artist whose work was being exhibited, someone he said had actual paintings on show, paintings which sounded quite interesting but whose work I refused to see as it meant spending money which would support the other bollocks. But looking around the net, I suspect I would really have liked to see the paintings by Ignacio Iturria. They're kind of freaky - his general idea is to render humanity as dwarfed by its creations, so there is this really cool picture of an old vintage radio, with a couple of people no more than an inch high, pointing in apparent amazement at it.

At the time, however, I decided that I would have a better cultural experience by going to the nearest shopping centre - which I did, and bought this really geeky tie, which features imprints of old insurance contracts. Now I have to dare myself to wear it, after being chastised recently for some of the poor taste ties I've been wearing around the place.