Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Big Three Killed my $25-Billion Baby

Ever since I read about the auto industry's bailout request, I'm having problems getting this tune out of my mind:

You gotta hand it to the White Stripes for rhyming "my baby's my common sense" and "so don't give me planned obsolescence", dontcha now?

In terms of other artists addressing the auto industry and related topics, I must say that for some time I've wished--and wished hard--that someone in pipeline-rich Alberta would do a show on the oil industry.

Admittedly, this would be in the vein of potential insanity for any Alberta-based curator. The bulk of the people in Alberta are employed one way or another by the oil industry, and while gas prices are dropping at the pumps, there's still a major labour shortage there as a result. (Every shop and restaurant I went into during my past weekend there was hiring.) Though the show I'm thinking of would include criticism-free historical pics and paintings of the industry, it's likely any such show might be perceived as too critical of the business that keeps cash in Albertans' pockets.

Also, I realize from my time at the Trade Secrets conference that such an exhibition would likely be considered too didactic and "cur-auteur"-ial. Yet if the oil industry is something many are connected to and concerned with, and there are artists making relevant work (Ed Burtynsky, Rita McKeough and Terence Koh just to name a few), where's the harm in doing topical exhibitions?

Granted, some of the reluctance to do such a show in Alberta, is, as I noted, politically and funding oriented. In the east, we've already seen "1973: Sorry Out of Gas" at Montreal's Canadian Centre for Architecture, and next week will see a show called "Rig: Designs for the Fuel Transition" open at Toronto Free Gallery. (It's related to the launch of the latest Alphabet City book bridging art, design and politics--this time around the topic of "Fuel".) Interestingly, artists working around the oil-rich area of Aberdeen, Scotland, have exhibited works on the oil industry that fall along the length of the political spectrum. (See here, here and here for a few examples.)

One day, whether it's considered "good curating" or not, I would hope for a similar exhibition in Calgary or Edmonton to spur public conversations on this "invisible hand" of Alberta life. With many museums being encouraged to reposition themselves as "community hubs" what could be more relevant?

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