Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Le Sigh: Pulp Fiction and the Phenomenon of Ambivalent Enjoyment

So I finally went to see Pulp Fiction at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art last weekend (it opened June 26, and closes August 23).

And I'm writing this post to talk a bit about why I held off on seeing it for so long, as well as the resulting ambivalent enjoyment I experienced.

Basically, this travelling show, which debuted at Museum London in southwestern Ontario in July 2008, was designed to examine a particular subgenre of youngish art, partly grown out of London, Ontario, that works with hand-made and comic-book aesthetics. Think a Gen-X/Y R Crumb mashed up with Royal Art Lodge and hanging out with Marc Bell, and that's a little taste of where the artists in the show are kind of coming from.

Part of the reason I put off seeing the show was a fear of being disappointed. I've actually had enjoyed a lot of works from artists in the show in the past, like Seth Scriver and Jason McLean. I was also excited to see works from people I had only heard about, like Amy Lockhart and Liz Garlicki. I just worried that seeing them all together would be too much--that the quirk of these genre practitioners would lose its appeal when presented as one solid block of zeitgeist.

The show, curated by Corinna Ghaznavi, actually succeeds this challenge, at least satisfactorily so. Scriver's video here, Asphalt Watches, which I'd never seen before, is a highlight—-a hilariously psychedelic take on a real-life hitchhiking trip across Canada. Seeing more of McLean's paintings on everyday objects was really worthwhile (liked the briefcase a lot). And Lockhart's film Walk for Walk didn't disappoint—-it was like the old Monty Python sketch "Silly Walks" but featuring a series of fantastical animated creatures of all descriptions (and ridiculous foley effects) in a video-game inspired landscape. Quite enjoyable, even if its impossible for each artist to really get their due.

The misanthropy lurking behind my enjoyment, however, I think had to do with the way we understand (or misunderstand) art geographies in Canada. I felt a little like "Well, now that this show is on in Toronto (rather than London, or Winnipeg, or Halifax), many members of the media will sit up and take notice of some of these artists. But if the show only stayed in London, or Winnipeg, or Halifax, the bulk of our national media wouldn't really care as much--even if the work was just as good."

What do you think? How do you deal with Toronto-centrism in the Canadian art scene and art media (of which I am, admittedly, a wonderfully misanthropic member)?

Still from Amy Lockhart's Walk for Walk from canadianart.ca


Anonymous said...

Same goes for paying gigs writing about art; no audience there.(There, pertaining to Toronto as well)

Anonymous said...

yeah it's true showing in a smaller city feels like it doesn't have the same status. Canada is a big country and if the show isn't touring reporters should have budgets to travel. What it should come down to is the quality and the originality of the work and not necessarily the geographic placement. I think it is nice to hear a TO critic questioning these things.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous I to Anonymous II:
Originality? Quality? I would hesitate to impose such words on contemporary art.

Leah Sandals said...

Hey Anonymouses...

Thanks for your comments. I was quite unsure whether I should post on this matter, being an imperfect part of that ol' imperfect art media system, after all. But you've made me think that's worth acknowledging at least.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you brought up geography, Leah. My biggest problem with the show is in its negligence in addressing geography and community. These artists are part of communities that are local and ad-hoc itinerant, but these relationships aren't fleshed out by the curator. A museum show would seem to be the place to do it, but instead we get a big show full of eye candy (and don't get me wrong, the work is great. You forgot to mention Barry Doupe, so good!). I expected more.

As for the fact that it's in Toronto, I take your point. I would add that, for example, even though Vancouver is a centre of the activities of many of these artists, the art scene there doesn't even fully embrace them. The institutional support for this kind of work is few and far between. Geography is pretty slippery when it comes to what constitutes signal work in a region's art scene, and it only gets more complicated when the work travels to a centre like Toronto.

Balsam Adhesives said...

I think "The Lions" and Delong the only artists that actually live in Vancouver now unless I am forgetting somebody. Shifting and changing.

I don't think this is a definitive representation of this "scene" (if you could even call it that) as I see it but that would have been impossible as everyone would have their own interpretation of the goings ons (as the curator, Chorinna, has had hers).

Balsam Adhesives said...

And it's true: I agree with Nick about the show in that it would have been interesting to give the viewer more insight into where the work is "from".

I only saw the show in Loondon, Ont but I presume it's pretty much the same.

Unknown said...

Good point, Marc. I hope that the "a centre" was clearly differentiated from "the" centre. True that Delong and The Lions are some of the few artists that currently reside in Vancouver (I would add Barry Doupe and Shayne Ehman to the list), but certainly the city has made a major contribution to the larger "scene" (I'll put it in quotes too-- doesn't do it justice), as has London, ON, Winnipeg, Halifax...

But you raise an important point, that the geographies are always shifting and changing, yet it seems to me that many of the artists involved are pretty tight-knight. This is something I'd like to see addressed.

Anonymous said...

Oops, was logged into my girlfriend's google by accident!
- Nick Brown

Leah Sandals said...

Hey guys,

Thanks for your comments...

Yeah, I didn't even get into how the people in this show, like many artists, have moved around and can be quite dispersed.

I still think though that the point about the show debuting elsewhere, and then getting more attention when it arrives in Toronto, is what I'm trying to get at -- even though a few of these artists now live in Toronto as well!

Balsam Adhesives said...

Well, I suppose Toronto is the NY of Canada after all. Just a sad fact maybe that that is where most of the attention goes. And, in a sense we don't have an "LA" to counter balance it and nothing in between. Vancouver's mentality is too small- town and concerned mainly with it's pride and joys: photo conceptualism and conceptualism and how beautiful it is there. That is not as cheeky as it sounds, it's nice there.

Sometimes I wish artists gathered more in some of the smaller places in Canada and drew a stronger amount of attention to those kind of places but here I am in Montreal and so I can't claim that one.

This could all have to do with how spread out we are. It's all kind of few and far between.

None of my "tight knit" scene is here where I live in Montreal. I am probably more disconnected from any semblance of an "art scene" than I have been anywhere. I have no idea what goes on here other than silk screen posters (that's an exxageration but...).

Balsam Adhesives said...

I don't want to split hairs but if I must (haw): Ehman has moved from (my old place in) Vancouver to somewhere in BC I think. I was counting Doupe as part of the Lions. He is, isn't he? I am pretty "tightly knit" with about half of the other artists in the show.

Balsam Adhesives said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Balsam Adhesives said...

Sorry I am going on a bit but,
Nick: Despite my teasing of Vancouver it did have a lot do with much of this work, of course. Many of the artists lived there or live there now. I find that it isn't such a BAD thing if a city doesn't really bother with you that much, it suited me fine in Vancouver. Jason Mclean, on the other hand, did have a good and reasonable amount of success in the city with commercial galleries and the like (maybe some of the Lions too?) and so I shouldn't white wash it. So anyway, blah blah! hah. Thanks for listening.

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Marc,

Thanks for your provocative comments! Gives me a lot to think about... makes me wonder what different people's psychogeographic art maps of Canada would look like.

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