Friday, November 2, 2012

A Look at Living in 10 Easy Lessons in the Star

Last week, I met with artists Linda Duvall and Peter Kingstone at Gallery 44 to discuss their latest project, Living in 10 Easy Lessons.

I have been very intrigued by the unusual work that Duvall and Kingstone do in the art realm. In my view, they do attempt to push the boundaries of what art can be or what some folks call "social practice" can be.

I urge readers to check out their respective websites for information about their past works.

In terms of the present work, I found it interesting in the responses it raised for people including the Gallery 44 essayist for this show, cheyanne turions.

This prompted me to do a brief news item about the work for the Toronto Star. Here is an excerpt:

Successfully growing a small business — as a drug dealer. Developing effective people skills — as a panhandler. Protecting one’s life savings — as a sex worker.

These are job and life skills you won’t find in LinkedIn CVs or professional-development workshops.
But they are the kind of skills highlighted in the new — and controversial — art project “Living in 10 Easy Lessons” by local artists Linda Duvall and Peter Kingstone.

Recently opened at Gallery 44, “Living in 10 Easy Lessons” features videos of 10 street-involved women teaching the artists how to apply false eyebrows, get free drinks and fend off physical attacks, among other skills.

The project also includes posters with slogans that Duvall and Kingstone distilled from their lessons, like “Always put two on, girls” and “Do not be rude.” A free take-home booklet contains notes from all 10 videos. 

Street-involved people “are always being taught how to write a resumé and other things that may not help in their particular world,” Kingstone explains in an interview at the gallery. “And they know all this interesting information that no one is asking them about and is not being taught to anybody. It would be nice if we could start recognizing those skills.”

As should already be apparent, this article provides a scratching-the-surface view of the show. You can read on for the rest at the Toronto Star.

I didn't include my own views of the show in the Star, and kept it more "newsy," sort of.

One thing I noticed in my own reactions to the show is I felt the personalities of the women, and the strength of the women, came across best in the videos. Some of the awkwardness or tenseness of the interaction (as well as warmth and friendliness) came across best in that forum too. The videos were the best part of the show for me.

The posters and the booklet I understood the artists wanting to have in a didactic way, but in these text documents I missed seeing the women represent themselves more so than having the artists represent them. In the posters and booklet, the artists have more power over the representation of the women involved, to an extent that I felt the work became weaker and I was also more uncomfortable with the power dynamic.

I do appreciate the gallery, the artists and some commentators (turions and Ken Moffatt) taking time to talk with me. If you are interested in discussing the work, I urge you to attend a panel from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on November 14 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Co-organized with the Ryerson University Faculty of Community Studies along with the Graduate Program in Social Work, it promises to look at some of the thorny issues that this project raises. 

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