Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Sad State of Art Writing in St. John's

I apologise for how St. John's-centric this is, but I just have to address Steve Bartlett's recent piece about Cathia Finkle's MEN at RCA Visual in the April 5th-11th edition of the Express.

Yikes. What a mangle job. If this is the kind of visual art writing that exists in St. John's then no wonder the public is so apathetic. If you haven't read it, consider yourself lucky. If you have read it then you know what I'm talking about.

Bring back Arts Atlantic. Please!

The Strange Case of Mathieu Beausejour

Beausejour arrived in St. John's the night of a giant snow storm. We had arranged for him to be picked up at the airport but decided that there was no way any flight would be landing in the middle of a blizzard, so the person appointed to pick him up (after some discussion) elected not to go.

As it turned out, of course, Beausejour did indeed arrive in Newfoundland that night and had to take a taxi into downtown St. John's, much to the surprise of everyone involved in his welcoming committee.

A Montreal artist, Beausejour has made his name from engaging with political and artistic history from a decidedly anarchist viewpoint. That is to say, he likes to fuck shit up. His art practice generally consists of traveling to a destination, doing research about the given area, and making an installation or performance specific to that particular place in a gallery or in public space. He is also well known for his installation and performance work involving the destruction of money.

In any event, the morning after he arrived, I found myself in his company, putting up posters for a talk he was giving that night at Eastern Edge with LETS Barter Network spokesperson Lori Heath. He was somewhat surprised to learn of the burgeoning NL nationalism plaguing the province, a symptom of a larger inferiority complex that Beausejour, born and raised in Quebec, could totally relate to. He told me that he had recently been taken to task in Quebec for too often titling his work in English. He said that there was this perception of him amongst the younger generation in Quebec as an artist who had turned his back on his own culture, despite the fact that he has never hidden his desire to destroy the state, let alone support nationalist propaganda bullshit.

He said that for his project in St. John's he was interested in stories about some of the prominent statues and/or memorials in the city. He was interested in learning what was going on behind the scenes while a statue of say, John Cabot was being made. It seemed along the lines of his previous work: an engagement with the un-official culture and history of a place or a thing as opposed to the state defined story. It sounded great. I was pretty excited about the whole thing since I have a similar pre-occupation in my own work. I was looking forward to seeing what came out of his few days here.

Guess what? He didn't get anywhere. The few contacts he had here dried up mysteriously. Anyone who had the sort of information he was interested in were suddenly turned off by him, even though he had made contact with these people about the project months before and they had encouraged him to come to St. John's. He went back to Montreal completely empty-handed except perhaps for the knowledge that Newfoundlanders' openness and generosity to strangers is a shade over-stated.

Sorry Mathieu.