Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My Piece About Cyril Butler, from Current

No one has ever come on my face.

From what I’ve heard, once the sperm gets in your eyes, those little guys just swim their hearts out. It hurts.

Nor have I ever appeared in public with a giant vibrating dildo up my ass. Not that I recall anyway.

I’m always willing to take an artist much more seriously if they’re willing to put themselves at risk. What sucks worst about bad art is when you get the feeling the artist’s heart is so removed from their work that it’s just a kind of mindless exercise for them. Like filling out a form. That’s why Jerry Bruckheimer (BAD ARTIST) will never be confused with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (GOOD ARTIST).

In Newfoundland (and Labrador), there seem to be two very separate and decidedly unequal camps of artists. Those of the Jerry Bruckheimer variety: you know, the ones whose work will always have some reference to cod, or icebergs, or mummurs, or the innate friendliness and goodness of Newfoundlanders or blah blah blah (insert your own cliché here). There are then the Fassbinders: the ones who consistently challenge themselves and their audience through the form, content, conceptualization or whatever of the work. These latter artists, unfortunately, are in the vast minority.

Which brings me to performance artist Cyril Butler (GOOD ARTIST). Concerned primarily with representations of sex and sexuality in the mainstream media, Butler is perhaps best known for his performance at Eastern Edge Gallery’s Art Marathon last year. If It Fits consisted of Butler on stage in a pair of bright pink underwear with a heart-shaped hole cut out of the rear. He proceeded to lube up and insert a vibrating dildo up his ass while the crowd looked on. With both his mouth and the vibrator heard via separate microphones, Butler began reciting clichéd lines he’d memorized from the very dregs of so-called “queer” mainstream culture: Will & Grace, Queer As Folk, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy and so on, while the volume on the buzzing dildo slowly increased. What you eventually heard was only the drone of the dildo, as Butler’s voice was slowly drowned out.

Also causing a stir was Butler’s Free Money Shots at the Ship Inn, wherein the artist was splattered with fake semen by a friend while a third snapped photos. Audience members were encouraged to leave their e-mail addresses to receive the digital photos of Butler free of charge, and some even asked to have their own “money shot” taken on stage. Here Butler was interested in dissecting porn iconography and creating a dialogue about the reality or lack thereof in these shots, the literal climax of just about every porn scene ever recorded since, like, 1990.

But possibly most important to Butler as a performance artist in St. John’s is the fostering of a performance art scene in the city, something that’s been noticeably absent from the capital’s vibrant community of artists with very few exceptions. This summer, Butler is planning a performance series through Eastern Edge to take place in various locations around St. John’s and is requesting input and assistance from other artists and anyone else interested in performance art that challenges the conventions and norms of the art-world, and in creating a space of vulnerability and communication in non-traditional art venues. It’s a good step in the right direction in the struggle to make people understand that there’s more to Newfoundland culture than Screech, hard-drinkin’, rubber boots, dories, and the innumerable other sickening clichés currently plaguing the populace.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Douglas Coupland at the Rooms (Again)

There seems to have been much more written about Douglas Coupland, mainlander superstar, than about his actual exhibit at the Rooms, and so I'll briefly address his installation, the likes of which probably hasn't been seen too much around these parts in quite some time.

As an artist whose main influences come from Baudelaire and Manet, Pop, conceptual art practice, and performance, I tend to enter into a relationship with art based more upon its political under-pinnings or social critique than upon the purely aesthetic. (That's not to say that I don't like beauty, however).

Coupland's installation, consisting almost entirely of wall text, draws aesthetically from a conceptual and minimalist history, but seems to concern itself more with the tension between text as communicative tool, and text as image, rather than the breakdown of the art market through a de-materialized art object.

The solid block of text upon the opposite wall as you enter the gallery dominates your experience of the show. It's almost like a monolith. It's formal simplicity suggesting complexity. I found that I went back and forth between just seeing this giant square of text, and actually reading what was written: a kind of stream-of-consciousness mish-mash of confession, gossip, keen observation, business slogans and advertising jargon that had the effect of creating a kind of irritating (and yet somehow pleasureable) buzz in my head, like when the radio is tuned to two stations at once.

The opposite wall pieces, consisting of Cheetos ingredients and Chinese lettering for pornography, amongst other things, couldn't draw me away from the main text piece. Even the paper sculpture "wedges" seemed secondary, as did the adjacent room filled floor to ceiling with tiny numbers on black Mac Tac, which felt like something lifted from The Matrix. The entire show felt like it could have been just the main wall piece, and that the other elements were added on and un-neccasary.

It's obvious to me that Coupland has more than a passing interest in the tension between low and high culture, and of technology's rapidly escalating effect on our psyche, but it almost feels as though he's trying to be Canada's answer to William Gibson. By which I mean, a kind of pseudo-intellectual pop-cultural guru trying to sort out where this techonological revolution is leading, and what long term effects life as a video game is having on us. I say: Fair enough. Give'r. And I haven't read the book (which may well cause me to re-visit this work once I have (and I must note: I'm very interested in the crossover between a work of written fiction and it's visual art counterpart, it's a great idea)), but I found the installation interesting, but not something that neccasarily wrenched my heart.

Serious props should go out to Shauna McCabe, who, judging from this, will continue to curate prominent, challenging artists from across Canada and internationally. Thanks.

Who Puts An Art School In Corner Brook?

Can someone please explain how this came about? I guess it was before my time or whatever, but I've always wondered how the idea of having Memorial's art school in Corner Brook was taken seriously in the first place, and how, in the name of all that's holy, it actually happened.

At the EVA Awards, it was mentioned that Mary Pratt had a hand in the school being there, but who else is to blame? Surely it wasn't just her.

I just can't imagine, say, Garry Neil Kennedy taking over NSCAD in 1969 and moving the school to, like, Pictou, a small town in rural Nova Scotia. It's baffling.

In my experience, very few graduates from SWGC have a grasp of contemporary work, art history, or theory of any kind. It's like they've been told that none of that is very important, and upon graduating carry around a resentment of challenging contemporary work... as if it's all bullshit or something.

I just don't get it.

I mean, I think part of the problem for visual artists in this province is how divided we are. In St. John's, there's the Rooms, two Artist Run Centres, numerous commerical galleries, film and video production houses and a shit-load of other cultural instituions that are constantly producing work. And the art school, the place where our younger artists are being trained, where there's (theoretically) a well-spring of energy and excitement , is clear on the other side of the island. How does this make sense?

Please discuss.

The EVA Awards Ceremony

The EVA Awards Ceremony happened last Thursday and it was a really swell event at the Rooms. Will Gill won for the Large Year Award, Bonnie Leyton for the Kippy Goins, and Mary Pratt for the Long Haul.

The saucy and be-skirted Angela Antle was the host, and it ran pretty smoothly, aside from the odd technological glitch. It was lovely to see such a diverse group of artists together in one room, from all parts of the province, and from all stages of development. I felt more part of a community as an artist in Newfoundland than at any other time I've been here. So thanks to VANL, at the very least, for that.

What was refreshing for me was the sincerity from each of the winners. It was all very sweet, and also was in such stark contrast to the NLAC Awards, wherein (as just one example of the difference) Paul Pope's self-congratulatory twenty minute acceptance speech for his Lifetime Award or whatever it was he won had me in fits of boredom and resentment. There was none of that shit here, thank God. And while I'm all for more publicity and attention for visual artists in this province, and am somewhat skeptical about this supposed inherent shyness visual artists have, we should draw the line at becoming the self obsessed, obnoxious, ego-maniacs that dominate other fields of artistic expression around here.

I was also quite shocked to learn that there are far more people reading this blog than I thought. I mean, there's a Site Meter I have that tells me how many hits the site gets or whatever, but this was ridiculous. There were people I'd never met there who knew who I was and who liked or dis-liked me accordingly.

To everyone reading this, please comment on the various things I've written. The entire point of this is to foster dialogue. Thanks.