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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

this seems about the only place where i can read the difference between traditional, almost folk art, and contemorary shock tactic art. You are addressing these issues i assume because of the notions of what good art is here in the province. I don't really think this art needs to be critiqued in the same boat though ( excuse the pun ). I would like to see aim being taken at more contemporary work, instead of being completely praised for the sake of being or looking contemporary. Do you think there are any other ways of being a vulnerable visual artist in todays working art world? A mindless excersise of filling out a form seems to take aim at a huge portion of contemporary visual art being created right now. Can you clarify this or make some distinctions?

6:08 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I strongly agree that injecting more performance based work into the St.John's arts scene is "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." Although,I'm not quite sure if a series of derivitive abjection is really the answer. Let's not trade one tired cliche for another.
There's some solid work being made by Newfoundlanders living both in the province and elswhere, that manage to reflect new and challenging ideas(some even with cultural references),without relying on the stereotypes. This is what the city/province needs to experience more of.

2:49 a.m.  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

Well, this certainly sounds interesting. I'm curious to know what the performances this summer will all add up to. Sounds like we have a potential nominee for next year's EVA awards...

2:48 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

O.K. All. Like the blog, happy to return and add thoughts; but what about other things on the go? The Coupland-thing has been rung dry. Hated the show myself, but appreciated the conversation (I'll judge The Provincial Art Gallery's new direction under McCabe by 2 years of programming; I judged Coupland 3 novels ago).

The Rooms (alone): any thoughts out there about Michael Massie? Liked the show myself, though the space sucked.Great to see good craft coming from here to the world and back again.

11:30 p.m.  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

I agree about Michael's show. I felt somewhat embarassed that it was tucked away into a corner and on two levels. It was hard to approach it properly, making more than one person I talked to not even realize that there was more upstairs. One older gentleman even ranted about contemporary art, frustrated that he was just seeing cardboard in a display case (it was, in fact, a mock-up of a design to be worked out in silver later).

As for the work, I find it satisfying, especially considering I'm not really interested in 'smithing. His work has a strange blend of the surreal, the domestic, and traditional Inuit sculpture. It has a nice sense of humour, entirely free from irony (thank god, we've had enough of that, haven't we?). Although, I wasn't really sure what to think of the homage to Dali's melting clocks--was it an homage? Or just copping a visual cliche? To say more about the work, I'd have to spend more time with the work. I'm running on a vague memory of it now... Nonetheless, the man is immensely talented.

I also heard grumblings that the Rooms tried to piggy-back Michael's opening on to Pratt's in an attempt to save costs, but in the end held two separate openings the same day. If this was the case, I imagine it would be frustrating to find out that your show, already postponed for many months, was to be dumped under the shadow of another. Especially when an artist is not likely to have many more shows at the Rooms in the immediate future.

5:29 p.m.  
Blogger Dan said...

Has anyone ever thought of making an Art in Newfoundland forum? It would make discussions on exhibits that Craig doesn't write about much easier.
I like this blog a lot, but I think having a forum aswell could work well for these discussions.

your thoughts?

10:24 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although this blog is great, a forum format would be alot better. This I think is greatly lacking in the province and would be a wonderful way to connect the province and those outside Newfoundland & Labarador in terms of the happenings in the art scene.

9:14 p.m.  

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