Ex/(s)ite/me(a)nt

Found this post I wrote last summer and forgot to finish.

Some pictures from today’s [August 27] walking tour of a one-day art show called In/stall/ed organized by artist-run-centre Latitude 53. Seventeen art installations, each one in a parking stall, in Edmonton. A pun is the lowest form of humour but if you slash it to bits it’s the highest.

I liked this exhibition called “Framing Ground.” The stuff in the frames was collected from within a single block in the neighbourhood.

There are pieces broken off cars and things thrown or fallen from cars. There is a page of Social Studies notes. There is a frame full of dried leaves and another full of leaf mold.

The artist had collected these discarded or fallen objects and I re/collected them with my camera.

As I did, a sketchy-looking character lying on the grass in the park across the street watched me and took pictures. The local perv? I flatter myself. No. When I was half a block away, I turned back, and saw this yellow-shirted fellow had got up and gone to examine the show I had just left. He was the artist, looking to see whether I had added a gum wrapper, shopping receipt, or a page torn from my notebook.

I like the show because it is about the neighbourhood and the people who have passed through it, a neighbourhood in which I often walk and notice odd and troubling items of litter (a single party shoe –). It is about making things from crap and junk (the frames as well as the stuff inside them), so both repudiation and redemption. It is about gathering and sorting the evidence. It is about putting frames around things that do not belong in frames, letting you see what a frame can do and what it can’t do. (It’s about what was inside the frames before –) It makes you look again and see more than you did. Simple and cunning. Four stars.

I saw a few shows that I did not photograph because, at first, I wasn’t sure it was okay to, and sometimes because there was a person in the show, and photographing the person seemed, to me, too intrusive. Of these, the best are “My Dido, the Orator,” and “Carspace.” In the first, the artists’ grandfather, in his easy chair, talks to whoever sits in his parking-space living-room (chairs, a coffee table, books and magazines). The room was full when I went by, Dido was indeed holding forth, and his listeners looked like they were having a good time. “Carspace” is a dance inside a minivan. The driver/dancer gets into the car when you arrive. She sits in the driver’s seat and turns on the car stereo. But she doesn’t sit for long. Soon she is dancing all about the inside of the car. This means rolling over the seat backs, kicking her legs up, flipping her feet out the windows. It’s a dance about loving the music (The Beach Boys) and loving being inside that car. She seems to move freely within the confining  space. She is doing what we would do in a car if we were not strapped in and if we could do what the music on the car stereo moved us to do. Who remembers being a kid, pre-seatbelts, and jumping from the front seat into the back seat? She was having that kind of fun. The dance is not erotic, but car-dancing could be the new pole-dancing. It could be. It is strange because the car is private space, almost domestic space; it feels like watching a private act that we should probably not be watching. We always sneak a look at people in their cars. Here we have permission to look. Imagine if, waiting in stuck traffic, people unbuckled and danced for each other. Five stars. Fantastic.

This is “The Hush Box.” Inside, the walls are covered in black cloth. You sit in a black chair and cover your ears and your eyes. The sign outside says you can stay as long as you like. There is no time limit.

I don’t stay long at all. It reminds me of the outhouse on my grandparents’ farm, where you wiped with a page of Sears catalogue. It reminds me I recently heard  that in South Korea public washrooms are meant to be places for meditation as well as defecation, both together. Doing a good shit is like doing yoga. I’m not saying I feel like taking a shit. But my thoughts are tending in the shit-taking direction, so I see no benefit in staying any longer. When I get out, conscious of how little time I have spent inside, I say to the volunteer attendant, “There actually is a time limit.” “What?” “It’s not true that there is no time limit.” “How is that?” “The exhibition closes at 5.” It is now past 4:30. In the flattest, driest, most sarcastic deadpan, she says to me: “Oh, you made a funny.” (What, art is allowed to challenge us, but we are not allowed to challenge art?) This gal was questioning our contemporary expectations of civility in an extended art-institutional setting. Or else she was hot and tired. Either way, next year (let there be a next year) she has to have her own performance installation. People will ask her questions: she will humiliate them. This miserabella was, for me, the discovery and rising star of the In/stall/ed event.

In the same school parking lot as the Hush Box (two stars), was an installation devised by two people, one of whom described himself as an Andy Warhol for our times; Paris Hilton’s tweets and Hello Kitty product packages were his Campbell’s soup tins. So we have a bit of lawn made from squares of turf, a couple of lawn chairs, a little table, and a cooler of lemonade.

You can, if you like, sit in the chairs and drink the lemonade. (Pull out your Hello Kitty-skinned phone and read famous strangers’ tweets.) The set-up is called an “archetypal North American vacation site;” it is supposed to “question our contemporary work ethic.” If we work to get a vacation, and this is the vacation we get, we are going to wonder why we are doing this shitty job. There’s more to it. Because the parking space is at an elementary school, and school teachers are envied and despised for their summer vacations, the installation reminds us to hate teachers but also comforts us with the idea that although teachers may be on a long vacation, they can never get away from the terrible job. It is right there behind them, in the back of their mind, haunting them, spoiling every day (each day more than the one before) until they return to it. Work provides the vacation and also ruins it. Five stars for teachers, one star (Paris Hilton) for the vacation pad.

I didn’t get to see all the installations. Some had shut down before I got there. At some I didn’t understand what was going on (a chair facing the back of a TV). There were some pieces by artists who know what they are doing and some pieces that explore the boundary between artist and idle hipster or artist and arts student waiting to go back to school. All in all, it was good and interesting and fun. Hope it happens again.

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