Leah Sandals' 10 most memorable events/items/stuffs/experiences of 2009
1) Cedric Bomford @ Red Bull 381 Projects
Increasingly, it seems to me that art critical practice is just a machine for making cynics. But I have to say this Bomford work-a mashup of child's-play treehouses, surveillance-society paranoia and class critique-made me a believer again, if only for a day.
2) Candice Breitz's Factum @ the Power Plant
This year, I finally read some stuff by Michael Chabon, and wondered how his steadfast adherence to plot and genre in literary creation-ie. no creative-writing MFA-belaboured style-over-substance flimflammery, thank you very much-might find a collary in visual art making. I feel like I got some hints of an answer in Breitz's Factum. From the looks of her survey at the Power Plant, Breitz has always been clever when it comes to analyzing pop-culture mimicry. But in making Canadian twins her subject rather than film celebs, Breitz seemed to tap a vein of powerful emotional narrative that engages viewers just as much as her style does. The added dimensions around imitation and identity-particularly where women are concerned-was also really amazing. Call me a psychological-insight junkie, but to my mind this was totally terrific.
If you do not cry at some point during this incredibly sweet movie, you are not human. Totally corny, totally distance- and irony-free and totally wonderful. Period. (As an aside, this is the year that I became very much fascinated with mainstream film criticism, perhaps due to its extreme differences in volume, tenor and breadth when compared to mainstream and non-mainstream art criticism. But that's another story.)
4) El Anatsui lecture @ the AGO
During this (sadly, poorly attended) lecture, internationally renowned artist El Anatsui did something I have never seen any internationally renowned artist do before-he talked about (and showed slides of) the work of his students before he talked about his own artistic development. The result is a departure point for many different considerations-the protection and promotion of individual ego among artists; the pressures for artists from Africa and other far-flung nations to represent not only themselves, but their communities, when travelling; the vast distance in practice, experience and context between Anatsui and his peers. (Full disclosure: the lecture was organized by one of my main freelance clients, Canadian Art.) Nonetheless, what resonates most of all is the sense of generosity that was evinced. I do hope it's catching.
I suspect it may be unhealthy to relish a good controversy as much as I tend to-after all, a lot of good work gets done in the art world and elsewhere without controversy, and controversy tends to end up in someone getting dinged or bruised in the end-but I must say I was glad to see a few dustups in the local art realm this past year. Whether it was the Koffler's mega-gaffe with regards to Reena Katz, the AGO laying off employees on the day of one of their biggest fundraisers, or John Greyson crying oppression at TIFF, the fact is that controversy gets people talking openly about often-concealed politics and procedures in the arts-and-culture world. Because of conflict, art ends up being discussed on the radio and in regular news pages in ways that don't have to be justified (or justified quite as much) by gallery advertising sales as might typically be the case. Sure, the media simplifies these issues along the way (I'm guilty as charged on that front myself, over and over again) but it actually gets people talking about art and its connection to politics and community. It gets stuff hidden behind the scenes out in the open for a time. And to me those are good things, no matter what the outcome is.
6) Leona Drive Project
While it's kind of sad to think that this is the kind of effort it takes to get many downtowners to realize, "Hey, there just might be some value to life north of Bloor" I'm glad in the end that this project had that effect. Not all the works were great, but the mood onsite on the day I visited was buoyant and bustling, and Richard Fung's video of a former resident talking about her life in one of the houses was wonderfully illuminating.
7) Maura Doyle @ Paul Petro
As much as I try, I can't shake this as one of my favourite art experiences of the year. Beavers are sculptors, yes, I believe it now-especially when they use pink T-shirts, and scientists carefully document it all. So funny and smart, such a reversal of the whole human/animal superiority thang. Nice.
The longer I cover the cultural realm in Toronto, the more and more radical libraries-all libraries-seem. You know-a place where cultural information can be accessed (and even brought home!) for free or next to nothing? The longstanding commitment of libraries to access and community (all in the name, remember, of information-sharing and literacy promotion) is an incredible example of cultural institutions done right. (And a tremendous counterpoint to the old argument "If people don't pay for culture, they won't value it or use it." Whatever.) To be clear, I'm no lunatic-I know museum artifacts and gallery artworks need to be protected, and need special environments and atmospheres, and shouldn't be brought home. I get that, and I totally support that. And yes, I know museums need money to do these things. But an increasing number of Toronto museums have ranged so very far to the other end of the access and community commitment spectrum, making our admission fees the highest in the nation and outsourcing museum access initiatives to-where else?-the library. Pure suckage, and bad for art and culture in the long run too. (Among ways to erode popular funding support for museums, raising fees high enough to prevent a visit would seem to run high on the list.)
Putting Twitter on my year-end top 10 list means I'm officially among the uncool olds. (As if there was any doubtů) But I don't really care. For introverted dilettantes like myself, Twitter is a total gold mine-there's forever someone posting a link to this or that news item or blog post from their corner of the world, and a lot of what I've found this way is actually useful or inspiring. Pithy and snarky comments also, of course, also abound, which is great. Finally, Twitter has none of those awkward "friending" dynamics or frightening privacy-forsaking requirements that Facebook does. Pure information for an impure society-that's Twitter at its best.
ArtStars is a freaking hilarious godsend to the sleepy solemnity of art media in Canada. They also cover those parts of the art world most art media don't-the drunkenness, the leering, the snobbery, and the social awkwardness that permeate most openings and related events. I'll happily disclose that for some unknown reason host Nadja Sayej invited me to a panel this year. Nevertheless, I maintain that these guys are totally great and totally worth supporting (potential ad-money spenders, do take heed!). I look forward to new episodes all the time and recommend them heartily (even if they make me, and my drab, serious little practice, look as lame and somnambular as shite). Looking forward to the first 2010 episode for damn-snap sure.