We experience so much artwork online; we forget that what we’re seeing is actually little boxes. I think we tend to confuse these little boxes of information for the actual artwork they represent. Deals for the New Century is the second piece in a series of work that plays with that idea. My goal is to make interesting print panels that stand alone as non-representational works that when assembled, become a common image. In the case of Deals for the New Century, that image is Monty Hall from the iconic TV game show, Let’s Make a Deal. In doing this, I also make something that one cannot truly experience online. On a computer screen, the mind puts the image together. It is only through experiencing the individual panels that one can experience the pieces as intended, as pixelated fragments one must assemble with their hands.
The book begins “You are a piece of shit and nobody likes you.”
Ric Kasini Kadour’s Everything That Is Wrong With You and How to Fix It takes as a point of departure Austrian playwright Peter Handke’s 1966 anti-play Publikumsbeschimpfung during which actors cast insults at the audience. The book is illustrated with Kadour’s photographs of banal objects and New Orleans oak trees.
Read as testimony, the book speaks to the buffet of verbal, emotional and environmental insults the come to us every day. Kadour gives voice to these stings and rages and then turns them on their head.
As a sermon, the bravado of the title carries itself through the piece. Kadour speaks to us from on high, exhorting us to examine ourselves in both the darkest and brightest places.
As social critique, Kadour, like Handke, uses “words to encircle the audience so they’d want to free themselves by heckling; they might feel naked and get involved.”* But where Handke’s play devolves into rhythmic chatter, a nonsense that negates both the insults and the praise, Kadour ends Everything… with a call to action.
Everything… includes a commentary by Christopher Byrne, “Remembering Everything”. Byrne writes, “Everything That Is Wrong With You and How to Fix It is writing that is meant to be dissected, examined and internalized. Read it how you will.”
Authentic Contemporary Art is a satirical installation and performance piece that is intended to cause reflection upon how contemporary art is marketed, reported, and discussed. The project is a response to art critics Sarah Thornton and Dave Hickey announcing that they weren’t going to write about the art world any more. In October 2012, a number of high profile art writers, among them Sarah Thornton and Dave Hickey, declared they weren’t going to write about the art world any more. Hickey called contemporary art “nasty” and “stupid”. Hickey said, “Thirty years in the art world and hundreds of biennials had not prepared me for… the conferences, committees, agendas, proposals, symposia, position papers, tourist boards, prize adjudications, directorial appointments and preening philanthropists.” Thornton complained that reporting on the art market, which she had made a name for herself doing, “implies money is the most important thing about art.” (I go into more detail in the article, “What Is Contemporary Art & How Does It Matter“.)
Authentic Contemporary Art generates a claustrophobic amount of visual clutter using a number of parts:
Authentic Contemporary Art Flags
variable size, paper and string, 2013
The flags are strung around the space in a manner similar to a used car lot.
each 3.5” tall x 2.5” diameter
11.7oz , edition of 50, signed & numbered, 2013
Branded cans are stacked and displayed throughout the space like beans in a grocery store.
set of 6 cans, each 43” tall x 23” diameter; 17 lbs
fiber, metal, paper
The viewer encounters over-sized/ life-sized cans. They may be stacked in a tower 11-feet tall or piled and leaned against one another depending on space. Each can is titled a different color.
12”x18” printed posters on paper
On the walls of the gallery are advertisements for Authentic Contemporary Art and posters contain quotes about contemporary art, art and money, as well as those from Sarah Thornton and Dave Hickey.
The Gallery Regrets…
framed, 8”x10” photograph
The photograph is of a post-it note that reads, “The gallery regrets to inform you the contemporary art has been sold.”
Eventually, the viewer is led to a “gift shop” where they can purchase mementos of their visit: Authentic Contemporary Art propaganda (buttons, stickers, cards), the zine Authentic Contemporary Art, and cans of Authentic Contemporary Art.
TALK: Why People Hate Art
Art is a magical piece of technology that liberates us, humanizes our neighbors, builds bonds with strangers, envisions solutions to our problems. Art is a tool that can connect our communities, ease our pain, expand our thinking, and love each other better. Too many people are afraid of, unfamiliar with, or dismissive of art. I want art to matter on a personal, social, and political level.
“Why People Hate Art” is a forty-five minute slide-show and talk about the frustrations many people have with contemporary art and the history of how we got to the current moment. The talk focuses on the manner with which Modernism was introduced in America, art’s role in the Cold War, and the division between an elite, international art scene and the art being made in communities where most Americans live. The talk ends with strategies for repairing the damage of history and unleashing the power of art, to make that magic available to everyone.
On April 28, 2005, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion in Burlington, Vermont about pricing artwork that was hosted by the South End Arts and Business Association. A few dozen people sat around the organization’s offices on Flynn Avenue while each of the panelists made a brief introductory statement about pricing and selling artwork. When it was my turn, I read a poem.
In earnest, “How to Price Your Artwork” contains little practical information about actually pricing artwork. The point of the poem is to underscore the ridiculousness of art pricing. A more practical discussion of pricing art is to say that in the current market, art is like real estate. The value of property is equal to the price for which it is sold. Where a two bedroom, two bath condo in one city may cost ten times more if it is in another city, a painting by one artist may cost ten times that of another. And while one would like to think that skill, value of materials, or time spent making the painting would impact the price; it is much more likely that the price is determined by the pedigree of the artist and the gallery’s assessment of how much its clientele will pay for artwork. There is method to the madness, but systematic stupidity is still stupid. There is little connection between the price of artwork and the value of artwork.
That disconnect is part of the eccentricity of the art world. It is what allows for extravagance and excessiveness. It would be charming if it also didn’t alienate people from art. The ridiculous speculative nature of the art market prevents people from taking art seriously. Artificially high prices keep art out of reach of most people. They also undercut arguments in favor of public support for the arts. In this scenario, very few people win. This is why I presented “How to Price Your Artwork” at a panel discussion in April 2005.
After the talk, a number of people came up to me and asked me for a copy of the poem. I sent it off to a few people who were there. But people kept asking me for copies so I decided to turn it into a little book. I turned the poem into a twenty-page, saddle-stitched, 4.25″ x 7″ chapbook with a collage of paintings on the front and back. In November 2005, I released a signed, edition of 100 copies.
“How to Price Your Artwork” was significant to me for a number of reasons. This was my first art product and first zine and a change in thinking about how to market my writing, art, and creative endeavours. While I continued to write for other people and make large art, I became enamoured with the idea of making small, accessible art products. This led to making art products for other artists, building and running an art shop in various incarnations and a project called INSTANT ARTSHOP, where I set up the store of art products at various places around North America. INSTANT ARTSHOP has gone to traditional art spaces and fairs and it has gone to places like flea markets in Rhode Island and farmers markets in Amish country. It is one thing to feed contemporary art to those wrapped up in the art world. It is something else to explain a pack of “I <3 Yoko Ono” magnets to a trio of Mennonite girls or explain “Love Guns and Other Weapons of Affection” to a man in full NASCAR drag. I don’t have had those experiences when I am selling $5,000 paintings.
Money is a part of culture. How we choose to organize our resources helps define our society. In the 20th century, wealth was dispersed to a much larger degree than it is today and, for better or worse, consumerism democratized our experience. Andy Warhol explained it best:
“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
Those times are in the past. The art we talk about today tends to be art for the affluent. And while a Coke may still be a Coke, a Takashi Murakami throw pillow is going to cost you $375, roughly the weekly take home pay of someone who makes $10 an hour.
At the end of the panel discussion, the best advice was this: Price your art to sell it. There is no point in pricing art so that it never sells. You can always make more. More importantly, a $100 painting on the wall of someone who wants it is more valuable than a $10,000 painting sitting in your garage or that same painting sitting in someone’s art warehouse. What matters are the people you reach and connect with. Those are the people for whom art is made.
I was sitting with a friend at Second Cup and the conversation came around to Yoko Ono. No other public figure teeters between adoration and unfounded opprobrium. At some point in the conversation, I said that I would make Christmas Gifts for Yoko Ono: paper sculptures and odd little concept pieces. We laughed, but the idea stuck with me.
In 2012, I lost both my grandmothers and, like most times when you lose something, the thing lost becomes the most important thing to you. I have been thinking a lot about grandmotherness. And I started thinking about Yoko Ono as a cultural grandmother. Love her or hate her, every contemporary artist owes some gratitude to Yoko Ono. Painting to Be Stepped On taught us that art need not be on a wall. The concerts she hosted at 112 Chambers Street taught us that you can change music forever from a sparsely furnished apartment. Grapefruit taught us that all you have to do to make art is think. The Fluxus Film No. 4 taught us to be sexy. The performance of Cut Piece at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo taught us to trust each other. Painting to Hammer a Nail In taught us that we don’t make art alone. The tower of light that beams into the sky two months each year from an island off of Reykjavik and the 500,000 wishes buried underneath it taught us to think monumental. Yoko Ono embodies the avant-garde, but what makes her work and her life remarkable is this: In the face of ridicule, ignorance, and sometimes outright hatred, Yoko Ono makes art that is free of cynicism, bitterness, and irony. That’s amazing.
2012 was a year of sorting things out, except I didn’t realize it until the very end. It was a good year. Things kept getting better and the better they got, the less satisfied I became. The less satisfied I got, the angrier I became. And when my grandmother died, I decided to drive from Montreal to Miami. A 2700-kilometer road trip is a great way to figure things out. One of the conclusions I came to was that I wasn’t writing and making art as much as I wanted.
“Twelve Days of Christmas Gifts for Yoko Ono” was an art making and writing project that pays homage to a cultural grandmother. Each day from December 25th, 2012 to Epiphany on January 6th, 2013, I made and shared a Christmas gift for Yoko Ono.
The Christmas Gifts were published in ARTSHOP Magazine.
Art Is Food, Feed the People. Art is Food, Eat Something. These have been the mantras of ARTSHOP since 2005. The phrase comes from a poem I wrote and read at an Art Town Meeting in Burlington, Vermont in February 2005. So many people asked me for a copy of the poem that the following summer, I illustrated it and turned it into an artist book that was screenprinted with the help of Benoit Depelteau. So many people wanted a copy of the book, that I released a mass printed version of the book.
7.5″ x 5.5″
20 full-colour pages
You cannot pry apart the two chocolate sides of a Georgia O’Keefe painting and lick the creamy vanilla center.
The rampant elements of a de Kooning do not make a nice stew.
Do not smear Pollock on your organic buckwheat toast in the morning and wash it down with a cup of steaming hot Andy Warhol.
Art is food. Our country is hungry.
Art is food and our country is hungry.
I believe that now, more than ever, we need the nourishing, nurturing, restorative power of art.
These are uncertain, confusing, and painful times. We are assaulted by war, disease, and conflict. Our country is suffering from neglect. The social bonds are unraveling. Human connection becomes harder and harder to maintain.
Our country is hungry.
Art is food.
Art is a nourishment you cannot buy at the grocery store. You cannot find at the mall. You cannot call 1-800-SEND-NOW and have delivered by FEDEX to your doorstep.
Art is scarce.
It does not grow on trees. It does not rise from the land each spring. It does not ooze from the snowcaps. A drought of sacred ails the land, fortitude is hiding too far beneath the surface, and Art cannot be found as easily as it should be.
Art is food and our country is hungry.
We have a duty to bring art into the world, to thrust it upon our neighbors, to force it upon our children, to make our community a vibrant, dynamic fortress of art.
Our country is hungry and we have the food.
We must, We must
Because our country is hungry,
and because Art is food.
I produce art products as a means of exploring further questions of object and meaning: How does an object have meaning? Why does an object have meaning? And what role do objects play in our lives? North Americans are consumers by nature. We acquire stuff. In doing so, we enter into a dialogue with the makers and sellers of the objects.
A bookstore owner in Toronto once told me, “People don’t buy books to read them. They buy books to own them.” In this sense, objects are artifacts of personal history. People collect toys, comic books, antique signs, Beanie Babies™ etc…things with a perceived function or potential value. These objects have great meaning to people. Why is art so different?
To address these question, I make nonsensical sculptures, Dadaist-inspired pieces of small art made from everyday objects that are repurposed so as to accentuate form and remove functionality. Objects are named, branded, and packaged. Sometimes, such as in the case of Magazines That Hate People, I start with an idea—a critique of magazine media culture—and then design and make an object to embody it. Other times, I start with an object and work to give it meaning through package, presentation, and narrative. An example of this is Bag To Remove Sadness where I liked the look of an inflated brown lunch bag tied with a string and paired it with Yoko Ono-inspired instructions.
Some Art Products are multiples or variables; others are simply one time endeavors. And some Art Products are part of a larger project.
How does an object have meaning? Why do we own objects? How do we consume, acquire, or collect objects? How does art become or maintain its relevance? These questions are central to my practice.
I started ARTSHOP in 2004 as a way of organizing, exhibiting, and sharing art products: those things made by artists which are not necessarily fine art, not simply reproductions of fine art, and not craft; the by-products, ephemera, and small objects of contemporary visual artists. Art Product is a family that includes the following genera: ephemera, publications, multiples, and small art. I often explain it as the things artists make that are not their primary work, but that do embody their vision, aesthetic, and ideas.
The project is informed by Claes Oldenburg 1961’s The Store, in which the artist converted his workshop in New York’s Lower East Side into a retail storefront and stocked it with painted pop sculptures made out of muslin and plaster. From 2002 to 2005, the concept was re-interpreted by Joyce Yahouda, a gallerist in Montreal. The Store explored the inherent tension of art presented as commodity. ARTSHOP is also informed by Toronto’s Art Metropole, a project started in 1974 by General Idea that documented the conceptual art movement in Canada by collecting (and sometimes selling) contemporary art multiples and ephemera; and by Printed Matter in New York, which was founded in 1976 by a collective of artists and art workers seeking to examine the role of artists’ publications in the landscape of contemporary art.
ARTSHOP has three parts: a collection of approximately 200 art products that have been permanently acquired; collaborations with artists whose work is for sale through ARTSHOP; and art products that I have made. Since 2004, ARTSHOP has been presented as an online magazine and shop; as a time-limited exhibition in an art gallery context; as part of larger art events and fairs; and in ongoing installation at two commercial art galleries. While most contemporary art employs luxury marketing strategies in its sale and presentation, ARTSHOP uses the vernacular of retail to present art to the viewer. North Americans are fluent in the visual language of retail and as a result, interact with art presented in this manner differently. Online, ARTSHOP has explore a variety of models from using social media to promote and sell art products to a subscription model that engages the audience for a year at a time.
An art product is not complete until it is sold. This is not unprecedented in contemporary art. Yves Klein’s Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle (1959-1962) divorced art from object and placed art in the milieu of ritual by selling empty space. The sale of the space was the art. I would argue that the sale of Damien Hirst’s work is as important as the work itself. For the Love of God transforms $24 million in diamonds into a $100 million piece of art, but the work was not completed until it was sold on August 30th, 2008.
The sale of the art products in ARTSHOP completes the objects and a significant component to this project is devoted to the selling of art products. To date, ARTSHOP has existed primarily in the context of art (galleries, art fairs, events, etc.) where the audience has engaged the project prepared to have an experience of art. The introduction of retail theory into space primarily using luxury marketing strategies is profound. Some patrons reject the idea outright and walk out of the gallery. Others transform completely. They remove their hands from behind their back and begin touching objects and looking at them differently. The exchange of money for product is a performative act that completes the work.
In 2013, I started doing INSTANT ARTSHOP, a version of the project as an intervention outside of an art context: flea markets, grocery stores, malls, and other public spaces that are separate from contemporary art spaces. I built a self-contained kiosk on which art products can be displayed.
While ARTSHOP is a vehicle for showing and selling my own projects, most of the objects in ARTSHOP are produced by other people. With most of those objects, the artist was not necessarily thinking about how the consumer would relate to, acquire, or own the object. Artists often only make work only for themselves; to express their own ideas and feelings. ARTSHOP works as a bridge between the artist and the viewer by shepherding a design and marketing process that results in a greater connection between the viewer and the artwork.
30″x80″; acrylic paint, spray paint, print transfer, and collage on reclaimed door; 2007
I have long enjoyed with the patina left by aging posters and bulletins and graffiti that accumulates on walls in a city. In 2007, my partners and I bought a duplex in downtown Montreal that needed serious renovation. The contractor removed all of the doors. I thought they would make good surfaces for paintings. I coated the doors in acrylic paint and pressed old newspapers into the wet paint to transfer the image. Sometimes, I would let the paper dry in the paint and peel it off to give the appearance of aged walls. I finished the paintings by adding stencils in spray paint. The three chickens are a reference to my partners and I.
Hold Me was used in the backdrop of a photo shoot, the images from which became the series “Torso” and “Hold Me” which were part of a group exhibition at Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown, MA.
The painting was exhibited at Living/Learning Gallery at the University of Vermont, September 5th to October 4th, 2013, as part of an Alumni Exhibition. Other artists included Lindsey Epstein, Ed Grant, Jennifer Kahn, Peter Katis, James Kochalka, Heidy Kunkel, Derrick McNab, Sarah Rutherford, Sarah Ryan, Steven Shattuck, David Sullivan, and Nathaniel Udell. The exhibition was in celebration of Living & Learning Center’s 40th anniversary.
I was asked to provide a statement of my memories of living in the dorm.
On Living at the Living/Learning Center
One of my best memories from college is lying on the floor with a dozen other people in Fireplace Lounge at 3AM. Someone had gotten a copy of Madonna’s Sex book, a massive coffee-table book of erotic photographs. We flipped through the pages, silently. Everyone was afraid to say the wrong thing. I met Sean that night, a guy I crushed on for the rest of my college years. He broke the silence, “Well, this is interesting.”
I chose to live in Living/Learning because doing so meant I had access to a kitchen. I finished high school a semester early and spent the winter and summer of 1992 living in a farmhouse on a dirt road surrounded by fields in Whiting, Vermont. I learned to bake bread using a wood stove, grew asparagus in the garden, and picked strawberries that were growing wild in an abandoned patch left behind by the previous owner. I was, what we called in the early 90s, “crunchy.” I liked the life I built for myself there. Excited to start university, I didn’t like the idea of not being able to cook my own food. Living/Learning had kitchens.
I chose to live in the French dorm because my mother was born in France and we spoke a little French in the house growing up and I thought I should improve my French. We never really spoke French in the French dorm. My roommate first semester was a boy from Paris whose parents sent him to university in the States to avoid compulsory military service. He was awkward. I was weird. We really didn’t get along and by Spring semester I had moved into the single next door. I stapled Christmas tree lights to the ceiling. I burnt a lot of incense. I magically aced Bio 101 in spite of loading up my CUPPS cup with screwdrivers before the 8AM lecture.
Where the French dorm was something of a bust, Living/Learning was great. I cooked my own meals nearly every day. On Sundays, I played Dungeons & Dragons with a group of from the Theatre dorm. I joined the pottery co-op and made a bowl that I still use today to roast garlic. I painted as much as one could given the rigors of first year studies and the cramped nature of dorm rooms. Still, I made art and made a mess of my suite’s shared bathroom sink.
At Living/Learning, I tested by ability to live anywhere and be the person I wanted to be. I ate the food I wanted. I made art. I found people, a community, to connect with. That night in Fireplace Lounge sums up my Living/Learning experience: A group of strangers, thrown together, and confronting something that is as threatening as it is enticing. From that confrontation, we evolve.
In April 2013, I started listening to “Grenade” by Bruno Mars:
Easy come, easy go, that’s just how you live Oh take, take, take it all but you never give Should’ve known you were trouble from the first kiss
Had your eyes wide open, why were they open? Gave you all I had and you tossed it in the trash You tossed it in the trash, you did
I started thinking about how wrapped up the language of love is with violent imagery. I know it’s not an original topic, but I think it’s worth revisiting. You don’t enter into love. You fall into love. Cupid shoots you in the heart. I will die without you. Hearts are broken. Until death do us part. Music lyrics repeat the rhetoric of love and violence back to us.
Then the week of April 15th, 2013 happened. Let me recap: At 2:49PM in Boston, two men exploded pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A few days later, the entire Boston Metropolitan area was “sheltering-in-place” while the bombers and police re-enacted Fast and Furious 3 in the city streets. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Senate failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey Background Check Deal, a piece of legislation supported by 90% of Americans that would have closed loopholes and forced gun-dealers to check the backgrounds of their customers. Also that week, more than twenty cars in twenty cities in Iraq were packed with explosives and detonated killing seventy-five people. The violence was aimed at disrupting provincial elections on April 20th. To say nothing of the attacks that week in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Bangalore, India or the rockets fired into Israel on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday that week.
From the comfort of my studio in Montreal, I thought about how easy it is to shake my head at violence while listening to Bruno Mars sing,
To give me all your love is all I ever asked ‘Cause what you don’t understand Is I’d catch a grenade for ya Throw my hand on the blade for ya I’d jump in front of a train for ya You know I’d do anything for ya
In my lifetime, it is unlikely I will see a grenade explode. I will most likely never hold an AK-47. I will never experience a bomb explosion. As such, I will never really be able to muster the empathy needed to fully comprehend the reality of violence. And because of that, violence is a beautiful abstraction. Violence is colorful, dramatic, theatrical. I experience it vicariously in awful movies about spies racing in Minis through the streets of Paris. I watch men punching each other in the face on the hockey rink while I eat chicken wings on the couch. I revel in Warhol’s Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times. And I listen to music without thinking too much about the reality of the lyrics.
One of my favorite paintings is William Adolphe Bouguereau‘s Dante and Virgil in Hell. The protagonists watch as the con artist Gianni Schicchi bites the alchemist Capocchio on the neck in the most homoerotic way possible. And there lies the lure of violence: it is intimate because it is physical. It is sexy because it is powerful. We are reminded of violence everywhere. Security checks are becoming commonplace. You enter a concert, your backpack is checked for weapons. You get on a plane, your shoes are checked for bombs. Signs at hospitals and schools tell you guns are prohibited, as if it is normal to carry guns and these places are the exception.
Violence is part of humanity. It has been with us since the beginning of time and will be with us until the end of time. But so has mythology and religion and unicorns and evil spirits and bad magic. What if violence wasn’t something we actually did but something we simply thought of? What if violence was simply a rhetoric? Not something we did, but something we imagined. It’s beautiful power reserved for song lyrics and pretty pictures.
So I asked myself, what if I embrace the culture of violence, its erotic quality and potency? And then I thought about the objects of violence: weapons. I’d much rather have a picture of a handgun than an actual handgun. I would rather drop an electrofunk bomb than a real one. I would rather have a grenade that exploded in color than one that sent shrapnel flying through the air or into the legs of a runner finishing a marathon. I began to think that those violent song lyrics were not talking about weapons of destruction but weapons of affection. They were recasting grenades and bombs and guns, removing them from the theatre of havoc and chaos and putting them squarely in the arsenal of love and intimacy. They are changing their moral colour.
I began to imagine what these weapons would look like: two-dimensional reductions of form, multiple colors. The result is a series of prints, “Love Guns & Other Weapons of Affection”, that present a grenade, a bomb, an assault rifle, and a handgun as colorful memories of their actual counterparts.
four 8”x10” prints; 2013 ; edition of 100; signed & numbered
pack of greeting cards with matching buttons
“Boring” represented an important stage in my evolution from painter to photographer to artist who works to put images on paper. For those interested in artistic development and technique, I offer the following four observations:
I continue to be influenced by photographers Michael Meads and Nan Goldin. Where my earlier work, such as “M Series” (2003), combined social documentary and creative portraiture to explore an individual persona, “Boring” is broader and attempts to explore interpersonal dynamics and scene.
“Boring” also represents a development of technique. The photographs in “Speed of Light” (2005) employ the visual strategies of abstract painting to manifest images of light and color where the kinetic interplay offers the viewer a sense of emotionality. “Boring” represents an application of those strategies to work with a definitive subject and narrative.
“Boring” is the most personal work I have produced to date. While it is not the first time I have turned the camera on my private life–I often take photographs of friends, lovers, and partners in various states of partying and play–it is the first time I have considered such work strong enough to have meaning to those not immediately attached to it. As such, a personal statement is included.
By nature, I am not a collaborator. While I value critical feedback of others, I prefer working alone, controlling a project, and ultimately being responsible for its successes and failures. But without intending to do so on their part, this work is significantly informed by the art and aesthetic of Danny Buchanan, whose nonlinear narrative collage paintings appear in some of the photographs, and Pet Shop Boys, whose lyrics provided me a vernacular with which to tell a story.
I hadn’t met Danny in person before, but we talked a lot over a few months and found we had art and a mutual attraction in common.
You have to meet Danny to understand him. He is full of contradictions: part art mafiosi, part redneck; a butch fashionista; and, perhaps, the most sensitive guy’s guy I’ve ever met. He has an incredible sense of aesthetic, a yearn for beautiful things, an unbending view of the world, a rich passion and spirit.
Danny had a few days off. I was looking for something. He invited me to Toronto for a few days to hang out. On my second night, we went to the Drake Hotel for a concert and art/film party. Afterwards, we made our way to Boystown and met up with Adam and Brent. The bars close early in Toronto. The four of us ended up at Danny’s where we were joined by two women who talked a lot but didn’t stay long.
I snapped pictures while we drank beer and smoked and listened to Adam’s stories of cum-stained blue cardigans and getting gay bashed with a napkin. Danny hovered around getting up every few minutes to DJ.
With the women gone, the boys got into me taking pictures. Danny pulled out a bunch of clothes. Adam took off his pants and put on this flannel grey coat. Brent found a muscle shirt he liked and put that on, then he and Danny argued who looked better in it. The rest is in the pictures.
On the drive back to Montreal, I felt like I had spent a few days in a Pet Shop Boys song: cabbing around the city making the scenes, having short sharp cell phone calls to coordinate the effort, seeing and being seen, friends arguing with friends, small talk, getting sized up, making contact, and a complicated set of love-lust emotions for Danny. It seemed right to title the photographs with quotes from their lyrics.
The thirty-four page folio contains twenty-five images plus personal and artist statements and title pages. Each image is 4″x4″ on 5″x7″ paper. The folio is presented loose in a navy-coloured box. The edition is limited to one hundred and each folio is numbered, signed, and contains a certificate. The folio was published in 2005.
November 2005, Second Floor (Toronto)
January 2006, Kasini House Gallery-at-Large (Montreal)
“I Keep Myself Together” is a series of 10 photographs that contrast urban isolation and natural beauty.
New York is advanced urban life. One of the great things about New Yorkers is that they move through the city unaware or unconcerned that other people will see them. This obliviousness or indifference marries with an air of intention. New Yorkers on the street are always going somewhere. What passes for rudeness is often an exigency to keep moving and to keep other people moving, particularly if that other person was in their way. I like to watch people and one day while waiting for someone on a street corner, I began to notice how consumed people were with themselves. Many were on their phones. Many more were in a bubble of music, driven into their heads by earbuds. I wanted to capture the people I was watching.
I have been shooting natural scenes for years. One of the things I try to do is find a focal point and to allow for as much blur as possible in the image while keeping the subject in focus. I applied this approach to photographing people. Like trees and flowers, New Yorkers are unaware of a man with a camera. I stood on street corners for hours, invisible while I took pictures.
I am interested in the isolation of contemporary life and the sometimes intense personal drama that plays out without anyone really knowing. When I watch people, I often make up stories in my head about them. The titles of the photographs are snippets of those stories; moments of dialogue in a full work of theatre. By presenting the images in a circle, I hope to convey to the viewer the sense that they are peeking into a world or looking through a spyglass.
These photographs reflect my interest in abstraction and particularly, the abstracted landscape. In these “Day” photographs, wanted to push the edge of whiteness and blur. I also wanted to capture fields of color. In the “Night” photographs, I wanted to go back to darkness and apply what I learned by taking pictures during the day.
My previous series, “Speed of Light” (2005), “Boring” (2006), and “More Speed of Light” (2008), were all largely shot at night. In May 2007, during a car trip to a wedding in Virginia, I found myself, as I usually do on long car rides, taking photographs as we sped down the road. Wanting to recreate the same blurry, abstract effect during the day time, I began exploring over exposure and unfocusing. Over the past few months, I refined this approach and the seven “Day” photographs show a range of work.
There’s a way where there’s a will You know I got no need for stairs Step out on the window sill Fall with me into the air
Daytime bores me. People are working. Because I am a night person, I tend to sleep away most of the morning. I wake up a lunch time. I work a little. I eat lunch. I wait for one of my lovers to come home or get out of class. Day is a time for waiting.
I tend to take photographs during the day when I find myself awake and out and bored: at a BBQ with friends, in the car on a road trip, and even, ironically, at a daytime rave that takes place on Sundays during the summer in Montreal. I take pictures to fill the time, to busy myself till night comes and I feel awake and alive again.
I don’t understand people who wake up early in the morning to take the day. There is no romance in the morning, no sense of urgency, no risk. There is no light when everything is light.
So, here we go, hold on tight and don’t let go I won’t ever let you fall I love the night, flying o’er these city lights But I love you most of all
I love the night. I love how darkness soothes the city to quiet. People disappear and I am alone, uninhibited, and free to roam.
I also like to shoot at night. It is easier to add light than to take it away. Light itself becomes a subject, the actor in the photographs. Colors become moody. Things look better at night. Darkness has a way of obscuring the dark and dingy. I would rather walk down an alley and see stacks of smashed cardboard and piles of black garbage bags than seen perfectly manicured sidewalks bursting with potted flowers.
The night promises sex and mystery and danger. We give ourselves permission to do things in the dark we would not during daylight hours. At night, we hold our lovers a little tighter. At night, we dream.
by Ric Kasini Kadour
from Kolaj Magazine, Pre-Issue (Fall 2011)
Note: Before we launched Kolaj Magazine, we released a “pre-issue” in which we asked our contributors two questions: Why collage? and Why now? The answers they gave us addressed the spectrum of contemporary collage. Together they expressed the purpose and direction of Kolaj Magazine: to examine collage in all its dimensions. “Collage Is the Moment” was Ric Kasini Kadour’s contribution.
“In 1912 Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso created the first papiers collés by gluing pieces of oak-grained faux bois wallpaper onto their drawings,” writes Diane Waldman, deputy director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in Collage, Assemblage, and the Found Object.
In 2012, we will mark the 100th anniversary of collage as a modern and contemporary art form. Or will we? Collage doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of respect in the art world. Collectors and curators look skeptically at the medium, concerned about its archival qualities. Critics often dismiss the medium because the use of found images violates some weird notions of authenticity. Many 20th century artists have dabbled (or more than dabbled) in collage: Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters, David Hockney, Damien Hirst, and Tom Wesselmann, to name a few.
Countless other recent examples of artists working in collage, exploring and developing the medium exist. In spite of this activity, there is a dearth of critical writing about the medium.
In fact, a survey of recent exhibitions reveals collage is a staple of contemporary art. Barbara Astman, whose exhibition “Daily Collage” was at at the Corkin Gallery, writes about her process, “Collage has continually been a part of my art practice in one form or another. This series developed out of my ongoing habit of reading the daily paper, as interested in the visual imagery as the newsworthy articles. There are obvious links between it and the 2006 ‘Newspaper Series’. I began saving images, which appeared in the daily papers, and would then collage selections onto pages in a small notebook. I was also thinking about Lenny Bruce and how his stand up comedy performances were like oral jazz with nothing censored, translated or mediated. I was not trying to create logical narratives nor was I commenting on the news of the day. I was just responding to the images in a very direct and impulsive way. This work is more about impulse and intuition; I let others create their own narratives from the resulting images.”
Artists make collage and people love collage because it speaks to the time we live in. It is no surprise that collage tends to peak during times when society is trying to figure itself out.
Kota Ezawa’s work is a bridge between paper collage and video. His paper cutout, Dead Troops Talk (2007), was described by Chinie Ding in Art Forum as “an intricate camouflage-like paper collage (war abstracted unto war-pattern) reformatting Jeff Wall’s 1992 photograph of the same title via computer drawing and 35-mm slide.” Curator Katherine Bussard of the Art Institute of Chicago said of Ezawa’s work, “In his paper cutouts, light boxes, and slides, only the essential shapes and colours remain, trumping all the details, shadows, and nuance that could be found in the original picture. Whether using collage technique or graphics software, Ezawa reconsiders the source image from a variety of perspectives.” Ezawa’s body of work represents an attempt to make sense of a century and a half of visual images by comparing, contrasting, and juxtaposing.
Canadian artist Elizabeth McIntosh works in collage on a large scale. At Goodwater Gallery in 2009, she covered an entire wall of the long, narrow space. At the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, she built two large-format collages: one wrapped the exterior of the gallery, using the window vitrines, and the other filled the Balkind Gallery in a unified form. “Her collages and paintings carry a similar language, one of solid planes, layered forms and bold colours. They inform each other, running in tandem, offering a visible language…,” explained the gallery.
Countless other recent examples of artists working in collage, exploring and developing the medium exist. In spite of this activity, there is a dearth of critical writing about the medium. In fact, Diane Waldman’s lively and thorough opus on the subject is out-of-print.
Artists make collage and people love collage because it speaks to the time we live in. It is no surprise that collage tends to peak during times when society is trying to figure itself out. Braque and Picasso were forging a new art, an art for the 20th century in the face of World War I. Richard Hamilton, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg began exploring collage in the 1950’s, at a time when all sorts of writers, poets, and artists were creating the intellectual foundation of the 1960’s. Today, we live in a dramatically different world than we did ten years ago: We carry media in our pocket. We are constantly sharing images through social media. And entertainment has become increasingly dynamic and interactive through video games. Meanwhile, political and economic turbulence has become the norm.
Today, we see artists using collage to explore printmaking and photography. We see painters using the visual language of collage in their composition, using collage to make a new art.
Richard Hamilton’s iconic collage, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, came at a time when artists were discovering the visual language that became Pop art. Today, we see artists using collage to explore printmaking and photography. We see painters using the visual language of collage in their composition, using collage to make a new art. At a time when we are bombarded with images, collage becomes a means of processing those images, of figuring out what goes with what.
Contemporary collage since its beginning has been about collaboration. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were working together in a manner similar to Braque and Picasso and inspired by the creative collaboration between choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage. Johns and Rauschenberg began an exploration of visual art.
Because collage is about mixing images, it lends itself to two or more people coming together. This is a highly contemporary act. The internet has made the world a more collaborative place.
Because collage is about mixing images, it lends itself to two or more people coming together. This is a highly contemporary act. The internet has made the world a more collaborative place. People work on documents in real time without having to be in the same country, much less the same room. One can record a guitar track in Paris, lay the drums and beats in Montreal, sing the lyrics in a Cairo recording studio and a producer in Los Angeles can assemble and mix the song. Duets are recorded without the two singers ever meeting.
The acts of juxtaposition, comparison, and contrast are integral to the process of collage; they are also how many people live today. The media has largely abandoned nuance in favor of presenting conflict. Internet memes like “Selleck Waterfall Sandwich,” smash together the famous moustached actor with a picture of a waterfall and, usually, a giant sandwich. This is a form of collage in its most rudimentary form in the sense that those images that are successful not only contain the necessary elements, the elements are presented in such a manner that they please the viewer. Isn’t this what collage does?
Collage is the moment we live in. With one hundred years of contemporary collage and one hundred years of collage to come, it seems about time to give the medium its due.
Kolaj Magazine is the world’s only internationally-oriented art magazine dedicated to contemporary collage.