Thursday, September 20, 2007

Serious Query of the Week

Is it wrong to like Mika? I'd really like to know, because it certainly seems that way. The bio on his official site is a bunch of self-indulgent pap and the title of his debut causes me to unintentionally dwell on shitty children's programming. That song "Relax" is a cute little ditty, though, isn't it? I'm torn.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Baby Centaur's Packaging Critique 1.0

WTF? Is Selectum now hiring BFA broke-asses to work on their design team now? Funnier still, I found this covered in dust in a shitty convenience store on Queen W. And the plastic was already ripped on the top. Sweet deal. Seventy-nine cents gets you bubble text, a diamond punchout window AND a hand-drawn birthday cake. Fuck us silly if it ain't a quaint little find.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Beautiful Black Lights of Salvation: Jon Sasaki at QWAC

So seldom am I given the treat of genuine amusement, especially when it concerns the confusion of old ladies attempting to shop in a blacked out thrift store. Floral print bags in hand, they approach their quarry with apprehension, not quite sure what each object is until they're within two feet of the thing. Oh, it's a plate with frolicking kittens. Gorgeous. 

The Queen West Art Crawl’s (QWAC) program Play/Grounds featured a hunt it the dark thanks to Jon Sasaki's black lights and taped up windows at the Salvation Army store at Queen and Jameson. The better part of the space was black enough for bewilderment, but just enough for your eyes to adjust so you could find your crocheted toaster covers. The shoppers were treated to browsing with individual flashlights for the majority of the day, with white items, inherently, being the easiest to find.

Sasaki’s past few shows have seen him delighting viewers with his distinct understanding of space and interaction. He also possesses enviable quality of being able to not only engage the viewer with very accessible pieces (both literally and conceptually) but to also accurately gauge public reaction, stepping beyond the role of artist into semiotician.

Black Light Thrift Store was shown for one day only, but Play/Grounds continues until tomorrow (Sunday the 16th). It also includes artist Katie Bethune-Leamen who takes you on a mushroom journey (to find, not to eat) in the neighbourhood of Parkdale. The whole beautiful thing is curated by Elaine Gaito and Chris Reynolds.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Summer Retrospective 3.0: LEAF + TPSC

“There are people in the city who think trash is solely a municipal responsibility,” states Todd Irvine of the Toronto Public Space Committee (TPSC) and the Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) initiative. “Which in many ways should be the case, but if a person sees a problem with refuse, the initial reaction is to call Public Works instead of cleaning it up themselves.”

That mentality, Irvine contends, most certainly extends to the care of trees in the city. LEAF’s recent collaboration with the TPSC by way of city tree tours seeks to educate about trees, both publicly and privately owned, and to promote their care by way of collective responsibility.

Unfortunately, the projected decline of the Toronto tree canopy, which is estimated to reduce from 21% to a mere 17% coverage of the urban landscape, is making their task increasingly urgent. LEAF, who has been in operation 10 years, has been planting 1,000 trees a year through their Community Programs. This directly contributes to water and air filtration, not to mention acres of lovely shade for future Torontonians. Additional programs include the much lauded tree tours led by Irvine and Liz Forsberg.

“What’s often a misconception about LEAF is that somehow we’re a City of Toronto affiliate,’ Irvine explains, “but we’ve never received any financial support from the city, in spite of the mass effort over the years to preserve and educate the populace about the trees here.”

LEAF did, however, recently receive a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. This came as a slight surprise considering LEAF's current TPSC affiliation. “We weren’t certain what the provincial reaction was going to be...TPSC often advocates groups who are anti-corporate.” Irvine explained.

However, the juries behind the Trillium Granting bodies are comprised of individuals from the Toronto community including local activists. “Which, in a way makes a lot more sense,” Irvine continues, “because this project is extremely concerned with issues that surround the health of trees in every Toronto community. We’re concerned with the entire equation.”
Currently, the Toronto urban forest consists of 7 million trees, half of which are on private property. LEAF receives calls from home-owners on a daily basis concerned with trees in their neighborhoods and asking for help on how to deal with developments in their area.

“What people don’t often realize is that we aren’t a large organization,” Irvine adds, “and that we don’t have all of the resources that are necessary at our disposal to help callers with every problem.” These problems often include dying trees and older trees that are going to be cut down from city development projects. “In spite of our size, we try to leave everyone with an adequate answer or reference, if not a solution.”

When asked what other North American cities were doing to maintain their respective canopies, Irvine immediately had some surprisingly harsh numbers. “The local populace is often under the impression that Toronto is a very “green” city, but the truth is that there are other municipalities with much higher percentages than us.” The most drastic example being Washington DC, which boasts an impressive 40% tree canopy. Our sister city Ottawa also surpasses us, with about 27% tree coverage.

So, what have these other cities done differently? Specifically, Washington DC has been far more fortunate on the funding side of the equation. “That continues to be a huge problem for LEAF,’ Irvine concedes, “We have several excellent people on staff, but without constant and adequate funding, we can’t afford many services we hope to provide. This really is a full time job on everyone’s part.’

Irvine also cited a hefty donation from Betty Brown Casey, once photographs of the declining canopy in the entire District of Columbia were brought to their attention. Out of that, Casey Trees was born, and the organization still is still able to operate on that initial grant, which was a staggering 50 million dollar contribution.

Not that LEAF is expecting any donations like that in the near, or even distant future, but their goals remain unshaken. Always maintaining a good sense of humour about the situation, Irvine drew an interesting comparison: “Trees are a lot like puppies. Once you teach people how to take care of them, it’s easy to maintain that momentum. They’re very likeable things."

As likeable as they are, they aren't the only facet of the environment in need of attention. Irvine contends that there are a lot of worthy causes, but that trees are paramount to the health of any city. The Trillium Grant is an excellent start, but LEAF will require on-going support to continue their important work.

Summer Retrospective 2.0: ROM Crystal Extravaganza

(Cross-posted with Mercer Union Hall)

Where else but
an awkwardly planned gala event can you bear witness to befuddled Canadian celebrities forced to read cliché-ridden scripts with Father Time as their comedic sidekicks? Well the opening of the Royal Ontario Museum's Lee-Chin Crystal building that's where. In what turned into a traffic-blocking pedestrian nightmare, a stage was erected in front of the building on Bloor to commemorate its completion, part of what has become an annual mess of questiony festivities (LuminaTO).

Those who able to get a decent view of the subsequent concert most likely stood in the 3-blocks long lineup for hours to gain access. I figure the majority of their day was spent gawking at the same, one building in a mixture of confused excitement and heat exhaustion when they could have simply waited a week to get an unfettered view. That particular day, however, they were treated to a whacky laser-light show, a slap-dash lineup of musicians who played one song a piece, and speeches by gentlemen whose income is in direct correlation to the pompous tone in which they spoke.

There was also an abysmal problem with crowd control (Handsome Tip: Take notes from the Montreal Jazz Festival. They have make-shift corridors for moving crowds easily past standing room at each stage. Simple as that.). I’ve never seen so many unhappy locals and confused, bickering tourists who had missed their queue. Many were stuck in spots where they couldn’t even see the stage, yet desperately wanted to validate their trip to Bloor by staring at the sound crew’s ass-cracks. Or the extensive hoists and scaffolding that supported them. Take your pick.

And although they were in the minority, some people seemed genuinely excited, but not for what the organizers had to offer. Deep in the ill-placed press section, I saw a woman turn to a man who looked suspiciously like the building’s namesake and remark, “Wow, this must be so exciting for you Michael!” He politely explained to her that he was Lee-Chin’s brother. And whether I heard that correctly or not, it stood out mostly in preference of an effective illustration. Sometimes people just like to be around shit that other people are making a big deal about. Even if it is a colossal waste of time and money.

The evening also provoked, “ooos” and “aahs” from the spectators when the projections and lights hit the building’s exterior. Lighting up the crystal is fancy-pants and all, but the structure should be able to impress on its own merits, and at the most with simple, adequate illumination. Projecting strange alien landscapes in colours that evoke an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical undermines the workmanship.

If some sing their own praises, the LuminaTO shoves them down your throat, smiling broadly as though your own gagging sounds are expressions of joy. The kind of disdain I set aside for expressions of complete ignorance can best be directed at the head spokesperson. His one pompous stand-out statement of the evening was, “Great cities are built on great civic projects,” in his address to the crowd. 

While that is true, and only even in part, this rather superficial undertaking was not only infantile in comparison to our city's past accomplishments, it held no scent of greatness. Oh ROM, if the AGO's opening doesn't churn out something better, I really will dive in the lake and never return.

Summer Retrospective 1.0: Hart House Art Gallery

At fairly infrequent intervals, I'll be posting articles that have been floating about without a home. There may very well be a good reason as to why they remain abodeless, but you know, enjoy.

You enter the stone archway to hear that there are liquid lap-dances upstairs. As you ascend the staircase, there are what looks like huge coke rails trailing through the hallways. Things that creepy old men so oft desire to be the construct of heaven. Alas, it was just a Hart House art show.

This past May, a group of young artists, comprised of students and new graduates that included Annie Onyi Cheung, Shara Mohamed, Risa Kusumoto, Justine Lodder, Liz Knox, Gintas Tirilis, Leila Gajusingh, Tracia Almeida, and Marko Bursac took over the second and third floors of the University of Toronto building with their performances and installation pieces.

The highlights of the show came from the more sweet and subtley provocative gestures. Bursac developed a perfume by interviewing strippers. Titled after an actual strip club, Pure Gold was given to visitors to evoke the feeling of a lap dance. The odd, greasy concoction included baby powder and a coconut scent. It was strangely fitting considering the room he used to exhibit in was formerly a gentleman’s club. More interesting still is the now that the Hart House never used to admit the female portion of the student body when it first opened its doors in the late 1940s.

Below our feet (and possibly causing the building an ant problem) Gajusingh spread sugar (the aforementioned rails) winding down the hallways and up staircases, bringing into consideration Trinidadian labour concerns on sugar plantations, not to mention drug trafficking.

Stepping into one of the main refectories brought attendees to tables displaying an array of brown paper bags. Artist Liz Knox validated movie fandom in obsessive detail. Written on the bags were character names such as “Kevin McCallister” “Marty McFly” and “Buffy” and inside, one found food indicative of each character’s preferences, including popcorn, licorice, and other sugar-filled concoctions.

The biggest beauty of this show, however, brought together by JM Barnicke Gallery's curator-in-residence Tejpal Ajji, was the willingness of the artists to fully embrace experimentation. The strength and willingness of young blood to simply “try things out” and develop their ideas over-rode the show’s general conceptual inconsistency. However, that did seem to be the point. The show wasn’t designed to impress with one curatorial flavour, but rather to give the artists free reign. It’s a refreshing stray from the typical fill-in the-blanks-with-my-idea approach, and something that more curators could employ.