Sunday, September 2, 2007

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.