MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
FEBRUARY 21 – MARCH 28
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2014 AT 8 PM
ARTIST TALK: SATURDAY, MARCH 1 AT 3 PM
LOCATION – STRIDE GALLERY
1006, MACLEOD TRAIL S.E, CALGARY, ALBERTA
TOLERANCE TIME revolves around the complex notion of tolerance post-9/11 in relation to the Vancouver Multicultural Society’s state sponsored activities. The completed project culminates in a 16mm film set at the 35-year-old organization’s offices in Hodson Manor, a Victorian heritage building in Vancouver’s Fairview district. The organization housed in this Dominion-period mansion represents the intersection of the two main trajectories of Canadian identity: a colonial heritage with the multicultural present. Tolerance Time takes this intersection point as a kind of recent Canadian lore. This notion is addressed by speculating whether multiculturalism has been antiquated in contemporary western society.
MICHAEL JONES was born in Calgary in 1980. He studied Media Arts and Digital Technology at the Alberta College of Art + Design and received an MFA in Fine Art Media from the Slade School of Fine Art in 2006. He currently lives and works in Vancouver.
Tolerance Time opens with an object being thrown from off camera through the window of a late Victorian house. A police car arrives with its lights flashing to investigate. A policeman (played here by the artist) has arrived to investigate the disturbance. With flashlight in hand, he enters the house and begins to search from room to room.
His attention alights upon various items in the house. We learn that the house is not a home but a multicultural society. The totality of the message of multiculturalism seems to be housed here. We see motivational posters, a large mosaic and other ephemera and materials. Housed in this old Victorian, the promotional materials of the movement resemble museological display. A piece of history re-discovered by a chance act of vandalism.
As the policeman climbs the stairwell, the film slips into a deeper sense of foreboding. Here we witness the classic horror genre scene of the soon to be victim ascending the staircase in a haunted house and stumbling towards their certain doom. But what is doing the haunting here? Tolerance Time is set in a Victorian house. In Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.”, the haunted house theatracalizes the anxieties of bourgeois materiality. Here, what is unveiled are collective anxieties repressed after years and years of cultural idealism. This idealism has been held aloft, denigrated and resuscitated and debated over and over again, much in the same way as heritage architecture. Throughout the ’70s, urban progressives embraced the Victorian/Edwardian aesthetic as a counter-modernist gesture. As cities across North America were discovering (and as in many cases inventing) their “Olde Townes”, heritage preservation became a serious concern of architects, urban planners and the general public.
By donning the uniform of a policeman in this film, the artist inhabits the role of both lone, distanced investigator and authority figure. It’s a subtle comment on the academicisation of art and the often-authoritative role the artist must adopt in their investigations of history and culture. The specter of social conflict haunts this house as it haunts the conscience of the artist debating whether to inject political relevancy and a sense of urgency into their ‘practice’. Narrativised here is the divide between art and activism. Jones seeks to extricate the aesthetic production of the multicultural society, its posters, artworks and the building housing them from the actual people that work and volunteer for it. As an artist first, he seems only interested in exploring their formal qualities.
Art works are often ‘activated’ through an engagement with the social justice community. Jones illustrates the artist pilfering content in order to justify their ‘practice’. Rather than walk in the front door during business hours to introduce himself, he has chosen to sneak in under cover of night to do the work alone. Many artists believe a critical distance must be employed when allowing politics to enter into their work. They fear that without employing the language of ‘investigation’ or describing what they create as a ‘practice’ they risk the fallibility that might arise from being too emotionally invested in their subject matter. They open themselves to criticism and liability this way.
Tolerance Time shows how political subjects in art are policed and controlled through various formal and theoretical mechanisms. If a work’s political message is far too overt it is often criticized as being merely ‘activism’ and the efficacy of its placement in the gallery is questioned. On the other hand, works lacking social content (or the overt display of it) can be considered merely formal exercises, a confection for the eye (or the market).
Welcome (To Terrordom) acknowledges apprehensions surrounding post-modernity and globalism. While walking through an international airport you are more than likely to pass a banner featuring the word ‘Welcome’ written many times over in many different languages. The work plays with the idea that language and representation contribute to a fractious society. Jones shows how the best intentions often have a darker aspect to them. Globalism seemed to stand in as an easy scapegoat for many pundits in the wake of 9/11. Many were only just beginning to begrudgingly share their cultural hegemony after being instructed for decades to embrace the ‘other’.
Unity Circle (Instruction On How To Live Harmoniously) addresses this fractiousness by appropriating the imagery of an imagined post-nation state world. The symbol acknowledges cultural and racial connections that transcend national borders—borders that were established through conflict and division. This symbol originated as an acknowledgment of the need for aboriginal peoples to coalesce under one banner. Popular symbols evolve from addressing specific issues; the UK’s ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’ spawned our ubiquitous ‘Peace’ symbol, to symbolizing more universal concepts and ideals. In an Orwellian sense, the desire for peace is also a desire for security. Our current situation sees us also having to coalesce under another symbol that transcends national borders: that of the security state.
Both Unity Circle (Instruction On How To Live Harmoniously) and Learn The Language (Tableau In Red, Yellow, Blue, Black and White) reference highly formalist practices from the past like the De Stijl and Geometric Abstraction movements. The text in Learn The Language (Tableau In Red, Yellow, Blue, Black and White) adds vernacular to the formal play of line and colour. Both works question and narrate the artist’s conflicted desire to be left alone with formalist play but also their need to address a broader audience through social and political engagement.
By ‘learning the language,’ a new immigrant is given the critical tools to read and question a received culture, to successfully inhabit a ruin. Similarly, an artist has the choice to address the history of art, be sensitive of context and site specificity and articulate clear intention of meaning or often suffer institutional banishment. Jones’s work illustrates the precarious balance found between an artist’s desire for autonomy and idiosyncrasy and their need to address the audience, participate in broader dialogues and acknowledge what came before them.
ALEX MORRISON (1971) was born in Redruth, UK and currently lives and works in Düsseldorf. Morrison has had recent solo exhibitions at Natalia Hug Gallery, Cologne (2013), OG2 Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (2012); Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver (2011). Group shows include: Melanchotopia, Witte de With, Rotterdam (2011); Sydney Biennial (2010); It Is What It Is, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (2010); Following a Line, Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (2010) In Spring of 2014, Morrison will attend Embassy for Foreign Artists, a residency in Geneva, Switzerland. Sternberg Press published a monograph on his work in 2005.