Don Gudz (a.k.a. Goodes) | unpublished1 | 2006
Unpublished catalogue essay on the Talk Show workshop series, rejected for its offensive and inappropriately critical content by editors Lorraine Oades and Gisele Amantea. Talk Show was part of the in-situ installation art show Used Goods. The exhibition and workshops took place from the 5-25 November, 2004 at the Salvation Army Store at 1620 rue Notre-Dame Ouest in Montréal. It addresses the poor turn out at Talk Show events and the explores the reasons behind the failure to mobilize the local community to attend. It suggests that Talk Show was more exploratory than social, and concludes that a sustained presence in the community that builds solid connections between art and a local community is needed in order to expand the numbers of people from the community that would participate in this kind of event.
A large part of the essay documents workshops and performances from Talk Show in detail, recounted as if they were part of a dream. The following artists are mentioned in the article: Kelly Lynne Wood, Léoopold Foulem, Cathy Kennedy's Choeur Maha, Chris Flower, Diane Morin, Catherine Sylvian, Hazel Meyer and Action Terrorist Socialement Acceptable.
The TALK SHOW workshop and performance series was presented in parallel with the USED/GOODS site-specific-installation show [sponsored by Articule Gallery, 5-25 November, 2004]. Both took place in Montreal's largest Salvation Army Store in the St. Henri neighbourhood. The event was conceived and curated by artists Lorraine Oades and Gisele Amantea [the Cut Rate Collective].
The role of TALK SHOW was distinct from that of USED/GOODS. While the art works in the exhibition asked viewers to enter into the artists' various aesthetic propositions to find meaning, the workshops were opportunities for the USED/GOODS artists to engage directly with the Salvation Army's varied patrons and staff, that is, those who were to find meaning in their installations.
Lorraine and Gisele intended that TALK SHOW would address the concerns of the people in the neighbourhood who frequented the store. They came up with an interesting mix of workshop topics that had general-public appeal: cooking, fixing things, handicrafts, singing, drawing, managing money on a low budget and others. For workshop leaders they drew from the talent and skill base of the USED/GOODS artists-complemented by the expertise of community workers, when required.
The TALK SHOW title references organisers' initial idea that TALK SHOW coordinator Kelly Lynne Wood would act as a kind of host animating the workshops like so many episodes of a TV show.2 But things did not go exactly as planned. The actual number of people who "tuned in" didn't even register in the ratings. That is, despite an impressive organisational effort, only a handful of people or fewer attended many of the events, and those who did come, most often were artists, not the intended community audience. Consequently, the TV metaphor fell apart and the organisers and Kelly Lynne did their best to adjust to the situation. So, what went wrong?
In our times, marketing is often brought forward as the universal remedy for every problem from getting a job and getting people to museums, to solving generational problems between parents and teens. Art has not escaped marketing logic, and clearly TALK SHOW would have benefited from a bit of its savvy. Assumptions were made about the target audience's interests rather than consulting community members directly. The advertising materials were obscure, to the point where it was difficult to even identify what was being offered. Consequently, it was almost impossible for "the community" to know that they were the target audience. And even if they might have been compelled to respond to this curious call to action, all the great things that they would get out of the experience were not communicated. The community didn't know, for example, that Lorraine, Gisele, Kelly Lynne and all the artists had gone out other way to bring something new and interesting to their world, or that they wanted to remove the barriers between art and the community and were ready and waiting to meet on common ground.
The term "failed" in my title refers to these strategic oversights as well as to TALK SHOW organizers' unfulfilled utopian expectation: i.e. that by occupying the same space, two socially marginal groups, artists and the patrons of the Salvation Army, would naturally want to exchange with each other. However, I would argue that those failures, though real, far from negate the significance of the TALK SHOW workshops and performances.
The limits of marketing are well known. It tends to solve communication problems on only one social level. To put it crassly: it works to get others to do what one wants them to do. Many cultural workers are uneasy entering into such manipulative and dominating power relations. This would almost certainly be the case for Lorraine and Gisele coming from feminist traditions. So, while the need for better communication should be acknowledged by organizers, their failure to be strategic in this way is consistent with their deeper values.
It seems that the social agenda implied in reaching out to a community audience and the mass-culture populism evoked in the ubiquitous talk-show format are both false trails. Rather Gisele and Lorraine's project seems more personal than social, more artistic than promotional. Above all, Lorraine and Gisele seemed interested in abandoning themselves to the complexities of the public space to see what could happen.
Many of the decisions made by Gisele and Lorraine point to an approach which is exploratory and experimental. As is often the case, it's what we do rather than what we say that serves to clarify our intent. It is telling, for example, that when Kelly actually did hit the selling floor at the Sally Anne, the cool idea of the quick-talking, TV icon of the talk show host was quickly abandoned in favour of a more subtle and responsive approach to the audience. In retrospect, Kelly jokingly mimics herself going around the store grovelling to shoppers: "Please come and draw." "Want something to eat?" "Can you use a glue gun?" She is exaggerating, but Kelly is not exactly your over-powering, take-control, Oprah-Winfrey-type. And it has to be assumed this is why Lorraine and Gisele hired her in the first place.
Kelly has a body of work as a performance artist. In it she has developed the role of facilitator, offering experiences to her audience but giving them the freedom to respond on their own terms. For example, in her piece First Response (2005) she invited people to touch her pregnant belly. In Come for Coffee (2003) she invited people to join her in the window of a gallery to chat, look at old photos and make up stories. In These are a few of my favourite things… (2003) she approached people in a public space in Mexico and asked them to describe a favourite object from their homes. This is the same responsive attitude to people that Kelly assumed in TALK SHOW.
Lorraine herself seems to have been satisfied with adopting a relatively passive [rather than promtional] position. In the video documentation of the workshops Oades is often seen sitting on the sidelines watching the TALK SHOW workshops. She may have a few worry lines showing that the turn out is less than expected, but she just lets Kelly and the artists do their thing. It is as if she is suspending her pre-conceived ideas of what should happen and is just waiting for things to reveal themselves. Not an easy exercise. In most cases, the results are subtle: fleeting insights into the relations between the artist and society, and into the larger social construction of what is meaningful and what is not.
What follows are descriptions of some of the TALK SHOW workshops written as if they were one big dream. In retrospect, Lorraine and Gisele's fantasy of integrating a contemporary art event into the functioning Salvation Army store struck me as being almost surreal. Furthermore, in TALK SHOW's spirit of not enclosing things in preconceived abstract ideas, it seemed that the subtle insights mentioned above become clearer in the heightened emotional and psychological space of the dreamer. It is a space where our subconscious can freely imbue the ordinary places and events of TALK SHOW with sublime signification.
I was walking to the Salvation Army store on Notre Dame Street to get some clothes and cutlery. My wardrobe badly needed a lift and we were short on forks and table spoons. It was a dreary late-fall day in Montreal, the streets cold with slushy rain. Everything had felt normal up to then. But when I got inside the store everyone was shopping except me. Strangely I was there to look at art.
I was having fun hunting down the art installations all mixed up with the stuff in the store. "Pyramid Song" from Radiohead's Amnesiac album was playing over the store PA giving the whole scene a surreal and melancholy feel. But, the tune kept being interrupted by these loud muffled announcements that went something like this: "Attention shoppers. All those interested in having a tour of the art show with artist Jo-anne Balcaen, Chris Flower, Diane Morin, etc., veuillez se présenter au comptoir des bijoux." Then I would run into the artists whose names had been announced hanging around one department of the store or another waiting. Most shoppers didn't seem to realize that they were guides. Kelly Lynne Wood was there to try and connect the two realities. But it was hard. Most artists got discouraged and floated off. Then the music stopped.
Another announcement came over the PA: "Léopold Foulem est finalement arrivé. He will immediately start his workshop: How to Make Something Out of Nothing or Comment créer à partir de rien."
I found myself in an open grey cement space at the back of the store. I was among tall metal shelves and worn wooden bins chaotically filled with the surplus stuff our society: things that were once desired but had been cast off to make room for more stuff. Music on vinyl records. Lamps without shades. Bits of electronic equipment. Old televisions. Ski equipment. Books. Hockey pants. Old exercise equipment. Speakers. Christmas lights. Toys.
I walked over to a very long table covered with brightly-coloured plastic tablecloths. It had lots of empty chairs around it. But there was more action at a round white-plastic garden table that was stuck on the end of the long tables. That was where the glue guns were. Four identical blue ones, plugged into a flickering power bar, giving off the odour of burning chemicals.
A woman, who I recognized as a local artist, was trying to hot-glue the torso of a Starwars action figure (I think it was Samuel Jackson's character Mace Windu) onto an old bike helmet. A friendly employee came along. He sat down in one of the empty plastic garden chairs and started talking to the woman and trying to help with a glue gun that didn't seem to be getting hot enough. Out of the side of my eye I noticed a couple of other women that seemed to be part of the workshop but who were putting on their winter clothes and leaving. Kelly Lynne Wood said something to them. Then she came over and started dabbing hot glue onto the tips of floppy little, pre-cut pieces of red pompom wool that looked like liquorice, and sticking them onto the middle of a white china saucer. She kept leaving her project to chat with curious onlookers.
The Samuel Jackson figure kept falling off the helmet. "It's not sticking," said Leopold, who had wandered out of the shelves to give advice. But he didn't seem too concerned. He began talking about all the family photos that end up in the Salvation Army. He had one in his hand, a wedding photo in a Dollar-Store frame. "It's amazing here" said the bike helmet woman, "…and sad." Kelly agreed. The employee laughed a hearty Santa laugh.
Things just didn't seem to be getting done, despite the creative potential. As if none of it mattered. The woman was getting discouraged but she persisted. Her little boy came out from under the table where he was playing on the floor with a broken table hockey game, and asked what she was doing. But she couldn't explain. In the end, Kelly put on the helmet with Samuel Jackson finally stuck on top. She said, "This is what we made."
I can't remember what happened to Kelly's woollen dish piece? I thought I might find it in a big garbage bin that was near the staff kitchen. But all of a sudden I found myself upstairs in the furniture section. I herd a strange swishing sound coming from an island of tables set up in a rectangle among the old couches and bureaus. An announcement came over the PA: "Weaving and recycling workshop au deuxième étage." Mindy Yan Miller was standing above about eight people. I recognized most of them as artists I'd seen around. Sun was streaming in the window; it seemed like a new day. They were weaving waste baskets out of old newspapers, laughing and talking, having a good time. I was fascinated by how some hands were so elegant making the intricate movements while others were so awkward. One of the participants had finished and had put the basket over her head as a joke, all the others followed suit.
I left them to go back downstairs but I got stuck on the stairway landing. A class of elementary school kids on a field trip were blocking the way. They were being taken around the exhibition by one of the artists who hadn't floated off. He was giving them information, doing his best to put art-speak into kid-speak. He also kept asking them, "Why do you think the artist did this?" The more interested kids tried their best to answer the question, and the guide outwardly agreed that the things they came up with were "a possibility." Some kids kept pushing and asking impatiently, "When are we going up stairs?" Others kept fidgeting or knocking down something they weren't supposed to touch. When the guide put his hands up to his head and closed his eyes, I knew that things weren't going as planned.
The art the guide was talking about seemed perfectly meaningless to the kids (like so much they were asked to pay attention to by adults). Yet, it was pretty easy for them to figure out that the artworks really meant something to the guide who could talk about them at length and ask all kinds of questions. I could see that the kids all wanted to "get it" too, but expressed their difficulties in not being able to do so in different ways.
I recognized myself in the kids that were trying so hard to listen, already aware of the intellectual alchemical process in which a word and a new way of seeing can powerfully transform the meaningless into meaningful. Obedient, they seemed detached from their bodies, hanging onto the handrail, their faces upturned in mental contemplation. Disturbing them were the frenzied kids who were touching everything; theirs was a physical, primal approach to the problem. They hoped that they might literally grasp what was out of their reach if they could only hold onto the seemingly-meaningless objects. Unable to touch the art they seemed intent on manhandling everything else around it. The ones that couldn't wait to go upstairs were more concentrated. They had already given up on understanding what was immediately before them, and were only willing to invest themselves in the hope that somewhere further along they might find something meaningful. In the end these kids got their way and were let upstairs, running to their next disappointment. The contemplatives lingered and the touchers had to be herded along. As they passed me, I wondered if any of these kids, a few years from now, would remember any of the artworks they had seen that day. I mean in their conscious minds.
I headed downstairs. I wanted to shop for something nice for my wife. Looking down the main isle of the store, I saw a group of about 20 women of all ages congregating in the women's clothing department. It was night again and the store seemed relatively quiet and empty. The women were dressed in an eccentric mix of styles, from conservative to flamboyant; all "looks" which probably could have been composed from the store's racks. But they weren't shopping, they were singing.
Veteran Montréal sound artist and leader of Choeur Maha, Cathy Kennedy, was there strumming a shiny black acoustic guitar strapped over her shoulder. I didn't know she played guitar. She broke into a cheery Joni Mitchell song from the late sixties: Chelsea Morning. The group of women, her choir, joined in, all smiles and concentrated looks, swaying their hips to the beat. They articulated their words and projected their voices. The sound was beautiful. It made me realize how austere the fluorescent-lit store space was. But no sooner had the music articulated the depressing feeling of the space, than it washed it all away. I was transported by the women's harmonies and the lyrics into churches and concert halls, tripping-out on melancholic imaginary emotions. They sang two more songs: the Wyrd Sister's Warrior and a song by one of the Choeur Maha members [NAME? Joellen something?]. A small audience of shoppers clapped when the songs ended.
Then Cathy smiled a Cheshire grin and the show changed. I was shopping in the skirt section when Cathy announced that they would sing a "vocal choreography" piece written especially for the evening entitled "A Crossing of Days." The choir spread out and started circulated around the clothing racks singing their different parts. I could hear bits of mixed up lyrics as I approached one singer or another: "Thursday December eight…wash clothes, clean fridge…funeral in Windsor…fettuccini, meat balls, Canadian Tire…Baby-sit James…wipe ceiling piano and bench… " Some singers were tapping clear-plastic and metal-clip hangers on the racks as they sang creating a brittle clicking rhythm. This went on for a while. Then there was a scratchy radio sound from a ghetto-blaster, and this piano riff started playing and all the women's voices became synchronized in a repeating melody. Then it ended. There were less people clapping.
Then Cathy said they were going to do the piece again two more times for two video cameras that were there filming. One of the members of the choir sat down to breast feed her baby. They did the piece again and again. In the end there was no one left except the show's organisers, the cameramen and my neighbour Joan. Her son is a musician and I think she's in a choir too. I wondered how she had found out about the event.
I was tired and it was really late, so I went upstairs to try and find an old mattress to lie down on. Another announcement came over the PA: "Atelier de couture: Raccommodages with Barbara Todd second floor. The mending circle au deuxième étage." Barbara was at the same tables as Mindy had been using earlier for her workshop. Again, a group of artists was participating in her workshop. One was darning a scarf. One was fixing a big poncho. Kelly was adding fun-fur around her jacket sleeves. A woman who wasn't an artist came up to them clutching a purse. She her daughter loved it so much she had worn out the strap. The lady had heard that Barbara would be there. Barbara was an expert in the lost art of mending things and wanted to help. The lady went downstairs to get a men's tie to replace the strap. She carefully cut it and sewed it on never letting go of the purse. When she was done she put it over her shoulder and went away satisfied. I fell asleep listening to the artists talk of their exhibition and grant applications, and telling stories of where they had bought their favourite clothes and shoes, as they sewed and darned.
After a power nap, I was woken up to the voice on the PA: "Présentement artistes Christopher Flower et Diane Morin are presenting a workshop, Réparez vous-meme or The Fix it Show. Everyone is welcome." I looked over and saw a small kitchen table with a yellow tablecloth and a clear plastic cover set up in the sea of couches and mattresses. Chris was leaning his butt on the back of a couch that was pushed up to one side of the table. Diagonally to him, sat two women, side-by-side. Neither of them were artists. The table had four cheap seventies lamps with no shades on them and tangles of electrical wires and wire strippers.
Chris was working with the women making extension chords from scratch. They all had the materials they needed. Chris gave them instructions and demonstrated how to strip wires, screw the wires in place and assemble the plugs [at both ends]. Diane and a young man, who I recognized as an artist, broke away to do their own thing at another table: taking apart a computer and pulling the speakers out of headphones.
There was some kind of strange dynamic between Chris and the two women in his workshop. The older of the women was dressed all in black except for a leopard scarf around here neck. She was chatty, telling stories about her life and asking a lot of questions. The younger woman had a sweat shirt on and her hair pulled back. She was working quietly. Chris was chatty too. Relating things he knew about wiring and telling them what to do. It seemed like Chris was having a hard time concentrating on what the older woman had to say. She realized that he wasn't listening. The younger woman started asking Chris about what he studied, and was interested in the details about his master's degree. Their conversation continued. He found out that she was studying in Montréal but was really from California. Chris thought this was cool. She smiled and turned down her eyes. The radio played insipidly over the store intercom.
It seemed to be taking forever to put the plugs on the end of the chords. Chris and the younger woman worked on the last one together, each doing one end. Then the group moved on to rewiring the lamps. The older woman couldn't figure out how to get the wire through the small hole in the base. She said she had done it before but it was so long ago she forgot how. Chris said it was easy; he'd done it so many times. But he got mixed up in the order of things that needed to go on the wire and forgot to put on a washer and a bolt. He said this always happens to him. He said he was used to doing this alone.
I felt it was time for me to leave. As I got up, the younger woman said she needed a break and got up too and left. The older woman took out a Krispy Kream Donut™ and continued talking to Chris. Diane and the other guy were reading the voltages on black adaptors and stripping wires, while they brainstormed about what they could create from the computer parts, the adaptors and an electric roller skate.
I was drawn to the sound of excited children's voices coming from the other side of the furniture department where a space had been cleared to set up an open square of long tables covered with white paper. Standing inside was artist Catherine Sylvian leading a drawing workshop with the same kids I had seen in the staircase. They all had pastels and large sheets of newsprint. I now recognized all the kids and knew their names; they were from my daughter's elementary school class. I took my place beside their teacher and the other accompanying parents watching over them. Catherine asked them to start by drawing something that they liked. A cat, television, friend, in-line skates, fish and other such things appeared on the papers. Some kids drew in painstaking detail others in a messy rush of lines. Catherine just gave simple instructions and then went one-on-one-encouraging them in a casual way. "Now draw something you don't like." Tooth brushes, being sad, the metro, drying the dishes, zucchini and school work appeared. "Now combine the two!"
The adult helpers kept asking the kids what they were drawing:
"What's that?" "It's me on a fish." "Oh right, I see. Is that what you love or hate?"
"It's just a cat! I don't want to draw anything else" "Try putting him in your arms to show you love him." "I can't." "You can't?"
"It's my brother who is in prison because he committed a murder." "Maybe you could use more than one pastel?"
"It's a ghost on TV."
"It's me with aroller bladee on my head."
Clearly we adults needed help interpreting the kids' pictures, except Catherine who was just happy with the results. The kids left happy too. They went and looked at more art then got their scarves and coats on. I saw myself leaving with them towards the bus stop.
But part of me stayed behind in the store. I still wanted to find something for my wife. So, I headed back into the clothing. I kept coming across women, again artists I had seen around, each selecting two t-shirts off the racks. I did the same. Over the PA came anannouncementt: "Présentement au rez-de-chaussée, a sewing bee with artist Hazel Meyer."
The women with the shirts were around a big square of tables with lace table cloths. I sat down with them with my two t-shirts, one dark blue, one with light blue horizontal stripes. Our attention was focused on performance-artist Hazel Myer sitting at the head. There was something pleasant and reassuring about the way Hazel spoke to us. She held up a model of what we were going to make. A sleeveless shirt with a front that looked like a semaphore flag: two different fabrics were joined on a diagonal going from the left shoulder to the right hip. Very cool.
Hazel's teaching style was seductive. The prefect mix of art-culture smarts and TV-culture communication. Like how I imagine the ideal host of an artist's how-to TV show: full of paradoxes. Self-critical, but confident. Nurturing, smooth andlaid backk but concise and very organized. Open to letting everyone customize their experience but inspiring discipline. She knew how much work there was to do and adjusted her project in function.
"So," Hazel asked with a shy smile, "Is it okay? Is anyone totally disappointed? Is it okay if we do this?" And, before we knew it, she handed around a paper with detailed, hand-written instructions on both sides, densely lettered like a Robert Crumb comic, and with illustrations. She also distributed paper for our patterns, measuring tapes, scissors, and everything else we needed. We would go step-by-step. She took a drink out of her bottle of water. Kelly was there concentrated on adding a tea party atmosphere to the event by serving coffee in old porcelain cups, and handing around plates of cookies.
We took our measurements: shoulders, chest and waist. Transferred these to our patterns. Ripped open the old t-shirts with sharp scissors. Pinned on the pattern, and cut out the fabric. Then, on to the sewing machines. There were three of them. For a while it was all sewing machines humming and fabric snipping. We often felt hesitant, but Hazel would just say, "Don't worry, add a little extra and we will trim it afterwards." We did finish. Onlookers applauded. Everyone swept up the scraps of paper and fabric, and the helped Hazel pack up all her stuff and said good-bye. I was proud of my shirt. This is what I would give my wife.
I decided to leave by the door at the back of the store. On the way there I came across a young woman who couldn't have been more than 20 years old. She was addressing a small group of artists in the back of the store, near where I had seen Leopold's workshop. Despite her limited life experience, she knew every technical detail about surviving on a limited budget. She kept saying things like "interest rates," "debt," "deficits" and other finance related terms. She had everyone filling out forms about their expenses, and was providing answers to all their questions, telling them about government programs and laws, giving them practical advice, tips and tricks, and anecdotes from her experiences at the consumer defence organisation where she worked. I realized how pathetic I am about money matters. My t-shirt didn't seem so cool anymore. I left her still talking.
Then I heard an announcement over the PA: "The next presentation, prochaine présentation, Pierre Croteau, représentant de l'Armée du salut, donnera une conférence: How Can the Salvation Army Help You? What Can You Do to Help?" I was going to check it out, but was distracted by an unexpected odour. The smell of musty things and raw cement floors gave way to the living aromas of home cooking. What was it…spicy quesadillas?!
I moved into another clearing. There Julie, a nutritionist, and Kelly had set up a provisional kitchen amongst the second-hand appliances and shelves of second-hand objects. They had gotten one of the stoves connected, brought her pots and knives and food. Two tables were covered with supplies and ingredients like soup tins, a tall wood pepper grinder, Oxo soup base, carrots, tofu, and paper towels. She talked to everyone in such a friendly smiling way as she went about her work. Everything about her looked fresh and timeless. It was her hair, her make-up and her new clothes.
An unshaven man came up to Julie dressed in a dirty dark blue winter coat and a black toque. He had two spatulas in his hand that he'd gotten out of a box of assorted kitchen utensils in the store. He was asking her which one she would advise him to purchase. The ends were different, one was rounded and one was square. The man also had a crumpled silver Christmas tree garland wrapped up under his arm. She listened courteously, she was a good listener, an empathetic active listener, and then explained without hesitation why he should get the traditional square one, mimicking the flipping motion of turning a paper thin crepe in a cast iron frying pan. He thanked her. He wanted to tell her his troubles. She listened, still courteously, but had to get back to her cooking. There were people to feed.
She made one dish after another with the help of Kelly, cutting vegetables, opening cans, stirring and baking. There wasn't a sink so she had to drain chick peas into a waste can lined with a blue plastic bag. People shopped around her, hovering with their carts, waiting for something to be served. Free food. When a dish was ready, they would line up, smiling and talking, enchanted by Julie's energy. A woman was there with her husband and their three kids. She had on a lavender nylon winter coat and was holding a white stuffed animal under her arm.
"Anyone for vegetarian couscous?" "Chick pea curry?" "Tofu meatloaf?" Kelly served the food in all-sorts dishes taken from the shelves. Everyone was smiling. It wasn't what people were used to eating, but they sat down and enjoyed it. Kelly washed more plates. People took Julie's recipes—perhaps less with the intention of actually cooking the dishes, than just wanting to bring a piece of her cheery TV persona home.
I had eaten and seen enough. Satisfied I began to float away just as the artists had done earlier. My feet were just leaving the ground when I heard the manager of the store giving a speech at a reception to all the artists I had seen giving and participating in the workshops. She said: "My mother wanted me to learn some art (pause) but I just didn't have it. (pause) Finally I can say, today, that I wish I could see what you guys see. But, I definitely promise that I am going to appreciate every single thing that you guys do. I'm just happy that you guys are here."
And then I woke up.
The dream of TALK SHOW was like a tantalizing beginning. It provided participating artists with fleeting glimpses into what it might be like to be more socially connected or even useful to a community. For the staff and patrons of the Salvation Army the event demonstrated, on their own turf, the creative and even subversive potential that emerges beyond social and cultural conventions.
But what is beyond? Groups like Colectivo Êxito d'Rua (Get off the street collective) in Brazil and Montreal's Action Terrorist Socialement Acceptable (www.atsa.qc.ca) demonstrate the potential. Colectivo Êxito d'Rua has been making a difference for six years, working with youth in their city, combining artistic events, hip hop culture, music recording, popular education and politics. Action Terrorist Socialement Acceptable brings together artists, the media, academics, and socially engaged workers. Their first action was in the winter of 1998 with La Banque de bas—a bunch of old stoves filled with warm clothes were installed in front of the Musée d'art contemporain and made available for free to anyone in need. ATSA has gone on to produce numerous socio-political artistic events, including the annual État d'urgence, a week-long encampment in downtown Montreal that provides food, clothing, shelter and contemporary art to a vast social cross section of society.
[The works of these and other groups and artists have proven that] With a sustained presence, the community can embrace and be changed by art, and in turn art can be changed by the community. It is a dream come true.
Image collages by Don Goodes using stills captured from Used/Goods workshops and performance video documentation, shot by Simon Brown.
1. In 2006, I was invited to write an article for the Used/Goods catalogue. In the winter of 2007 I heard that the editors had decided not to publish what I had written.
I recall the reason that I was invited to write on Used/Goods, other than my ongoing interest and my expertise in art and its social context, was that I had brought a group of students from my daughter's elementary school class to one of the drawing workshops. It turned out that we were one of the only groups that had taken advantage of the workshops offered. When I first met Oades to discuss my participation and the event, she told me of their disappointment that more people hadn't come out to the workshops. As I watched hours of video documentation of the workshops, I realized what she meant. There were only a few people at any of the dozen workshops and most of these were artists. This fact became central to my reflection.
I was told at a mid-winter meeting at a local cafe that the editors were highly offended by what I had written. That my text was inappropriate and too critical for a catalogue. After my initial shock, I offered to discuss and remove the offensive parts. Admittedly I was being provocative when I titled my piece The TALK SHOW Dream: A SUBLIME series of FAILED artist-directed workshops at the Salvation Army store. However, I felt that I explain sufficiently how the "failure" was interesting. However, my offer to re-work the article was not taken up. I got a kill fee and that was that. You can read the article here (warning: it's long!). I was very happy with it when I wrote it. I think it documents the Used/Goods workshops very well, and brings up important and relevant issues in a critical but fair way. But, you judge for yourself. (p.s. The article is illustrated with images created using video stills of the workshops)
2. "TALK SHOW is modeled after daytime TV where activities such as home decorating, cooking, and household repairs are demonstrated. A small television studio environment will be set up on the second floor of the Salvation Army Store for these events. Please come and share the experience with us." from the USED/GOODS pamphlet.
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