We all grow up with American culture and have to detach ourselves from it, to whatever degree we want, by an archaeological excavation of our own subjectivity. I call this episode of my history “The American Trip,” which also happens to be the name of a 1996 exhibition of mine, and the excuse for this personal excavation. The exhibition dealt with the American fascination with the outlaw and included the artists Larry Clark, Cady Noland, Richard Prince, and Nan Goldin. That this collection of artists was assembled meant that the ensuing image of the outlaw could not be commonplace and the “theme” must be more complex. This theme already was the unsaid of the exhibition process—an answer to the question of why the disparate belong together, which actually is what curating is all about.

Though not meant to respond to it, the exhibition was conceived in the middle of the media panic surrounding Calvin Klein’s withdrawn summer 1995 advertising campaign, which coincided with the release of Larry Clark’s film Kids—which made the media reaction pertinent to the “theme” of the exhibition. The last paragraph of the publication reads:

Celebrity and delinquency are bound together by the threat of corruption found in both Hollywood Babylon and teen babylonians. What starts as a celebration by artists is appropriated by the mainstream media and ends as panic in the press. Nowhere is the fear greater than in the heart of the American family, the locus of the worry, the terror even, that the enemy is within. In the same way that 1950s monster and sci-fi movies were sometimes read as worries over the ‘threat’ of communism, so the worry now is that kids are not all right. The images of people in this exhibition show them not to be traditional outlaws. They are, as these artists celebrate, the girl—or boy—next door.

The publication was already produced for the opening, but installing the exhibition I discovered something else. I found out what the exhibition really was about. That is, about for me. Autobiographically. (I’ve come to realize that eventually one understands that curating is autobiographical.) It was about my attraction—not to the outlaw but to the idea of the underground criminal family, which was a metaphor for the idea of the art scene in formation or for that particular part known as the “underground.” Moreover, it was also an understanding of the attraction from afar to the underground, as I lived in scene-less Winnipeg and received its image through photography—importantly, not of works of art but of the scene coalescing around them. So it was also about the role of photography in attracting one to and joining an art scene. Of course, this replays the larger theme, stated in the exhibition, of the abandonment of Old World society and the reformation of community in a chosen “family.” The exhibition was full of outsider families: Larry Clark’s Tulsa drug chums, Noland’s Manson family, Prince’s biker chicks, and Goldin’s Boston transvestite and transsexual drag queen friends.

I began to research what was both a personal theme and a cultural topic in the essays "Show's Over Folks, Move Along" and "Trash as a Cultural System," subsequently realizing this "research" in two exhibitions: American Playhouse and Picturing the Toronto Art Community.