Is Toronto Burning?: Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Scene (2016)

Is Toronto Burning?: Three Years in the Making (and Unmaking) of the Toronto Art Scene, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2016.

As this book currently is in sale, the introduction only is reproduced here.

Click to read

Front and back cover. Design: Albino Tavares

Front and back cover. Design: Albino Tavares


Back cover blurb:

Is Toronto Burning? is the story of the rise of the downtown Toronto art scene in the late 1970s.

If the mid-1970s was a formless period, and if there was no dominant art movement, out of what disintegrated elements did new formations arise? Liberated from the influence of New York, embedding themselves in the decaying and unregulated edges of downtowns, artists created new scenes for themselves. Such was the case in Toronto, one of the last—and lost—avant-gardes of the 1970s.

In the midst of the economic and social crises of the 1970s, Toronto was pretty vacant—but out of these conditions its artists crafted something unique, sometimes taking the fiction of a scene for the subject of their art. It was not all posturing. Performative frivolity and political earnestness were at odds with each other, but in the end their mutual conviviality and contestation fashioned an original art scene.

This was a moment when an underground art scene could emerge as its own subcultural form, with its own rites of belonging and forms of transgression. It was a moment of cross-cultural contamination as the alternative music scene found its locale in the art world. Mirroring the widespread destruction of buildings around them, punk’s demolition was instrumental in artists remaking themselves, transitioning from hippie sentimentality to new wave irony.

Then the police came.


For the article "Was Toronto Burning?" Canadian Art, Spring 2016, click here. This article was written just as the book was published and summarizes what I thought, after the fact, it was about.


Toronto Life published on on-line portfolio of images from the exhibition with my commentary (June 17, 2016) entitled "Eleven bizarre vintage photos from Toronto's 1970s art scene." Click here to view.



Scroll below for AGYU installation shots of Is Toronto Burning?, 17 September - 7 December 2014. Unless otherwise specified, all images courtesy the artists; photo credit: Cheryl O'Brien.

Security camera image of beginning of installation.

Security camera image of beginning of installation.

General Idea, Press Conference, 1977

General Idea, Press Conference, 1977

Left: Susan Britton, Why I Hate Communism No. 1, 1976; Right: Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Art is Political, 1975

Left: Susan Britton, Why I Hate Communism No. 1, 1976; Right: Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Art is Political, 1975

Susan Britton, Why I Hate Communism No. 1, 1976. Courtesy Vtape.

Susan Britton, Why I Hate Communism No. 1, 1976. Courtesy Vtape.

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Art is Political, 1975

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Art is Political, 1975

Left to right: David Buchan, Susan Britton, Rodney Werden, General Idea

Left to right: David Buchan, Susan Britton, Rodney Werden, General Idea

Left to right: General Idea, Susan Britton, (unseen: Condé and Beveridge), David Buchan

Left to right: General Idea, Susan Britton, (unseen: Condé and Beveridge), David Buchan

Centre for Experimental Art and Communication installation

Centre for Experimental Art and Communication installation

Back covers of Strike and Art Communication Edition (reproduced as vinyl)

Back covers of Strike and Art Communication Edition (reproduced as vinyl)

Missing Associates (Peter Dudar & Lily Eng), Crash Points 3, 1976-1977

Missing Associates (Peter Dudar & Lily Eng), Crash Points 3, 1976-1977

Missing Associates (Peter Dudar & Lily Eng), Missing in Action issues no 1 & 2, 1978 and 1979. Offset tabloids. Courtesy Philip Monk.

Missing Associates (Peter Dudar & Lily Eng), Missing in Action issues no 1 & 2, 1978 and 1979. Offset tabloids. Courtesy Philip Monk.

Isobel Harry, Crash 'n' Burn photographs, 1977 (punk bands and Fashion Burn)

Isobel Harry, Crash 'n' Burn photographs, 1977 (punk bands and Fashion Burn)

Centre for Experimental Art and Communication installation. Right: Ross McLaren, Crash ’n’ Burn, 1977, 16mm film transferred to video.

Centre for Experimental Art and Communication installation. Right: Ross McLaren, Crash ’n’ Burn, 1977, 16mm film transferred to video.

Centrefolds and back cover of Art Communication Edition and Strike (reproduced as vinyl)

Centrefolds and back cover of Art Communication Edition and Strike (reproduced as vinyl)

Archival material on CEAC. Courtesy Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University and Philip Monk.

Archival material on CEAC. Courtesy Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University and Philip Monk.

Archival material on CEAC. Courtesy Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University and Philip Monk.

Archival material on CEAC. Courtesy Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University and Philip Monk.

Archival material on CEAC. Courtesy Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University and Philip Monk.

Archival material on CEAC. Courtesy Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University and Philip Monk.

Archival material on CEAC. Courtesy Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University and Philip Monk.

Archival material on CEAC. Courtesy Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University and Philip Monk.

General Idea’s Hot Property, 1977 (screenprint); The Dishes Hot Property!, 1978 (45- rpm audio disc, record sleeve); S/HE: The 1984 Miss General Idea Pageant No. 102, 1977 (offset pamphlet); FILE: Special People Issue 3:3 (Spring 1977); Punk ’til You Puke! Issue 3:4 (Fall 1977)  

General Idea’s Hot Property, 1977 (screenprint); The Dishes Hot Property!, 1978 (45- rpm audio disc, record sleeve); S/HE: The 1984 Miss General Idea Pageant No. 102, 1977 (offset pamphlet); FILE: Special People Issue 3:3 (Spring 1977); Punk ’til You Puke! Issue 3:4 (Fall 1977)

 

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (originals destroyed; exhibition archival reprint 2014); series reads right to left

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (originals destroyed; exhibition archival reprint 2014); series reads right to left

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (originals destroyed; exhibition archival reprint 2014); series reads right to left

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (originals destroyed; exhibition archival reprint 2014); series reads right to left

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

General Idea, S/HE, 1977 (detail)

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.  

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

 

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Attenuation Please, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Attenuation Please, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Dissidents with a Difference, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Dissidents with a Difference, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Contemporary Fibres, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Contemporary Fibres, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Men Like You Like Semantic T-Shirts, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Men Like You Like Semantic T-Shirts, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Cam-o-flage Brand Underwear, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

David Buchan, Modern Fashions Suite: Cam-o-flage Brand Underwear, 1977. Collection University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.

Left: Susan Britton, ... And a Woman, 1978. Courtesy Vtape. Right: Rodney Werden, ‘Say’, 1978. Courtesy Vtape.  

Left: Susan Britton, ... And a Woman, 1978. Courtesy Vtape. Right: Rodney Werden, ‘Say’, 1978. Courtesy Vtape.

 

Colin Campbell, Modern Love, 1978. Courtesy Vtape.  

Colin Campbell, Modern Love, 1978. Courtesy Vtape.

 

Colin Campbell, Bad Girls, 1979–1980. Courtesy Vtape.

Colin Campbell, Bad Girls, 1979–1980. Courtesy Vtape.

Left to right: Clive Robertson, Explaining Pictures to Dead Air, 1978; Elizabeth Chitty, Demo Model, 1978; David Buchan, La Monte Del Monte’s Fruit Cocktails, 1978 (courtesy David Buchan Fonds, National Gallery of Canada).

Left to right: Clive Robertson, Explaining Pictures to Dead Air, 1978; Elizabeth Chitty, Demo Model, 1978; David Buchan, La Monte Del Monte’s Fruit Cocktails, 1978 (courtesy David Buchan Fonds, National Gallery of Canada).

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Carmen Lamanna, 1977 (photostat and collage)

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Carmen Lamanna, 1977 (photostat and collage)

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Maybe Wendy’s Right, 1979.  

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Maybe Wendy’s Right, 1979.

 

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Maybe Wendy’s Right, 1979.

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Maybe Wendy’s Right, 1979.

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Maybe Wendy’s Right, 1979.

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Maybe Wendy’s Right, 1979.

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Maybe Wendy’s Right, 1979.

Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, Maybe Wendy’s Right, 1979.

Tom Sherman, Envisioner, 1978. Courtesy Vtape.

Tom Sherman, Envisioner, 1978. Courtesy Vtape.

Tom Sherman, Envisioner, 1978. Courtesy Vtape.

Tom Sherman, Envisioner, 1978. Courtesy Vtape.

Tom Sherman, selected texts, courtesy Philip Monk.

Tom Sherman, selected texts, courtesy Philip Monk.

Tom Sherman, selected texts, courtesy Philip Monk.

Tom Sherman, selected texts, courtesy Philip Monk.

David Buchan, Roots, 1979. Photography by George Whiteside. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

David Buchan, Roots, 1979. Photography by George Whiteside. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

David Buchan, Roots, 1979. Photography by George Whiteside. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

David Buchan, Roots, 1979. Photography by George Whiteside. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

David Buchan, Roots, 1979. Photography by George Whiteside. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

David Buchan, Roots, 1979. Photography by George Whiteside. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

David Buchan, Roots, 1979. Photography by George Whiteside. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

David Buchan, Roots, 1979. Photography by George Whiteside. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

Judith Doyle, selected texts and Rumour publications, 1979. Courtesy Judith Doyle and Philip Monk.

Judith Doyle, selected texts and Rumour publications, 1979. Courtesy Judith Doyle and Philip Monk.

Judith Doyle, selected texts and Rumour publications, 1979. Courtesy Judith Doyle and Philip Monk.

Judith Doyle, selected texts and Rumour publications, 1979. Courtesy Judith Doyle and Philip Monk.

Installation of works by General Idea plus archival material.

Installation of works by General Idea plus archival material.

General Idea, "BZZZ, BZZZ, BZZZ," FILE: Special Transgressions Issue 4:2 (Fall 1979).

General Idea, "BZZZ, BZZZ, BZZZ," FILE: Special Transgressions Issue 4:2 (Fall 1979).

General Idea, Test Tube, 1979. Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix.

General Idea, Test Tube, 1979. Courtesy Electronic Arts Intermix.

The Body Politic archival material. Courtesy of Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (contact sheets by Robin Collyer) and Philip Monk.

The Body Politic archival material. Courtesy of Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (contact sheets by Robin Collyer) and Philip Monk.

General Idea, excerpt from “An Anatomy of Censorship,” in Performance by Artists, (Toronto: Art Metropole, 1979); cover and “Editorial,” FILE: Special Transgressions Issue 4:2 (Fall 1979). “The President,” Only Paper Today 6:3 (Spring 1979). Courtesy Philip Monk.

General Idea, excerpt from “An Anatomy of Censorship,” in Performance by Artists, (Toronto: Art Metropole, 1979); cover and “Editorial,” FILE: Special Transgressions Issue 4:2 (Fall 1979). “The President,” Only Paper Today 6:3 (Spring 1979). Courtesy Philip Monk.

General Idea, Nazi Milk, 1979.

General Idea, Nazi Milk, 1979.