Locations (Toronto) (1984)

“Locations (Toronto),” Vanguard, 13:1 (February 1984), pp. 22-23.

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Locations (Toronto)

Locations is an idea whose time has come and gone. In its own proper time, its concept could be questioned. Now when no one respects the original concept and context in a new economy of art, it should be rigorously criticized to find what is left of its critique of the gallery/commodity system. Or it should be interred as an historical genre, abandoned to the ruins of its intervention and photographic documentation. On this occasion of Locations, its form is denied while its currency is played upon. Whether the Toronto Locations indicates a shift from site-specific work to public art, it is the former that has set the terms for what is exterior to the gallery. Placing gallery art outside does not make it public.

This is the first Locations/National, uniting locality to a chain of artists-run spaces from sea to sea, joining the specific to a notion of communication, as if site-specificity has not become contradictory enough here. It is the third Locations exhibition for Mercer Union, as site-specificity was an extension of its early post-minimalist direction. The work here is distant from any notion of site-specificity. It is located in name only, in the sense that one needs a map to gel there; the work does not come out of the site.

The work in fact does not distance itself from the gallery at all, however far from it it might be. Inside and outside are blurred; the work outside the gallery is not only documented inside, it is addended by similar pieces. This only proves that the work outside could as easily have been shown inside. In denying the conventions of site-specificity, the work also denies its own gallery conventions, It assumes that art can be located anywhere (its context does not have to be marked): that in a return to the image and figure it can communicate without conventions. This is its democratic gesture to the people. What constitutes public art? None of the work addresses that question and cannot under the conditions of art production it has accepted.

Was the notion “outside the gallery” ever possible even under the original claims of site-specific work? Clearly the answer is no, if we mean a pure outside uninflected by the inside. An ideal gallery context always travels with the work however far from the gallery. In this exhibition none of the work is site-specific in the original sense. We find no interest in the city as utopia or ruin. No work constructs itself from the urban traces of a site. None of the work incorporates the reproducible systems of communication that are part of the city site. Instead it values the handmade and humanist.

In short, “New Image” paintings have been hung outside. Alan Glicksman painted panels in one site and moved them to another for installation. He incorporated waste fragments from the site in these naive panels. This is as much a studio convention (Cubism, Dadaism, Assemblage etc.) as the Picassoid distortions of the paintings, so-called representations of local inhabitants passersby would be hard pressed to identify.

Robert Youds’ painting, Ten Fingered Men (Monument to endangered neighbourhoods), placed in an abandoned billboard at the edge of downtown commercial development is an attempt at an art with a message. Its sub-title says it all, because the vaguely referential work does not.

John Broere has chosen to inhabit a billboard structure as well, but he uses that physical structure as a ground for his image rather than as a frame for a painting. He has partly reduced a personal expression to a sign form: a black stick figure enmeshed in the grid structure. Its message is double-edged: the figure can be reversed to become a pair of scissors. The work, however, remains an expressive metaphor in the way that a cry is a sign that indicates need, but stylized in a work it becomes an individual expression, not a common sign or shared symbol. Only a message value is lifted here as in Youds, advertising artist’s intent, not questioning advertisement structures and functions.

The variously painted fetal and vegetal shapes of Dyan Marie’s Lust for Life/Swamp are pretty things. Using them to recall primal terror and beauty, however, is pushing decoration past its limits. Placed on sterile white plaster walls inside the temporary entrance to the CN Tower, they might as well have been in an art gallery (where we do find their miniature cousins in Mercer Union). Only the number of people passing makes a difference between the mundane and the metaphorical, the site and the gallery.

Peter Blendell, whose site-specific work was in the first Locations exhibition, shows the pas-sage this type of work has taken from the denotative to the connotative. This new work does not inscribe a site as much as overlay it; it does not simply denote it as an indexical mark but refers to other things around it: it is a circular asphalt road” between an expressway, a viaduct and railway tracks. It too now has a message: “An image of destiny will be added to a neighbourhood which has now only destination.”

I have said that none of the artists dealt with the trace-structure associated with site-specific work. This is not exactly true. Although perhaps “trace” is too easy a coincidence here. Gordon Lebredt pursues it without leaving the gallery. His videotape Others attempts to “deconstruct” the dialectic of primary site and secondary documentation, that is, the outside and the inside. Cancelling the primary site (with its myth of presence and origin), in a gesture eliding Derrida and Lacan, Lebredt seems to give value to the documentary remainder. He has come too late. This was already accomplished “originally” with the first non-site gallery or magazine documentation of earthworks fifteen years ago. Cancelling here only restores an academic dialectic although Lebredt’s flourish is to question that there is a hors texte. In short, this work is a reserved, at times almost embarrassed, Derrideaism as the voice on the tape almost falters in its endless appropriation of the supply of deconstructive signifiers. The narrative chain of the videotape has borrowed from the strategic field of Derrida’s texts without exceeding them. In crossing out the site, Lebredt has not killed the Father. He remains within this text and thus has not broken from the idealizing presence of the art gallery. The most radical gesture in Locations restores the most traditional notion of the gallery.