TORONTO’S WINDOW GALLERIES – All you need is love (or How to live in the real world and still be happy)

BY SUZANNE FARKAS ~ YEAR ZERO ONE FORUM: ISSUE#8

 

(The following is selected excerpts. For the full story, click here.)

There’s definitely something happening here. Window Galleries, a quirky Toronto phenomenon of exhibition spaces, is adding a new twist to an old idea…

Born of a mix of squelching economics, critical mass,, and millennium fever, these small surprise packages are springing up to chase away the winter blahs of Toronto’s cityscape. Unlike their sister, the window display, they are not harlots of commercialism-beckoning you to come on in and buy, buy, buy. They are not their brothers, the front man of storefront galleries, with “more of the same inside”. They stand alone. The viewer can peep, anonymity in tact, no commitment or judgement required.

Window Galleries speak to the jazz of the street. It’s the placement and juxtaposition of each note, unique as their creators, that adds to their power of cool. Their installations are not intended as insinuations, to oil the unsuspecting passerby, but as potent rest notes. These galleries, whether calling to the wilderness of local parking lots or squeezed between the cacophony of retail stores, are proving that context is content. The teenage runaway, they perch on the boundary between the lifestyle art glitter of respectable establishment and the nomadic refugees of guerilla art intervention. Open to life on the street but securely protected from the elements, they evoke a possibility of home life.

No money changes hands. There is no limit on the media allowed. The challenge is to present a piece within a finite space, dimension and direction, and yet within the possibilities  for an infinitely accessible audience and scales of  viewing . The trick to success is in being relevant toboth the intimacy of eye level and lingering inspection, as well as the wide-angle views and drive by shootings of a distant traffic beyond. The thrill of learning, synergy, new audiences and community seem to be the guiding force of both the owners and artists of these spaces. By the sheer will and love of their creators and the fact of their location, these spaces can joyfully play with the language of the voyeur and the surveyed, consumer and the consumed, the homeless and the rooted, the private and the public. They are – as Toronto’s The Fly Gallery points out – a little gem of theatre.

I took to the streets to feel the buzz and here’s a sample of what I found:

Pages Book and Magazine Store (256 Queen St. West)

Home to one of Toronto’s first window galleries, Pages is one of the last in a disappearing breed of independent bookstores,, stalwarts against the ever-growing bookstore chain megaliths. Pages’ window has a venerable history. Started 21 years ago, Marc wanted to devote one of his commercial display windows to his local art community and patrons. There weren’t many spaces for artists in the contemporary scene. “I wanted an art window and liked to encourage the link between art and activism or local events – for example, every year we celebrate ‘MayWorks’ (Pages version of Worker’s Remembrance and Unite day). I think it’s important for a bookstore, especially a private bookstore, to promote art and culture “.

The list of young artists that have shown at one time or another in this space is impressive, a sort of a who’s who in the history of the local art scene: Chromosome group, Andy Fabo, Barb Klunder, John Scott, Fastwhurms. Of course there were those many of whom were brave but maybe not so famous. Marc, like his peers, doesn’t think of himself as a curator. He is at most, a collaborator. He used to give the artist free reign, sometimes not even viewing the work until after installation. However a brush with the law over an installation in the 1980s, changed his naive lesser faire approach. Apparently a member of the public saw a Pages sponsored feminist art display set up to celebrate FemFest ’85. They reacted strongly with a morality complaint. It became a seminal case in censorship activism and pornography law, attracting the likes of Clayton Ruby, Margaret Atwood, Ken Danby and John Bentley Mays. Suffice to say, Glasman now views all pieces and proposals with an educated eye. However his acceptance still rests on his basic “if he likes your work he’s happy to have it”. And yes, people have come into the bookstore to comment and even to buy.

Pages is in the heart of the media district. Across the street from CityTV and speakers corner, Banks, thriving restaurants and coffee chains. Marc ensures that his window gallery is socially relevant and current, He likes to work collaboratively with promising artists. Marc asks that no matter the proposal, his artists recognize and build context and a connection to Pages unique street location and audience.. Take his last showing “Everybody Loves you” by Daisuke Takeya. A fun and compelling multimedia piece and just by happy co-incidence, an appropriate Valentine’s day presence. The artist plays on the fact that his name “Daisuke” when mispronounced roughly translates as “I love you”.

A native of Japan, Daisuke often lived with the feelings of isolation and insult that he felt as an immigrant  living in America. Even the most basic of greetings was a reminder of his difference, People repeatedly struggled with and massacred his name. A talented painter and videographer, he began to explore the tension and in particular the gap of space between personal knowledge and expression, motion and stillness, private and public, flat and 3 dimensional form. The result was a series of diptych paintings of lifelike but expressionless close up portraits and distant skylines,  installed with juxtaposed video loops of talking heads and remote New York City skylines.

Window display art is not new to Daisuke. Since the cost of land is at a premium and gallery space limited, young Japanese artists have adapted and adopted the commercial venues of Tokyo’s TV appliance shops. This inventiveness has lead to the rise of the current animation pop art craze. Daisuke had seen Pages’ window and saw its open access possibilities. Here was a venue to promote his new installation at Christopher Cutts Gallery to a new potential audience, as well as a way to elicit more subjects to be volunteers in his latest project. So he approached Marc.  Together they tweaked elements of his original proposal to match the chaos of the Window Gallery’s street. They both recognized the inherent difference in visual scale betweenthe installation’s originally intended gallery space and this new public view. To solve this issue and focus the viewer’s eye, the artist  added a large pulsating red screen  to fill  the window space and bleed together the gap between the different image components. This is of course the first element of the window that shouts out at you to take a look.

Two small video monitors project outward at eye level. They show talking heads of every race and sex mouthing the words “I love you” while below; an oversized volume metre registers the positive or negative” sound value that the words make. I laughed out loud.Curiously in dialogue with the discrete sextoy shop across the street, the reference to these 3 little vague, manipulative and overused words seemed a good poke at the Valentine couples dotting the sidewalk. In the few minutes I stood there, I counted at least 4 couples who stopped to encounter the piece. Some shook their heads; some played with it as they tried to figure out if they had some control over the sound or meters. In any case, it clearly engaged them.

Noting the artist’s name and number neatly displayed in the corner of the window’s red banner, I left this piece with a smile on my face and the determination to answer his call for more volunteers.

 

 

 

YEAR ZERO ONE published an online forum for dialogue about contemporary art practice and digital culture through reviews, essays and news. Thirteen editions of the forum were featured from 1996 to 2004. Current posts can be found on the YZO blog.