State of the Arts – when a sandwich is a statement

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

engagement with sandwiches & “trained incapacity”
Part 1

Standing among gallery goers on a very chilly Peterborough night I had a revelatory moment. Everyone was mightily engaged in discussions regarding food, meat, the human body, the earth and our supposed extinction as a species. I realized it had been a long time since I heard such cogent, lively and at times hilarious conversations while looking at art. It was the sandwiches. My partner Gary Blundell had the idea a year ago to exhibit his paintings of hanging animal carcasses while serving BLT’s at the opening. Gary thinks the bacon, lettuce & tomato sandwich to be the most comical of sandwiches as well as the most iconic, especially to us central Ontarians who have all had the experience of eating one (or watching someone else eat one when one is a vegetarian) at a road side diner. What happened was this; people disarmed by the greeting of the artist with mayo and toaster at hand ready to make every one who walked in the door a sandwich suddenly turned the gallery experience into a kitchen-esque environment, meaning a safe and familiar place.

‘bodies’ at Gallery in the Attic isn’t about paintings hanging on a wall, a criticism long thrown at those of us who still love the medium, it is about the nature of interpretation and engagement on the most visceral level.

Can you imagine the art gallery as a safe and familiar place? I can because when I was young I went to tons of them with my mother and always felt welcomed by the quiet, contemplative atmosphere of a place that displays interpretations of our world. As an adult however I have had an encroaching feeling of having that space taken from me and replaced with a cold white cube full of scary things or dull mechanical devices that remind me of the computer room in the movie Dr. Strangelove. Lately the nite club has docked at numerous galleries making them now places that I remember as being dark, loud and full of drugged out sweating young people not listening to each other – a primal bacchanal which I am all for but in a warehouse down near the waterfront not in my palaces of silence and power.

But art galleries are freaking out. I read article after article about their “inevitable” downfall and that no one wants to look at art any more. I feel for them because we now weigh everything in life with a bottom line – for some reason even the government thinks it should get a return on their investment. So, galleries don’t make money and probably never will and cannot fit into our very narrow corporate paradigm that has been forced down our throats. Art galleries are existing on “trained incapacity” a phrase I read in a recent Harper’s magazine about the American television station PBS. The article described a situation wherein organizations like PBS that rely on government funding and fund raising are consistently unable to reach their targets and fully fund their programming. Decades of this turns the organization into a place where people accept the lack of support as normal and exist through scraping together funds for the most basic of things. Innovation, controversy, experimentation and just plain bold audaciousness are not even in the game plan. Losing funding being the anti-goal, an inverse universe where everyone struggles to hang on to the tiny bits of help thrown to them like pets under a Thanksgiving dinner table.

Along with 'bodies' was Elizabeth Fennell & Annie Jaeger's Day Job. Artists supplement their work with other work, making it a life where you work all the time.
Exhibiting simultaneously with ‘bodies’ is Elizabeth Fennell & Annie Jaeger’s Day Job. Artists supplement their work with other work, making it a life where you work all the time.

I really like the term “trained incapacity” because it sounds intellectual and smart but it’s also totally nihilistic. It’s like an academic referring to the carnage of war as “mitigated discrepancies”; it’s Orwellian for sure but it’s also sadly the truth.

The other exhibition accompanying Gary’s in the always delightful Gallery in the Attic is Day Job. Stunning black and white photographs of artists in their incarnations other than their artistry posed as action figures as if their day job was the superpower they needed to get the real work that they do accomplished. Hanging across from the imagery are small bios of each artist and the details of how much they each made as artists – after reading one or two, you get the profound understanding of how these people survive.

Day Job works as a strong complement to ‘bodies’ because our flesh is really all we have. Art requires intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical stamina. A lot of physical stamina. Having a job on top of the gruelling energy required to make work can be overwhelming which is why a sandwich makes just the right symbolic statement: we need sustenance, not trained incapacity in order to provide an enriched experience of the arts.

Part 2, Trained incapacity or slavery? The corporate ethos strikes again.
Oct. 3, 2014.

 ‘bodies’ is on at Gallery in the Attic until Sept. 27

Day Job, also at Gallery in the Attic closes this Saturday, Sept. 20

Photos from the Gallery in the Attic Facebook page

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