I AM A CULTURAL OBSTETRICIAN:
You may recall, among reports of native pictographs, a human figure with branches coming out of its head. Subsequent anthropological confabulations notwithstanding, this was my great-great-great-great-great-great- great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.
Cultural obstetrics is a rough translation of my family's traditional profession. We were considered to be well-suited for this work from ancient times, because of two anatomical quirks dominant in the male line: antlers, and very wide feet.
Canada ought to be a particularly interesting place to practice, for any number of reasons: as a country with minimal history, very few defining atrocities, and only the slimmest pretense of a site-specific culture. Being in the real-estate scam stage of its development, like Mexico in the seventeenth century or the United states in the eighteenth and nineteenth, this place is still mostly a potential
The embryo of a mutt culture.
People are here from everywhere, cut off from the ghosts and customs with which they identify, tending by the second generation to conflate culture with exotic costumes and food. In other words, Canada is indeed primitive and barbaric.
Paradoxically, cultural producers, products, and agencies are viewed here with a particular mixture of envy and contempt. It's obvious that people who feel contempt and envy at the same time, for the same object of spite, are conditioned by self-loathing.
The general assumption that real culture is from somewhere else (Art is to Canadians as hockey is to Italians), or sometime else (Art = antiques, therefore contemporary art = instant antiques, i.e. fakes).
These syndromes have been compounded by the oedipal fantasies of art historians, and artists themselves.
In a desperate effort to sound like biologists to the lay public, which revere scientists as idiots savants, artists and their dependents have generally come off like functionaries, who are despised as enemies of real-estate speculation, which is currently regarded as the highest calling. The recent (since 1850) and accelerating series of revolutions in art have tended to predicate the virtue of any new initiative on the corruption or misguidedness of previous ideas and their proponents; over time, artists themselves have thereby created the general perception that art is crap.
Meanwhile, post-structuralist theory has shifted gradually from an industry of justification of the failure of the Revolution of Everyday Life in the late sixties, to a ritual murder (de-centering, i.e. evisceration) of the very idea of human agency: a dystopic fantasy of all agents being mere actors, of all positions being merely postures, and of the conflation of existence and appearance. The hysterical hallucination of the simulacrum, whose real function is to elaborately mask the fact that there IS always, inevitably, a referent, and that power IS, inevitably, responsibility (not to be confused with answerability). This represents a significant variation on the well-known Oedipus and Chronos syndromes: rather than killing one's children, the current generation of culture makers has opted for the less radical option of mass sterilization. whether this is a strategy of self-castration, or of the artificial inducement of impotence in the young, is neither clear nor particularly important.
What is clear is that Canadians, culturally predisposed to hygienic and prophylactic responses to reality, have overwhelmingly opted to endorse a strategy of sterile culture: long-distance multiculturalism (exotic nostalgia), hermetic public monuments, and a retrograde avant-garde pickled in scholastic hypercriticality.
In this climate, which is only slightly harsher than the American, most of my colleagues have committed some sort of suicide. I myself came perilously close to disintegration a few years ago, caught in a vortex of post-structural circularity. At the last possible second, I self-administered my emergency brain grounder. It saved my life, but my antlers fell off.
In the years since, I have endeavoured to cobble together a viable contemporary art practice, negotiating the ethical codes of cultural obstetrics and the low expectations of artists. Deconstruction, however cynically applied, simply cannot keep up with the obscenity of everyday life, or out-psycho the ubiquitous coincidence of obesity and survivalism in popular imagery.
At the same time, I have come to appreciate that the most ruthless cultural sterilization campaigns can only ever succeed temporarily, and that as a citizen of the dumbest, and luckiest, nation on earth, I have a special responsibility to attempt to answer the simple question:
WHAT WOULD WE DO IF WE WERE FOR REAL?
This is the spirit in which I have made CANADIANA, the objects depicted here.
They constitute a theoretically possible post-contemporary body of work, part of the material of a culture in which nineteenth-century Beaux-Arts, Utopian Modernism, Innuit Sculpture, Garage Surrealism, and Deconstructive Conceptual are all not only simultaneous, but simultaneously legitimate, and authentic. In other words, a perversion of conventional appropriation strategies.
This practice is, of necessity, incremental. The Begging Bear is by no means a full realization of the "politics of WOW". It does, however, tend towards a conception of urban public art that is neither patronizing, nor dishonest in its anthropomorphizations. The possibility exists of respecting the bear, and the settler, as well as current inhabitants and visitors to, say, Niagara Falls, with the rudiments of honesty.
Component parts have been manufactured, found, customized, or handicrafted. The ideological investment is not so much in the variety, but in the integrity of each of these means of production, and in the devotional character of their juxtaposition or fusion. Nothing has been used, or made, without respect.
"Unfinished cherry" may be a visual pun, but it is also a sincere attempt to introduce an unexpected element of grace to a symbolically charged physical form. The colour and texture of the body are as beautiful as I could bear to make them.
Respect is of fundamental importance here. I have made every effort not to do anything that I could not do in dignity, and with pleasure. Irony is the most difficult element to work with in this spirit.
There is, of course, an element of humour. sometimes I imagine myself as a pair of non-identical siamese twins: Ace Ventura and Krishnamurti, joined at the chest.
Neither of these personae, or their combination, claim to be revolutionary in any sense. However, they tend towards a "wormhole in the Post": Bourgeois Anarchism, whose creative potential has been temporarily pre-empted by the pseudo-drama of the Society of the Spectacle. A bourgeois anarchist understands the difference between prosperity and productivity, quality and quantity, community and subdivision, growth and obesity, negotiation and complicity, life and survival. In a bourgeois anarchy, survival is for cockroaches.
The post-spectacular anarchist bourgeoisie may be a stupid idea that works. Guy Debord was one of few to notice: "The bourgeoisie Is the only revolutionary class that ever won". I can only hope that he died aware of the positive aspect of this insight, insofar as basic incremental improvements can and must be made to the bourgeoisie, which is to say us. Our non-perfectibility is no excuse for passive narcissism, or for art's abdication to freak porn and advertising.
Sex is good, gender is bad. Fine. If so, it's better to be a hermaphrodite than a eunuch.
CANADIANA is just the beginning. but it seems to be working, so far. Cultural Obstetrics is still, after all these years, in the early stages of its development.
I still hope to make a piece as interesting as my great-grandfather's garage before I burn up.