During May of 2011 I was given the opportunity to curate a gallery exhibit at the Common Ground Gallery, located in MacKenzie Hall in the Old Sandwich Town region of Windsor, Ontario. With my involvement in the MayWorks Festival planning committee, I was assigned to curate a labour/economics themed exhibition. The space was paid for by Artcite Inc. for the exhibit.
“Sergio Forest, one of the volunteers for the non-profit gallery, explains the gallery started as a kind of grass roots movement twenty-six years ago, supported by the Art Gallery of Windsor and Artcite. The intention was to support local talent by offering affordable, high quality studio space to burgeoning artists. While it is still mainly local multi-media artwork that is to be found on Common Ground’s walls.” - Windsorite.ca
Artcite Inc.’s MayWorks 2011 is based in the May Day labour celebration. The events are in solidarity with workers and labour rights as Artcite’s website describes:
“Artists, workers, and students have met over many months to organize a collection of exhibitions, projects, events, a rally and a parade, to celebrate our creativity as a community, our dedication to the values of workers’ solidarity, social justice and human rights.
The various activities will highlight our support for our city and our history of solidarity, concern for social justice and our tradition of labour arts.” – Artcite Inc. (artcite.ca)
The theme for the show was inspired by my interest in existential theatre and literature and it’s examination of the individual and their connection to society. This is exemplified in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” from 1944. The play revolves around three main characters who discover their situation is the result of “sinful” lives and that they are in “hell” which is simply living with “other people” for eternity. This is where the play’s most famous line comes from, “hell is other people“. I used this as the conceptual context for the exhibit, calling it “Hell Is Other People’s Money”.
The title is referring to the complexities of human interaction, especially within the context of contemporary economics. The tensions, fear and struggles found in a seemingly perpetual era of economic crisis.
After developing the theme I made a priority of including one of my colleagues, Teresa Carlesimo, who had recently created a work called “The Room” or “Waiting Room”. This work, which acts as a contemporary view of the type of “non-spaces” that we inhabit, also emphasizes the connection to Sartre’s theatre production.
Later I found several more artists for the exhibit that could work within the theme. The participating artists were: Marcy Boles, Mike Ngo, Rachel Chausse, Teresa Carlesimo and Stephen Surlin.
Marcy Boles’ installation is a pseudo-historical devotional collection of materials of traditionally female labour that often involves a type of pain that Boles herself feels in her repetitive auto-motive factory job. The anti-arthrital braces are Boles’, which are beside the etching tools she used to create the printing plate in the installation.
Mike Ngo’s installation is a colaborative piece between him and the Campus Community Garden at the University of Windsor. Ngo collected buckets of compost from the gardens pile, which is for sale, and used one of their organic tomato plants for the installation. The tomato plant is a very charged icon for the recent economic histories of Windsor/Leamington region of Southern Ontario, along with it’s tumultuous colonial history with Spain and other countries.
Rachel Chausse’s work featured a colour photo of a miniature model that she made which was then printed large. The photo engages with the complex and painful histories of Leamington’s tomato industry which often advantages from the exploitation of migrant Mexican workers who are caught in racial tension and resentment form local population who greatly advantage from the industry.
Stephen Surlin had a varying collection of works including paintings, text based/interactive and new media works. All of Surlin’s work deals with the intricacies of contemporary consumer culture/identity, the spectacle of politics and the “battle” with depression and suicide that many people face.
After a moment to allow the attendees to view the exhibit, Susan Gold-Smith, one of the Artcite Inc. planning committee members, introduced the artists and gave a brief word on the history of the MayWorks Festival.
After the talks, I began the discussion of “What scares you about the economy?” to bring to the fore some of the anxieties that cause tensions between individuals and groups. The black board I created includes text and diagrams that compare the salary of artists and government spending on the arts and etc. The audience began shouting out ideas and I wrote them down and tried to keep the discussion going.
The discussion was intense and varied, and sometimes comical. Though this was a kind of therapeutic purging of collective dis-ease that was focused on in the exhibit in varying ways.