Skip to main content

Anitra Hamilton (Toronto)
March 14 – April 18, 2014.

Town & Country: The Art of Consumption

Boris Groys’ writings on “The Art of Stalinism” have become an invaluable touchstone for much of my recent critical thought. Before I go yet again to his ideas to facilitate my own, let me explain that his insights into that period are easily applicable to other eras – like our own. We are, after all, doomed to repeat history like a failed grade.  An idea he floats is that in those heady, uncensored early days of the Soviet revolution, artists eventually became overwhelmed by the endless possibilities. After all, to be able to do everything is almost to be unable to focus on anything: the scary thing that Groys points out is that many in the cultural spaces welcomed the stricture and rules of Stalinist socialist realism. Part of this is due to the aforementioned desire for a framework. It also could be seen as part of the still hopeful / delusional faith in that psychopathic mass murderer so many knew as “Uncle Joe”, a paternalistic Tsarist figure that we see revived in spirit by Vladimir Putin (ideologies, in art or politics, with their cults of personality, rarely die cleanly or easily….)

So what are the rules of artmaking – and who says? Are there any? That word “meaning” is anathema to many, as bad a word as “rules”. And remember, many self designate as “artist” or “social prophet” whose response to your honest questions about that is to accuse you of being a Stephen Harper supporter. I could use the word “value”, but that’s even “worse”…. and art is so much like a religion that to even question is to be branded a heretic and shown the door. Be pleased you didn’t get burned for blasphemy.

This is why I enjoy the installation by Anitra Hamilton at PAVED Arts, called Town and Country: it is delightfully heretical, the type of thing that offends in “unsafe” and “unsanctioned” ways. And it makes me think of manure, by intent, as opposed to incidentally, as many “artists” do….

The space is minimal: two walls, facing, have speakers blaring audio. It’s a clean installation: black, box like speakers, on shelves, with the black cords only adding to the antiseptic nature of the space. (I’m reminded of Rutger Zuydervelt’s Stay Tuned – and like that installation, the physical means serves the audible art).

One audio sampling is somewhat coarser in its origin, the other contrasting with a more cultured and moneyed voice. The artist’s voice is almost purely descriptive and neutral: “Town & Country consists of two companion audio digital recordings. Country, features the sound recording of a “limousine cow auction” captured at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Town is an audio recording of a Sotheby’s contemporary art evening auction in New York city, Tobias Meyer was the auctioneer…They can be heard separately at either end of the gallery, however when the visitor approaches the centre of the space the recordings begin to compete with each other and sometimes cancel each other out.”

Nothing is spelled out for you, but you’d have to be a dullard – or so ideologically stunted that you are unable to see anything outside your own frame of “artistic” reference– to miss the implicit sarcasm.

But there is nuance: perhaps this is a comment on the art market. It’s finally begun to “bloom” in Canada with the “values” (money wise, I mean) we’ve seen elsewhere (like the referenced NY, or Sotheby’s as a standard).

Perhaps it’s a comment on how never before has it been so competitive, whether to get a show, a job or a tenure position, and there is now an underclass whom will never be anything more than contract workers, waiting in our holding pens for something better….

Never before have those that have gone before done so little, for so few, so often, while treating us like we’re being appraised for our parts to feed the system. I know I’m not the auctioneer in this scenario, I’m the beef in the abattoir – just like those who believe that the visual arts PhD program they worked so hard to get into, with strenuous inspections and grading and computerized ear tags, will guarantee them success. They don’t see that bolt gun leading them to the McJobs pen.

One might even postulate that the emptiness – the physical emptiness anyway, mimics the superficial façade of the “Art” world. Consequently, the space is rife with anxiety, like I’ve not seen since Steve Bates’ creeping army of LED clocks.

Groys also dangerously asserts how some see  “the religion of the avant garde as false and idolatrous.” But we all know that a prophet is, of course, without honour in their own country…. and usually, when confronted with something genuinely groundbreaking or radical, most will fall back on the safe and secure haven that they don’t understand, and simply walk into the gallery space, and walk back out, not “getting it.”

Adorno highlighted this disturbing trend years ago. Town and Country can help you decide if that concern has been supplanted by Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism or,  The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, where an “object” of “value”, available to a select few, judged on its exclusivity, is now all that matters. His ideas of “late capitalist modernism” are more aptly described as “late modernist capitalism”.

Anitra Hamilton’s Town and Country deserves a bit more consideration than that dismissal Adorno laments…. and I’m hopeful it will get that. Or maybe I can’t see the holding pen I’m in, either…

~Text written by Bart Gazzola