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Getting Rid of Ourselves at OCAD University

Getting Rid of Ourselves, a group show curated by London-based Helena Reckitt at OCAD University, features work by various individual artists and four artist collectives, most of them British. Many of the included works draw on Michel Foucault’s concepts of the subject to address the theme of how subjectivity is regulated and produced.

Heath Bunting. Identity Bureau, Transferrable Synthetic British Natural Person, 2011; mixed media. Images courtesy of Onsite [at] OCAD University and OCADU Visual Resources – Melissa Jean Clark

Heath Bunting. Identity Bureau, Transferrable Synthetic British Natural Person, 2011; mixed media. Images courtesy of Onsite [at] OCAD University and OCADU Visual Resources – Melissa Jean Clark.

Reckitt, who before moving to London was senior curator at Toronto’s Power Plant, selected only one local artist, Adrian Blackwell, for Getting Rid of Ourselves. No explanation is provided for this strange continental imbalance, which cannot but call extra attention to the lone Canadian’s work, Circles Describing Spheres. Described in the exhibition’s installation guide as an interpretation of an “anarchist meeting circle,” the work consists of a series of wooden circles with adjustable legs that interlock and rise to create different formations. The utility of the sculpture is in its flexibility; it can be configured as a seating area or flattened and packed away.

The piece is intended for use during Blackwell’s planned intervention, also part of the exhibition, titled Let’s Get Lost: The Walking/Reading Group on Dismantling Subjectivity and Space. The event, which promises to enliven the otherwise forlorn-looking sculptural piece, is scheduled as part of a variety of programming associated with the exhibition. Indeed, this extensive programming, which includes artist talks along with reading groups and tours of the show led by OCAD University professors, is the highlight of the exhibition. The gallery should be commended for making such an effort to integrate the show with discursive practices that promise to expand on the issues raised by the artists in their work.

Claire Fontaine. Untitled (Tennis ball sculpture), 2008. Mixed media. Images courtesy of Onsite [at] OCAD University and OCADU Visual Resources – Melissa Jean Clark

Claire Fontaine. Untitled (Tennis Ball Sculpture), 2008; mixed media. Images courtesy of Onsite [at] OCAD University and OCADU Visual Resources – Melissa Jean Clark.

While the show’s title call is to “get rid of ourselves”—a nod to Bernadette Corporation’s video work Get Rid of Yourselves—many of the works in fact force the question of how to construct oneself in a radical manner. Heath Bunting’s ongoing investigation, Status Project, is effectively a “self” in a box. The piece offers and sets a price for the ephemera of a British citizen, including the person’s cell phone, signature, gas bills, wallet—everything necessary for getting rid of one’s old self and adopting a new identity. Artist collective Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša’s piece is similar. Consisting of a wall painting, three laminated government IDs, and a video and sound installation, the work traces the group members’ decision to renounce their birth names and assume new identities, all under the name Janez Janša.  As with Bunting’s piece, the work brings into relief the concept of selfhood and how this is constituted and legislated through things ranging from government IDs to bills. The traces of selfhood that we leave in the world and online are like skin we are constantly shedding. In our daily lives we routinely discard elements of this identity, while also adding to ourselves through acts like opening a new credit card, getting married, or simply signing for a package.

Getting Rid of Ourselves is noteworthy in that it maintains a playful attitude while at the same time approaching key questions of the contemporary moment. Claire Fontaine’s Untitled (Tennis Ball Sculpture), for instance, involves tennis balls that on closer inspection reveal themselves to have been slit open and stuffed with contraband destined for prison inmates. The work thus evokes a sinister prison-industrial complex that denies basic amenities (for instance, dental floss and batteries) to inmates and raises the question: Can we get rid of social hierarchies that deny such basic amenities to segments of our society? The struggle to answer this question reflects the contemporary crisis of subjectivity that this exhibition strives to address.

Getting Rid of Ourselves is on view at OCAD University through October 11, 2014.

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