New show at The Power Plant

25 March 2005

The Power Plant's latest show opened last night; at one point I found myself saying the familiar, 'I need to come back' but I never do. In this case, memory alone serves - there just isn't that much there to see, and to go back, and do the old 'spending time with it' would probably be a waste of time.

This show isn't bad. My first walk through left me unimpressed, but a few more walk throughs, and after reading the brochure, I could see that it was pretty good. But, like I said, there isn't much to look at.

This is RTFM art. The brochure essay opens with something an American artist wrote 40 years ago, which again, reminds me of how overwith Conceptualism should be at this point, and yet it keeps churning away.

Remember, 40 years ago, how science-fiction imagined that 'in the future' that is, around the year 2000, people wouldn't eat food anymore, but just take pills - pill for breakfast, lunch, diner. Presumably this was going to be great - no more need to cook and clean pots - all the time that could be saved! That my friends, was Conceptual Food. Funny how it didn't take off -the missed opportunity to critique the capitalist restaurant system and the power relationships that lead some to suicide seems a shame, doesn't it?

Even if we could provide all the nutrition in a pill, none of us would want that. We want to feel a full belly, enjoy a meal that delights the eyes as well as our tastebuds, a meal that smells and looks delicious, and ideally, we want to share the experience with someone else. Look at this blog - restaurant reviews all over the place.

I'm one of these people who feels the same about visual art - I want something hearty, something that delights the eyes and the mind, and the sharing part comes in when after it's seen/experienced I go home and send off an email, or write a review that says, 'you gotta check this out'. Darren O'Donnell's play, and Doris McCarthy's painting show are examples of work that I felt this way about.

The show on at the Power Plant on the other hand, I don't feel that strongly about. To continue the analogy with food, it's a salad. It's a nutritious appetizer, but I can't really imagine it's anything to write friends about. It's clever, as all conceptual art is supposed to be, but that's it. It's content over form, so there's not much to appreciate visually.

My favorite piece plays with old-school technological fetishism, but I'm not sure it would work any other way ... had it been digitized, it might haven't been as successful - this is the piece by Jonathan Monk called Searching for the Centre, with two 8mm film projections against a sheet of regular 8.5x11 paper. As the brochure says, "Jonathan Monk asked two of his commercial dealers to pinpoint, without measuring aids, the centre of a sheet of office paper. Animating their repeated attempts, Monk projects the results against one another to form a curious dance of two subjective and competing ideas."

And then there's the birdcage. Why is there a birdcage in the gallery? Well, the point of this piece is that a French composer named Olivier Messiaen composed a piece in 1959, inspired by birdsong. "Messiaen," the brochure notes, "would compose in the birds' natural habitat - fields, meadows, etc, writing his notation as he listened." So, Dave Allen, the artist here, figured he'd reverse the process with his The Mirrored Catalogue d'Oiseaux, which the brochure elaborates: "As Allen states, 'in the work I reverse/mirror the process of direct composition by playing back Messiaen through a stereo to an aviary housing birds ... adept at mimicry' ". The birds didn't seem to be chirping last night, but the crowd was loud. I imagine this piece will take some time to achieve itself, so perhaps it's best that you check it out after a couple of weeks.

The idea behind the curatorial coherence is that the pieces shown here all are relational in some way. "Dedicated to you, but you weren't listening [the show's title] assembles a small group of works that grow from the collaborative and performative spirit of Conceptual practice, looking specifically to those transformed or composed in relation to something outside the artist's direct control".

There are however, two things about this that I feel the need to point out. As I've mentioned that I want something delightful to the eye, it's notable that the brochure chose the two birds, sitting on a branch, from the Dave Allen piece for their cover. This mislead someone I know, a painter, to come to the opening expecting to see paintings. Then, there's the title, 'dedicated to you, but you weren't listening'. They've anticipated a certain futility in showing these pieces, because...

No, for the most part, we haven't been listening - you're offering us pills on a plate.

So there's obviously awareness from the part of the gallery that this show may not be of interest to anybody except those of us indoctrinated into its mythos.

But it terms of relational practice, the star of this show is obviously Jeremy Deller - the most recent winner of the Turner Prize. I attended the opening partially to hear a performance of his 'Acid Brass'. I'd seen Deller give a talk late in 2003, which was really interesting. In the early 90s, he commissioned a local brass band to play acid house music, combining two segments of British society- the then kids with the elders. Last night, Toronto horn-musicians played some of these pieces, a performance which wasn't that rousing, since acid house music has dated. Deller has a doodle-diagram called 'The History of the World' reproduced on one of the gallery's walls, but the real highlight is that for the duration of the show, they will be showing his The Battle of Orgreave which used British historical re-enactors to stage a 1984 anti-Thatcherite protest that turned ugly when the police got all thuggish. The film of this reenactment will show Wednesdays at 7pm.

Dedicated to you, but you weren't Listening on at The Power Plant until May 23rd

The Power Plant, at the Harbourfront Centre, 231 Queen's Quay West Tue-Sun 12-6, Wed 12-8, closed on Mondays except for Holidays Tours: Sat-Sun 2 and 4pm, Wed 6.30p

(image from - Jonathan Monk's Searching for the Centre.)


  1. March 2005: Published on
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