AGYU: Flux/ Revolution

Last Wednesday — coincidentally right after my encounter with the semiotext(e) edition of the French anti-globalization group The Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection — Curran invited me to the opening of Revolutionary Sundays / The Centre for Incidental Activisms (CIA) at the Art Gallery of York University. It was appropriate, and incredible.

Revolutionary Sundays is an exhibition of Gilberto Ante’s photographs from the Cuban Revolution, focusing on the chasm between the day to day lives of people within the revolution, and the iconic images of power and leadership. It is a beautiful collection, oscillating between the collective images of the crowd, and the individual men, women, and children who were still living their day to day lives in Cuba. It’s nice to bring the idea of revolution back to the real people who enact it. I find that Canadian (and much of anti-intellectual Western culture) has twisted the idea of revolution into something “elites” and intellectuals do between fancy art galas and accepting enormous government subsidies (har har). This exhibit stands as a reminder that a revolution is as diverse and connected to humanity as the culture which produces it, if not more, by virtue of envisioning something greater than their present comforts.

The opening of The Centre for Incidental Activisms — in the back room of the gallery — was a much different affair, connecting directly with the revolutionary aspects of the now. The exhibit itself is a collaboration curated by Philip Monk between Canadian artists Deanna Bowen, Eugenio Salas,  and Public Studio (Elle Flanders + Eshrat Erfanian + Tamira Sawatzky). Essentially, it is a exhibition of flux and experimentation focusing on burgeoning youth movements, protests, current events, and challenging the boundaries of traditional art institutions.

The first performance by Eugenio Salas involved the evacuation of the entire gallery by police officers (also performers) and the herding of the audience (of about one hundred people) into a corner of the back room. Each audience member was given a black balaclava and screamed at by police until they wore it. The black clad performer emerged from the crowd and, after picking up a chair for a weapon, proceeded to smash a large pane of storefront glass. The audience fell silent as the almost unbearably loud crashing sent a chill through the room. It took quite a while and quite a bit of force to break the glass, after which time Salas created a pile of the remains and disappeared back into the crowd. It was an incredibly chilling performance, harkening back to everything I saw during my participation in the rallies during the G20 summit in Toronto. The herding, the screaming, the sharp eerie inhalations in the face of violence and destruction, and of course, the eruption of fear and discomfort. Ostensibly, we were all members of the “Black Bloc” — an infuriating media conflation of an anarchist tactic with the proposed group of anarchists in Toronto — and we were all culpable.

Pro Tem | YorkU's Bilingual Newspaper | March 1965The second part of the CIA opening was a film and re-printing by the Public Studio collective of a PRO TEM YorkU weekly editorial from 1965, discussing sit-ins and protests at the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to the treatment of African Americans in Alabama. The accompanying film was a dark and dizzying array of footage from the 2009 G20 summit in London, as tens of thousands of students and activists protested in the streets, violently clashing with police, intermixed with flashes of revolutionary footage from the 1930’s (I only hazard a guess, it seemed rather old and anticipatory). The effect was a dark connection between revolutionaries and revolutionary times of the past with the current violence erupting in Europe. In keeping with the experimental tone of the exhibit, the film bombarded the viewer with questions, confronting a contemporary art crowd, so often viewed as apathetic and disaffected.

The last performance was The Most Canadian Man in the World by Deanna Bowen. With a bottle of Molson Canadian and a slice of pizza from Ontario’s finest Pizza Pizza, The Most Canadian Man in the World sang two Neil Young songs karaoke style. After the first song, the audience was silent, almost judgmental, perhaps confused. Karaoke in one of Toronto’s most important contemporary art spaces? I loved the humour and indignance about the whole thing, and began to hoot nearing the end of the second song, attracting sideways glances from a couple of apathetic looking girls wearing fluvogs. Someone across the room began to clap in accordance, and the audience erupted in a relaxed and entertained applause. In the context of the exhibit, it rounded out the dark revolutionary aspects with humour, humility, and realism. The banalities of life, the pizza, beer, and karaoke still thrive in revolutionary times.

Life still exists. Not everything is subsumed. Revolutions are more complex and realistic than the popular media often suggests. Both Revolutionary Sundays and The Centre for Incidental Activisms provoke, question, and undermine the distinction between political action and everyday life. Philip Monk has done it again.


  1. Curran wrote:

    Gnice Knice!

  2. Deanna wrote:

    Hi there,
    Glad you enjoyed the exhibition…your details are a bit off – the PRO TEM reprint was part of my project “Deconstruction of a Political Engagement (the Selma Project),” as was the live performance with Toronto actor Ross McKie (Neil Young songs). You can read more about the whole project, as well as listen to several audio interviews of student activists from the 1965 US Consulate sit-in, on the AGYU’s website.