Free Art Bus Tour - Trace the stitch lines between virtual and actual

Sat Dec 4, 2010 - 12:00 pm - Sat Dec 4, 2010 - 5:00 pm @ OCAD, A Space, G Gallery, Gendai

Join us for a fun ride around town to take in three exciting exhibitions. To reserve a seat, please contact Gendai Gallery at 647-200-6161 or by Friday December 3.

12:00 Pick up at OCAD (100 McCaul Street, Toronto)
12:30 A Space Gallery, RMB CITY by CAO FEI (SL: CHINA TRACY)
14:00 G Gallery, Miles Collyer
15:00 Gendai Gallery, Residency in RMB City
17:00 Drop off at OCAD

Residency in RMB City
Adrian Blackwell, Yam Lau, and the collaborative team GestureCloud: Judith Doyle + Fei Jun
December 4, 2010 to January 14, 2011
Gendai Gallery, 6 Garamond Court

Curated by: Heather Keung, Siya Chen
November 5 to December 11, 2010
A Space Gallery, 401 Richmond St W, Suite 110

In the Chinese virtual utopia RMB City, you can dine on roast duck at a night market, indulge in a luxurious foot massage with Karl Marx, apply for a job with the Monkey King, take choreographed tai chi dance lessons, meditate on a flying carpet … all the while discussing universal theory as it applies to life, both real and virtual. RMB City was developed, via the freeware Second Life, by Guangzhou artist Cao Fei (SL: China Tracy) as a conceptual space and experimental platform for her and her collaborators to embark on explorations in art, design, architecture, literature, cinema, politics, economy, society and beyond. A microcosm that reflects on contemporary China, it is home to multifaceted conceptual artworks by international artists.

The artist has directed two videos based on her creative collaborations: People’s Limbo in RMB City (2009, 18 minutes); and Live in RMB City (2009, 25 minutes). In People’s Limbo in RMB City, avatars of Karl Marx and Mao Zedong, as well as Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, and a Lehman Brothers banker debate on the current global economic crisis, politics and concepts of “freedom”. Together they play the people’s monopoly board, jump in the money ball pit and blow up run-down apartment buildings. In Live in RMB City, the camera faithfully chronicles China Sun — the newly born baby of China Tracy, from its very first breath of air to every single activity and exploration of the child. Inspired by each new creation of her collaborative team of artists, writers, architects and philosophers, China Tracy explains to her baby in Japanese that the restrictions on established properties in the real world no longer apply, and that in Second Life, nothing is as it appears to be. Mother and baby then visit RMB City’s first “pleasure area,” a sexual massage centre in the outskirts of the city. Curious about the differences between Second Life and real life, China Sun also begins to ponder the question, “Who am I?”.

China Tracy’s first video, i.Mirror (2007, 28 minutes), is an odd melodramatic rock ‘n’ roll journey of self-discovery, love and loss. As she flies through cleared land for sale, garbage dumps with burning cars, polluting factories and smoky clubs, the artist finds both desolation and hope. Calling on an eclectic group of sordid drug users, punks, goths, activists, tough guys with tattoos and sexy foxes, she celebrates the universal desire to live an extraordinary life that is eternally youthful and free.

–Heather Keung

Miles Collyer
November 18 to December 18, 2010
G Gallery, 234 Queen Street East

A flag is a curious venerated object. Beyond its use as a signaling device, it denotes common societal or political values and stipulates a specific etiquette of waving, saluting, and burning. The rich symbolism of flags is thoroughly tracked and decoded by vexillologists: self-described and strictly apolitical scholars of their history and semiotics.

Miles Collyer likely won't admit to being a vexillologist, but as a manufacturer of specific flags he takes this sub-branch of heraldry into political territory. Seeking out his subjects in photographs and video stills the artist has found online, on television or in other video-based sources, Collyer copies and sews by hand the flags of certain groups or factions involved in litigious international politics.

Access to the Internet and global media has opened up the field of scholarly flag research, but for the vexillologist it remains a vexing problem to identify and catalogue flags from a vast archive where only bad copies proliferate. Filmmaker and theorist Hito Steyerl calls these bad copies "poor images," that, even in their poverty, actively work in opposition to the fetishization of image resolution in 35mm photography, cinema, and more recently, HDTV. In the context of the web or low-grade broadcasts, the poor image is revalued as a commodity where quality is swapped for speed, thus becoming "a copy in motion."

Flags flash quickly in the background of Collyer's sources, where they operate as identifying markers but register as anticipated clichés: hung behind a spokesperson as a backdrop, draped over a coffin, carried high in a protest march, or tacked to a barricade. As a copy in motion, the image of a flag in these contexts is rasterized, blurred and abstracted. It's useless to a vexillologist but valuable to mainstream media, where, as Steyerl notes, the poverty of the image underscores the sense of urgency and disaster it is meant to depict.

Reworked in felt according to a pattern in Collyer's hands, the eight flags he has completed to date verge on camouflage patterning--making visual links to both landscape and combat--in their posterized banding of pixilated values. Their vague appearance emphasizes their status as representations of representations, similar to their originals but twice removed. Each of Collyer's finished flags undergo several stages of what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call deterritorialization from their native cultural domain: first from their place of origin and then from their wider, global domain among distributed media. Removed from its previous context, each iteration of a flag is stripped of its previous meaning (or deterritorialized) and then reterritorialized. From a political standpoint, these twinned concepts hold a deeper meaning here. Collyer has chosen flags from specific groups that cannot establish sovereignty, such as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, currently in exile by the Russian government; or are contesting a land claim, such as the Haudenosaunee's involvement in the recent Caledonia land dispute, or Hamas' opposition to Israel's annexation of Palestinian territories. Steyerl's observation that the reappearance of key examples of avant-garde cinema on the Internet in a degraded form is an indication of their cultural marginalization has relevance here, as it suggests another hypothesis: that the abundance of low resolution images of these groups emphasizes their sense of displacement or 'statelessness'.

Whether Collyer's m.o. is political remains to be decided, though "blanketing" the white walls of a gallery with objects is in itself a certain type of invasion. His display of flags is not meant to encourage extremism, nor are his illegible, bastard forms a critique. As fuzzy semblances of their originals, do Collyer's flags insist on the same sacred treatment in their material state? Does Collyer's investment of care in these handcrafted objects convey solidarity with the groups they represent? Do they carry on the charged discussions of the events from which they are derived? Or could this overall blurring be a sly comment on how Western perceptions conflate foreign yet distinct socio-political groups into one vague terrorist threat? If anything, Collyer's faithful copies address a symptom of globalization, where both the circulation of images and political upheaval deterritorialize cultural artifacts like flags into evolving entities. Sewn by hand, Collyer's flags draw a contemplative pause in the blur of circulating images. Here, it's interesting to reflect that these persisting heraldic objects--in their original, portable forms as simple pieces of cloth--have only become more fluid and more loaded in the digital age.

-- Jen Hutton

Works cited:
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Anti-Oedipus, trans. by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
Steyerl, Hito. In Defense of the Poor Image. e-flux Journal no. 10 (November 2009).

Related Events

Residency in RMB City Opening Reception

Sat Dec 4, 2010 - 2:00 pm @ Gendai Gallery, 6 Garamond Court, Toronto

Residency in RMB City - Artist Talk

Thu Dec 9, 2010 - 6:30 pm @ A Space Gallery, 401 Richmond St W, Suite 110

Physical Presentation Closing Reception with Guided Virtual Tour

Sat Feb 5, 2011 - 2:00 pm @ Gendai Gallery, 6 Garamond Court, Toronto