TAAFI is in full swing. Holding its third annual event in Toronto and the crowds are out and the hype is on. I’m in room 203 of the tony Drake Hotel speaking with John McLachlin about his curatorial effort, Four Men and a Woman: A Small Project for My Father. The show features work by five Toronto artists, James Carl, Greg Hefford, Roula Partheniou, Gregory Reynolds and Robert Waters.
The hotel art fair setting is not an especially easy place to carry out a conversation, let alone look at art work. The room is only slightly bigger than a sleeping cabin on a train or a boat and it is mostly taken up by a beautifully appointed modern bed. This means there is a fair amount of human displacement going on as the stream of arty spectators begins. “Hello.” Bodies in. “Where’s the art?” “Would you like to read my statement? Would you like to sign the book?” Bodies out.
In the midst of this more or less continuous shuffle I scan McLachlin‘s press release that alludes to his father who died very recently. He states: “Hotel rooms are about occupancy. I decided that the hotel room was a frame itself and that I would work with artists on a project about an occupant – in this case my father, who was born only a few blocks West of here….” I start to locate the works in the exhibition. They are all small enough to have emerged from the same carry on bag and strewn as if temporarily unpacked, innocuously yet purposefully among the other of the room’s belongings.
There is plenty of trompe l'oeil in the exhibition. Small, sentimental book paintings by Roula Partheniou, rest on each bedside table and on the bed’s pillow, suggesting a reading list for the duration of the stay at the Drake. Partheniou’s paintings are part of a series called Handmade Readymades – readymade canvases painted to look like things sharing similar, (usually small) dimensions. Gregory Reynolds contributes a couple of faux I Pods and a Blackberry to the casually cluttered hotel desktop. James Carl’s Take-out Rice appears to be every bit a Styrofoam box containing tonight’s or perhaps even last night’s take out dinner. On inspection, however the container proves to be actually solid, heavy and expertly hand carved out of white marble.
Greg Hefford and Robert Waters offer less representational and, frankly, more peculiar talismen to the collected contents of the room. On two parallel shelves Hefford presents plastic household timers plugged into one another such that they form circuitous self activating clusters. These homely units resonate like a decor disaster in the seamlessly posh designer hotel room. And Timers is interesting for that - resembling a home made explosive device much more than an alarm clock set to ring in the morning at seven.
On the other side of the room with Bird Flew (pictured) Robert Waters lines a mirrored counter top with vintage fans, originally designed as adverts for Southern funeral homes. The fans have been altered such that they each bear perforations in the shapes of tiny birds – some whole transparent flocks flying right through the original message or landscape. Looking down on the arrangement from above, the effect is vaguely kaleidoscopic. The piece has the air of a tragic reliquary which is not dispelled by the sinister pun (bird flu!) of its title.
The din of the art fair gets louder in the hall as I ponder this elegiac group of art works. More people tour through, catalogues at the ready. More shuffling of bodies - introductions are made where applicable, air kisses all around. Directions are given to the fair’s other venue, The Gladstone Hotel. I sit down on the bed to let another viewer pass and wonder momentarily how this work would look if it were ever to be reassembled in a quiet, spacious white cube. I hope this comes to pass sometime because it represents a very thoughtful curatorial approach that could only grow more poignant given a little more space for contemplation.
"The 3rd Annual Toronto Alternative Art Fair International" occurred Friday November 10 – Sunday November 12, 2006 at The Drake Hotel and The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto.
All images are courtesy of the artist and the author.