Friday, March 25, 2011

Pretty Vacancy at Verb Gallery February 2011

The exhibition "Pretty Vacancy" ran from the 12th to the 28th of February, 2011, at the Verb Gallery in Kingston, Ontario.  A reception was held from 5:00pm to 7:00pm on Friday, February 25th, during which Michael Davidge made the following remarks:

“Hello Everybody,

Thanks for coming out tonight.  I promised to make some remarks about my work around 6 o’clock and now the time has come, so here they are:

First of all, I’d like to apologize to anyone here who is expecting me to cut myself.  At one point I was promising people that as part of this talk there would be some blood let, and it was going to be mine.  Unless someone here attacks me, it isn’t going to happen.  And let me be clear, I don’t want you to attack me.

Rather, I would like you to hear me out.  Now, it is conventional for artists to give talks at art galleries and openings in order to give people a better idea about what their work is about.  And I am here to do that for you, hopefully.  However, I was thinking that the talk could also be a part of the work, or a work in its own right.  That the piece (what there is here, simply, a neon sign) could create an occasion for the work of the talk to take place.  That the physical work itself could be a speech act that effected the talk.  Like the concept of performativity in J.L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, whereby language is a particular practice that can effect a concrete change on the state of affairs in the world.  Like a priest who would be invested with the power to say “I now pronounce you man and wife,” only more like, “I now pronounce you work of art and artist.”

Maybe it would make a little more sense if I provided you with some background to the piece, “Pretty Vacancy.” It is really, simply, one thing: a variation on the title of a punk rock song by the Sex Pistols, “Pretty Vacant.”  Well, two things, because it is also a vacancy sign.  It is a marriage of the Sex Pistols’ song with a vacancy sign.  And this marriage has engendered this talk that I promised to do. (Or is it the other way around?)  At any rate, I promised to do this talk, effecting a kind of contract in which hopefully my word would be my bond.  

Did I promise that I was going to cut myself?  Why would I do that?  It has something to do with history, and here, now, with the history of punk rock.  In 1991, the lead singer of the Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards, when accused of being a poseur and not authentically punk enough, this lead singer, in front of the interviewer who had challenged him, took a razor bland and carved “4 Real” into his forearm.  Edwards had to be rushed to the hospital.  He wrote himself into punk rock history with that razor blade.  And then he disappeared, but I won’t get into that.  I’ll get back to me and my motivations, which by analogy, would be to prove my seriousness, to make a claim for my legitimacy, and write myself into history.  But what history? The history of Punk, of Performance Art, of Visual Art, of Writing?  I’m certainly not a punk.

In its heyday, I was too young for it, as the years passed, I was too out of it.  Punk has always been something on the periphery of my life.  I heard about it.  I knew about it.  I knew some people who were into it.  But I was not it.  My earliest memory of punk is when I was seven years old.  If I remember correctly, I was in the backseat of my parents’ car, with my sister.  My dad was driving and my mom was in the passenger seat.  We were going over the newly constructed Fort Garry Bridge.  It was a bright sunny day.  My stomach was a little sour because my dad regularly smoked in the car, so it smelled like an ashtray.  Plus, I was reading a newspaper, and reading in a moving vehicle always makes me queasy.  I was reading the music charts, and I remember reading that in the top ten there was a band named the Sex Pistols.  I thought this was hilarious, that that name of the band was a joke, and that it must be some kind of a put-on.
I also remember, around this time, watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with my sister (who is two years older than me and that much more sophisticated) and seeing David Bowie performing “A Space Oddity.”  Again, we thought it was hilarious and weird.  I remember my sister saying, “He must be on drugs!”  Every performer that we thought was a little weird or offbeat, we would always assume was on drugs.  We didn’t really know all that much about drugs at that time except that weirdos like David Bowie must use them.  And of course, we were right.

There was another time a few years later that I was riding in the back seat of a car, my aunt and uncle’s, in downtown Toronto, and I remember my younger cousin Christopher wildly gesticulating and laughing and pointing at a punk with a Mohawk haircut, and my Aunt Judy crying out, “Christopher, you lock your door right now!”  Of course, Christopher grew up to be a hard-core punk musician.

I suppose what is remarkable about the Sex Pistols and David Bowie [whom we might more properly refer to as the glam-father of punk] and the punk with the Mohawk in Toronto is that they made themselves deliberately different to stand apart from the crowd.  At that time, and maybe ever since, I’ve paid more attention to and identified more with less flamboyant characters, regular guys or anti-heros, like Howard the Duck, for example, a comic book character accidentally transported from his duck planet to find himself on Earth. (The tagline from the comic was “Trapped in a World He Never Made.”)  Howard just wanted to deal with it, make his way, make a living (he drove a taxi-cab), stay out of trouble, but because he was different (he was a walking, talking, cigar-smoking, taxi-driving duck after all) he was always getting pulled into trouble.

So, I never really felt like Punk was of my time, or I was of the time of punk.  I always felt more like I was out of time and place, like Howard the Duck.  And yet, the spirit of Punk does speak to me: As the lyrics for the song “Pretty Vacant” go: “You’ll always find us, out to lunch.”  I love going out to lunch. Of course, out to lunch means more than that: it means being on drugs, not working, being spaced out, out of step, out of time and place, daydreaming.  By extension, I think that art is out to lunch.  

You’ll note that the light from the “Pretty Vacancy” sign is really the only light that is illuminating the space in here.  It’s meant to focus your attention on the sign, but also on the space that it is in, and that all the surfaces that the light touches comprise the Pretty Vacancy.  The Pretty Vacancy is a place where you can come to be out to lunch.  So, by picking up on a Sex Pistols’ phrase and redeploying it, I’m hoping in some way to carry on its tradition, much like Richey Edwards with the text he wrote on his arm.  But whereas he was trying to cut right through and connect right back to the authentic source and make a direct link to be fully present, really real, my quotation places more emphasis on the spacing between the two instances, establishing their difference.  All text contains and creates a space between words and worlds, which the reader can inhabit, particularly in the margins. The margins are ideally suited for addenda or graffiti, interpretive or interpolative scrawls.  And the space illuminated by the Pretty Vacancy sign has led me to append one more word to my talk [I crossed the room and said it as I wrote it on the wall opposite with the pen from the guest book]:


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eastern Ontario's Accursed Share

An article by Michael Davidge about Don Maynard's Frankenforest exhibit at the Agnes Etherington Art Gallery and the McLaughlin Gallery appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Front Magazine.  Read it online here.